It’s been a mild season so far, but no doubt about it: the snow and cold have arrived, and will probably stay a while. If past winters have found you huddled under a blanket on your sofa, yearning to experience that crunchy snow and crisp air but feeling too intimidated to try a winter hike or snowshoeing adventure, this is the year to change that and get back outdoors for some adventure in one of Michigan’s most beautiful seasons.
“It’s totally possible to enjoy the outdoors year-round in Michigan,” says Brittney Meier, who together with her husband Jonathan owns Wanderlust Outfitters in downtown St. Joseph. Meier says the key to enjoying – not just surviving! – wintry outdoor adventures is all in the preparation, and finding ways to protect yourself from cold, wind, and moisture. Brittney and her family have had an annual tradition of a Christmas Day hike since their son was just a couple years old, regardless of weather. “Snow on the ground or cold temps have never stopped us,” Brittney says. “It’s actually one of our favorite times of year to go hiking. There’s something magical about a hike after a fresh snow.”
Are you also feeling inspired to engage in a winter hike or other cold-weather activity? Staying active outdoors, even when it’s chilly out, is a great 2020 resolution that can help keep you and your family happy and healthy, and Brittney’s advice will keep you warm, dry and cozy in all kinds of elements.
- Think layers. “The biggest key to staying comfortable outdoors when you’re active in the winter elements is a good layering system,” Brittney says. For hiking, long walks, running, skiing, showshoeing and other vigorous outdoor activity, she recommends a multi-layer approach that allows you to take off or tweak layers mid-activity to account for your body temperature, how much you’re sweating or any changes to the environment. A good multi-layering system consists of:
- Base Layer. This is the layer touching your skin, which is the most affected by how much you sweat. “You don’t ever want to have too much sweat sitting on your body underneath your layers in cold temps,” Brittney warns. The solution is a snug-fitting merino wool or synthetic layer that will provide insulation while wicking moisture away from your body. If thinking about “wool” makes you itch, think again! “This is not your grandpa’s wool,” Brittney says. Merino wool is soft, not itchy; easily keeps you warm, wicks sweat and has anti-microbial properties to keep sweaty stink at bay.
- Mid Layer. The purpose of this layer is to capture warmth and provide insulation. It can be anything from a down or synthetic jacket to a thick wool sweater. This layer should be breathable to limit the accumulation of sweat. Multiple mid layers can be combined for extra warmth and versatility.
- Shell Layer/Outer Layer. The purpose of this layer is to block the elements: wind, snow, rain, etc. A shell layer can be either hard or soft: a soft shell provides more flexibility and breathability and is typically water-resistant, but not waterproof. A hard shell is probably better for extreme weather, since it is waterproof, and some hard shell materials are breathable and waterproof at the same time.
2. Boot Up: From keeping your feet warm to preventing slips and skids, your choice of footwear is one of the most important you’ll make. Just like with any hiking boot, stability is important, Brittney advises, as is torsional rigidity (the hardness of a boot’s sole, which can help keep you from rolling your ankle on uneven or slippery terrain.) For winter treks, you’ll also want a warm, waterproof boot with good traction. “Insulation and attachment rings at the bottom of the laces can be useful features in a winter boot, and traction devices, such as microspikes, can be used to give extra traction to most footwear.”
3. Accessorize. Think beyond gloves! Hats – especially with windproof fabric around the ears, neck gaiters, high-performance wool socks, balaclavas, and gaiters for your boots are key elements for a winter excursion and can keep you cozy and warm.
4. Learn. Depending on what you plan to do outdoors, your ideal combination of layers, footwear and accessories may vary quite a bit! If you need help, head to Wanderlust – they’ve got a knowledgeable staff who can help guide your purchase based on your goals and budget. If you’re thinking of planning a winter camping trip or other more ambitious excursion, Wanderlust is a great source for information as well as products like four-season tents, zero-degree (or below) sleeping bags, and other gear you’ll need. There’s almost always a great sale or two going on at Wanderlust, and the store is just fun to browse whether you’re looking for backpacking and camping gear or just comfy clothes to wear around town.
5. Create community. The best way to get – and stay – inspired to engage in outdoor activities is often finding other people to learn from and share your adventures with! Some ideas:
- Follow hashtags like #hikingmichigan and #swmichigantrails on Instagram to find ideas and community. Going on a winter hike? Tag it #sunsetcoastmichigan and make sure to @ us in the post.
- Join a group and find friends to get outside with. “Folks who want to connect with other hikers & outdoorsy folks are welcome to join our Hike SW Michigan group on Facebook,” Brittney says. “It can be a great resource for getting inspired by and finding other hikers who want to get outdoors this winter.”
- Also, be sure to follow Wanderlust on Facebook – the store often offers classes and other special events that can help you learn and stay inspired.
Where are your favorite hot spots for outdoor adventures in Michigan’s Sunset Coast? Join the conversation on our Facebook page!