Hiking in cool weather poses different challenges than hiking in the heat. Even if you don’t take the plunge and go winter camping in subzero temperatures, rain and cold can sap your energy, wreck your day, and sometimes put you in danger. Stay safe and comfortable by keeping the following in mind if you’re planning on hiking in cool weather:
– Plan for rain. You should hike with rain gear at any time of the year, but having adequate protection from a downpour is especially important in cool weather. Bring a waterproof shell and pants, and opt for wool socks to keep your feet warm even if they get wet.
– Keep an eye on the weather. Cool weather can become cold weather pretty quickly, particularly at certain times of the year. Forecasts aren’t perfect, but they can give you an idea of what kind of temperatures and precipitation you’re likely to face over a day or weekend.
– Check trail conditions. Trails can change dramatically in cool weather, whether as a result of sustained rain, a sudden snowstorm, or below-freezing overnight temperatures. Before you leave for a trip, get the most up-to-date information you can on what awaits you beyond the trailhead.
– Be willing to turn around. Sometimes the weather can turn too nasty, and it’s important to be willing to scrap your plans and retreat when necessary. If it gets too wet and cold for you to continue on, don’t be afraid to head back to your car. A mug of hot chocolate in a roadside cafe makes for a great alternative to hypothermia in the woods.
– Dress in layers. Start with a warm base layer of wool or polyester that will keep you dry, then add a lightweight jacket of fleece or merino wool. With your waterproof layer ready to serve as rain protection or extra insulation, you should be ready to go, but it rarely hurts to pack an extra sweater just in case.