Getting out onto the trails in winter is a beautiful, peaceful, and totally unique. Whether you find yourself in The Rockies, Utah, or really anywhere that can get a little snowy, you’ll need some gear and knowledge before you hit the winter trails.

Many people think that winter is for staying in, watching TV and enjoying hobbies. However, when emerge from our winter hibernations we find that we’ve lost our fitness and added a layer of fat from a season of inactivity.

The truth is that winter might just be your favourite season once you know how to enjoy it. You might even lose weight over the winter if you can get out on the trails all season long!

Once you know how to dress and be prepared, the cold is no longer an issue. You’ll have incredible tranquility, beautiful panoramas, and far fewer people on the trails. Of course to get on the trails you’ll need some special gear.

Before you know it, you’ll actually begin to look forward to the winter months! Of course, make sure you read our article on winter safety before you hit the trails.

Options for Winter Exploring

You have three options when you’re looking at braving the ice and snow to enjoy your favourite trails: Microspikes, Snowshoes, and Skis. Each option comes with pros and cons, and each option comes with a different price tag. One thing to note is, and this goes for all your gear, get properly fitted at a local gear shop. Ignore the desire to buy something cheap online. They’re cheap for a reason. Ok, let’s break down our options:

1. Microspikes

This option is obviously the closest to actual hiking because microspikes are like crampons, only for hiking. The microspikes gets stretched over your boot and give great stability. Our favourite brand is Kahtoola. One pro tip is to round down when looking at sizes, so that the microspike doesn’t move around as much. For example, a medium microspike fits boots that are size men’s 8-11. In reality if you have men’s 10 or smaller we’d recommend a small.

Pros
  • Just like walking
  • Cheapest option
  • Great on ice
  • Good on packed snow
Cons
  • Have been known to fall off sometimes
  • They suck in powder or wet snow
2. Snowshoes

These have been used for winter hiking for thousands of years, so they’re well tested. There are a lot more brands of snowshoes than there are microspikes, so the best brand will vary from person to person, and you’ll want to try them on, ideally with the boots you plan to use with them.

Pros
  • Close to walking
  • Great on powder
  • Good on packed snow
  • Extra element of fun
  • – Good on narrow paths
Cons
  • More effort
  • A bit awkward at first
3. Skis

There are three varieties of skis each with their own separate pros and cons (another post for another day). You have Cross-Country skis (long and narrow), Light Touring (regular downhill skis with beefed-up cross country ski boots), and Backcountry (also known as Alpine Touring, these are downhill skis, downhill boots with special bindings that allow your foot to pivot).

Pros
  • Great on powder
  • Fast getting down
  • Wicked fun
  • Good on all snow types, but not ice
Cons
  • It takes technique and skill
  • Most expensive option
  • It can be dangerous going downhill, especially in tight spaces
  • Bad on ice