Hiking Guides, Weather

Hiking in 20 Degree Weather: What You Need to Know


Hiking in 20 degree weather can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it also requires some extra preparation and precautions. Whether you are tackling a mountain trail or simply taking a leisurely walk through the woods, it’s important to dress appropriately, stay hydrated, and be aware of your surroundings.

In this article, we’ll provide some tips for staying safe and comfortable while hiking in cold weather, as well as some recommendations for the best gear to bring along on your journey. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner, these guidelines will help you make the most of your wintertime adventure.

20 degree weather (Fahrenheit) is certainly very cold. For those of you outside of the US reading this, 20°F is -6.66°C. Now we have that established, let’s get into the bulk of this article.

hiking in 20 degree weather: What you need to know

Dressing for Success: Layering for Cold Weather Hiking

Proper clothing is essential for staying warm and comfortable while hiking in 20 degree weather. The key to staying warm in the outdoors is layering, which allows you to adjust your body temperature as needed. Here are some tips for layering effectively:

  1. Start with a base layer made of moisture-wicking material, such as polyester or merino wool. This layer should fit snugly against your skin and help wick away sweat, which can cool your body down and make you feel colder.
  2. Add an insulating layer, such as a fleece or down jacket, to trap body heat and provide warmth. Look for a layer that is lightweight and easy to pack, as you may need to remove it if you start to overheat.
  3. Finish with an outer layer that is wind-resistant and waterproof. This layer will protect you from the elements and help keep you dry. Consider a hardshell jacket or pants made of Gore-Tex or similar materials.

It’s also important to dress in layers that you can easily remove or add on as needed. For example, if you start getting too hot, peel off a layer or two to cool down. On the other hand, if you start to feel cold, you can add a layer to stay warm.

Trial and error will help you determine the number of layers you’ll ultimately need in 20 degree weather. There are many elements to factor in such as weather (raining or sunny for example), how far the hike you intend to take is and whether or not you intend to spend the night outside camping.

Here’s a quick checklist to ensure you have the appropriate gear for 20 degree weather hiking;

  1. Base layer (moisture-wicking material such as polyester or merino wool)
  2. Insulating layer (fleece or down jacket, preferably one that covers your neck)
  3. Outer layer (wind-resistant and waterproof jacket or pants, such as Gore-Tex)
  4. Warm gloves or mittens
  5. Beanie or other warm hats that covers your ears
  6. Scarf or neck gaiter
  7. Warm and waterproof hiking boots/shoes
  8. Thermal socks
  9. Sunglasses or ski goggles (to protect against snow glare)

Avoid cotton. It’s generally best to avoid cotton when hiking in cold weather, as it can be less effective at keeping you warm and dry compared to other materials. Cotton will absorb moisture, and when it gets wet it will hold onto it, which will make you feel cold and uncomfortable, especially in 20 degree weather. Cotton also takes longer to dry compared to synthetic materials, creating an issue for those longer hikes.

Staying Hydrated: Tips for Cold Weather Hydration

It’s easy to overlook hydration when hiking in cold weather, but it’s just as important as it is in warm weather. Your body still needs to stay hydrated, even in the cold, to maintain proper function and avoid dehydration. Here are some tips for staying hydrated while hiking in cold weather:

  1. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike. It’s especially important to hydrate before you head out, as you may not feel as thirsty in the cold.
  2. Pack a water bottle or hydration pack that can insulate your water and prevent it from freezing. Look for a bottle or pack with a wide mouth, as this will make it easier to drink from when you’re wearing gloves.
  3. Carry extra water, as it may be more difficult to find water sources in the winter.
  4. As a last resort, melt snow for you to drink to keep yourself hydrated. Eating snow will cause the body’s organs to work harder to heat the ice and melt it which may result in you being further dehydrated.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration while hiking in cold weather. Remember, it’s important to listen to your body and drink water when you’re thirsty, even if you don’t feel as thirsty in the cold. Proper hydration is essential for maintaining your energy levels and overall health while hiking in any weather.

Choosing The Right Footwear

Choosing the right footwear for hiking. Women hiking in snow using hiking poles.

