Learning how to stay warm while hiking in winter is an art I have crafted through my own experience. I have been in many situations where the cold has got me, and I have had to learn the hard way.
As miserable as I have sometimes been, this hasn’t put me off, as I love going out on hikes in the winter. The nice crisp fresh air. The cozy feeling you get when you get home after a solid hike. Plus it’s usually less busy out there.
Now, when out hiking around England, for the most part, you aren’t going to experience arctic like weather (the exception being mountains), but it does get cold enough that you need to think about how you are going to stay warm.
One thing you can guarantee in England, is weather changes. Part of staying warm when winter hiking, is being prepared for this and adapting as needed.
In this guide, I will first go through the 15 tips for how to keep warm when hiking in winter, then at the end I have provided a quick packing list for a winter hike.
How to stay warm while winter hiking key tips
The following are the main points on how to stay warm while winter hiking. Keep reading below for an elaboration on each point.
- Layer, layer, layer
- Take clothes off
- Invest in good quality outdoor clothing
- Stay dry
- Take spares
- Be windproof
- Heating gel pads
- Use your own body heat
- Keep moving
- Flask it
- Check the weather forecast, but don’t live by it
- Be adaptable
- Take a good backpack
- Be over prepared
15 Tips On How To Stay Warm While Hiking In Winter
1) Layer, layer, layer
Layering is the key to staying warm on a winter hike. It’s the sort of bread and butter of hikers. I cover this in a lot more detail on my guide on what you should wear on a cold weather hike. In a nutshell, it’s a base layer, mid layer, outer layer.
By layering, you can temperature regulate by taking off, and putting on layers as you go.
- When walking up hills, takes some layers off, to minimise sweating.
- When you sit to take a break, put some layers back on, even if you feel warm, because the cold will set in quick.
Also, take the hat, take the gloves, and wear the thermal socks.
The next few points elaborate on the layering system….
2) Take clothes off
Following on from the above point, one of the key things to staying warm when winter hiking is keeping dry. Chances are, if you have layered up well, you will start to get hot at some point on the hike. Maybe even sweat, and bam, you are wet. So don’t be afraid to remove some layers. That’s what they are there for.
Just remember to put them back on if you sit and take a break, even if you are still quite hot. That way you can keep your precious body heat in. The cold creeps in quicker than you think.
3) Invest in good quality outdoor clothing
Continuing on with the clothes theme, I would highly recommend you invest in good quality outdoor clothing. They are specifically designed for situations like hiking in cold weather, and I promise you, they do a much better job than layering up regular clothes.
I explained in much more detail why outdoor specific clothing is best here.
4) Stay dry
There are two elements to staying dry and warm when hiking in cold winter weather.
Good quality outdoor clothing (as mentioned in point 3): Essentially, you want breathable and high wicking clothes. Your regular old cotton t-shirt is not recommend. If you sweat, and this gets wet, it won’t dry, and then you are stuck. Wet = cold.
Waterproof waterproof waterproof: I can’t stress this enough. Remember, waterproof is not the same as water resistant.
When out winter hiking around England, I ALWAYS take something wind and waterproof (the outer layer of the layering system), to help me stay warm. Even if the weather forecast is clear. It can change.
I have been caught out enough times to never forget them again. If the weather stays nice, then it’s not a waste, as a waterproof jacket doubles up as something to sit on when you take a break.
Here are a few I recommend for winter hiking:
Read more: Rab Gortex waterproof jacket
Read more: Vango waterproof backpack cover
Read more: Merrell waterproof hiking boots
– Waterproof jackets can be very light, and can pack small, so it’s no extra burden.
– A Backpack cover kept in your bag is a good idea. So if the rain shows its face, you can throw it over your bag to stop the contents (including spare clothes) getting wet.
– Waterproof hiking boots are also a good shout. It could be a nice clear day, but you don’t always know what the ground will be like. I have also been caught out on this one. Think boggy marshland and impossible puddles.
– Waterproof trousers are a good addition to keep packed in your backpack. I forget mine so many times, and so many times regret it.
Read More: 11 tips for hiking in the rain
5) Takes spares
This point covers clothing, equipment, and food.
You could be waterproofed to the max, but accidents happen. I’m not saying you need to take a spare full wardrobe. Spare socks are usually sufficient. Even with waterproof hiking boots, they aren’t fool proof. There are ways for the water to get in.
I’m not very good at this one, and don’t usually have spare socks with me. I have had a number of situations when winter hiking, where my feet have got very wet, and I have had to spend the rest of the day with cold wet feet, fantasising about being warm….I never seem to learn from my mistake.
One thing I always take is a power bank for my phone. Your battery will drain quicker in the cold.
Whilst not having a working phone when winter hiking won’t keep you warm per say, the implications of it might.
If you are using it for navigation, and the battery dies, you might get lost and end up being out in the cold for longer than you are prepared for. Or worse, if you get injured whilst hiking, and need help, but can’t call anyone, then you are going to struggle to stay warm.
Anker Power Bank: Find out the specs here
Anker Power Bank: Find out the specs here
I have experimented with a few power banks, and my favourite is Anker. It has lasted me the longest and gives the most charges. Plus it’s nice and small, so doesn’t take up any space in my bag
Take a little more food than you think you will need. You don’t have to go crazy, just some extra energy bars. You may end up being out for longer than you had planned, and having some extra food will help keep you energy and body heat up.
6) Be windproof
The two main elements that are the nemesis of hikers, is the rain (which we have covered) and wind. It could be a nice mild weathered day, but if the wind comes along, it changes the game.
