This post may contain affiliate links.

How Windy is “Very Windy?”

Franconia Ridge Forecast
Franconia Ridge Forecast

When planning above-treeline hikes, particularly in winter, we pay particular attention to two variables: temperature and wind speed. The best source for this information is the NOAA National Weather Service forecast available on which covers all of the United States. You can use that website to do point forecasts as well on trails, ridges, or mountain summits. It’s amazingly accurate most of the time.

Give it a try by typing “Franconia Ridge” into the upper left-hand text box next to the button labeled “Go”

Very Windy

It’s important to understand that the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast shown above, uses a highly stylized vocabulary that has very specific meanings. Many of these terms and abbreviations are used by NWS forecasters to communicate with each other and have been in use for many years.

The NWS publishes a glossary that is handy to refer to containing definitions for more than 2000 terms, phrases, and abbreviations used. It’s important that you understand what they mean when they use different terms to describe the wind, especially in winter, when the resulting wind chill can accelerate frostbite on exposed portions of skin or knock you to the ground in hazardous terrain.

For example:

  • Very Windy means 30-40 mph wind.
  • Windy means 20-30 mph wind.
  • Blustery or Breezy means 15-25 mph wind.
  • Calm means no wind.

Hourly Forecasts

While the NWS provides a daytime and nighttime forecast, as shown above, they also provide tools to forecast conditions by the hour, as well as ahead by several days. This is very useful for forecasting what conditions will be like when you reach a certain point during your hike. You can find this tool by scrolling down the page below the main forecast on

Hourly Forecast Tool

The hourly forecast is useful because wind speeds tend to vary during the day. If you can stay below treeline, protected from the wind by vegetation when the winds are high, you may be able to time your hike so that you pop above treeline just as the wind speed is forecast to drop. I’ve done this many times when climbing higher mountains where it takes several hours to reach treeline.

You can use the same tool to predict:

  • When precipitation is expected to fall and by how much
  • Wind Chill
  • Dewpoint
  • Temperature
  • Wind Gusts
  • Wind Surface Speed
  • Relative Humidity
  • Precipitation Potential
  • Sky Cover
  • Rain
  • Thunder
  • Snow
  • Freezing Rain
  • Sleet

When is the Wind Dangerous?

The wind can be quite dangerous, particularly in cold weather, because it can accelerate hypothermia or other cold injuries like frostbite. Personally, I avoid hiking in warmer weather in sustained winds (not gusts), above treeline, that are greater than 40-50 mph where there’s no vegetation to provide cover. That’s the wind speed where you can feel the wind pushing you around. In winter when there is an elevated risk of frostbite, I like to avoid wind speeds of 25 mph or more and temperatures below 10 degrees F. But those are my preferences based on years of experience. Those might sound like conservative wind speeds and temperatures but those are the basic rules of thumb that I follow.

But there are situations where I will hike in higher winds. For example, in summer, the risk of cold injuries is much reduced and hiking in higher winds can provide some relief. I will also hike in higher winds in winter out in the open for short distances, when the wind is at my back, or when I know that certain terrain features provide a wind break. But these factors depend on knowing your route in great detail through planning or previous experience.

Net net. Everyone develops their own preferences when it comes to hiking in windy conditions. Hopefully, this overview of the forecasting tools available to you will help you make those decisions for yourself.

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 8500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 articles as the founder of, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 10 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 540 summits in all four seasons. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.


  1. It might be significant -and amusing because of the location- that I could not stand in 60mph gusts in the Pinkham Lodge parking lot. Good job there were lots of cars to use aa props LOL

  2. I would be interested in any tips for shelter options during very windy conditions. I have had to repair my hammock tarps from damage sustained during very windy nights. I have been in tents flattened by wind and snow during stormy nights. I have spent a number of uncomfortable nights in truck cabs when the wind was too high to even try to put up a hammock or a tent. Wind is the most difficult weather condition for me to manage.

    • Your best bet is a four season capable tent that sets up fly first together with a companion to help you hold down the flapping fabric and good campsite selection in protective vegetation if at all possible. Hilleberg tents rein supreme in those conditions since they’re designed for Sweden which has a lot of open unprotected territory and more extreme winter snow loads. I generally find that avoiding such conditions by route or schedule modifications works best when you have a weather forecast avoiable to anticiopate them. If you only have a hammock, it may pay to bring a pad and go to ground with a tarp pitched very low and behind a wind break like a boulder (glacial erratic) or downed tree. In winter you can also build a wall with snow or camp in a trench to get the same effect without or without a tent.

      • Thank-you for these good tips. Now that I am a retired field biologist, I can avoid bad weather. For the last 30 years, I have not had that luxury.

  3. Many readers may find the Beaufort scale to be helpful. Mainly developed for sailors but has some visual indications that are appropriate for backpackers. My 2 cents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve *