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A How And Why Of Winter Hiking

My friend Brie Olivares has a new digital zine out, a collaboration with Ben May, titled Losing Daylight: A Comprehensive Guide To Wellness During The Darker Days. I hear a few physical copies may perhaps turn up at Green Door Books in Hobart.

There's good tips and strategies therein for staying healthy during this period of shorter days and longer nights. Brie asked me to write a few words about the long distance hikes I enjoy during winter. I've included the text below, along with screen shots from the zine.

I did a leisurely 6 miles in the late-afternoon stroll around Marquette Park on Opt Outside Friday (see the highlights on this episode of The Calumet Wilderness) and have an 8 mile hike planned for the North Creek watershed some time next week.


Winter has become my preferred season for hiking, particularly longer distance hiking - in the range of 8-16 miles. I've enjoyed winter hiking since I was a teenager. An elevated view of frozen wetlands from atop a Valparaiso moraine followed by a descent into those frozen wetlands started the attraction. In recent years I've formalized my approach somewhat: making longer hikes, revisiting specific places over time, and streamlining the resources I carry with me.

The other seasons have their charm, and to witness changes in the landscape over time is reason enough to hike in all seasons. But winter brings an opportunity to make the most of every bit of daylight and get even closer to parts of nature that are difficult to reach during the muggy and buggy months.

Winter brings a set of unique challenges but with the right gear, planning, and mindset the challenges are no problem. Ultra-specialized, costly gear or extensive conditioning aren't necessary but a few key items make longer hikes safer and more comfortable. The key is to protect your skin and insulate your feet and core from cold, wetness, and wind.

I wear wool or synthetic blend socks and insulated waterproof boots. Cotton holds moisture and insulates poorly - tho I've found that thin, loose hospital scrubs under loose-fitting jeans or overalls keep my lower section plenty warm. I also carry a pack of hand or foot warmers, an extra set of dry socks, and bandages for blisters. To keep my core warm I wear a long-sleeve synthetic blend wicking shirt (to trap body heat), a regular hoodie, and then my trusty bomber jacket.

"Arm socks" are my secret weapon against wind. Years ago I bought an expensive pair of dress socks only to have them develop a hole after a single wear. They had a cool black and magenta stripe so I cut open the ends and wore them on my wrists to stop the breeze from blowing up my sleeves and reducing my core temperature.

Properly layered I'm comfortable down to 20 degrees. Thirty degrees is downright balmy. Seven minutes of brisk hiking gets me so warm that the hat and gloves come off. And I'm someone who is thin, has poor circulation, and is usually cold in the house!

Long winter hikes require a bit more attention to planning and conditions. But the rewards are worth it. I've come to better appreciate winter's many aspects: the dramatic sunsets, the odd 50 degree day in January, or a light snowfall in the woods. Most importantly, I feel like I made the most of a day by being outdoors and present for 3-6 hours of daylight. And as the longer darkness sets in early I'm too tired to care.

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