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How cold is too cold for a hike? When it comes to spending long periods outside in cold weather, hiking can be a bit intimating.
So let’s talk about how cold is too cold to hike and the best tips and tricks for staying safe when hiking in winter in colder temperatures.
Consider the Temperature With Wind Chill
When deciding whether it’s too cold to hike,, you need to factor in windchill. This can make the temperature feel much colder than it actually is and leads to faster body heat loss. So when checking the weather conditions, see what it is with windchill, not just the actual temperature.
For example, according to the National Weather Service: If the temperature is 0°F and the wind is blowing at 15 mph, the wind chill is -19°F. At this wind chill temperature, exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes.
So in this example, you want to take the temperature as19°F, not as 0°F.
For my friends that use the metric system that translates to approximately – 18°C, with the wind blowing at 24kmph for a temperature with wind chill of – 28°C
How Cold Is Too Cold To Hike?
The most important factor to consider when deciding how cold is too cold to go for a winter hike is your own comfort level.
When it comes to hiking in cold temperatures, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for when it’s “too cold” to go out.
Some people are simply more tolerant of cold than others. I’s important to know your own limits, and if you’re not sure what your limits are, er on the side of caution.
However, Environment Canada advises that the risk of frostbite increases rapidly when wind chill values go below -27°C (-16.6°F).
On the much more conservative side are guidelines from the Mayo Clinic; If the temperature dips below 0°F (-18°C) or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise instead.
Given the wide range of opinions on how cold is too cold, you may find it useful to know how long it takes for skin to freeze to decide whether it’s too cold to hike. This chart, developedPooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, considers three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time outdoors.
Personally, if I’m dressed appropriately in warm layers, I can hike comfortably to -20°C (-4°F).
I’ve done winter hikes and snowshoes at -30°C (-22°F), but I don’t enjoy it at that temperature since I’m freezing the first ten minutes of the hike and again if I stop for more than a few minutes.
Besides, at -28°C, (-18.4°F) exposed skin can freeze in less than 30 minutes, so your risk for frostbite is much higher.
And if there’s a strong cold wind blowing, I’m even more conservative when choosing a hike or whether even to hike at all.
8 Tips for Hiking in Cold Weather
Take Precautions Against Frostbite
Frostbite is a common ailment when cold weather hiking. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent. Check out our guide of 5 ways to prevent frostbite here.
Always Carry an Emergency Thermal Blanket
I recommend carrying one on every hike, even in summer, but especially when hiking in colder weather. Check out why you should carry an emergency blanket on every hike. Hint. It may save your life, especially if it’s on the brink of being too cold to hike.
Wear a Base Layer, Mid Layer and Outer Layer and Bring Extra Layers With You
I purposely repeated layer as it will help keep your body temperature warm and is one of the best ways to prevent against the extreme cold.
Also, ensure that ALL of your skin is covered and that you don’t have any exposed skin. Check out our Winter Hiking Gear and Winter Hiking Tips for further information. Having the proper gear makes all the difference.
Keep Your Water From Freezing On Your Winter Hike
Whether you carry a water bottle or a hydration reservoir, when hiking outside in the cold for long periods of time, it’s easy for water to freeze. Here are 7 ways to stop your water from freezing.
Avoid Hiking in Deep Snow, Or Bring Your Snowshoes When Hiking in Cold Weather
If you hike in deep snow, you risk your feet getting wet, which increases your risk of frostbite and making it too cold to hike.
While you’ll definitely want to wear wool socks, avoid going in deep snow unless you have snowshoes and gaiters for hiking.
Instead, stick to packed trails. And be sure to bring your microspikes so that you don’t slip.
Choose A Shorter Hike When It’s On the Brink of Being Too Cold To Hike
If you want to hike in the extreme cold, then choose a shorter hike. That way, you’ll be outside for a shorter period of time, reducing your risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Check out our recommended best winter hikes in Banff for inspiration.
Choose a Winter Hike That Has a Place to Warm Up
If you’re hiking in the Alps in Europe, many trails have mountain huts you can enter and get a warm drink or a meal or even spend the night. This is a great reward when hiking in winter conditions and also provides additional safety if you’re not sure if it’s cold to hike.
While mountain huts aren’t as common in Canada and the U.S, you can still find them or choose to hike closer to civilization, to a town, like one of the winter hikes you can do from Banff Town Center or hotel, or close to a ski hill.
That way, if you find it’s too cold to hike and start showing signs of frostbite, you have somewhere nearby you can warm up.
Take Short, Frequent Breaks When Hiking in the Cold
You won’t want to stop moving for long, or you’ll get cold quickly and find that it’s too cold to hike, so take short, but frequent breaks so that you don’t get too tired.
With these tips in mind, you now know how cold is too cold for a hike. Staying warm and safe outside doesn’t have to be daunting. Just follow our tips before heading out in the middle of winter on your outdoor adventure.
Be sure to check out our winter gear hiking post and 22 tips for hiking in winter for further info.