Hiking in winter is variable depending on where you live, so please use this as a guide to plan but you may want to alter your plans based on the weather pattern and environment.
I am going to break this down in a few sections to base your planning off of so you feel prepared before heading on your winter hike!
Know Before You Go
Before departing on your trip or hike in the winter, it is best to check the weather. If there is rain and snow on the forecast ask yourself some questions: can my car safely make it there and back? Do I have the proper gear for this adventure? Is the trail going to be safe to exit from if there is snow falling all day? Do I have an emergency plan?
While some may think that this is over-preparing, it is best to be over-prepared than underprepared. Before departing on your hike, check AllTrails for recent trip reports, if available. This helps you decide if it is safe to go there, or if you want to endure the weather changes (ex. Snowshoeing in 5 feet of fresh snow). Calling the local ranger station is a great idea as well as oftentimes they live in the area and can give you a good idea of what to expect before you go.
Do you need a permit before you go? Hiking in winter oftentimes means that there is a permit required for the snowpark in addition to the normal permit necessary. This covers the cost of these parking lots being snow plowed all winter long so be sure to do your part.
Get The Gear
If the winter hike involves changing terrain due to weather, it is important to have the right gear before you go. First, select which Gregory Packs backpack works for your adventure, and make sure that there is a rainfly in your pack to keep you dry! Have a First Aid kit inside your pack, and an emergency device if you have it.
Layers! Essential for hiking in winter conditions, even if you’re hiking in the desert the sunshine can go from warm to windy and cold really quickly. Start your hike cold, meaning don’t have all of your layers on as you will sweat and most likely need to take some layers off. Be sure to have your base layer be moisture-wicking, so it doesn’t get wet and get you cold. Protip: have dry layers in the car including fresh socks to change into after your hike!
Gloves and a hat: vital pieces of gear for winter hikes! Even if you don’t use them, be sure to have them in case of an emergency. Especially if you’re cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, gloves will be needed.
Snowshoes or traction devices. Is the trail packed down and icy? Is it currently snowing with fresh snow on the trail? Knowing this will alter whether or not you want both of these items. Anytime I am hiking in winter I always have traction devices in my backpack just in case. Nothing is worse than slipping the entire hike!
Proper Footwear! Are your boots waterproof? Hiking in winter most of the time involves wet conditions so having dry feet for your hike will make it most enjoyable. Gaiters are also a great option to add to ensure snow doesn’t billow into your hiking boot. If you’re hiking in snow a lot I advise you to invest in winter hiking boots, they are especially warm.
Jackets and pants. Are snow pants a good idea? Insulated pants? Is a waterproof jacket going to be needed? Asking yourself these questions and being prepared with the right jacket can make or break your experience.
Lastly, always tell somebody where you’re going. It is best practice if you’re going out into an area without cell phone service that somebody close to you is aware of, and you alert them before and after departure.
All in all, hiking in the wintertime can be quite enjoyable as long as you’re prepared. If you’re still uncomfortable, I advise taking a snowshoeing lesson or class in your local area, this is so helpful for those just starting out.