December 1, 2019

The Winter Hiking Gear You Need to Stay Safe

Winter storms have already dropped inches of snow on Zion National Park, leading to road and trail closures and periodic, treacherous conditions in the park.

These conditions certainly shouldn’t keep you from enjoying this wonderful season in Zion. But they do require a little extra planning and preparation to stay safe on the trails. Keep reading to learn the gear you’ll need to stay safe all winter long.

Non-Cotton Base Layers

If you think that your favorite cotton tee and leggings are enough to keep you warm, think again. There’s a popular phrase among avid hikers; “cotton kills.” It refers to the fact that cotton is perhaps the worst material you can wear when you’re hiking in cold and wet conditions.

When cotton gets damp, whether from rain, snow, sleet, or your own sweat, it absorbs the moisture. And when it’s cold outside and your shirt or bottoms are trapped under several other layers of clothing, that moisture isn’t going to evaporate. It will, however, get cold. With a cold layer of wet clothes trapped against your skin, your body temperature is going to drop as well.

Leave your cotton clothes at home or in your hotel room. Instead, opt for wicking, synthetic fabric for your base layers, and even your mid-layers as well. These will wick away your sweat or the elements, and then help that moisture evaporate more quickly, allowing you to stay warm and comfortable.

Down or Fleece Insulation

After your base layer comes your insulating layers. Again, it’s best to skip your standard cotton hoodie. Wool sweaters, fleece pullovers, or down jackets and coats are a great alternative. 

If you hate to add bulk or can’t stand the feeling of your arms being restricted, you can layer a fleece vest or a lightweight down jacket. These will still help keep your core warm, but won’t restrict your movements.

A Waterproof Outer Layer

If your base layers are getting wet from the rain or snow, that means that the elements have already soaked through your other layers. Even if that synthetic material does its job, it isn’t going to help warm you up when your clothing is drenched. Down and fleece don’t necessarily have the same wicking properties as your base layers; these are designed to insulate you and keep you warm, and perform best when they don’t come in contact with moisture. Your base layer will keep the sweat off of them. This means your outer layer needs to protect them from the other side.

Your coat, or the shell you wear over your coat, should be waterproof, even if snow isn’t in the forecast. Pop-up storms, especially in the higher elevations, can leave you unexpectedly soaked. 

Waterproof Boots

It isn’t just your coat that should be waterproof. If you’re going to be doing any hiking in the snow, you’ll want your boots to lock out moisture as well. Otherwise, you’ll be left with wet, cold feet within minutes of hitting the trails.

Even water-resistant material isn’t enough when you’re trudging through snow. If you want to do any serious hiking, it’s best to invest in a quality pair of waterproof hiking boots with some insulation to keep your feet nice and warm during your hike.

Ice Treads

Snow isn’t the only winter effects you need to worry about while hiking in Zion or elsewhere in Southern Utah. Ice can be equally as treacherous, especially on steep trails or rocky surfaces. While your winter hiking boots should be equipped with good tread, adding a set of ice treads to your boots is a good way to reduce your chance of slipping in a dangerous spot.

Ice treads are designed to be worn over your boots. You can choose from a variety of styles, with the most common ones featuring chains or rubber bottoms equipped with spikes.

Hiking Poles

To give you a bit of extra stability on slick surfaces, a set of hiking poles is a great tool to have along on your winter hike. If you don’t want to tote them for your entire hike, a telescoping set can be stored away in your pack when you don’t need them anymore.

Emergency Supplies

Even if you have no intention of wandering too far from civilization during your winter visit to the park, having a few emergency supplies along can be the difference between a dangerous situation and safety. 

A space blanket can be easily tucked into your pack without taking up space but will be incredibly important if you have to take shelter on the trail. A lighter can help you start a fire in case you get stranded. If blizzard conditions start, a whistle can help other hikers or emergency crews find you, as can a headlight. If you have one, a trail GPS is also a great tool to have along. You’re unlikely to have cell phone service on most trails in Zion.

Staying Safe During a Winter Hike in Zion

Winter is a wonderful time to visit Zion. Crowds are thinner than any other time of year. The snow makes for some incredible scenes in the park. And if you hate the park’s sweltering summer temperatures, you’ll love the change.

With this gear, you can stay safe and warm on the trails all winter long! Now that you have what you need, it’s time to start planning your visit. Check out this article next to learn 5 ways to enjoy Southern Utah this winter.

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