The Ten Essentials of Winter Trails

The Ten Essentials for Winter Wandering

Everyone loves a winter wonderland. The snowy trees + piles of powder may be the best parts of the chill of winter. Some people choose to stay indoors + avoid the frigid temperatures but they’re missing out. Definitely bundle up + get outside, even when the trails are snow covered + the wind is nipping at your nose. However, take a hot second to make sure you’re prepared for the winter weather. We’re working on the assumption that you know how to dress for the cold weather + remember to strap on some sort of traction for the icy trails. But what about the ten essentials?! Have you taken the time to winterize your stash of trail must-haves? If not, keep on reading, we’ll get you a few tips + tricks to have your pack ready for wintry adventures.

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Always, always, always take the basic “Ten essentials” along for your adventures. Whether you’re headed out on a day hike or a weekend in the wilderness, have some variation of the ten essentials with you. Hopefully you’ll never need to use them as life savers, but be prepared + know how to use everything you’ve packed. Also, we strongly suggest you make slight adjustments to your essentials based upon the weather + terrain you’ll be exploring in. Since the weather has us huddled over our steaming hot chocolates, we’re going to focus on just the cold weather essentials. But, come back for more improvisation this summer when we cover the necessities for sweaty adventures in the sunshine!

The Ten Essentials of Winter Wandering


The snow + ice transforms the wilderness we’ve grown to love, giving us a whole new experience during the winter months. We love this, it’s stunningly beautiful. However, it also makes navigation harder. Be sure to pack a map + compass [+ know how to use them!]. You might be headed out onto a familiar trail but it’s easier than usual to get lost on snow covered trails. You never know if the person breaking trail followed the standard trail. Heck, you might be the one breaking trail + creating your own adventure. If all goes well you won’t need to pull out the map + compass to navigate, but always pack it, just in case.

Sun Protection

It’s 5 degrees outside + you’ve covered 98% of your body with warm layers, adding sunscreen seems silly, right? But don’t forget it! Even on cloudy days that fresh layer of snow will become a shiny reflector for the sun + you’ll return home with some very interesting tanlines! Not to mention, the painful glare of the sunshine beating into your eyes! Pack some fancy shades or a pair of goggles, too!


You’ll leave the house layered up + ready for the cold. Even if you feel like that kid in the Christmas Story, toss another layer in your pack. You might be warm now but you’re either in the comfort of your house or your plowing through knee deep snow. Be prepared for the moments when you won’t be moving, either because your snacking or because you can’t. Plan to have a base layer, at least one puffy layer + a protective outer layer — for your upper + lower body. Also, don’t forget about your head, hands + feet. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but be ready for a night in the unforgiving cold of winter.


Even if you’re headed out onto the trails in the early light of morning, pack at least one headlamp + batteries. Again, in the perfect world, you won’t need them. But if things go awry, you’ll be happy to have them. Besides, how else will you be able to see in the depths of the random rock cave you discover while out wandering?

First Aid + Repair Kit

We’ll group these together because during the winter months they’re both really freaking important! When the weather is cold + seasonably inclement having the slow down because of an injury or broken gear can be detrimental to your survival.

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Fire Starter

This is important year round, especially when it comes to preparing food, but in the colder months you’ll need fire to keep yourself warm as well. Be sure to pack along a fire starter that is waterproof + functional in the cold. It can be as simple as waxy cotton balls + waterproof matches or a little more elaborate such as white gas, a pocket stove + a lighter. Having the ability to create fire + produce something warm to drink/eat me be a necessity if things go wrong while you’re out exploring.


Get a little creative with how you pack a shelter. Anything that will protect you from the elements will work. In the winter, consider adding something that’ll also keep you warm. This is where the creativity comes into play — work your extra insulation layers into your shelter plan.


When packing hydration remember how cold it can get. A hydration bladder may not be the best option as the hose can easily freeze. A better option would be a insulated bottle with a wide mouth opening so you’ll be able to either keep the water from freezing at all or give you access to the water that hasn’t frozen. Also, eating snow is not an acceptable hydration plan — the cold of the snow can be detrimental to your core body temperature.


Sugary candy is the easy, quick option while you’re out moving around as your body digests it quickly + kicks up your energy. However, while choosing your food for the worst case scenario consider fattier, heartier food. Dark chocolate, nuts + beef jerky are great options that will help keep your body warming you from the inside out.


While not a traditional item on the “Ten Essentials” list traction tends to be essential on the snowy trails. Even if you’re headed out without screwed shoes, MicroSpikes or snowshoes definitely consider packing along some sort of traction. Investing in a pair of YakTracks or MicroSpikes is a great idea if you’re headed out in the winter as they’re easy to pack along + great of keeping you upright on icy trails. They’re even great for icy sidewalks around the neighborhood.


These are just the very basic items you’ll want to pack along for winter wandering. Use this as a general checklist when packing for your adventure but always take into considering the terrain + weather you’re headed out into. There is always a fair bit of risk that comes with treks into the wilderness, but winter tends to come with more. Be aware of the avalanche risk, know what type of weather is coming your way + let people know where you’re headed.

What other items do you *always* pack [or at least consider packing] when you head into a winter wonderland?

About the Author


Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. She is so stoked on adventure that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world around them. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike, or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she's here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes, safely.