Choosing to hike year-round is one of the best decisions that you can make. Hiking when the weather is a perfect 70 F with a touch of sun and a breeze is incredible, but when you get over the idea that all other seasons are off-limits, you, my friend, have boxed yourself in. Embracing the outdoors in ALL conditions and learning how to layer properly for ice hiking opens up a whole new world of possibility.
Ice hiking is one of those stellar experiences and let me tell you, it’s exquisite. The thrill of doing something exotic and new on a trail, the crunch of ice beneath your boots, the silence that pairs with snow. It’s incredible.
Basic Ice Hiking Gear that You Need for an Unforgettable Experience
While we preach use what you have, investing in some specific gear for ice hiking will make your hike infinitely more fun AND safer. Rather than spending a pretty penny at your outdoor store, try searching for some second-hand gear on FB marketplace, craigslist, etc. to give it an initial go. Or at least start off with the store brand gear if you need to. Just remember, it’s not about the gear – it’s about getting outside.
Hiking in mixed conditions (rain, snow, ice, water crossings) makes having waterproof boots essential. Always aim to keep your feet dry and pack a second pair of socks…in a zip lock baggie to keep them dry. If you plan on doing a water crossing, take the extra time to sit down, remove your boots, and keep them dry while you cross the river.
Gators are like a rain jacket for your ankles. They wrap under your hiking boots and around the base of your leg. Their purpose is to keep out debris, pesky rocks, sand, and water. Gators keep your socks clean and dry – with the exception of making them sweat quite a bit more because of their water resistance – and are the perfect item for:
- muddy trails
- snow hikes
- ice covered paths
- sand hikes
These are metal spikes for your hiking boots and can also be called ice microspikes. They give you incredible grip and make ice hiking THE MOST INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE. EVER. Crampons come in various sizes (S, M, L) depending on your shoe size range and range of intensity. There are simple ones that have small metal coils for trail running in mild winter conditions, ones with small metal teeth decorating the bottom, and ones that look like you’re getting ready for an end of the world expedition. Pick your flavor!
They also tend to come in small pouches that make storing them and putting them in your pack a breeze. Another option is to get snowshoes with spikes.
Recommendation: Clean your boots, crampons, and trekking poles when you get home with soap and water and leave them to dry FULLY before packing them away. You’ll greatly extend the life of your gear this way.
These guys are super popular among hiking enthusiasts and are a great aid in helping you keep your balance on the trail. Not my personal favorite for general hikes, they do come in handy on winter hikes and VERY steep trails. And, you should heavily consider using them when you’re backpacking as they help with weight distribution, joint stabilization – such as protecting your knees and back – and catching you before you tumble down the hill with a HUGE pack on your back.
They are basically adjustable sticks. They come in various materials from metal to super expensive lightweight metal (aluminum-based alloys). Generally, the clips that allow you to extend the tripod-like poles are made from plastic or metal with hand grips that are some sort of comfortable spongy material ranging from foam to cork.
Planning on hiking in fresh and deep snow? You’ll want to…
…snowshoes then. They come in various types including snowshoes that have spikes and those that don’t. If you’re interested in a deeper dive on how to pick the perfect pair of snowshoes, check out REI’s expert advice from their how-to. There are incredible choices and various types of shoes to choose from and, trust me, the views from that hike are going to be well worth the effort put in!
The above items are geared towards ice hiking on trails that are relatively well laid out. You can level up and get to ice climbing with even MORE GEAR such as an ice ax, a harness, and a guide. Going with a group and scheduling an expedition would be an amazing starting point to gain experience.
Making a List. Checking it Twice.
Download this list so that you make sure you’ve got everything that you need to have the best time while you’re on the trail rather than freezing and slipping around because you overlooked that key item.
You Need Well-Rounded Clothing Layers to be Comfortable while Winter Hiking
- Winter coat
- Winter pants
- Rain pants
- Rain jacket
- Two pairs of socks
- Gloves + mittens
You do not Want to Forget these Additional Items for Ice Hiking
Depending on the weather conditions at the start of the trail and at the summit, you will want to pack these additional important & lightweight items for your hike. An important point to consider is that when you’re doing winter hiking and it’s blissfully cold, you often forget that you can get:
- Dehydrated easily
- Sunburnt, especially because of the additional reflection from the snow
- Blinding light, again from the sun’s reflection off of the snow
Taking those points into consideration can make your trailblazing experience MUCH more enjoyable and they’re easy to store in the top part of your backpack or the outermost pouch. Storing them in these two options makes them easy to access without stopping via flexible arm reaches OR from the loyal help of a trail buddy.
- Bag to pack out your trash
Plan Your Next Trip using these Resources for State and National Parks
Whether you are going to your local park, state park, national reserve, OR national park planning out your trip will make all of the difference. Start here by laying out what motivated you to get outside so that you stick to your plan and then pack your grab bag so that you’re ready whenever adventure calls!
Check out this ever-growing list of resources to get you started. Have a favorite that you don’t see there yet? Leave a comment or shoot us a message to see it added! New ones going up constantly!