10 tips to stay warm hiking in winter

I recently spent some time cross country skiing in Lapland with fellow Alpenwild guide Sophie Nolan. The week before I arrived temperatures had dipped to -36 degrees farenheit, but luckily, I was graced with ‘balmy’ temperatures of 14 degrees farenheit. As someone who doesn’t deal with the cold so well, I was keen to hear from Sophie how she keeps warm in Arctic conditions. Here’s a collation of our top tips:

1) Be bold, start cold!

If you are a comfortable temperature stood outside before you start hiking, then in 5 minutes you will definitely be too hot. Start out with fewer layers so that you don’t start sweating early in the day.

2) Wool base layers

In the summer the only real advantage of a woollen base layer over a synthetic one is that wool smells less than polyester at the end of the day. However, in winter wool base layers are a significantly better choice. Wool is warmer for its weight and will keep you warm even when it is wet. Most base layers are made of merino wool as the fibres are finer and less itchy, but it can be pricey. Polyester/wool blends are often cheaper and more durable than merino wool as they have more stretch.

3) Keep a big warm jacket in easy reach

It takes a lot of energy to reheat your body, so if you stop for food, take the time to shove a big warm jacket on. I keep an insulated jacket in my bag that is big enough to throw on top of whatever I’m wearing. If I am hiking in winter in the UK, then it’s often rainy so my jacket of choice is a synthetic one. If I’m hiking in colder, dryer places like the Alps then I carry a down jacket.

Read about down vs synthetic insulation

4) Many layers are better than one

Even in really cold temperatures, it’s surprising how much you can heat up when you’re hiking uphill. It’s much easier to regulate your temperature if you have many thin layers, rather than one big one. A good layering system includes:

  • Woollen base layers
  • Fleece
  • Extra mid-layer (in really cold temperatures I take an extra mid layer such as a soft-shell jacket).
  • Wind proof layer/waterproof (I use a gortex jacket as it doubles up as my waterproof)
  • Insulated jacket (to throw on when you stop)

5) Eat!

When it’s really cold the temptation can be to just keep going but you need fuel to keep you warm. If the weather is awful, then having a few snacks in your pocket is a good way to eat on the move. Hot drinks are great for moral. Hot juice or herbal tea with sugar is a good way to keep hydrated and your sugar levels high.

Me and Sophie taking time to eat (and pose) on our recent trip together in Lapland! Note our big warm duvet jackets!

6) Look after your hands

If your hands are cold, then chances are you going to feel miserable. It’s always a good idea to carry spare gloves in case you lose one in the wind or your first pair get wet. The warmest thing to wear on your hands is a pair of mittens as they allow your fingers to keep each other warm.

7) Liner socks

In really cold weather a thin pair of liner socks under your wool socks will keep your toes nice and toasty. The liner sock will act as extra insulation, wick sweat away from your feet and help reduce the chance of blisters.

8) Jump around!

It sounds obvious but if you’re starting to get cold then don’t underestimate the power of jumping around to get your blood flowing again. Waving your arms around and clapping your hands together will warm your hands up again and stamping your feet will get blood back down to your toes.

9) Don’t put your hiking socks on until you’re ready to leave the house

If you sit around all morning in a hot room, then your hiking socks are going to get sweaty. Fibres insulate less well when they are wet so put your socks on just before you leave for the day.

10) Wear slightly bigger boots

Make sure your toes have a little bit of wiggle room in your winter boots. If your boots are too tight it will cut off blood to your toes and make your feet cold. The extra space also allows your feet to heat the air around them in the boot which is what keeps you warm.

What’s your top tip for staying warm in winter? Leave your comments in the box below!

Jennifer Stretton
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