Tag Archives: cold

Layer up and Get OuT

On Saturday morning’s GetHiking! hike at Umstead State Park, half the number of hikers who signed up showed up. No mystery there: it was cold.  

What is a mystery is why so many hikers let a little thing like freezing temperatures keep them off the trail. As we may have mentioned (just last week, in fact), we love a winter hike: among other things, there are fewer people, fewer bugs, and it’s blissfully quiet. Yet too many people miss out because they don’t know how to dress. Let’s solve that problem here and now. read more

Warm up to the Cold 

The temperature was around 60, the sky as blue as it gets. It was a gorgeous day for hiking any time of the year, let alone the first weekend of January. And yet … .

“I could stand it a little colder,” Jenny said as we took a short break hiking the Buckquarter Creek Trail at Eno River State Park, our first GetHiking! Winter Program for Beginners hike. Her fellow sun-drenched hikers nodded.

Now, I love hiking in winter: I love throwing on layers, then peeling them off as I warm up; I love seeing my breath; I love steam pouring off my head when pull off my wool cap. But I was surprised that so many people new to hiking were ready for more of a nip in the air. I associate new hikers with spring and its allure of wildflowers and touch of warmth, and fall, for its color and retreat from summer’s stifling heat. And so it was wonderful to see that they are ready to embrace winter’s subtle charms. Here in the Southeast, especially, winter offers these delights:

=&0=&. Here’s a paradox: It’s the coldest time of the year, yet the time when we’re nearest the sun. On a cloudless day, the sun is more brilliant than it is in July. And in a forest without leaves, you can appreciate the sun’s brilliance all the more. During the week, you go into work as the sun is coming up and you go home around the time it sets, so the weekend allows for full appreciation of this burst of sunlight.

=&1=&. It’s quiet — and it’s not. In winter there’s less wildlife chatter, fewer noisy people in the woods. And while hibernation isn’t a practice in these parts, there’s less foraging going on. The noise you can is hear from a  distance, because dry winter air acts as a transmitter that’s especially effective in the absence of sound-muffling leaves. Stand still and just listen.

=&2=&. On Sunday’s hike, we followed a ridge above the Eno for three-quarters of a mile. In summer, you have no idea there’s a river below. On Sunday, we stood and watched the rain-swollen Eno course its way through a series of boulder fields, and listened to the dull roar of a river made too big for its banks. The elevated vantage point was almost better than walking along the banks.

=&3=&. In summer, we stick to the trail because who knows what lurks beyond: slithery creatures on the other side of a log, poisonous vines concealed in an ankle-high carpet of green. In winter, there are few surprises. For one, those slithery creatures aren’t likely to be out until the temperature climbs into the upper 60s and those itch-inducing leaves are in remission (though keep an eye out for fuzzy vines curling up tree trunks). The winter woods are open, the threats are minimal.

=&4=&. There are few, reason enough to love winter in the woods.

=&5=&. Winter gets a bad rap because it’s viewed as down time. This is especially true if you’ve migrated to the Southeast from the North or Midwest and are used to winter starting in mid-November and lingering through March. But here, winter soon reveals harbingers of spring. In late January, the first warm rain of the season queues a chorus of spring peepers. In early February, the woods start sprouting their first clusters of daffodils, a hardy ornamental planted by early homesteaders to brighten their lives. Then, in mid- to late-February come pairs of mottled green leaves poking through the leaf litter that soon give way to the delicate yellow and purple petals of the trout lily.

It may only be the second week of January, and just the third week of winter, but already, before the first peeper has spoken, we’re already getting nostalgic for the cold. Enjoy it while you can.

Happy trails,


Let us help you enjoy the season!

For a rundown of our winter hiking (and backpacking) programs, go here.

For our weekly GetHiking! hikes in North Carolina and Virginia, go here.

Don’t let the cold clip your hiking wings

A crisp, brilliant day without a cloud in the sky! It’s perfect weather for a hike. Except, you say, for the cold.

