Let’s do a little visualization, Boulderites. Imagine a typical summer day in Boulder with temps in the 80’s, a gentle breeze, and trails lined with wildflowers. Now imagine a typical winter day with temps in the 30’s, winds howling, and trails packed with snow and ice. Which one of these days is perfect for a hike?
The answer, of course, is both! Far too many people perceive hiking as a warm weather activity and, once the weather turns, they go on hiatus. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing (or gear)! With the right clothing and gear, hiking is absolutely a four-season sport. It’s also a great way to cross-train for skiing and snowboarding, catch of glimpse of local wildlife, spend time with family and friends, and beat the winter blues.
Winter is an incredible time to hike in and around Boulder. Familiar mountains and canyons are transformed by snow and ice. Seasonal changes in plant and animal life set a new stage. A quiet calm has fallen over our open space that simply must be experienced. It’s all within reach for the prepared hiker. Read on for your guide to tackling the trails all winter long in Boulder.
A good pair of boots is crucial to successful winter hiking. Do go to a local shop and try on several pairs, talk to a knowledgeable salesperson, and move around in them because purchasing. Don’t purchase online without trying them on first or take a blind recommendation from a friend.
Everyone’s feet are different, as are their needs and preferences. Boots that feel super comfy on one pair of feet may feel like torture on another. If you suffer from chronically cold feet, you may want something insulated. Meanwhile, someone who warms up quickly may prefer a non-insulated pair that’s more breathable. Consider the type of hiking you intend to do and how much you’ll be carrying on your back. If most of your hikes are under 2-3 hours, then a lighter boot may suit you. If daylong or multi-day treks are part of your plan, you will need something studier.
Thankfully, Boulder is full of outdoor gear and apparel shops with knowledgeable salespeople. Set aside some time to talk with them, try on several pairs for comparison, and make sure you move around to get a feel for each one. And be sure to check the shop’s return policy, because sometimes it’s hard to know if a pair really works until you hit the trail in them.
After boots, this is the second most important item in your winter hiking arsenal. This is especially true in Boulder, where we see a variety of conditions throughout the season. Depending on the trail and the day, you may encounter dry dirt, mud, ice, snow, or all of the above.
Hiking off trail to avoid less-than-stellar conditions is not an option. It causes erosion, destroying our trails and the surrounding habitat. Slip sliding your way up and down the trail is not a great idea either. One wrong move and your hiking season is over. This is where foot traction comes in and, once you try it, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
There are several options out there and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In this author’s opinion, here are the only two you need to consider.
For moderately pitched icy slopes: IceTrekkers Diamond Grip. They’re durable and work in a variety of conditions. If you can only purchase one pair, this would be it.
For the steepest icy slopes: Kahtoola Microspikes. These bad boys will have you feeling invincible. (But you’re not, so please use caution still.) They’re not as versatile on mixed terrain (avoid stepping directly on rocks or you may dull or damage the spikes) but when the going gets tough; these are what you want on your feet.
Gaiters are optional if you expect to be hiking through deeper snow (and they’re great protection from mud, too). They’ll keep the snow out of your boots, off of your pants, and just generally make you more comfortable.
Poles are always a hot topic among hikers. Some use them religiously while others don’t use them at all. The truth is that poles do offer increased stability, which is important when hiking in snow and ice. They also help you to hike longer and more comfortably by taking pressure off your knees and ankles and redistributing it.
Consider packing a headlamp on your winter hikes. With fewer daylight hours, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll find yourself out on the trail as the sun is setting. Be prepared and it’s all good.
For deep powder, snowshoes may prove more efficient. As with boots, you’ll want to go to a local store and spend some time talking to the salesperson about your needs. There are a wide variety of styles and prices. You may choose to rent a pair initially, and then purchase after you’ve had some experience with them. For most of our city trails, snowshoes are unnecessary (unless you’re one of the first to hit the trails after a storm). But if you’re heading out to the backcountry where the snow is deeper and the trails not as packed down, they are a must.
Layers, layers, and more layers. That is the #1 rule of dressing for winter hikes. Be sure the layers are wicking and breathable (avoid cotton) and peel them off as you warm up so you don’t overheat.
And don’t forget the basics
Let’s not forget that the ten hiking essentials needed for warmer months are still needed in the winter. Hiking with a friend is safest. If you must hike alone, be sure to let someone know exactly where you’re going and when you expect to return.
Now that you’re all geared up for winter hiking, go out there and get it! Happy icy trails, Boulderites!