Tips for a Cold Weather Hike

A Head to Toe Guide to Staying Warm on a Cold Weather Hike in the Smokies

Winter is as good a time as any to hike in the Smokies. With the trees bare, the vistas from the trails are more frequent and views reach farther. Waterfalls that are refreshingly beautiful in the warm weather months become breath-takingly magical when covered with ice. Don’t let the cold keep you from enjoying the Smokies; plan a cold weather hike. Just follow these simple tips for staying warm and safe on the winter trails.

Keep Your Head Warm

The most important part of the body to keep warm is the head. You’ll lose a lot of body heat if you go out and about without hat on. Choose a hat that offers the most coverage, including the ears. If your head stays warm, you’ll be more likely to stay warm all over. It’s also easiest to shed a hat if you get too warm.

Body Layers

When you’re considering what to wear on your body, consider layers. Think in terms of three: base, middle, and outer.

The base layer is closest to your skin and moves perspiration outward. Although cotton can be awfully comfy, it doesn’t wick moisture away as a base layer should. Avoid cotton and look instead for soft, non-scratchy wools, silks, or synthetics like polyester.

The middle layer insulates, keeping your body heat close to you. Your body will generate a lot of warmth as you hike. An effective insulating layer will insure that the heat continues to work for you and not on the cold air of the mountains. Again, avoid cotton and look for wools or fleece.

The outer layer is sometimes referred to as the weather layer. While the middle layer keeps warmth in, the outer layer keeps cold, wind, and water out. Look for items that are waterproof and that can act as a windbreak. Just a slight breeze can cut right through you on a cold day. In the summer, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. In the winter, it’s not the cold, it’s the wind.

Happy Feet Mean a Happy Hike

As with the head, you lose a lot of heat through your feet. Keeping your feet warm and dry is critical to a pleasant cold weather hike. Cold feet can ruin the whole day. As always, steer clear of cotton and go for wool or synthetic. Try polypropylene liners with thick wool socks for dry and warm feet. End with a sturdy water-resistant boot and you’re ready to hit the trail for a cold weather hike.

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