The winter has well and truly set in with days of sub-zero temperatures and significant snowfall across the northern half of the country. This is no reason for staying at home and missing out on the spectacular beauty of the outdoors however.
It is perfectly possible to experience the otherworldly effect that a blanket of snow can have and enjoy some wonderful winter weather. If you are venturing out in areas such as the Scottish Highlands, it’s important to have a few winter mountaineering skills under your belt for your own safety, as snow and ice obviously present extra challenges.
One of the more basic aspects of winter walking that none the less should be taken very seriously is staying warm and dry. In some cases, this will simply involve the decision to stay at home, as venturing out in thick snow, dense fog or heavy rain is not only unpleasant but can lead to serious accidents or medical incidents and the call out of emergency services.
However, when the weather is reasonably calm and clear but cold, walking can be extremely rewarding. To get the most out of it and to guard against unpredictable changes in weather, you need to be prepared to take on the cold and wet. Here are a few tips to stay warm and comfortable on your winter walk.
Wear breathable layers
One of the biggest enemies to staying warm when you are active in cold weather is sweat. If you wear thick heavy layers that do not have breathable qualities, you will get hot and sweaty on strenuous sections of the walk. This sweat will be absorbed by the fabric and feel unpleasantly cold and clammy when you cool off, and will take a long time to dry out.
This will eventually chill your core temperature and it will be very difficult to warm up again. Therefore you should always wear a base layer that is specifically designed to be breathable and moisture wicking, and not absorb sweat or dry out fast. This can be in the form of natural fibres such as soft merino wool or cashmere, or specifically designed synthetic fibres.
If you do feel yourself sweating during the walk, remove your hat and gloves and open your outer layers up to give your body a chance to cool off. If you feel that you are prone to become soaking wet with perspiration, consider taking a spare dry base layer with you to change into as this will help you to feel warm and comfortable on the rest of the walk.
If the weather is not wet, do not wear a heavy waterproof jacket that will encourage sweating, but wear warm layers instead. However you should always carry a waterproof to be prepared for bad weather as mountain conditions can change rapidly. Choose a modern breathable jacket rather than an old fashioned style waterproof that will lock in moisture.
Keep your feet warm
Your feet are extremities and thus take longer to warm up once the cold sets in. They can also easily become damp with sweat or a misjudged step into boggy or wet ground, so take a pair of spare dry socks with you. It’s ideal to have a thin liner sock with a thicker more insulating sock over the top.
It is obviously also crucial to have a well-fitting pair of sturdy boots for winter walking.
Hands, head and face
It’s essential to protect other exposed areas such as your hands, head and face. A thick pair of wind and waterproof gloves are ideal if you are walking without winter climbing equipment such as ice axes and ropes.
If you find thick gloves too clumsy because you need to handle equipment or just manage your navigation or clothing levels, then you may wish to wear thinner gloves, but be vigilant for pain that could be the first sign of frostbite.
To protect your face, you may wish to wear a neck gaiter that can be pulled up over your mouth and nose, or even a face mask. If you are walking in snowy conditions, goggles are useful to prevent loose snow from blowing in your eyes. A warm insulating hat is also essential.
Take hot drinks
Prepare a thermos or two of hot tea or other warm beverage to take with you and help warm up your core body temperature when you stop to take a break. In freezing temperatures, it’s also a good tip to add warm water to your regular water drinking bottle to prevent it from freezing up.