6 Winter Hiking Tips

January 28th, 2021

Temps may have dropped in New York but some of the most beautiful scenes in nature can be taken in during a winter hike. Whether you’ve been wanting to go for a winter hike or if you’re just interested in trying something new, we have some tips that will make for an exciting time out in the great outdoors despite the frigid air. Strap on your boots, zip up your jacket, and hit the trails with some guidance from physicians in mind to keep your hike successful and safe. 

1. Be aware of common winter hiking orthopedic injuries.

Common injuries affecting hikers include the foot, ankle, and knee. Trudging through snow or twisting in uncommon ways to navigate ice can mean forcing joints, which can result in sprains, strains, and tears. While these types of injuries are sometimes unavoidable, stay aware of your surroundings and take your time while hiking. 

“Hiker’s knee," also known as patellofemoral syndrome or "runner's knee," involves increased pressure or stress between the kneecap and the femur bone, which causes a dull aching soreness and pain especially when going up or down inclines. This can develop in patients when going down steep terrain when the knees are straight or only slightly flexed. Be sure to take care when hiking downhill and stretch your legs when safely on level ground.

2. Start off slowly.

One way to avoid winter hiking injuries such as hiker's knee is to start off slowly. Cold weather and snowy or icy terrains are dangerous if you aren’t equipped with the appropriate equipment and necessary knowledge. Hiking in the winter is all about being prepared, so don’t rush into it. Make sure you allot a day or two to gather the equipment you’ll need for a day out on the trails and to come up with a game plan for your hike. 

3. Stick with familiar trails.

One rule of thumb for hiking in the winter is to stick with trails that you’re familiar with and have hiked before. The weather is very unpredictable during the winter months in New York, with frigid temperatures and minimal daylight. A trail you know and are comfortable hiking can eliminate any dangerous surprises, such as ice hills or unknown turns. 

You may even want to take extra precautions and do a quick internet search on the trails you’re planning to visit. Many parks and recreational areas near Manhattan and Greater New York City have trail updates that can provide you with any info you’ll need.

Leave exploring new places to the spring and summer months, when you have more daylight and temps are warmer.

4. Be aware of reduced visibility.

Reduced visibility can occur from either heavy snow or if darkness falls while you’re still out on the trails. In these cases, a headlamp or flashlight can literally save your life. Always keep one in your backpack with extra batteries. Goggles may also come in handy if snow during the daytime is hindering your abilities to see what’s ahead.

Always check the weather forecast ahead of time to avoid getting caught in a winter storm, which can be dangerous. It’s also important to plan to arrive safely back at your vehicle well before the sun sets.  

5. Wear appropriate footwear. 

Footwear is an important part of hiking regardless of the season. Choose well-fitting, supportive footwear, such as a hiking boot, to provide immobilization to the ankle and reduce the risk of ankle sprains. The terrain is especially challenging in the winter, with ice and snow making navigating it even more difficult. 

If the hiking boots you’re currently working with are old and the tread is worn away, take a trip to a sporting goods store and invest in a new pair. 

6. Dress in layers.

A waterproof jacket will ensure you stay dry in the rain or snow, and wearing layers underneath will keep you warm. Lightweight snow pants are also a good idea, whether you’re aware of snow on the trails or not. You never know when you’ll need to veer off course, which could lead you into several inches of snow.

It’s crucial to keep your extremities warm in the winter, so make sure you have a hat, gloves, and thick, warm socks. If you get uncomfortable, you can always remove these items but it’s best to start off with them.

One of the most important things to remember when hiking in the winter is to keep extra clothes in your backpack. Hiking can be unpredictable, and so can the weather. You’ll need something to change into if you are left wet to avoid hypothermia or frostbite. 

Though you want to bring extra clothes along, remember to keep your backpack light. A common mistake is to have a heavy backpack that is not wellsecured. This makes it easy to tilt, which can cause you to lose balance and injure the foot, ankle, knee, or hip.

If you’re planning on hiking around the Greater New York City area in the winter months, you can do so safely by keeping these tips in mind. Be sure to check out Rothman Orthopaedics’ newest location at 60th and Madison for any joint pain or injuries.

Rothman Orthopedics serves all of New York with locations in Harrison, Madison Avenue, Murray Hill, and Tarrytown. Find a location near you today.

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