If you are a keen summer or spring hiker, you may be looking to start hiking during the winter months for a new challenge. While this is certainly an attainable goal, there are some things that you should bear in mind while preparing for your trip.
Before hiking in 50 degree weather, you must consider what items you should bring. Knowing what to wear will also save you from the possible dangers that come with cold hikes.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Things to expect when hiking in 50 degree weather
- Important things to know when hiking in the cold
- Types of clothing you can wear to protect you from the elements.
Let’s dive in!
What to Expect When Hiking in 50 Degree Weather
When hiking in cold weather, there are a few things that you should expect to encounter along your journey.
A few examples are rain and mud, especially in winter. Being prepared to get wet and muddy is important when hiking in 50 degree weather.
While you should expect to feel cold, be aware that you will also be simultaneously sweating.
During high-intensity hikes your body is still going to release moisture, so be sure to wear enough clothing and avoid fabrics such as cotton that will feel cold against your skin when they get wet.
If you’re carrying battery-powered devices such as torches, store the batteries close to your body in a pocket to prevent them from dying out.
Cold weather drains the power out of alkaline or lithium batteries, and you never know when you may end up needing them.
Important Things to Know When Hiking in 50 Degree Weather
Know the Climate
Known for having high snowfall and severe snowstorms in winter, the north has a generally humid climate.
Hiking in the northern states during the cooler months will require you to regularly check the weather report for snow and rainfall.
Throughout the year, the Pacific Northwest can be described as rainy, with mild temperatures and generally overcast skies. Hiking in the rain can be troublesome, yet challenging, at times, and it’s important to be fully prepared.
Up in the mountainous volcanic areas of the Northwest, snowfall can pile up to 10 feet deep during winter.
In contrast, the climate to the east of the Rocky Mountains is generally drier. Because the mountain range acts as a barrier, the area receives lower overall precipitation.
Stretching all the way to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the northeast experiences cold winters and has a generally moist climate.
Because of the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, precipitation is spread evenly throughout the year. Further inland, the temperature is much cooler as compared to the coast.
Ice storms aren’t uncommon in this region, along with floods, droughts, hurricanes, storms, and heat waves in the summer.
The eastern areas of the United States are generally humid, with states closer to the poles experiencing colder winters.
Winter months also give rise to mid-latitude cyclones which can affect huge swathes of the country and bring occasional bouts of extreme cold.
Winters in the subtropical southern states are widely known to be mild.
However, climate variations also exist in the area as more northern states experience colder winters. Snow can even fall along the northern fringe of the American subtropics.
However, as you go further west, the climate becomes drier and more prone to humid winters.
While mountains also experience the same climate as surrounding areas, they receive more rain the higher up you go.
With this increased level of rain comes decreased temperatures, making these areas quite tricky to navigate in the colder months. If you’re planning on bagging peaks, make sure you’re suitably prepared.
Food and Hydration Tips for Cold Weather Hiking
Focus on high-energy foods. When it’s cold, it’s all the more important to consume high-energy food. Your body spends more energy keeping you warm, and if you don’t properly consider what food to bring, you increase your chances of becoming fatigued.
Carbohydrates such as granola bars, oatmeal, and pasta are great options because they can quickly replenish your energy.
Pack warm meals. You should also pack warm meals and soups in a thermos bottle as these are extremely effective at warming your body.
Be sure to also pack plenty of snacks like chocolate, sandwiches, and jerky that you can munch on during your hike.
Snack and drink often. We’re less inclined to stop mid-hike when it’s cold – but it’s important that we take in fluids and food during a hike. Keep snacks and water within easy reach so you can eat and drink while you’re on the go.
Prevent your hydration tube from freezing. Using a hydration reservoir requires keeping the drink tube unfrozen, otherwise, you will not be able to access your water. To address this, some manufacturers offer specialized insulation for the tube and bite valve. Alternatively, some smart hikers create their own insulation using inexpensive foam from a hardware store. Here are some tips to stop your tube from freezing:
- Regularly take sips to avoid solid freezing of the water.
- After drinking, exhale into the reservoir to empty the tube.
You may notice you feel less thirsty when you are hiking in 50 degree weather, but don’t take this decreased thirst as a sign that you don’t need to hydrate as much.
You still need to be drinking at least half a quart of water every hour that you are hiking. This amount increases if you are having a high-intensity hike.
Consider pouring warm water into a thermos and bringing it along to your hike. This way, your body will receive a constant supply of warmth while it’s exposed to the cold.
What to Wear Hiking in 50 Degree Weather
It’s important to layer up when hiking in cold weather, but the fabric and style of the clothes you choose will have a big impact on how you feel during your hike.
You will want a few different things from whichever base layer you choose for a hike in cold weather.
