Fall & Winter Hiking Guide

When the weather changes, you don’t have to let the lower temperatures and harsher conditions stop you from enjoying hiking, but you should be prepared to take on the trails. Read on for our top tips on how to stay safe when you’re exploring this Fall and Winter. 

1. Check the Weather Forecast. This might seem obvious, but the most crucial difference between regretting and enjoying the time when you’re hiking during this time of year is checking the weather. Plan your time out in nature around the days when the conditions are the least severe. 

2. Bring a Pro. We always say that it’s more fun to go on adventures with friends. This is especially the case during the winter. Find a friend who has mastered a particular trail and who knows the area’s conditions well. 

3. Have Achievable Goals. Take the time before your hike to think through how much you can take on. Depending on where you live, it might be challenging to hike during the colder, harsher season. If you’re an expert who loves a good challenge, then your threshold will be very different from an amateur’s. Take into consideration what is achievable for you in terms of distance and trail complexity.

4. Tell Someone. Make sure that someone knows exactly where and when you are going hiking. It’s essential to tell a friend or family member that you trust so that they can keep an eye on conditions. If you’re gone for too long, then they should follow pre-established instructions to contact you or, in extreme situations, to get help. 

5. Make friends with sunrise. Winter especially comes with much earlier sunsets. Make sure you have enough sunlight for the distance you plan to cover while being realistic about the way that weather conditions will impact your timing. 

6. Bring Plenty of Water. This is the simplest, but still important piece of advice. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after hiking. 

7. Bring a Hot Drink. An experienced hiker might want to bring either coffee, hot chocolate, or tea to brew on a portable stove. For the majority of hikers, it will make more sense to bring a thermos of your favorite hot drink as you head off for your hike.

8. Eat Before and After Hiking. Even though we always suggest to eat well before and after hiking during any season, it’s especially important during the colder months of the year. Before hiking, make sure to eat protein and to snack regularly. After hiking, feel free to indulge in your favorite meal. Find a restaurant near the trail and reward yourself for taking on the elements.

9. Pack the Right Equipment . Regardless of the time, you’re hiking during the day, make sure to pack additional gear. You’ll want to have a detailed, updated trail map, a first aid kit with enough medical supplies for several days, a compass (not just the app on your phone in case you lose service), a pocket knife, hand-warming packets, and a headlamp and back-up batteries. Of course, you should also always bring snacks, water, and clothing layers. 

10. Be Educated for an Emergency. Hypothermia and injuries are a real threat during winter hiking. The best way to protect yourself is to educate yourself on preventable measures and how to treat those issues if they arise. Especially in the case of hypothermia, know the symptoms. It’s always a good idea to know where to get emergency help in case of a health issue. 

11. Wear Layers. Speaking of layers, you’ll want to be wearing insulating layers that will protect you from the harsher weather. Trails often have varied conditions throughout their length. The beginning may start pleasantly, but keep your eyes out for an abrupt change in temperature. Our best advice? Wear clothing with natural fibers like wool, especially merino wool, that are both soft and warm. Long underwear, an under-layer that lies close to your skin, is the base of proper layering. On top of that, a light fleece or softshell, warm pants (not jeans), which ideally are waterproof in case of rain or other issues on the trail. Pack an insulated jacket, a waterproof layer, and soft pants in case of worsening weather.

12. Bring a Warm Hat. Make sure you bring a warm hat to keep in the vital heat. The thickness will depend on the temperatures, but in general, it’s a good idea to bring a thicker beanie made of a natural material. Once again, we suggest wool for its natural warmth. 

13. Good Hiking Shoes or Boots. In winter, it's especially important to wear good hiking shoes that protect your feet from the cold and wet environment. A good grip will help keep you safe even when there are slippery patches. We suggest Mt. Tam or North Coast for a full leather boot and Open Road for a lighter hike.

Hopefully, now you feel better prepared to hike during the colder months. Adventure awaits!