How Cold Is Too Cold for Hiking?

Two persons hiking in cold weather

Hiking is a great way to keep your exercise diverse and interesting. The best part is that you can do it anywhere – from long-distance walks across your hometown, to strolls in beautiful natural environments.

The perfect hiking conditions involve dry periods in a year, with mild temperatures that are not too cold or too hot. However, what happens if you want to hike in conditions that are less than perfect?

Extreme cold is not the first choice when hiking comes to mind. The freezing weather can make even the easiest outdoor tasks a nightmare. This is why most experienced people recommend you don’t take long hikes during the worst parts of the winter.

But, in case you’ve made up your mind and are set on hiking in blistering colds, you should either be very prepared or know exactly how cold is too cold for hiking. We’re here to help you make that call, without using any temperature measurements.

Table of Contents

What Will Affect Your Hiking Trip in Cold Weather?

Accidents on the trail are more likely to happen in extreme conditions, whether it’s extreme heat, cold, rain, snow, or any other challenging environment.  In especially cold conditions, there are things that can spell the difference between a fun adventure and a nightmare scenario.

Here are the things you should get familiar with before you go on a hiking trip.

Altitude Can Make a Hiking Trip Really Cold

Obviously, the higher on the surface of the planet you are, the colder it gets. This will affect your overall hike by making things more difficult. So, if you are half-way up the mountain to your destination and you’re already feeling cold, you should drop it and return to your starting point.

It’s not going to get any warmer the higher you climb and if you’re already feeling cold, it’s already too cold for hiking for you!

Humidity Affects Our Perception of Temperature

Humidity has a huge influence on how we feel the temperature. If it’s high, we generally feel the weather more strongly. So, “dry” cold is not as cold as “wet” cold. This, of course, isn’t always the case, but the general rule is that humidity causes storms, and snow or rain can make things worse.

Geographical Latitude Will Make Things Much Colder

As we’ve mentioned before, not all cold is created equal. Depending on where on the globe you’re planning on hiking, you might experience some pretty frigid weather. So, if your hike will be so long it takes you closer to the South or the North Pole, you might want to consider changing routes, as the weather will definitely become too cold for hiking.

Experience & Equipment Mean a Lot When Hiking in Cold Weather

What people perceive as good weather for a hike differs greatly from person to person. What some think of as challenging weather, perfect for an adventure, others view it as a nightmare trek through the snow.

In addition to personal preference, what you think of as too cold for hiking will depend on your resources and skill. Experienced hikers or mountain climbers can allow themselves to test their skills in more challenging conditions. Additionally, if you have the right equipment, you can hike in more extreme circumstances. Insulated trousers and waterproof boots can provide enough protection from the cold to extend your hiking time by a couple of hours.

If you are an experienced outdoorsman, you should decide what weather is too cold to go hiking in. However, a skilled outdoorsman should know what is doable and what cannot be achieved even with the best equipment out there.

Skilled hikers know how cold is too cold for hiking

Things That Can Happen to You in Cold Temperatures

Before you set out on your hike, you should at least be familiar with what can happen to you in extremely cold conditions. This way, you can work around it and find a way to avoid the negative effects of freezing weather.

  • 32°F to 23°F – you could get hypothermia, sweat, melting snow and cold water will drain your moisture and bring your body temp down;
  • 23°F to 14°F – pleasant weather for hiking, but make sure you insulate your boots;
  • 14°F to -4°F – wind can cause frostbite on exposed skin after 10-15 mins;
  • -4°F to -22°F – frostbite likely if you have exposed skin, even without wind. Touching metal can cause your skin to stick to it and break off. Consume high energy foods to keep your body temp levels normal;
  • -30°C to -40°F – you might feel sleepy after walking a few steps. Watch your energy levels and hydration. Check regularly for frostbite, sometimes you may not feel it setting in;
  • Below -40°F – this is just too cold for camping. So, unless you are trying to conquer Everest or ski across the South Pole, you shouldn’t be hiking in these conditions.

Nutrition and Hydration Are Important for Keeping Your Body Warm

It is extremely important to maintain proper amounts of food and water intake when hiking in cold weather. Preparing your meals and drinks improperly can actually drain the heat from your body and make the matters worse.

Make sure your food and water don’t freeze when hiking. Keep your water bottle in a cozy, or close to your body. Additionally, make sure you heat any water you drink to maintain your body temperature equilibrium. The same goes for food, don’t leave it out where it can freeze, and try to heat it before you eat it.

Also, if you want to know how hot is too hot for an RV, make sure you check out the highlighted text!

How Long You Are Planning on Hiking Will Make a Difference

The duration of your hike as well as the distance you’re planning on covering is going to affect the weather you find along the way. The main reason people find a situation too cold for hiking is because they’ve run into unpredicted weather circumstances.

All of the factors we mentioned before will make the weather more unpredictable. And the more unpredictable the weather is, the colder it could get. Not to mention everything else that follows sudden weather shifts: blizzards, storms, rain, or high-speed winds.

To avoid being caught in conditions that you are unprepared to face, make sure you check the weather reports for your planned trail and see whether there will be any sudden temperature changes.

Camping in Cold Weather

If you’re planning a hike that takes longer than one day, you will need to bring some camping gear. You don’t want to get caught in the cold without a shelter.

Keep in mind that days are shorter in colder climates, and unless you want to set up your tent at night, you will need to plan your hikes accordingly. Make sure that there is enough time and light at the end of the day’s hike to make a camp.

A good way to increase your sleeping bag’s temperature range is to line it with a space blanket. The foil blanket will reflect your body’s heat and make you toasty warm even in cold snowy weather.

Have an Exit Strategy When Hiking in Extreme Colds

When tackling the great outdoors you should always have a Plan B (also, sometimes even a plan C and D). No matter what the initial hiking route was, if the weather gets too cold for you, you’ll need to find one back home.

How Cold Is Too Cold for Hiking?

As you can probably tell from this article, it’s never too cold for hiking. Provided you have enough experience and the right gear, you can go hiking even in subzero temperatures.

Having said this, you should still be vigilant and careful when camping in extremely cold weather. Even if you are experienced and skilled, hiking in cold weather is not a task to be taken lightly.

Before you set out on your adventure, make sure you are prepared for the conditions awaiting you. In addition to this, you should also have some redundancies for the main challenges you will face. Having extra tools for starting a fire, or some extra clothes could come in handy if the conditions take a turn for the worst, despite your best efforts.

Finally, know your limits. Hiking in cold weather is not for the faint of heart or weak of the leg. If you’re not exercising regularly, or you’re not used to hiking longer distances, it would be better to try your luck in milder conditions. And if you have your heart set on hiking in cold weather, make sure you choose shorter and easier routes, with fewer changes in elevation and altitude.

Additional Safety Tips for Hiking in Very Cold Weather

In the end, even the most experienced and skilled hikers can get lost or trapped in extreme conditions. Here are some safety tips you should remember before you set out on your icy adventure:

  • Dress in layers
  • Always wear a hat
  • Prepare redundancies
  • Drink and eat hot food
  • Dry your clothes when you get the chance
  • Notify someone about your hiking plans
  • Always have a first aid kit
  • Bring an extra space blanket
  • Know the terrain

Remember these tips before your next outdoor adventure. The more prepared you are for hiking, the safer and more pleasant your trip will be.

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