We love hiking this time of year. The air is typically dry, the diminished foliage lets you see deeper into the woods, the slanted winter sunlight seems to light the forest from the ground up.

Yes, it’s cold, and maybe some of you shy away from hiking in the cold. But you don’t have to give up stretching your legs in the woods just because there’s a nip in the air.

Here are some tips to get you into the woods, no matter the temperature.

  • Regulate your thermostat. An easy and efficient way to regulate body heat is with hat and gloves. You can quickly lose heat through your head and hands. Start your hike with a wool cap and gloves to keep heat from escaping. Once you warm up, try shedding one or the other. Give it a few minutes to see what effect the change is having.
  • Pack smart. If you’re undecided between a lighter fleece and heavier fleece, pack both. And pack more snacks than you might in warmer weather; you burn more calories in the cold.
  • Layer up at breaks. When you stop for a snack, grab a layer before you grab your gorp. You’ll want to retain the heat you built up hiking, and this will do it.
  • Hike in the sun. On an especially cold day you can up your odds of staying warm by choosing a trail that lets in a bit more light. That can mean picking a trail that you know has more hardwoods, which have shed their umbrella of leaves for winter, rather than hiking under evergreen pines. That can mean looking for trails that are double-track, which are wider and thus have a wider opening in the canopy, rather than narrower single-track. A couple ways to distinguish between the two on a map: a wider double-track may be marked with parallel dashed lines, and trails marked as “multiuse,” especially if they allow horses, are more likely double-track.
  • Hike in the sun II. Pick a trail with a southern exposure. You’ll need to know how to read a topo map to pick a south-facing trail. Or have the number for the local ranger station handy.
  • Hike early. You’ll want to take advantage of the sun as much as possible. So start early, when the trail is still be in shadows, and finish while the sun is at its brightest, rather than finishing as the sun is setting and the air is cooling.
  • Hike early II. Remember that the sun sets early this time of year. Today, for example, official sunset in Raleigh is 5:01 p.m., with diminishing light remaining for another half hour. Note that with the winter sun deeper into the southern sky, you will lose light hiking the north side of a mountain even earlier. The temperature can drop like a rock once the sun sets.
  • Start a bit cool. Too many folks start a hike all bundled up: five minutes down the trail they’re starting to sweat. Instead, right before heading out, strip off that outer layer. You’ll be cool for a minute or two, but should warm up quickly.
  • More about layering. Add layers to get warm, then, at the first hint of sweat, strip down to cool down. We actually have a whole post on layering, which you can check out using the link below.
  • read more

    A forecast blown

    A clear, crisp sky. Cold, invigorating air. Perfect weather for a hike. Especially for first-timers eager for a good first impression. Sunday afternoon’s weather couldn’t have been better.


    * * *

    I first heard of the prospect of snow from an unlikely source on Ninth Street in Durham. It was wrapped in a solicitation that seemed more far-fetched than usual. Not impossible for early March, but unlikely based on the unseasonably warm winter we’d been having. Two days later I received a text from my wife: it was a screen shot of the 7-day forecast. “Look at Sunday!” she implored. She never uses exclamation points. Sure enough, Sunday was pictographically represented by a snowflake.

    As a hike leader and organizer, that set into motion my Unpleasant Weather Preparedness Plan. For the next three days, I would check the forecast first thing in the morning, at mid-afternoon, in the evening. Every time, the forecast was different. Each time, it came with the disclaimer that different forecasting models suggested different scenarios: maybe snow, maybe rain, maybe sleet.

    Maybe … nothing.

    * * *

    For the most park, I love the unpredictability of the weather. I love having to consider the various eventualities and preparing accordingly. Packing rain gear on even the sunniest summer day in the mountains, estimating the proper fleece for a winter hike. Gloves? Hat? Gaiters? Gearing up for the journey is part of the journey itself. When it comes to hiking, about the only thing that will give me pause is an electrical storm. Years ago I was caught in an electrical storm above 12,000 feet on Engineer Pass in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains: we could actually see lightening emanate from clouds below us. Never again.

