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As the temperature drops and the days become shorter, many adventurous explorers set out for winter hiking. There are many reasons why people choose to hike during the winter. Winter hiking can provide views not seen during the summer months, when the trees are covered in leaves. Having an outdoor hobby during the winter can also change a person's viewpoint about the season. Winter is associated with seasonal affective disorder, a condition caused by the shorter days and homebound nature of winter. Getting outside and enjoying winter can help combat this condition. Above all else, people enjoy winter hiking because it's fun and a great way to stay in shape during the winter months. But there are a few things everyone needs to know before setting out on that first winter hike. When a hiker is unprepared, winter hiking can be disappointing and dangerous. Taking the time to review necessary equipment is a way to ensure safety on the trail this winter.

What to Wear

The most important thing to remember with any outdoor activity in the winter is to dress in layers. Layering is an effective tool to protect against inclement weather when done properly. Hiking is a fun hobby but requires a person to be outside for extended periods of time. Being exposed to the winter weather for that long without dressing appropriately is dangerous, so layers are a must. Beginning with the underlayer, hikers should make sure to wear synthetic long underwear as well as synthetic underwear. Having liner gloves to wear beneath your gloves or mittens is also a good idea. A base layer of liner socks should also be worn. Above this underlayer, an insulating layer of thick socks and a shirt and pants made of synthetic material should be worn. A second insulating layer of fleece along with gloves or mittens is also recommended. Finally, the exterior layer should feature waterproof materials designed to keep melting snow from soaking into the interior layers. Hikers should also make sure to wear winter hats, scarves, and some form of eye protection. By layering effectively, hikers can prevent exposure-related conditions such as frostbite or hypothermia.

Importance of Different Materials

Different materials serve different purposes when layering for winter weather. The base layer or underwear should be moisture-wicking to keep your skin dry if you begin to sweat. Dry skin is an essential part of staying warm in the snow. The next layers are referred to as insulating layers because they trap heat and keep it near the body. Much like a blanket, these layers use a person's own body heat to keep a person warm. Materials like wool and fleece are great options when choosing an insulating layer. The exterior layer, also called the shell layer, needs to be made of a waterproof (or at least water-resistant) material that can also defend against the cold winds. Cotton materials such as denim will soak up moisture and should be avoided as an exterior layer. Down winter jackets and snow pants make the best options for a shell layer. Waterproof boots made from a quality rubber with a high ankle should also be worn to keep snow away from your feet.

Other Equipment

The importance of layering and dressing appropriately for winter hiking cannot be understated, but there are many other important pieces of equipment that need to be taken with you. Hikers need to make sure to bring a backpack to carry essential equipment. Bringing a map of the area as well as a compass is a good idea to increase safety while hiking. Water bottles will be necessary, especially for longer hikes: Even though the weather is cold, dehydration is still a possibility, so bringing water is important. Snacks are also beneficial to keep energy levels up during physical exertion. Bringing a first aid kit is always a good idea in case of minor injuries that may occur along the trail. Certain other tools may be helpful in case you become lost, such as a whistle, mirror, and flashlight. These items are visible from a great distance and make it easier for others to locate you in case of emergency.

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