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November 2019

Hiking: From the Shoulder Season Through the Winter Season

Hiking Isn’t Only a Summer Activity

Written by: Sarah Magyar

Often hiking is associated with warm weather, dry trails and sunshine. Right as all the ski resorts start to close for the winter your Instagram feed becomes full of people enjoying the great outdoors on the hiking trails. And as soon as the first snowflake falls people back their hiking boots away and grab their beanies, prepping for winter.

In the west it seems the seasons change quickly, especially in the mountains where a lot of adventuring is done. One September weekend you can be summiting a mountain in 20-degree weather and the next pulling out your Gore Tex shell and snow pants planning your next ski trip.

However, some of the best hiking times are during the shoulder season and winter. The trails quiet down as the summer rush of people fades away, the mountain tops are covered in snow and sparkle in the sunlight, and the air cools down equalling perfect hiking weather!

Not to mention the larches. Larch season is one of the most beautiful and picturesque few weeks in the mountains. Although they don’t last long, getting out on a hiking trail in September, when they are in full swing, may be the only chance you get to be submerged in their golden beauty. Lake Louise and Banff National Park are known for their larches. There are several great hikes in and around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

There are several hikes you can do in the winter, more than you’d think! Staying at lower elevations is recommended as the higher you go the more snow there will be. In B.C. there are lots of scenic hikes to do including Dog Mountain Trail Mount Seymour, The Chief Squamish and Garibaldi Lake Squamish, just to name a few.

In Alberta, many people do hikes in Kananaskis as the mountains are at a lower elevation and don’t (generally but not always) see as much snow as in Banff National Park. However there are a few hikes in Banff that are great all year round including Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon and Hoodoos Viewpoint.

Gear to help make hiking in the shoulder season and winter even more enjoyable

Gear choices can make or break your experience. Here are a few items I never leave the house without once the temperatures drop.

1. A Good Base Layer

Wearing a good base layer is essential in keeping you dry and warm. Once the weather starts to cool people begin to bundle up, but without a proper moisture wicking base layer you’ll constantly be removing and putting back on jackets and/or sweaters.

Base layers creates a sort of microclimate next to your skin, it helps regulate your body temperature, helps you warm up when you stop for a break and helps you cool down once you start moving again.

I recommend anything made out of wool as wool creates tiny air pockets that help provide a thermal barrier, such as Smartwool or Icebreaker.

2. Hiking Poles & Spikes

Hiking poles are great for hiking during any season, but I always make sure I have mine on my when temperatures begin to cool and snow begins to fall. Your poles offer great support incase a trail becomes slippery.

Spikes are also great to keep in your bag for when the snow on the trails get packed down and becomes slippery. I find spikes are an essential when the trails become steeper. The trial can turn to ice and making sure you’re safe and can get some grip is important.

3. Gaiters

When the precipitation starts falling trails can become muddy or snow covered. Having a pair of gaiters to protect your ankles and feet is important! There’s nothing worse than stepping in a pile of snow and your foot falls in deeper than expected. Gaiters helps to keep things out of your boots and out of the bottom of your pants. They add as a protective layer against the unknowns of the trail.

There are also several hiking pants that now come equipped with their own built in gaiters! Fjallraven does a great job of this in most of their pants. The Keb specifically have an elastic with snaps around the cuff of the pant legs so you can make sure your pants are secured over your boot.

4. A Waterproof and Wind Resistant Shell

A good shell jacket will help protect you from the wind, keep you warm and shield you from snow and rain. A shell can be used during any season but are the most important during the shoulder season and winter. The weather can be unpredictable during these seasons and making sure you’re taking all precautions to stay dry will make your hike more enjoyable.

5. A Good Pair of Hiking Boots

In the summer you can get away with either a pair of hiking shoes or boots. However, in the winter I will choose a pair of boots over a pair of shoes anyday! A good pair of boots will keep your feet warm and dry as well as keep things out of your shoes. There are a ton of awesome hiking boot brands but I truly believe you don’t find your hiking boots, your hiking boots finds you. Each boot is made different and will fit differently on each person. I recommend going into your local Valhalla and talking to an employee. They will be able to direct you to the best fit for your foot as well as picking out a suitable boot for what trails you’re looking at hiking.

Get Outfitted For Your Next Shoulder Season Hike