    Otherwise, there’s nothing like being properly geared for a little weather — when I’m on my own. When I’m leading others, and responsible for their safety, it’s another matter. Not everyone has the proper gear for different weather occasions. Not everyone has a tolerance for getting a little wet. Not everyone would just about always be outside instead of in.

    The latter is one of my main goals leading hikes, to make people want to return outside, often, and to different locales. To make that happen, though, they need to first feel comfortable. Sunday’s hike was the first in an eight-week spring series that included a lot of first-timers. More to the point, it included a lot of families: the kids have a good time, the family will be back. If they’re wet and cold, it’s six more weeks (at least) of the Xbox.

    So I monitored the weather closely Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Friday, before all my weekend hikes, I always send a reminder notice with an update on the forecast. If the weather looks iffy, I advise that they will receive word at least three hours in advance if the hike is canceled.

    For Sunday’s hike, though, I deviated from standard procedure. The forecast was leaning away from accumulations of snow; worse, though, it was teetering toward icy, wet rain. Even if the trail was OK, the roads getting there might not be. So, because it was the first hike of the session (and first impressions are crucial, remember), because there were so many newbies, and because the hike was in the Triangle’s northern snow belt (Horton Grove Nature Preserve in northern Durham County), I pulled the plug early. To the hikers, I wrote, “we’re going to postpone the start of the Spring Sunday Afternoon Hiking Season until Sunday, March 19. We’ll still start at Horton Grove; we’ll move the schedule back a week … .”

    * * *

    Two hikers responded immediately: “Good call,” they wrote. I check the forecast late Friday afternoon: it was looking colder and wetter. I felt good about call. Until Saturday morning.

    “So much for the winter weather,” a hiker on another hike I was leading said when I arrived.


    Overnight, what wet winter weather that had been expected now wouldn’t be expected until Monday — if at all. Sunday morning arrived with the lightest of light snow, the perfect forest accent for a winter hike. By 10:30, the sun was peeking out; by noon the sky was more blue than not. By 1:30, hike time, the sky was crisp, clear, the air cold and invigorating.

    Perfect weather for a hike. A hike, say, for first-timers eager for a good first impression. Yup, Sunday afternoon’s weather couldn’t have been better.


    The cold facts

    It’s cold: waking up to 9 degree temperature is cold in anyone’s book, no matter how cold-blooded you are, no matter where you live.

    But how cold is it? And how does that cold affect us when we venture out?
    Understanding what’s going on when your exercising body interacts with the cold is key to figuring out how to deal with frigid conditions. Proper preparation for the cold and being able to read the signs of how your body is reacting can mean the difference between a day of exploring in the winter woods or Netflix. As is the case with so many matters concerning the active outdoor life, a great source of information is Princeton University’s Outdoor Action website. And in the case of matters concerning the cold, their comprehensive “Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries.”
    “Traveling in cold weather conditions can be life threatening,” writes Rick Curtis, who heads the outdoor program at Princeton. “The information provided here is designed for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience.”
    Disclaimer obediently noted, here’s a very quick primer on hypothermia:
    Can initially be tipped off by signs of the “umbles — stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles which show changes in motor coordination and levels of consciousness.”
    Involuntary shivering is a sign of mild hypothermia, slurred speech a sign of moderate hypothermia, dilated pupils is a sign of severe hypothermia, erratic and very shallow breathing is a sign of, well, you don’t want to reach that point.
    To deal with the onset of hypothermia you should reduce heat loss by adding clothes, switching to dry clothes if your clothes are wet, move, seek shelter; eat and drink; find heat, through a fire, for instance, or direct body contact.
    Learn more about hypothermia as well as vasodilation, vasoconstriction, the pathophysiology of tissue freezing and a whole lot more by visiting the “Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries.”