Choosing the right footwear for cold weather hiking is important for both comfort and safety. When the weather is cold, your feet are more likely to become cold and numb, which can lead to problems like frostbite. It’s important to keep your feet warm and dry, and the right footwear can help with that.

One option for cold weather hiking is to wear insulated boots that are specifically designed for cold weather. These boots are made with materials like Thinsulate or Gore-Tex that help to keep your feet warm and dry. They may also have a waterproof outer layer to keep your feet from getting wet in the snow or slush.

Another option is to wear a thicker sock, such as a wool sock, under your regular hiking socks. This can help to provide an extra layer of insulation and help to keep your feet warm. It’s also a good idea to make sure your socks fit well and aren’t too tight, as this can restrict blood flow and make your feet more prone to getting cold.

It’s also important to choose a hiking boot that fits well and provides good support. Poorly fitting boots can cause blisters and other foot problems, which can be especially uncomfortable in cold weather. Make sure to try on multiple pairs of boots and choose the one that feels the most comfortable and provides the best fit.

Choosing the right footwear for cold weather hiking is about finding a balance between warmth, comfort, and support. By considering factors like insulation, waterproofing, and fit, you can ensure that your feet stay warm and comfortable on the trail, even in cold 20 degree weather.

Keeping Energy Levels Up On The Trail

Maintaining energy levels on the trail is important for any hike, but it can be especially challenging in cold weather. When it’s cold outside, your body expends more energy trying to keep warm, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and low energy. Here are a few tips for keeping your energy levels up on a cold weather hike:

  1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet before and during the hike: Make sure to eat plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to fuel your body and keep your energy levels up.
  2. Stay hydrated: It’s easy to become dehydrated in the cold, especially if you’re not sweating as much as you would in warmer weather. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the hike.
  3. Bring high-energy snacks: Pack some high-energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, or energy bars to eat throughout the hike. These will help to give you a quick burst of energy when you need it.
  4. Take breaks: Don’t be afraid to take breaks when you need them. Stopping to rest for a few minutes can help to recharge your batteries and give you a boost of energy.
  5. Wear the right clothing: Make sure you’re wearing the right clothing for the weather. If you’re too cold, you’ll expend more energy trying to stay warm, which can drain your energy levels.
  6. Pace yourself: Don’t push yourself too hard on the trail. It’s better to take your time and maintain a steady pace than to try to go too fast and burn out while trying to bag that peak.

Enjoying The Beauty of Winter Hiking

Enjoy the beauty of winter hiking

Despite the challenges, hiking in cold weather can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. The colder temperatures and snowy landscapes can provide a unique and beautiful setting for a hike, and there are many ways to make the most of your winter hiking adventure. Here are a few tips for enjoying the beauty of winter hiking:

  1. Take in the scenery: Cold weather hiking can offer stunning views that are not visible during other seasons. From snow-covered trees and frozen waterfalls to sparkling ice crystals and frost-covered rocks, there is plenty of beauty to be found on the trail. Take the time to stop and appreciate the scenery, and don’t be afraid to snap some photos to capture the memories.
  2. Listen to the sounds of winter: The sounds of winter can be just as beautiful as the sights. From the crunch of snow underfoot to the rustling of leaves and branches in the wind, there is a certain magic to the sounds of winter. Take the time to listen to your surroundings and savor the unique sounds of the season.
  3. Embrace the cold: Cold weather hiking can be a refreshing change from the usual routine, and it’s a great way to embrace the colder temperatures and enjoy the outdoors. Rather than dreading the cold, try to embrace it and enjoy the unique experience of hiking in the winter.
  4. Stay warm and comfortable: While it’s important to embrace the cold, it’s also important to stay warm and comfortable on the trail. Make sure you’re wearing the right clothing and have all the necessary gear to keep you warm and dry. This will help you to fully enjoy your hike and appreciate the beauty of winter.

By following these tips, you can enjoy the beauty of winter hiking and make the most of your cold hike in 20 degree weather. Whether you’re exploring a snowy forest or climbing a frost-covered mountain, there are many ways to appreciate the beauty of the season and have a rewarding and enjoyable hike.

Mitch Taylor
With over 20 years experience with camping and hiking, I've taken it upon myself to share my insights. From common camping and hiking questions to gear recommendations, your adventure starts here.

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