Don Weise’s Winter Hiking Tips

Have a plan

Use a guidebook, trail map, assess your trail fitness and the fitness of the slowest person in your group. Remember that trail miles don’t equal road miles. Anticipate elevation, steepness, weather conditions and water crossing. Most New York-New Jersey Trail Conference maps are available via cell phone and GPS-enabled. This allows you to pinpoint your location and track your route.

Dress like an onion

That is, in layers, with a bottom (wicking) base topped with flannel or microfleece and a windproof and waterproof outer layer. Add a knit hat, insulated socks, neck gaiter, headband and waterproof mittens or gloves with liners.

Hiking Breakneck in the snow (Photo by Ben Nephew / Mountain Peak Fitness)

Don’t slip up

Micro spikes are an excellent accessory. They improve safety and speed; keep them sharp. Consider a traction aid such as crampons or an ice pick. Snowshoes are a necessity in deeper snow.

Don’t sweat it

Manage moisture from within, maintaining a comfortably cool temperature. Pack an extra wicking base layer and at the top of the mountain swap out your clammy base layer. Strip off layers before you get sweaty. Take a well-stocked first-aid kit, a bivy sack (a small, lightweight, waterproof shelter), two or three emergency space blankets and a reliable fire starter kit with extra sticks.

Timing is everything

Know sunrise and sunset times, and carry a headlamp.


The longer the hike, the more important proper fueling becomes. Begin hydrating the day before the hike. Eat a sensible dinner the night before. On hike day eat some protein for breakfast, and have plenty of fluids. Don’t have too much fiber, fat or simple sugars. Pack trail mix, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and tuna-salad pouches. Always take salt, an energy gel packet and fluids with electrolytes. If you experience muscle cramps, drink water and have a little salt. Cramps are usually due to low levels of salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Stay warm

Remember to bring soups, hot cocoa, tea, chili and “last night’s crock pot” meal.

Expect winter wildlife and hunting

Know the hunting seasons, not just for deer but small game, some of which continue through April. Deer ticks remain active in winter and snakes sometimes come out on warmer days with sunny skies. Bears don’t always remain in torpor. Avoid rock caves, which are possible dens. If you encounter a bear, never approach, surround or corner or run away or turn your back. Softly back away, slowly leave the area while speaking in a loud, calm voice; avoid direct eye contact. If a bear snaps its jaws or swats the air or ground, you’re too close.

Know when to say when

There’s a saying, “Getting to the top is optimal, getting down is mandatory.”

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