Want to be a four-season hiker? Don’t give up adventuring once the weather gets chilly – that crisp winter wonderland is waiting for your footprints and we have many hostels perfect for hiking. You can even take over one of our holiday cottages and rural retreats with Exclusive Hire; perfect accommodation for large walking groups.
Your mates may think you’re mad (we’d say brave!) but year-round hiking is possible with lots of preparation. Stay fit over the cold season with the benefits of no bugs, less sunburn and untouched Narnia-like landscapes. Follow our top tips and prepare to stay warm, dry and safe.
1. Find a buddy
We’d all love to be Elsa from Frozen, but stomping off into the snow on your own is no fairy-tale. If something does go wrong (more likely in snowy/muddy conditions), it’s best to have a friend there to get help and keep you warm. Find someone experienced who’ll show you the ropes on your first winter trek and teach you about its hazards. You can admire the stunning scenery together too.
2. Dress in layers
Staying warm and dry is essential, but you must avoid overheating too – cooled-down sweat leaves you at risk of hypothermia. Dress like an onion so you can easily peel off layers to adjust your temperature. Choose a moisture-wicking base of long underwear, a middle layer of insulating fleece to keep you warm, and a weatherproof outer jacket and trousers. Avoid cotton as it stays wet and pack a puffy insulation layer too if you’re going to be staying still for long periods.
You may resemble a yeti, but there’s more! Invest in a warm weatherproof hat (you can even don a sexy balaclava) to control your temperature. Layer your socks and gloves with base and woolly layers on your feet, and gloves and mittens for hands. Take extras for if they get wet and use knee-high gaiters and googles for extreme weather.
Choose sturdy footwear – a pair of waterproof and insulated hiking boots is worth splurging on – and crampons are best for serious icy conditions.
4. Know your route
Even your fave hiking trail looks different in the snow and bad weather makes it easy to get lost. Carefully plan a safe route – avoiding hazards like steep slopes, frozen rivers and avalanche areas – and take a map, compass and GPS device for navigation. Let people in your group know exactly what you’ll be doing and tell others at home when you’ll be back.
Top winter hiking routes near us: head to our London hostels for a stroll in Richmond Park, take a guided winter hike near the YHA New Forest, or explore the dramatic moorland of the Welsh Brecon Beacons for a more accessible alternative to Snowdonia.
5. Check the weather
Amazing routes can become long scary routes in extreme weather – avoid putting yourself in danger and steer clear of blizzards, strong winds and freezing rain. Check the weather forecast and your trail conditions, and turn back if the weather starts getting unmanageable. You’ll have less daylight too.
6. Be prepared
Research winter survival skills (it can be brutal) and carry everything you need for a worst-case scenario. Ideally get someone in your group who’s a Bear Grylls at fire building, first aid, shelter-building and snow navigation! Have a Plan B ready if you get stuck in a storm or if someone gets hurt. Be certain where your nearest emergency services are and take a phone with you.
7. Camp safe
Unless you’ve got an expert at building igloos with you, spread out some camping gear between your hiking mates. If the weather gets bad and night falls, you can pitch up and keep warm. You’ll need a lightweight but sturdy four-season tent, thick sleeping bags and a foam camping mat.
8. Winter kitchen
Winter hiking burns lots of calories and you’ll need extra fuel to keep warm and keep moving. Take hot chocolate breaks and stay well-fed with a protein-rich breakfast, high calorie snacks throughout the day and a warming one-pot dinner. Big hiking-friendly hostels like YHA Castleton Losehill Halland YHA Wasdale Hall are perfect for cooking up a storm.
You won’t feel as thirsty, but remember to drink ample amounts of water to stay hydrated, and never eat snow – you’ll waste energy melting it.
Extreme cold can be bad news for the human body, so make sure you know the warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Bring hand-warming packets, first aid for if someone hurts themselves, and don’t shrug it off and try to be a hero if you feel unwell – it’s better to make it home safe.
10. Bring these
Make a list of everything you need for your trek including clothing, camping gear and food. Remember to pack survival essentials like a lighter, snow shovel, pocket knife, headlamp and a signalling device. You can find advice about more specialised snow gear with this guide too.
This Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping has some great tips if you want to know about winter hiking in more detail.