Tips for Enjoying Winter Hiking and Nature In and Around New York and New Jersey

November 11, 2014
Jeff Senterman
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Tips for Enjoying Winter Hiking and Nature In and Around New York and New Jersey


Snowshoeing at Minnewaska State Park Preserve 

Winter hikes, cross-country skiing, and snowshoe trips can all be fun, adventureous, and beautiful, especially when you have planned for the season's special challenges: cold temperatures, cold wind, snow, ice, and reduced daylight hours. Many people prefer getting out in winter: No bugs! No mud!

Here are some tips to help you enjoy outdoor winter outings.

Keeping Warm - You should always be prepared on any hike, ski or snowshoe trip to keep warm and sheltered with nothing more than what you are carrying with you.  Do not count on a campfire or wood stove to keep you warm.  Click here for some tips on keeping your toes warm in winter. You must always stay alert to the dangers of hypothermia and frostbiteknow the signs of both and learn how to treat them.

Daylight  - Unlike the long hours of daylight in the summertime, winter days are very short and darkness can easily surprise anyone in the woods with its quick arrival.  Always plan your trips to maximize your use of daylight.  Always carry a flashlight and headlamp in case you are stuck in the darkness.

The author, Jeff Senterman, on snowshoes.Snow - Hiking in the snow takes a lot of effort, especially if you are sinking into the white stuff, creating a "post-hole" with each step. Further, post-holes can be hazards to those who may be using skis. (In some areas, such as the Adirondack High Peaks, hiking in winter without snowshoes or skis is prohibited; those who ignore the regulation may be ticketed.) Cross-country skis and snowshoes, on the other hand, keep you on top of the snow (more or less) and let you travel further with less energy. Skiing and snowshoeing are great ways to explore trails in our region, especially in the often snow-covered Catskill Mountains.  Adventures are around every bend in the trail.

Ice - It's a good idea—and some hiking clubs require it on winter hikes—to have some kind of spikes, crampons, or creepers to attach to your hiking boots to handle icy conditions. There are many kinds now on the market. Talk to hikers and vendors to find the gear that is right for you and the ambitions you have for yourself.

Trail Markers and Way Finding - Regardless of color, trail markers may sometimes be hidden by deep snow, expecially in the Catskills, and especially on mountain summits. (Fortunately, there are no white trail markers in the Catskills.) Snow may also obscure the route of even the most well trod path.  Having a map and compass and knowing how to use them is always a good idea, but it is a necessity in the winter to make sure you can find your way.

Other Tips and Tricks - Here are some additional ideas, tips and suggestions for winter hiking, skiing, and snow-shoeing trips:

  1. Stay dry and waterproof. Make sure you manage your core temperature while hiking to prevent sweating, which gets your clothes wet and limits their insulative value. Wear gaiters to help keep your legs dry, and pop your hood over your head when trekking through overhanging trees to prevent snow from getting in at the neck and getting you wet.
  2. Winter is the wrong time to think you need to pack lightly.  Carry many insulating layers, including a spare set of long underwear tops and bottomsputting on dry, cold clothes may shock the system initially, but you will feel warmer quickly.
  3. Make sure your equipment works. Finding out that your water bottle is cracked at lunchtime when the temperature is 10-below is the wrong time to learn about it.
  4. Be aware that solid food items freeze. Cut up those Snickers bars ahead of time. Even cold cuts can freeze!
  5. Drink constantly. You will not feel as thirsty in cold weather, but you are still subject to dehydration.
  6. Know how to properly use your winter traction. And know how to repair snowshoe and crampon/creeper bindings.
  7. Don’t use those ski pole wrist loops. A downhill fall can wrench a shoulder if you go one way and your ski pole stays put.
  8. Plan and know your winter hike route ahead of time. Trail finding is tricky with deep snow, so knowing the route well is a good idea.
  9. Favor hikes with few stream crossings. Crossing icy streams is both more difficult and filled with more potential danger than crossing the same water in warm weather. Wet feetor wet everythingis more than an inconvenience; it can be life threatening. Even just getting your snowshoes wet can result in heavy globs of ice stuck to the bottom of your gear, rendering it useless. Consider packing extra clothes in waterproof bags to be on the safe side.
  10. If you’re hiking with a dog, check their paws for icing, and make sure they are staying adequately hydrated and are staying warm.
  11. Be especially careful if conditions are icy. Crampons and creepers only work if you stay on your feet.
  12. If you are a beginner winter hiker, consider a group hike to learn more about trail conditions and preparation. 

One of the best ways to fight off cabin fever is to get out of the cabin and get into the woods! With proper planning, the right skills, and the right equipment, you just might find that winter is the best time to get your exercise outside in nature.  



Here are some links to help you get started:

Top 10 Best Snowshoe Hikes in Our Region

Top 10 Best Cross-Country Ski Outings in Our Region

More tips for winter hiking:

Keep Your Toes Warm in Winter

Avoiding and Treating Frostbite

Winter Lacing Tips for Hikers 

Hikers' Guide to High Performance Socks 

Review of ThermaCell ProFlex Heated Insoles (Trail Walker Winter 2012)