All You Need to Know About Hiking in the Spring
What is so special about hiking in the Spring?
Is there a more magical season? With the Nature waking up, wildflowers blooming, tiny little leaves sprinkling the trees... why would you stay at home?
Spring is probably the best season for hiking. Gone are the shivering cold temperatures, in are crispy cold mornings, pleasantly warm days, and beautiful fresh flowers. The trails are generally pretty empty, and accommodations aren't in high season yet.
Some destinations are suitable for hiking only in Spring or Fall - like Spain, Portugal or Balkans in Europe. In these areas, Summer tends to be so hot, that hiking might be not only unpleasant but even dangerous.
I encourage you to go on Spring hikes – either shorter day-long ones or multiple-days treks. If you have the right gear, you can even enjoy Spring camping. I want you to have pleasant and safe hiking, so let me remind you about a few essential things.
Do you need more motivation to get out in the Spring? Just look at the photos below - hiking in the Spring is simply marvelous!
Disclaimer: This post, in addition to some awesome tips and advice, may contain affiliate links to respected retailers for your convenience. It means that if you buy anything through those links, I receive a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
The right clothes for hiking in the Spring
The Spring weather can be lovely and even warm – but also nasty cold and wet. No matter which one it happens to be – you can enjoy your hiking as long as you prepare well. What is valid for all-season hiking, is, even more, the case during Spring – wear layers. Even though it might seem like you have a lovely warm day ahead of you – prepare for sudden changes and rain. Remember, that whatever the weather is like at the feet of the mountains, it can change very fast with every meter in altitude you gain. Springtime is notorious for capricious weather - you may enjoy all four seasons in one hour, so don’t get fooled by what you see in the morning - it can change quickly.
Check well your destination before you head into the mountains - the Spring might be in full bloom in the valleys, but there can still be treacherous winter up in the hills. Before you leave your house, check carefully if you have any river crossings - Spring is known for flooding because of the melting snow. Some trails might be impassable. Look for local news or Park’s announcement - there might be closings in the area.
Another big Spring problem is mud and boggy stretches. Sometimes it's enough to embrace it all, and assume you get dirty and wet. But at times the clay and dirt can be tricky and cause serious troubles.
Base and mid layer for fall hiking
I’m a big fan of merino wool and the colder it gets, the more I suggest wearing it. Grab a comfy merino long sleeve top with undies (merino or synthetic) and forget about any cotton! You can also choose a lovely synthetic base top. If you know there is a chilly hike in your future, choose a thicker fabric.
A warm layer for fall hiking: Synthetics and down win here. Grab a thin down sweater of a synthetic insulated jacket. All-favorite lightweight fleece (100-weight) will work here great as well. Additionally – pack another warm layer like an insulated jacket of a similar kind into your backpack. The moment we stop moving it can get frigid right away, especially with strong winds and wet weather. Easily packable insulated jackets (synthetic or down) are again perfect for this.
Check out your options in insulating mid-layers below:
Can’t see anything? Try refreshing the page!
Wind and rain protection for hiking in the Spring
If there is no rain in the forecast, grab a soft shell which will protect you from the cold wind. It does not mean you can skip waterproof layer – always carry it with you. It’s small and can be stuffed into your backpack with no problems. Choose a thin, light membrane jacket.
I love Marmot's PreCip jacket as it has pit zips which help in ventilation when moving and sweating. If you plan on hiking in particularly nasty weather, taking a pair of rainproof pants would also be a good idea. The best is to take a pair with zippers all the way along legs so you can put them on and off without the need to remove your boots.
Take a look at your options of rainproof jackets below:
Pants for hiking in the Spring:
In the summer we generally pick pants that are so thin we can hardly feel them. Even getting wet is not a problem as they usually can dry in no time. But it all changes when the temperature is just not there yet. Wet legs combined with powerful, cold wind is not fun. Even dry but thin pants might not be all that pleasant when hiking over some exposed ridges.
Additionally, the problem with getting your pants wet in heavy rain is not just wet legs but that the water flows freely into your boots soaking them from inside. Been there, done that. Don’t want to repeat it, so I carry a pair of waterproof pants for cold and wet weather.
It might be an excellent option to wear a pair of thicker fabric pants, like the softshell kind which provides additional wind and cold protection but are still breathable and comfortable. Just remember that jeans are never a good option for hiking – they are heavy and dry forever when wet. In bad weather, they could even be a factor in risking hypothermia.
Take a look below for some hiking pants, currently on sale:
Footwear for hiking in the Spring
Spring means beautiful color-filled meadows… but it also means old snow patches and mud from melting snow and rain. Sometimes, especially in the morning or higher up, we can encounter iced frost or even fresh snow. Choose only hiking shoes or boots with good, rugged soles providing excellent traction. Additionally, you probably want better water protection than in the summer. I would suggest getting waterproof boots rather than light and breezy trail runners unless it's a short day-hike and you are planning on going to your warm home soon after.
I love hiking in boots, but I know a lot of folks prefer lower shoes. If you have no issues with ankles and the trail is easy – go ahead, choose whatever feels comfortable. You might want to wear gaiters with your low hiking shoes to keep any debris out, though. Remember about layering your socks – first a synthetic wicking liner and then a wool sock to provide amortization and prevent blisters. I love wearing the injinji socks with five toes - they separate the toes and prevent blisters from forming.