It’s recommended that you choose natural materials for your base layers, such as merino wool or silk. Both fabrics are fantastic at wicking moisture, allowing you to feel dry for a longer time. They are also naturally odor-resistant.
A downside when choosing natural fabrics is that they’re quite expensive; not everyone can afford to spend a lot of money on base layers.
Another suitable option is synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester. They are just as great at wicking away moisture, leaving you feeling warm and dry beneath your other layers.
However, keep in mind that synthetic fibers aren’t great at preventing odor. It doesn’t take much time for the material to begin smelling bad as you keep moving, which may be a big deal if you’re hiking for quite some time.
You should avoid base layers made of cotton because of how quickly it absorbs moisture. During cold hikes, the cotton will keep sapping away your warmth, increasing your risk of hypothermia.
The second most important thing to consider when choosing base layers is the material’s weight. Go for light and thin base layers as they wick moisture much faster than thicker materials.
On top of your base layer, you will want pants that lock a lot of heat in while also keeping you dry.
Polar fleece is made of polyester and is excellent at keeping you warm and dry, even if you get wet during your hike. It’s also less costly when compared to merino wool or down.
When it comes to choosing the mid-layer shirt to wear on top of your base layer, you have a few different options such as polar fleece, merino, or down.
If you prefer natural materials, mid-layers made of merino wool are also excellent. The wool will not only keep you warm and dry, but it will also prevent any odor.
Down will keep you the warmest out of any mid-layer option—until it gets wet, at least. Be careful when using down as it won’t be suitable for some areas and conditions due to humidity or rain.
If you know you will be hiking in the rain, a hardshell outer layer is essential.
Hardshell jackets that are waterproof and resistant to the wind are excellent in keeping the cold away from your skin. A good hardshell outer layer will also be breathable, allowing your sweat to evaporate.
During rainy hikes, go for a rain jacket.
If you know you won’t be hiking under the rain, you can opt for softshell outer layers that offer a higher range of motion. They likely won’t offer the same protection from the elements but are still quite suitable.
In 50 degree weather, you’ll want to stay away from hiking sandals or any other open-toed option. Hiking boots or other waterproof footwear will work well for colder weather and will keep your feet warm.
You can also consider buying snowshoes that you can strap onto your footwear. These special tools are designed to help you walk over snow, making your winter hike a lot safer.
Be sure to pair your shoes with some high-quality socks, and consider throwing an extra pair into your pack just in case your feet get wet and cold.
Extra Hiking Gear For Cold Weather Hikes
Hand and Toe Warmers
Hand and toe warmers are great during cold hikes as they help to keep the extremities warm. As these areas have reduced circulation compared to the rest of the body, they are the first to feel the effects of the cold.
Keeping them warm will increase the overall comfort of your cold winter hike.
Wear a Comfortable Hat
Wearing a hat while hiking in 50 degree weather helps to retain body heat and keep you warm. A fair amount of body heat is lost through the head, so wearing a hat helps to prevent this loss and maintain overall body warmth.
Additionally, wearing a hat in colder weather can also protect your face and ears from the wind, which can cause discomfort and make you feel colder.
Don Goggles or Sunglasses
Wearing goggles or sunglasses on a cold winter hike is important for several reasons:
- Sun protection: Snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays, increasing the risk of sun damage to the eyes. Wearing sunglasses or goggles with UV protection helps to prevent this damage.
- Wind protection: Cold winds can cause irritation and redness of the eyes, as well as tear up easily. Wearing goggles or sunglasses helps to protect your eyes from the wind and reduce discomfort.
- Improved visibility: Bright sun and glare can make it difficult to see when hiking on snow, so wearing sunglasses or goggles can improve visibility and enhance your overall experience.
Pack a Headlamp
Packing a headlamp when hiking in 50 degree weather in winter is a good idea for several reasons:
- Safety: Hiking in winter often means shorter days, which can make it difficult to finish a hike before sunset. A headlamp provides a reliable source of light to help you see your way back to the trailhead or camp.
- Convenience: A headlamp leaves your hands free to carry other equipment or perform tasks, making it a convenient option for winter hiking.
- Emergency preparedness: A headlamp can be a valuable tool in an emergency situation, providing light if you become lost or stranded.
- Darkness management: Winter days can be very short, and it can get dark quickly. A headlamp can help you make the most of the daylight and keep you on track.
It’s always best to be prepared for any eventuality, and a headlamp is a small and lightweight piece of equipment that can make a big difference in the case of an unexpected event.
The Bottom Line
Hiking doesn’t need to be an activity that you can only do during the spring and summer months. However, heading out into 50 degree weather does require some extra planning and research.
By always checking the weather report, wearing appropriate cold-weather hiking clothing, and being prepared for a range of different scenarios, you can ensure your safety and enjoyment while out in the cold.