Hitchhiking in winter or more generally in cold climates can be more complex but with the right preparation one can secure the comfortability of winter traveling, too. This page will detail how to keep warm when travelling in the cold. Extremely dangerous winter climates such as in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Mongolia and Northern China should have extra precautions taken before starting out, and should best be avoided unless you really know what you're doing. Without proper equipment or a place to stay prearranged, you might find yourself in very serious trouble if stuck outside at night.
For more advanced , as well as for beginners, there are some essential rules to take care of:
- First and most important: Wear warm clothes and keep your feet warm and dry!
- Limited daylight: In winter, it is usually cold and dark for the most part of a day. For example, there is only 8 hours of sunlight per day in Western Europe on the third week of December, and it's already dark at 5 in the afternoon. If you don't want to find yourself hitchhiking at night (when temperatures drop even further), you have to choose your routes carefully.
- It's good to stick to highway gas stations where you can wait inside, e.g., next to the coffee machine, with a sign of your destination.
- If you know that you won't avoid thumbing on on-ramps, bring a torch to shine light on yourself and your sign. You should also try to stand someplace where there is a lot of light from the streetlights.
- Dry cold air is not as bad as a humid one.
- Some people prefer to dress in layers like an onion to keep themselves warm, and unpack when it is needed. However, some hitchers, for example, alex, prefer not to have lots of layers under the warm jacket as cars are mostly well heated (unless you are in Russia?), and for short rides it is more convenient to be dressed only in 2-3 really warm layers so that you could avoid the hassle of undressing million of layers and then dressing up again.
- Bear in mind that there is snow & ice: drivers might drive more slowly, but also there could be less space to stop than usually
Additional gear for winter
When hitchhiking in winter, temperatures can be very low. In case of longer waiting times, bad weather conditions and other things, please secure yourself with following gear (in addition to common essentials like described in this list):
Boots (keeping your feet warm and dry is extremely important):
- In addition to substantial (leather) boots, appropriate for winter conditions, you can also consider plastic boots and sorel insulated boots (e.g., "Sorel Bighorn", rated to -40 degrees) as possible options.
Base Layers (no cotton):
- Midweight or Expedition-weight thermal underwear top
- Midweight or Expedition-weight thermal underwear bottom
- Windproof and waterproof jacket, preferably with a hood (or any warm hat to protect your ears!)
- Midweight or Expedition-weight Insulated fleece gloves or mittens + waterproof overgloves or mittens
- Down sweater
- Hand warmers (e.g., "Grabber Mycoal" air-activated warmer)
- Insulated water-bottle blanket
- When hitchhiking a lot in the countryside or further from the cities and petrol stations, please consider getting a primus stove.
- Reflective/hi-vis vest for better visibility after nightfall
Traveling through different climate zones
It can be a problem when you travel from warm to cold zones or the other way around (and you like to travel light with little luggage), e.g., from South Iran to Turkey in winter. However, traveling from cold climate zone to a warm one seems to be less of a problem as when you get to the warm zone you can just ship your winter stuff back home. Nevertheless, it does not have to be costly or implies heavy luggage to travel the other way around.
Hitchhiker User:JackFang I hitchhiked across Canada in the winter from Ottawa to Vancouver. I camped outside a few times. In Manitoba the weather got below -40 C. I couchsurfed in Manitoba to survive that. In Canada there are always shelter in the winter, but they are usually full. That being said you can survive in 24 hour Tim Hortons or McDonlads. In Alberta at the Rockies I camped at -30C, that was the lowest I camped outside and I think that's enough cold for me. You can watch my experience here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tXf6W87_kU
If you do not have experience in surviving outside in cold conditions, perhaps hitchhiking isn't the best way to find out what it's like. It is good practice to inform people exactly where you are going, and when you expect to reach your destination. You should also bring money with you; enough to buy food and to afford a hostel, in case things turn bad. Having knowledge of the weather forecast is also advised, so you have awareness of how the weather will be over a longer period of time. Finally, you should have a complete backup plan, in case you are forced to give up. This might include taking public transport or returning home.
Equipment you might need
- Warm clothes
- 5 Season sleeping bag
- Gas lamp
- Bivvy bag
You must find an appropriate spot to set up camp. If it is very cold, you probably won't have to worry as much about people or animals disturbing you. You should try to find a spot which is, firstly, sheltered by the wind, and secondly, sheltered from above, such as by trees. Once you have found an optimal spot, you might want to start a fire. This will provide heat and light. You should learn how to start a fire before leaving. I have met some people who have used gas lamps successfully, keeping them inside their tent for extra warmth (not recommended unless the situation is desperate). Once this is done, you can start clearing away snow, if there is any. You should not to use your hands or clothes, try to find an instrument that can clear the snow aside. Piling the snow around to form a wall will provide more insulation.
Once this is done, you can set up your tent and sleeping bag. Put on as many clothes as you can wear. If you have wet clothes on, consider changing out of them if at all possible. Do not expose your skin to the air, if it is extremely cold.
Regarding sleeping bags for extreme winter conditions (below -40C), forget about the manufacture's survival rating or how much money you spent on that Everest Down Sleeping Bag. For guys planning to hitchhike to the North Pole, buy a portable propane heater and drag a sleigh of propane tanks.