Hat, gloves, buffs for hiking in the Spring:
I always have a neck gaiter or two in my bag – they are tiny but highly versatile. Use them as a scarf, a hat or headband. I have both the synthetic one and a merino one. If you are going hiking on an unusually cold day, wear a simple beanie or a buff. It can also get quite sunny, so a baseball hat might come useful. I like wearing one when it drizzles or rains - helps keeping the drops off my face and glasses. When it’s cold - I just wear a buff over it. I’m sure I am about to start a new fashion fiver with that style!
You might also want to take a pair of gloves. I use a couple of thin runners’ gloves – perfect for hiking with trekking poles in the mountains, where cold winds are frequent. If you know there is heavy rainfall in the forecast, you might need a pair of rainproof gloves or mittens. I have a thin (membrane only) pair of mittens I can wear over my running gloves – a perfect combination!
What else to pack for hiking in the Spring:
In addition to the right clothes, you need to remember about a few pieces of gear as well. One of the main characteristics of all is that even though the days are getting longer, they can be still pretty short, especially in the beginning. Sunsets at 6 pm can be a real surprise for the unprepared hiker. Weather changes fast, and we need to be prepared for its turn for the worse. All the more so if the trail leads high or over the exposed terrain.
Headlamp - Even a short hike might get delayed, and your phone flashlight app is really not enough. It is worth grabbing a much stronger light than regular – especially if you plan on hiking longer or camping in the Spring. The moment the sun sets it can get pitch black and really cold – hence all the warm layers you have to pack “just in case.”
Trekking poles – I encourage to using them all year round, but in the Spring they might prove even more useful than in the summer. On the slippery, muddy paths covered with snow patches or ice, it’s good to have the support of a pair of trekking poles. You might also encounter streams in spate from the melting snow - trekking poles can help you get safely on the other side.
Hot drink flask – I find them too heavy to carry around in the summer but it changes during the shoulder seasons. I drink only water when I hike in summer months, but there is something beautiful about drinking hot tea or coffee during your cold hiking break. Especially for shorter day-hikes in the early Spring, it’s worth packing a good, insulated water bottle filled with hot goodness to your backpack.
Dry stuff sack – Protect your clothes and documents. Although most backpacks have their rain covers, it’s always good to do the extra step to make sure you have dry clothes to put on or that your wallet is still dry. If you want down jacket, you always have to pay extra attention to ensure it does not get wet. Grab a few in different sizes and colors to help with organizing your things.
Plastic map case can be a precious thing for rainy fall hikes.
Hiking in the Spring – additional tips
Take more food. When the weather is cold, we need more fuel to stay warm.
Remember about proper hydration. When it is cold and windy, we might not feel the need to drink as much as when it’s hot. Make sure you have enough water with you and don’t forget to drink it! I can advise using a hydration bladder - since I started to carry one, I drink more when I hike. If there are natural water sources available, grab a water filter and refill your bottles or bladders on the way. You can read my review of the small Katadyn BeFree filter here.
If you plan on camping – check well what can the night temperature be and grab the appropriate gear. You might need a warmer sleeping pad and bag. It might be all sunny during the day but steal around freezing during the night. When I recently hiked in Portugal, during the day the temperature was often up to 17*C, but the moment the sun set, it was cold and damp. I made a mistake of taking a summer sleeping bag and was not comfortable at all.
No matter the weather – always practice the Leave No Trace rules. Take with you everything and don’t leave any litter (even organic) behind.
It may be still cold and windy, but the sun can be already in full force – remember about sunscreen and reapply during the day. Sometimes we may forget about it when the mornings are gloomy and cold, but then we return home with a lovely pink triangle on our noses and burned skin. Don't repeat my mistakes...
Take insect repellent. Early in the Spring, there are hardly any insects to worry about. But then, suddenly, there is the explosion of all the flowers and leaves, and insects are everywhere. Prepare and be careful around the flowers.
Be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions – have extra money in case you need to call for a taxi (if available) or pay for an unexpected night in a hotel/cabin.
Your day hike backpack should be slightly bigger than your summer one – you need to have room to pack your extra layers. A 25 – 30 l rucksack should be perfect. Make sure it has a rain cover or buy an extra one.
If you need a high-quality day pack, you may want to check out the options below:
If you plan on camping, you might want to check my ultimate 3-season hiking and camping list for all the necessary gear.
Don’t forget to take a camera with you to capture all that stunning blooms and buds! If you hike alone (or want to make group photos), you can grab a small, light and flexible tripod.
Know when to quit. Be ready to change your plans, cut your hike short or switch trails if the conditions deteriorate. The trail might be flooded, covered with old (or new!) snow, deep in mud up to your knees, slippery after long rains. The weather might suddenly turn worse, the rain turn into freezing sleet, temperatures drop significantly… Don’t push on if it endangers your safety. Know ahead of time if there are ways to get off the trail easily. You can always come back at a later time.
To make sure you have all the essentials for your day hikes, check this handy list.
Are you not sure if it's even worth leaving your house? Find out all the fantastic benefits of hiking to your physical and mental health!