Winter can be beautiful for walking outdoors, but it requires a little more thought and planning than at other times of the year. It’s a great way to stay active though, and has many health benefits that can help you get through the cold weather months.
Once winter rolls around, you're much more likely to hang up your walking shoes and hibernate indoors. You could go to the gym, but exercising outdoors can give an added boost to your efforts. Winter trekking is invigorating, energizing and can actually help you burn more calories as your body works to stay warm. Getting out into the sunshine is also a good way to beat the winter blahs and increase your sense of well-being. It’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
Step By Step
- Like any physical activity, be sure to ease into a walking routine and always give your muscles a chance to warm up. Doing too much too soon can cause injury or discourage you from getting out there again. Start conservatively and slowly build up your distances.
- Walk at a slow to moderate pace, especially when there’s ice on the ground. Remember that the bigger your strides, the greater your chances are of slipping and falling.
- Avoid areas with deep snow or covered sources of water and stick to paths or roadways if you can. The last thing you need is a boot full of water. Slogging through the deep stuff is also a lot more tiring.
- Be sure to take occasional breaks as you walk. It allows your heart rate to come down and your muscles to rest. You’ll find that you can cover more ground if you break things up a bit.
- When going down slippery hills or downgrades, it’s usually a good idea to side-step so that you can break your fall better in case you slip
- Try walking into the wind to start your trip. That way, you have it at your back for the trip home when you may be feeling more tired.
- Make sure that you choose your route before you leave and let someone know where you’re headed. You never know what might happen along the way. Better yet, make it a habit to walk with a partner.
- If you’re in unfamiliar territory, avoid taking unknown trails, especially if you’re in wooded areas. Everything ends-up looking the same and it’s easy to get yourself lost.
Dress For It
Walking outside in cold weather can be much more comfortable if you prepare with the right clothing. But there is more of a trick to it than just putting on what you think will be the warmest clothing.
- Dress in layers. This gives you options for stripping down if you overheat or staying zipped-up. Note that it’s actually the air in-between the layers of clothing that provides the most warmth.
Aim to wear three layers:
- A layer close to the skin to keep warmth in and cold out. Try one of the new technical (polypropylene) fabrics that wick perspiration away from your body.
- he middle layer ideally should be fleece for warmth.
- Your outer (shell) layer protects you from the wind and moisture and should be insulated.
- Avoid cotton clothing in winter. It stays wet, can cause chafing and makes you feel cold and clammy if you perspire.
- The jury is out on socks for winter activities. One school says don’t layer and go with one thinner polypropylene pair designed to keep your feet toasty in cold weather. The other recommends a thin liner and one thicker pair of winter wool socks. It really comes down to preference.
- As far as footwear goes, it really depends on your walking conditions. If you’re on clear roads or sidewalks, you can get away with less, but they should still have a decent non-slip tread, be lightweight, insulated and waterproof. For wetter or snowier conditions, you’ll need something heavier-duty and with the same qualities. For icy conditions you can try slip-on cleats and you can also use gaiters to keep snow from getting inside your boots whenever it gets really deep.
- Hats and gloves are a must. Always better to take them even if don’t think there will be a need. Some people also prefer a scarf or neck gaiter for added warmth and comfort.
- Don’t forget your eyes. Wear sunglasses to cut that bright glare or even tinted goggles if conditions are snowy or windy.
Hints & Tips
- It’s easy to get dehydrated in dry winter air. Be sure to bring water with you and drink regularly.
- When walking in low light or stormy conditions, wear something reflective to make yourself more visible to vehicles
- If your route takes you off-road, it’s a good idea to have a flashlight and a compass with you in case you get lost. A mobile phone is also a must for potential emergency situations.
- Select routes that can offer shelter from the wind if possible
- Pay extra attention when on roadways, as cars don’t have the same stopping and maneuvering ability when conditions are slick
- Avoid listening to music while walking outdoors. Not hearing what’s going on around you can make you vulnerable.
- You’ll still need to protect yourself from the sun in winter. Don’t forget a hat and your sunscreen.
- Make note of potential places for you to seek refuge during your walk, just in case the weather turns nasty or you need to warm up. Try to avoid areas that are too open or isolated, especially if you’re on your own.
- For additional stability, try using a pair of walking or trekking poles. They help to avoid falls, warm you up faster and burn more calories as you walk.
- If the weather is too severe, think about putting off your hike until another day. You may be feeling cooped-up indoors, but the risks can be too great some days.
Walking safety should always be a consideration in summer and winter, but mistakes or errors in judgment can be less forgiving when it’s cold outside.