After weeks spent inside, hiding away from the world and the escalating events of 2020, I needed to get out. I needed to hike. But it was cold and windy, and everything was buried under a foot of snow. Surely I was better off staying indoors, and seeing what was new on Netflix.
I did it anyway. I moved to the mountains to be closer to the wilderness, and spend my weekends getting lost in the woods. A million trails, parks, and historic sites now made up my backyard. What was the point if I was going to spend one-fourth of the year hiding inside?
I bundled myself up with every single piece of cold-weather clothing I had and set off to see what awaited me. I expected death from exposure. Instead, I found a new way to enjoy the world around me. Despite the cold and extra effort involved, I was left invigorated and energized.
Winter hiking is an amazing experience. It’s great for your body and mind. If you miss getting out, here are some reasons why you should go out and explore this winter:
There are Fewer Crowds
As a species, we already spend a lot of time indoors, and 2020 has done little to help with that. With so many of our normal outlets for socializing closed off to us, many people tried hiking for the first time. While an interest in the outdoors is always a good thing, it also led to overcrowding of the more popular trails. At a time when we’re supposed to distance ourselves from one another, that was a serious issue.
But with winter here, those crowds have all but vanished. Trails are more open, and a lot of the limits that many parks put in place have vanished. If there was a spot that you’ve always wanted to see, then winter is the perfect time to go if you want to avoid other hikers. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
In 2019 my girlfriend and I traveled to Reno during the winter. On one particularly less-cold day, we took a drive out to Lake Tahoe, having never seen it before. Instead, we found it empty, to the point where we were able to have an entire beach to ourselves for most of the day. It was a wonderful moment, and something I never would have been able to experience had we gone in any other season.
It’s Good for the Mind
Winter brings a tranquility that is uncommon during the other seasons. Humans aren’t the only ones that go inside to hide from the elements. after all. With so many animals hibernating, the sounds of nature become quiet and still.
Snow also has a wonderful way of quieting the world around it. If you’ve ever noticed how everything is silent after a fresh snowfall, you’re not wrong. Snow works as an amazing acoustic dampener, limiting the distance that noise travels. This all brings with it a sense of peace that is unique to a winter landscape. Getting out into nature is already a calming activity, but the stillness of winter can amplify that feeling. It clears the mind and washes away our worries.
Ever since I started working from home, I’ve been suffering from an increase in anxiety. My sleep schedule is all over the place, and some days are harder than others. Even a few minutes spent outdoors helps calm my thoughts. Now, one of my greatest joys involves climbing a hill and letting the silence of winter overtake me. In those moments, nothing else seems quite as pressing, and my fears feel like they’re miles away.
It’s a Great Workout
I’ll admit, I don’t work out as much as I used to. Ever since I started working from home, the days I spend exercising have all but dropped to zero. Hiking became my go-to exercise in the warmer months, but even that dropped off when it started to get cold. But I should have kept up with it since winter hiking is an amazing way to work out.
The cold alone can help to burn calories. Standing out in the snow alone can burn about 400 calories an hour. But since standing in the cold sounds like a terrible idea, it helps to keep active. Moving helps keeps you warm, and the cold can help your body regulate its temperature. This means that you can move and exercise for longer.
Hiking through the snow is generally a more pleasant experience as well. It’s gentle on your joints, acting as a cushion for your steps. It also adds a bit more effort to the hike, acting as a gentle resistance workout with each step you take. So not only does it help burn calories, but it also helps build muscle as well.
I usually go through the winter feeling terrible, with no energy to do the things I usually love. But this season, I’ve experienced a complete change. I’m healthier, more energetic, and I credit it all to spending more time out in the cold.
With so many reasons to stay inside, it’s easy to forget all the good that comes from spending time outdoors. Hiking in the winter comes with added benefits too, as well as offering new ways to experience the world. Personally, I got my first pair of snowshoes, and am currently awaiting the next snowfall to get out and try them.
If winter and COVID have you going stir-crazy, take a look outside. There are some great trails and parks out there waiting for you. We could all use some of the beauty and tranquility they offer right now.