Winter Hiking; How and Why

“No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” my husband, Porter, says.

Porter in the High Sierra

Since we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, we’re often asked how to hike in snow and cold. You probably know about layering (silk or soft wool next to the skin to wick away moisture, a middle layer like fleece,  a waterproof down-filled or synthetic jacket with a hood, and warm, waterproof pants). With a few additions, you can hike comfortably even in below-zero temperatures.

A balaclava (not to be confused with the pastry, baklava!) and goggles keep you from freezing your face off. Porter likes gloves but I like mittens so my fingers warm up one another. Gaiters over my pants keep deep snow out of my boots. Trekking poles (or Nordic walking poles) are great for balance on slippery patches, and add to warmth with an upper-body workout.

Gail hikes at 12 degrees below zero

Hand warmers inside my mitts and toe warmers inside my boots complete my  ensemble. I love that they call these Little Hotties!

hand warmers and toe warmers

For serious traction on snow, ice, and slush, we prefer Kahtoola MICROspikes. They’re easy to slip on and off, lightweight, and their teeth-and-chain bottoms don’t pick up mud.

Above is the How. Here’s the Why:


Got winter hiking tips to share?

23 comments on “Winter Hiking; How and Why

  1. I keep reminding myself that you were a Texan sweetheart when and where you met Porter; baby; you’ve come a long way!

    We did our sometimes annual New Years day hike up Green Mountain; remember the temp that day? Brutally cold; and we loved it!

    Glad to have fellow spirits of the extreme, xo Sandy

  2. One thing you don’t cover, Gail–the problem die-hard ex-Californians have with gauging that it’s really, REALLY cold out there! After twenty years in CO, I still seem to think that if the sun is out, I don’t need the full regalia. I have all the necessary cold weather gear for combating the cold in our winter weather–left over from camping on the frozen Arctic Ocean long ago–but I still find myself thinking I don’t need it and then ending up being miserable when the temps drop below freezing. I’m working on it! The Kahtoola Microspikes look like a worthy addition to my stuff. Thanks for the reminders!

  3. Gail,

    Little Hotties . . . now that fits the woman wearing them perfectly! The photos along with the text here are very helpful–not that I’m planning on any subzero hiking anytime soon, let alone hiking that requires spikes on my feet. Still, it’s good to see and hear how it is done. And I love the photo in the revolving group at the top that has you peeking out of a tree. Way cool!

    Melanie Mulhall

  4. Nice ideas. I have started using my poles a lot and love them. Went up Eldorado Canyon last weekend and was pretty nervous about coming down, but my poles made it totally doable. I also just got a pair of NEOS–New England Overshoes.

    • Poles intensify the hiking experience in so many ways–expand our range for ascents, descents, and highly variable terrain and conditions, and make for a great workout for the core and upper body. We started using them on the Pacific Crest Trail and now wouldn’t hike without them!

  5. I’m with Melanie. I’m not planning on any sub zero hikes in the frozen tundra or mountains but just in case…I like having the cold weather scoop. Little Hotties….who knew?

  6. The why is the thing. I would have to have a most compelling reason to leave my warm fireside reading spot, which is why I enjoyed reading this–always do. Reading is my doing. Nice post, however!

  7. Hi Gail – you make it all sound so wonderful I might just get myself some Little Hotties and try it next year! (Well, once around the park for starters)!

  8. Great tips! I too love the Little Hotties. Even more beloved are my Stable-icers, which have cleat-like teeth that I strap onto my boots. I hate the ice, but I feel safe in Stable-icers!

  9. I use “screw shoes” during my winter hikes (living at 9,300 feet below the continental divide, I do a lot of them).
    “Screw shoes” can be any shoe with screws added to the sole for traction. I prefer screw shoes because I can run in them on hard snow. Also, my YakTrax, which I formerly used, broke during a hike.
    See my blog for a picture of ‘screw shoes’:

  10. I can’t believe I never heard of Little Hotties! But so appropriate that I learn it from you, Gail! In winter I’m more into reading and dreaming and writing. If I was designed to be out there in 12 below, I’d have a coat as thick as my dog’s. It may be gathering as I get older, but I’m not quite there yet. 🙂

    • Claire, I’m inspired by the gorgeous photos you have on your blogs, especially your one on Nordic walking!

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