Let it Snow! 5 Tips to Prepare for Winter Hiking

December 7, 2016
Snowy Pinkham
Stefan ShapiroSnow is falling here at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

Time to break out the microspikes and dust off your sleds because snow has begun to fall here in Pinkham Notch. Three inches of the white stuff is on the ground and temperatures are predicted to remain below or near the freezing mark for the week allowing the current snowfall to stick around with a chance to add some more as we move into this weekend.

Here are 5 things, in addition to your regular hiking preparations, that you should be thinking about as your prepare for a cold-weather outing.

  • Carbohydrate loading (carb-loading) the night before your outing. This practice, which is generally associated with endurance events, helps to maximize the storage of energy preserves to be used by your muscles and liver.
  • Dress like an onion! Yes, we always recommend this practice, but in the winter it is especially important. Multiple layers help to trap
    air against your body resulting in better heat retention. Not only does it help with heat retention, but this allows you to put more on when you are cold or take some off to cool down helping yourself thermo-regulate better.

Onion Layers

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You know when you can see your breath when it’s cold out? Well, that is moisture leaving your body. Believe it or not, cold weather can exasperate dehydration. We all know that we lose most of our water through sweating and urination but a surprising amount is lost through respiration. Extra hydration is needed in the winter to keep your body functioning properly. To prevent your water from freezing your lid shut on your water bottle, flip it upside down and use a bottle insulator.
  • Proper footwear is key. Wear a comfortable insulated boot and bring your microspikes. Making sure that your boots are well broken-in and waterproofed will go a long way toward ensuring a comfortable winter outing. The microspikes will ensure that you have the grip you need when traversing icy patches or trail of packed snow. Along with this, wearing thick, winter weight, wool or synthetic socks will help to keep your feet happy. Happy feet = happy hiker.


  • Hike with a buddy. In the winter it is especially useful to have a hiking partner. One of the main things a partner can help you with is keeping an eye out for frostbite. Exposed skin, like the tip of your nose and the high cheek are areas of concern in cold, windy weather. As your skin becomes colder it will redden and then go numb, eventually becoming hard and pale. Keeping an eye on each other is the only way to notice this happening. Exposed skin isn’t the only thing that can be affected by frostbite; skin covered by gloves or other clothing can be susceptible as well. As your hands become colder they will lose the ability to do basic things like zip your jacket zipper or open your snack bar. When you notice these things in yourself or your partner you need to act quickly to warm those areas up.

Winter is a great time to get out on trail. Once there is sufficient snowpack and the rocks are covered over, the trails are almost sidewalk-like. Along with these 5 tips, being prepared for the conditions and staying flexible are key to getting home to that hot cocoa. Remember, its not the destination that matters, it is the journey. Make smart decisions and have fun out there!

Looking for trail conditions or weather? Check AMC conditions and/or call us at Pinkham Notch. We are available by phone at (603)466-2721 every day from 6:30am to 10:00pm or by email at amcpinkhaminfo@outdoors.org. To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727, Monday through Saturday, 9am-5pm.

Search AMC Outdoors and Blogs

Search for:

Stefan Shapiro

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.