How to stay warm on a cold hike |

How to stay warm on a cold hike

Colleen O’Neil

Where to hike when the weather is frightful

Dinkle Lake: This hike isn’t too long, or terribly high up. Even if conditions are terrible, you can get back to your car pretty easily. Just make sure you have 4-wheel drive to get up the road.

Mushroom Rock: This trail will get better and better as it freezes. Late in the winter, frequent hikers pack down the snow and make it walkable.

Babbish Gulch: These Nordic ski trails at Sunlight aren’t ready yet (they’re probably swampy), but they always draw a good crowd around the end of November.

Rifle Mountain Park: From December until the end of February, walls of ice form outside of the caves thanks to the daily cycles of steady warmth and bitter cold. It’s an easy, three-quarters-of-a-mile hike to the Ice Palace.

Just because we’re deep into the shoulder season (cold and wet, with not enough snow for skiing), doesn’t mean you have to give up outdoor activities for the rest of the year. Actually, you’re in luck because the hiking gets better as the snow falls. And it’s definitely been coming down up high.

We’ve all had our share of frozen-fingered temper tantrums on the tops of mountains, right? That should be your impetus to prepare correctly for the weather.

After all, you can hike almost anywhere — as long as you’ve got the right gear.

For starters, it’s important to dress in layers so you can take a few things off if you get too hot. When you start out doing a cold-weather aerobic activity (like hiking or Nordic skiing), it’s a good rule of thumb to be slightly cold when you start out. That way, you won’t overheat too quickly.

But when you do get hot, take a layer off or unzip something so you don’t end up damp. As the Eskimos say: If you sweat, you die.

Here are some of our favorite pieces that will help your body regulate its temperature, even in the nastiest weather.


Merino sheep live in an environment with similar weather to the Rocky Mountains — hot summers, freezing winters. So Mother Nature designed their wool to keep the sheep happy all year long. Merino wool will do the same thing for you.

Wearing a wool base layer is a non-itchy way to keep yourself warm and comfortable in a variety of temperatures. Wear it under mid-layer on mild days, or with a down jacket on top when it’s really cold.

Unlike polyester, which attracts bacteria to sweaty zones (i.e. armpits), wool is anti-microbial. While it is a wicking, quick-drying fabric, it won’t get smelly after a few wears.

I’ve actually tested this, wearing the same wool shirt for a week on a backpacking trip. The stink stayed on my skin, not the fabric.

Plus, Ibex is a company with high standards for the sustainability of their garments. Wool is a renewable resource, and each item is traceable back to the ranch, spinners and sewers who put it together.

If you have a lanolin allergy or extremely sensitive skin, another good option is a Patagonia Capilene pullover. Though smellier, these base layers will keep you warm when there’s a nip in the air.


A quality down jacket is essential to living a happy life during the winter in Colorado. But that doesn’t mean you need the lightest, most expensive jacket in the world. Those ultra-packable jackets are usually built with teeny-tiny zippers that’ll break after a few wears.

Instead, try this jacket — it’s got all the benefits of an ultralight garment, but with a lot more durability. The zipper is beefy enough to stand up to years of wear, and the fabric is thick enough to withstand getting scratched up by tree branches and dog claws alike.


If you’re trying to be warm, avoid wearing tights at all costs. Yoga pants, running tights and the like are all very constricting, so they don’t allow your body to generate and circulate heat. A looser fit is better if you don’t want to get chilled.

Both of these pants are tapered at the bottom, allowing you some freedom of movement and room to add on gaiters or tall boots if the snow is deep. But they’re loose enough on the legs to keep you warm.

In colder weather, try a pant with softshell material on the front and breathable material on the back. They’ll keep the bite of the wind at bay without overheating your legs.


Again with the wool.

The same benefits of a wool shirt apply to socks, as well. They’re warm, nonstinky and very durable. Plus, Darn Tough has a lifetime guarantee on their products. If you ever get a hole in one, they’ll replace your socks for free.


Some people like the flexibility of gloves. But if being warm is your aim, nothing’s better than a pair of big mittens.

Gloves isolate each finger into its own pocket, which can make them get cold. But mittens keep your fingers together so they can share warmth.

On really cold days, use a chemical hand warmer inside to keep your digits toasty.

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