Photo by Taylor Chesney / Courtney Solomon and Briar take a break during a chilly hike on Lookout Mountain.

Whether you're an experienced cold-weather hiker or new to it, spending your winter in the backcountry can be a fun way to enjoy the cooler months. Here are some insider tips and tricks for optimizing your winter hiking experience.

Be slightly over prepared.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that the top of a mountain is going to feel like it did in the parking lot. Temperatures at the summit are typically 15 degrees F colder than the valleys (not including windchill). Make sure you are prepared for a variety of conditions. Pack an insulated outer jacket, a wind/rain shell, a down/synthetic mid layer, merino or synthetic base layers, gloves, balaclava/buff and a warm hat. Insulated pants and slippers are an added bonus if you plan to hunker down overnight.


You'll probably need something sharp.

You're almost guaranteed to find ice on trails in higher elevations during winter. Have you ever tried to walk on an ice skating rink in your running shoes? Now imagine tilting it up to a 30- to 45-degree angle. Don't be caught on an icy trail unprepared! Ice cleats and trekking poles will make ice travel manageable and even enjoyable.


Leave the cotton in the car.

If you're considering hiking up to your favorite overlook in your favorite band T-shirt and jeans, do yourself a favor and leave them in the car. While cotton clothing is appropriate for traveling to and from the trailhead, you'll regret choosing them as hiking clothing. They will get wet and stay wet, which is uncomfortable and could lead to hypothermia. Selecting the proper layering system is crucial to maintaining proper body temperature in the backcountry.

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A few more considerations

> Take a small stove to make a warm meal. A warm drink or meal makes a big difference on a cold day. Remember, you burn more calories when it's cold.

> Never drink unfiltered or untreated water. Dysentery and giardia make for rude hiking partners.

> Invest in a reliable headlamp that never leaves your pack. Keep in mind that it becomes dark faster when you are surrounded by mountains and trees.

> Build a first-aid kit and include an emergency blanket, fire starter and other basics. Check your kit periodically and make sure your meds aren't expired.

> Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Turn your phone off or put it on airplane mode and place it in a waterproof container.

> No matter how many times you have been on a trail, it's always a great idea to carry a map.

For more info and suggestions, visit any Rock/Creek or call us at 1-888-707-6708 to chat with one of our local gear experts.