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How to be a winter hiking warrior in 5 easy steps

How to be a winter hiking warrior in 5 easy steps

Sarah Sole

Columbus, we know you’re feeling pretty cooped up right now. 

Fresh air is our best antidote to cabin fever, but it can be hard to get motivated to get outside when the temperature drops. 

While some of you might already be taking advantage of the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks’ winter hike series, the rest of us might need an extra nudge to get out from under our blankets and into some hiking boots. 

For those with unhappy memories of frostbitten toes and fingers, we offer a handy guide to make winter hikes more enjoyable this year. 


  1. Do your research. 

Peg Hanley, public information officer with the Metro Parks, recommends checking the weather forecast before you leave. She has a point. There’s nothing worse than sweating under a surprisingly warm winter sun underneath your heavy down coat or conversely, shivering in a light windbreaker in blizzard-like conditions. 

  1. Take safety precautions. 

Hanley recommended letting a friend or someone in your household know where you’re headed and when you plan to return. If you’re visiting a Metro Park or another park that has an emergency number, add it or a ranger cell to your phone. Get the info online before you leave or look for it on a park bulletin board. 

  1. Put your best foot forward. 

Stephanie O’Grady, media and outreach specialist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, recommended two pairs of wool or synthetic socks—that’s one pair for your feet and another pair in your pocket in case your feet get wet. 

“If trekking through snow, make sure you are wearing waterproof boots,” O’Grady said. “Boots with built-in insulation may be required in extended cold weather hikes.”

  1. Dress the part. 

Layering is key. O’Grady recommended starting with insulating thermal fabrics and ending with a final layer of protective clothing that retains heat even when wet, such as wool or synthetic fleece. Avoid 100-percent cotton clothing, because it draws heat away from the body. Parkas, rain suits, paddling gear and jackets made of nylon or microfibers are ideal choices for outer protective layers. A hat or head covering of some sort is a must. 

Layering is an excellent way to ward off frostbitten fingers, too. O’Grady said to use thin wool or synthetic gloves as your base layer and adding mittens for your outer layer. 

  1. Pack the necessities. 

Hanley recommended water, energy bars and an extra pair of socks in a plastic bag. 

O’Grady suggested REI’s 10 Essential Items List, which includes such items as a headlamp, sunglasses and sunscreen, a first aid kid and extra food, water and clothes. 

Okay, so you have your gear ready and your layers on, now where do you go? There are several state parks with beautiful winter views within driving distance from Columbus, O’Grady said. 

“You can get great lake views at Caesar Creek and Buckeye Lake this time of year,” she said.  “The covered bridge at Mohican State Park is picturesque any time of year and stands right at the entrance to several hiking trails.”  

Other choices within an hour drive include Hocking Hills State Park, Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, and John Bryan State Park.

Know of some great spots we missed? Include them in the comments below.


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