Sure Cure for the Gray Winter Blahs…

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Backpacking

Hiking at Cincinnati Nature Center on a balmy, 8 degree morning

Sometimes here in the Midwest, January feels like it’s at least 100 days long…and February even longer! Gray skies, drizzle, freezing rain, gray landscape, cold, no sun, gray mood, GRAY GRAY GRAY…  If you’re feeling this way, it’s time to get out and hike! Winter is a great time to head for a trail in the woods for a good dose of “tree aura” which will cure what ails you, including the gray winter blahs.

Hiking in January and February can mean less crowded trails, and greater success spotting birds and other wildlife. You can see more of the terrain than in warmer months when things are leafed out and blooming. And you may notice more signs of woodland creatures. If you’re really lucky, maybe it’ll snow. Whether you give in to your inner child to catch snowflakes on your tongue, make snow angels and have a snowball fight, or simply soak up the peace of a forest hushed by snowfall, there is nothing more beautiful than a snowy wood.

Unless you are underdressed for the cold, that is. It’s hard to enjoy the woods when you’re shaking like a cold chihuahua. So here are some tips to safely, and COMFORTABLY hike in the winter, even if it’s REEEE..ALY cold:

  • Watch the weather. And carry extra layers because… how often is the weather forecast 100% on the money??
  • Staying dry is critical. Maybe this is why we don’t swim in January, hmm?
  • Dress like an onion. Wear layers. If you get warm enough to begin sweating, remove layers. Sweat is an enemy when winter hiking, precisely because its purpose is to cool you off.
  • Do not wear cotton! We say, “Cotton is rotten; Wool is wonderful!” But the rangers out west say, “Cotton kills”. That’s because it retains moisture and holds it against your skin where it will pull the most heat from your body, and in the backcountry, that could be deadly.
  • Think like a sheep or a duck. Wool and down are two great insulators! Thick synthetics are also good. Start with a thin wool or microfleece base layer and add one or two insulating layers of thicker wool, fleece, and/or down, followed by an outer layer that can be unzipped or removed to help regulate body temperature.
  • Wear a waterproof/windproof outer layer. You know about the wind chill factor, right? Even a slight breeze will pull more heat away from your body.
  • Wear a thick, warm hat, cover your neck with a scarf or gaiter, and wear warm gloves or better yet mittens… mittens are warmer than gloves. (And they are easier to stuff frozen fingers into… ask any 3 year old!)
  • Your hands act like radiators. Whether you wear mittens or gloves you want something dense enough to be wind proof, or to have an outer windproof covering. Layering mittens over gloves when it’s extra cold works well, too.
  • Winter is the only time I wear waterproof boots, because you want to keep your feet DRY when it’s cold out. Don’t have waterproof boots? No problem! Slip your socked feet into plastic bags before you put on your boots! Another great use for doggie poop bags.
  • Wear wool socks and make sure that your toes still have room to wiggle. If your boots are too tight because you have on too many pairs of socks, your circulation will be restricted… and could leave you feeling like you inadvertently left your toes at home.
  • Invest in Yaktrax or mico-spikes. Minimize the risk of accidentally skating down an  icy trail, or doing the splits on a frozen creek crossing. These traction devices are like snow chains for your boots. HERE.
  • Hot Hands are amazing! Stick them in your gloves and/or boots for toasty toes and fingers! HERE
  • To regulate your temperature as you warm up/cool down, peel those layers on and off, and/or partially zip/unzip your jacket/insulating layers, take off/put on scarf, gloves and hat.
  • On extra cold and/or windy days, protect lips and exposed facial skin with lotion, sunblock, Aquaphor or Vaseline to protect from windburn.
  • Carry a small daypack to stuff extra layers in as you warm up.

I’ll take a cold February hike over a steamy August hike any time. The hiking picture at the beginning of this post was taken on a morning hike in January when the temp had just warmed up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Notice the big smiles!!

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Catching snowflakes

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