Winter hiking gear you need to buy now if you want to be prepared

Monika Rutkowski, left, and Pat Peterson didn’t let cold temperatures and snow stop them from completing a 7-mile hike on Flagstaff Mountain on Feb. 1 in Boulder. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Skiing gets all the winter activity attention in Colorado, and with good reason. However, add hiking in the winter to your list of possibilities to keep exploring the mountains year-round with friends and family.

With the sun beaming down through much of winter, trails can still be partially dry or just snow-packed and don’t require snowshoes to tromp along. In fact, that sunshine on a south-facing mountainside can even be deceiving and look dry. Don’t be fooled; be prepared with the right gear in your pack for when the trail slopes in the shade and a thick layer of slick snow and ice appear.

All of this gear should be purchased in advance, so when you decide to hit the trail you can just go, especially since some of these items require proper sizing.

A man demonstrates YakTrax. (From

1. Traction

Be prepared for ice and snow on the trails with YakTrax Diamond Grip Ice Shoes ($45), which slip over your hiking boots and keep you on the actual trail (going off trail can mean damaging the fragile terrain) and upright. Be sure to read the fine print on sizing or take the shoes or boots you will be hiking in to your outdoor gear store to try them on. Also note that they make different anti-slip devices for other types of winter shoes and activities such as trail running.

2. Poles

Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles fold up for easier storage. (From

Hiking poles are just as important as crampons/ice cleats when it comes to preventing a tumble on a slick trail. You’ll be better off with two poles (as opposed to just one walking stick) so you have those four points of contact. Invest in the Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles ($100/pair) for their ability to fold up to a mere 13 to 17 inches so they can be stored in your pack when not in use. Plus, they only weigh 9 to 10 ounces so they won’t slow you down when stored on your back.

Grabber Hand Warmers work for more than seven hours. (From

3. Hand Warmers

Since your hands will be out of your pockets to hold on to the poles, you’ll want to be sure to keep them warm. When it comes to hand warmers, it’s a choice between reusable and disposable. Although there are reusable hand warmers out there that rely on battery power or lighter fluid, the preference is for the Grabber Hand Warmers ($10/pack of 10), which are non-toxic, non-combustible and can last up to seven hours. These cannot be reused. They also make toe warmers.

The Klean Kanteen TKPro is insulated and plastic free. (From

4. Thermos

Even if you’re just taking water along to hydrate yourself along the trail, put it in a thermos (instead of a water bottle) so it doesn’t freeze. Better yet, put something warm in it to sip on the trail, or for when the hike is over. The Klean Kanteen TKPro ($40 for the 16-ounce size) is insulated, plastic-free and has drip-free pouring. While you probably won’t be hiking for 20 hours, this thermos can keep your coffee or tea warm for that long.

The Puffer Hoodie can be layered under a shell to keep you warm. (From

5. Coat

Denver-based Topo Designs makes the Puffer Hoodie ($179), a coat that can be layered under a shell to keep you toasty on the inside or be easily scrunched into your pack when the sun or your own body heat kicks in to warm you. Not only is it a trim fit, the wrists are also snug so cold air doesn’t sneak up your sleeves. It’s available for both men and women.

Smartwool’s “sock finder” tool helps you find the perfect pair. (From


6. Socks

The right socks are so important when hiking year-round because they can provide that extra cushioning layer your feet crave. In winter, they are even more important because they can keep your toes warm too. Smartwool, another Colorado company, has a fun “sock finder” tool on its website to help you select a pair for the right activity and temperature. These socks can run between $15 and $30, but are worth it for all the use you will get out of a single pair.

Finally, even though the temperatures have dipped, keep a few of those summer essentials in your bag, too. Sunscreen, a bandana, and a brimmed hat might still come in handy on the trail — even in January!

Mindy Sink is the author of “Walking Denver” (Wilderness Press) and “Moon Handbooks Guide to Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs.” She is currently updating “60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Denver & Boulder” (Menasha Ridge Press), which just means she is hiking a lot, in every season.