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Winter Hiking: Are You Wet and Hot?

I think at this point, everyone is familiar with layering, (if not I've put a few useful links about it down below). What is often overlooked is the difference between hiking in the cold and relaxing around camp in the cold. So let's talk about that.


Our bodies generate a lot of heat. A 180lbs man hiking up an incline of 6%-15% for an hour will burn up to 656 calories. Fortunately we humans dissipate heat quickly by sweating. Which is just fine if you're walking around in shorts and a T-shirt. It's a different story when we go hiking in the cold. We layer our clothes, with a base layer, an insulating layer, and then a waterproof shell. Add in two layers of wool socks, gloves, and an insulated hat and we have a situation where that heat doesn't dissipate so well. We're sweating in a thermal suit designed to keep all that heat in and the cold out.


"Yeah, but my base layer is moisture-wicking and I'm not wearing any cotton.", you say. Good. However, even the most moisture-wicking fabric will still have moisture and as you hike along, your body is getting hotter and moister. After hiking a mile or so, you've removed your wooly cap, stuffed the winter gloves in the backpack, and taken off your waterproof shell. Perhaps even the insulating layer is stuffed into your backpack. Then you arrive at your campsite or lunch spot. This is when things change.

You're no longer active. Your body isn't generating massive amounts of heat. That 180lbs man is now just burning about 84 calories an hour. This is where you may need more than that insulating layer. Your fingers, ears, and head start getting cold very quickly, toes too.

This is why I recommend having two pairs of gloves, two hats, a scarf, and a puffy jacket stashed in your backpack on winter hikes. On the hike up, you're wearing gloves that will just barely keep your hands warm, once you get to camp, out come the ski gloves. Trudging along you have a moisture-wicking ball cap. At camp, you pull out that wool cap that covers your ears and wrap a scarf around your neck. Unpack the puffy jacket and put that on over your insulating layer and under your waterproof shell.

Winter hiking and backpacking can be some of the best times you'll spend in nature. Just make sure you've packed for not just the hike or camp, but for both. See you out there!


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