Waterproof jackets (the outer layer in the layering system mentioned in point 1) are always windproof as well, so that covers both. This is also another reason I always take a waterproof jacket out with me when no rain is forecast. I’m preparing for wind.
7) Hand warmers
There are three types of hand warmers you can get. Gel pads, rechargeable hand warmers, and heating gloves
Gel pads: These are sort of like quick fix pick me ups, to help you stay warm when hiking in cold weather. They come small enough that you can fit them in your gloves.
What you do, is snap the little disc inside and they heat up quick. The downside is, they don’t last that long, and certainly wouldn’t last a full hike. So you would use them as more of a boost if you start to find yourself getting a bit cold.
They are reusable, but not on the same trip. You need to reset them by boiling them in hot water and cooling.
Rechargeable hand warmer: These hand warmers cost a little more, but the good thing about them is, they last much longer, and will get you through your full hike. They also have settings, so you can control how hot they are.
Heating gloves: These heating gloves are the most expensive of the bunch, but will also help keep you the warmest, on those cold day winter hikes. They are batterie powered, so you can be sure they will never run out of juice (if you bring some spares). This makes them better if you are out hiking over multiple days in the cold winter. I have personally never tried these, but I do lust over them.
Gel heating pads: Buy on Amazon
Rechargeable hand warmer: Check the latest price here
Heating gloves: See the latest price here
8) Use your body heat
If your hands do get cold, and you don’t have hand warmers, you can use your own body heat. For example, place your hand on the back of your neck, your stomach, your back, down your pants.
I do this all the time. Once I’ve utilised all the heat from one body part, I move onto the next.
9) Keep moving
If you are moving, your body is expelling energy, thus heat. So while out hiking in winter, to stay warm, you should keep your breaks short.
There is a balance to be had here though. You don’t want to get too fatigued, which is why eating (see below) is important. It helps keep your energy levels up, particularly if you aren’t taking big breaks.
Your body will do its best to keep you warm, and will burn a lot more calories in an effort to do so. So if you are out hiking in the cold winter weather, you need to make sure you are feeding your body the fuel it needs to stay warm.
On a winter hike I take much shorter breaks, as the key to staying warm is to keep moving. So I need food that is high energy, which I can eat quick, and keep going.
You know I’m all here for the energy bars.
11) Flask it
This is a follow on from eating. If you are heading out hiking in the cold winter, you can fill a flask with something hot ie soup, or a hot drink, and it will stay warm for you when it comes time to eat.
These Stanley flasks come highly rated. The classic thermal flask can keep food hot for up to 20h. The food pot isn’t quite as impressive, with only 7h, but it does come with a spork.
Stanley Thermal Flask: Find out more
Stanley Food pot: Find out more
I have personally never done this, because I’m a bit strange in that I like my food cold. I will cook food and let it go cold before I eat it. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. However, I know from other people that go hiking, that this is a great way to stay warm.
12) Check the weather forecast, but don’t live by it
What I mean by this is, whatever the weather forecast says, be prepared for it not to be correct. Ie If it says no rain, be prepared for rain. In some parts of England, the weather can change very quickly. The exception is if the forecast is torrential rain, gale force winds etc. Then I trust it and don’t go out.
13) Be adaptable
Know your route. Study the map (I use Alltrails for this) to see where you plan to walk, and know the alternatives.
You don’t know what it’s really going to be like when you are out there. Parts of the trail could be closed off. If it’s been raining a lot recently, the trail might be flooded to the point of impassable. All of which have happened to me.
If you know the alternatives, you don’t have to spend too much time standing around (getting cold) trying to figure it out.
14) Take a good Backpack
On a winter hike, you will be taking more gear out with you (clothes/food/etc), so you need to have good backpack.
- To store all the extra bits you are carrying.
- Something that allows your back to breath so you don’t sweat. (Sweating could lead to you getting cold when you stop).
- With multiple storage compartments so you can find what you need easily. This avoids staying still for too long when searching through your bag, or having to take off your gloves if you are wearing them. Also if it starts to rain, you can find what you want quickly.
I have been using Osprey backpacks for the past 9 years now. I am a little obsessed with it them, and have three in different sizes*
*that’s not to brag about how much stuff I have, but more to show you that I keep going back to them because they are really good.
I currently recommend the Osprey Tempest 20. I don’t have this one, but I want it. I just can’t justify buying another bag right now, as there is nothing wrong with the ones I have.
Why I recommend the Osprey Tempest 20:
- It’s the perfect size (not too big, not too small).
- Has side pockets, hip belt pockets, top pocket and inside pocket (I love a good pocket), and internal key attachment.
- The fit is specifically designed for women
- Has back ventilation and water repellant coating.
- It looks nice 🙂
Osprey Tempest 20: Check out the latest price on Amazon
15) Be over prepared and prepare for the worst
This point encompasses the other tips on the list, on how to stay warm while hiking in winter. One thing I live by is:
‘it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it’
I have learnt the hard way (a few times). So take the spares, take the extra layers, take a first aid kit, and an emergency foil blanket.
Final thoughts on how to stay warm while winter hiking
This might all seem like a lot to think about, but don’t panic. I have failed on all of these points at some point in my early hiking years (ok, ok. Sometimes in more recent years too), and I live to tell the tail.
Although saying that, I have never failed on every single one on a winter hike, if that happens, then maybe panic.
Winter hiking checklist
- Base layer
- Fleece midlayer
- Insulated jacket
- Waterproof jacket/trousers
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Thermal socks, hat, gloves
- Spare socks
- Power bank
- First aid kit + emergency foil blanket
- Heating gel packs/hand warmer
- Waterproof backpack cover
- Good sized backpack
- Snacks – more than you think you will need
- Main meal – Warm food in a flask is a probably good