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Warm up to the Winter Outdoors by Hiking

By Joe Miller | January 25, 2017 | Explore NC

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New Year’s resolutions to be more active are a curious thing: they’re made at the worst possible time to be active outdoors.

At least it’s perceived as the worst possible time: In reality, winter is among the best times to active outside.

Think about it: Would you rather walk three miles on the local greenway in the 90-degree heat of summer or on a 40-degree winter day? You can only strip down so much to deal with heat; with cold weather, you can add layers and stay comfortable into the low 20s — and how often does it get that cold during the day in North Carolina, anyway?

Is there enough daylight? 

The dearth of daylight is also seen as a deterrent to playing outdoors. Sure, on a 60-degree day who doesn’t feel robbed when night takes over at 5:30? That still leaves 10 hours of daylight to play with. That’s plenty on the weekends and, frankly, doesn’t affect your ability to sneak out for a 30-minute walk over lunch during the workweek. Plus, as of Dec. 21, our allotment of daily daylight has been on the rise. We had just 9 hours and 43 minutes of sun on Dec. 21; a little more than a month later we’re up to 10 hours and 13 minutes, a gain of more than half an hour!

Another reason for getting outdoors: you likely have the time. If you have kids, this is one time of year when they — and consequently, you — typically have fewer commitments. If you’re a sports junkie, your weekends aren’t as consumed by your addiction: your commitment to your favorite ACC basketball team is contained to three hours on the weekend, a far cry from your day-long Saturday college football binge, followed by a Sunday of NFL.

Is the winter landscape worth it? 

Now, some folks have a knee-jerk reaction to associate winter with a bleak, gray landscape. In some parts of the country, this is true, but not here. In Raleigh, for example, the sun shines 217 days a year. That sun works a special magic on a winter landscape stripped to its essence: views abound from ridgelines otherwise obscured by foliage, while the lack of green and crisp winter air turn up the volume in a natural world that has so much to tell you.

Perhaps most importantly, you have the motivation to get out, to escape. While the holidays can be stressful, there’s also a certain relaxed atmosphere that prevails. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s there are parties, events, food, distractions. For most, work takes a backseat: some businesses even close for a week or two. But then comes the harsh reality of Jan. 2. For many of us, the next opportunity for significant time off doesn’t come until — gulp! — summer. That’s at least five months, five months when you’ll desperately need the sanity-saving relief that quality time in nature can offer.

This misperception of winter is why so many resolutioners wind up in the gym. After a couple weeks of being tied to a treadmill under fluorescent lights is it any wonder most resolutions don’t last through January?
Stick with the gym, but work a healthy dose of outdoors into your winter routine. It will brighten your prospects for a healthier 2017.

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We’ll be back in a few days with tips on how to dress for playing outside in the cold. In the meantime, here are some ways to find your perfect winter hiking escape.