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It would take more than a little cold to deter an avid hiker. With climate-specific gear, a good plan, and keen determination, you should be able to conquer any trail, winter season or not. But how cold is too cold? At what point is the temperature too low for any preparation to handle?
The answers to these two questions and some other important questions you might have about winter-season hiking are what we will provide. In this way, if you decide to brave the cold and push through with your hiking adventure, you’ll be able to make sure it’s a safe and fulfilling one.
When Is It Too Cold for Hiking?
There is no specific minimum temperature beyond which camping or hiking isn’t recommended. That is because your ability to enjoy the activity safely amid temperature drops will also depend on the following:
You may be okay hiking in colder temperatures during fine weather, but that could completely change if you’re dealing with nature’s wrath. Anything from strong winds, heavy snowfall, freezing rain, or thick fog can hamper your adventure, making it even more dangerous.
2. Fitness and Experience
Never measure your ability to handle the cold against other hikers’. These people could be fitter or have more experience than you. Their bodies could also be more acclimated to cold-weather hiking conditions. Stick to trails and temperatures you’re sure your body can handle and learn to identify frostbite and hypothermia signs.
Depending on your skill and experience, the type of terrain you’re hiking in may exacerbate the effects of cold climate. For instance, you may favor hiking in forest paths more than treacherous and steep mountain trails because of your past training and experiences.
Your ability to endure the challenges of the freezing-cold weather would also depend on your clothing and equipment. Remember that not all hiking gear is created equal. If you plan on taking on freezing temperatures, you must focus on acquiring high-quality, cold- and terrain-specific pieces of equipment and wardrobe.
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or how safe your past lone hikes in extreme temperatures have been; it’s always safer to hike with a team. A reliable team can help you conquer the coldest weather trails safely and even allow you to draw enjoyment from it.
According to upinthemountain.com, some experienced cold-weather hikers have been known to brave temperatures as low as -25°C. As a beginner, that’s not something you want to take on. You’d be better off getting started somewhere above the 0°C mark and work your way down as your body and mind get used to the conditions.
How to Deal With the Cold Weather
Here are some important things you need to be aware of when going into any cold-weather hike:
1. Time Can Slow Down
It’s not that time slows down when you’re hiking in the cold, but your body may act and react slower because of obstacles posed by the low temperatures. So, when planning for a cold-weather hike, give yourself some extra time to complete the trail.
2. Rest Is Important
Non-wicking clothing, along with excessive sweating, can make your cold-weather journey even colder. Make it a point to stop and rest every once in a while to keep yourself warm.
3. Water Is Essential
If you expect your hike to last the entire day, make sure you have at least three quarts of clean, drinkable water. The dry winter air quickly dries sweat, often making it difficult for an amateur hiker to identify dehydration. Besides packing an adequate amount of water, you’ll want to bring enough brothy meals and hot beverages to help you stay warm.
4. Skin Protection Is a Must
Prolonged exposure to the sun, even in cold weather, is still harmful. In fact, it’s even trickier in this scenario because low temperatures can make you think that sunlight isn’t doing any damage.
If you’re about to conquer a cold-weather trail, protect your skin by putting on at least SPF 30 sunscreen. While you’re at it, apply an SPF 15 lip balm on your lips, too.
5. Layering Is Key
Temperatures lower than 20°F will require you to put on up to four layers of clothing, with a heavier mid-layer if it gets below zero degrees. For temperatures above 20°F, two layers will usually be enough, an outer layer and an inner wicking layer.
At the end of the day, it’s rarely ever about whether or not a particular hiker can handle a too low temperature. Most hikers can conquer freezing temperatures with high-quality, cold-specific garments, proper training, the ideal pieces of equipment, and enough experience under their belt.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to challenge yourself with cold-weather trails in the future, make sure to start small and get your body acclimated to the extreme conditions. In this way, you will be in better shape to complete your trail and draw happiness from your experience.