Alright, you soon-to-be winter trailblazer, listen up! Before we dive into the list for what to wear hiking in winter, we want to give you a few upfront details so you’re fully prepared for winter hiking.
What to Wear Hiking in Winter
Guest Post by Lauren and Jesse Stuart, The Wandering Stus
Things to Know Before going Winter Hiking
First things first, winter hikes can be a wonderful, a doozy and sometimes both. Before heading out, understanding what to wear winter hiking will help you (and your gear) be ready for it all. What do we mean by “it all?” The “it all” is the precipitation, temperature, wind and surface conditions. You know, all the stuff that’s totally out of your control.
Think snow. When you sit in it, you get wet. From walking in it, your shoes get wet. If it falls on you, your hair and clothes…yup you guessed it….get wet. Get our drift? (snow drift pun 100% intended). Outside of snow, you could potentially be dealing with falling rain, sleet and even fog on your hike.
This is more than just the temperature of the air. While the temperature of the air is important other things to consider are, Is the sun out? Is it overcast? All of this plays a crucial part into what the “outside” feels like.
How windy will it be? Are you hiking below the tree line? Above the tree line? Location can play a big part into how windy or non-windy it can be. When the wind blows, it’s freaking cold. Especially in winter temps.
This can be anything from light snow to deep snow, ice, wet patches or puddles, bare ground or rocks. Depending on the surface conditions, your hike can be a walk in the park (so to speak) or an uphill battle (literally).
What to wear for a winter day hike can make or break your whole hike. If you’re not prepared..errr…let us rephrase that. If your winter hiking gear isn’t prepared for the elements listed up above, let’s just say you’re going to wish you would have read the below gear list first before heading out.
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Gear List: What to Wear Hiking in Winter
I encourage you read the entire post, but if you’re short on time feel free to check out my blog post with a full list of winter hiking gear.
Our opinion and many others agree, THE most important part of your gear is footwear. Your feet keep you moving so best take care of them by supporting them, keeping them dry and warm.
Yes, boots. Your hiking boots should be water resistant and be high enough that they support your ankles. Plus, the bottom should have enough tread to where you don’t slip and slide over lose terrain or wet rocks.
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Please, please, pleeeasse invest in a good pair of wool socks! Wool socks keep your feet warm and wick away any sweat from those stinky feet of yours. Wool socks are the only way to go when hiking. They make them in different thickness too so you can purchase according to the temperature of the hike you’ll be doing.
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Winter Hiking Clothes: Base Layers
If you don’t know, your base layers are considered your “first” layer (your base) and those are the clothes that go directly on your body. If you don’t have a base layer you’re not ready for winter hiking.
These layers should not be cotton. Cotton holds moisture and moisture keeps you wet.
Instead, you want to wear moisture wicking materials. Moisture wicking materials are considered synthetic fibers like polyester, polypropylene and natural fibers like wool. These materials move moisture away from your body, not retain them.
The top should a tight, but flexible long sleeve. As for the bottoms, they should be realatively tight as well and long pants.
For the above, think workout clothes or long underwear – as long as it’s moisture wicking! If it’s really cold out you might want to wear both. Here are our picks for a base layer and a thermal layer.
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The layer over your base layer is your mid-layer. Typically, you only need a mid-layer for the top of your body, not your bottom half. Good options for mid-layer are….
- Fleece jacket/pullover/vest
- Insulated vest
- Softshell jacket
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Your outer layer is what the elements hit. Remember our list above, yeah, those elements. These should be your “heavy duty” layers and honestly, worth the investment in quality outer layers.
Top Outer Layers
Puffy insulated jacket that is waterproof and windproof
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Bottom Outer Layer
Flexible hiking pants that are waterproof and windproof
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What to Wear Hiking in Winter: Head, Neck, Fingers and Eyes
Let’s not forget about these body parts! They need some love and attention too.
A warm hat or ear warmer are for sure a must. Make sure the material is fleece or wool.
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A neck warmer or buff will definitely come in handy in those cold winter conditions. A neck warmer or buff can be used not only to keep your jugular warm, but also the bottom half of your face – tip of your nose and below.
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Gloves and Mittens
Use a thinner pair of liners as your “base” with insulated, water-resistant mittens over the liners. The liner should be moisture-wicking.
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The glare from the snow can seriously hurt your eyes. Make sure you protect them with polarized sunglasses. We love these black polarized sunglasses on Amazon. They’re great for hiking and for everyday wear.
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Additional Winter Hiking Gear to Consider
Our what to wear for hiking in winter list would not be complete without the items below. We kept these separate because it honestly depends on what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re heading out into some serious weather conditions, you have icy conditions or want to feel extra prepared you might consider strapping these on.
If there is going to be a lot of snow, consider using gaiters. Gaiters strap and hook to your shoes and pants. That act as a shield from letting snow get into the tops of your boots. Snow isn’t so bad when it hasn’t melted, but guess what happens when it falls between that warm layer of your socks and boots? Yup, it melts.
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If the conditions are icy or you are going to be doing a bit of mountaineering, crampons are probably a great option for you. Crampons are a traction device that is used to give you, the winter trail blazer, more traction in the environment you are hiking in. These slip-on crampons for the bottom of your hiking boots are durable and fit most boots.
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If the snow is just super high and thick to point you just sink up to your knees or higher, you should for sure strap on some snow shoes. Snow shoes allow you to walk on top of the snow, saving you a whole lot of energy and honestly, sanity.
MSR makes great snowshoes and they stand by their products. The MSR Women’s Revo Trail Snowshoe is a high quality, light, and affordable snowhsoe.
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Compare Hiking Pole Prices
Later, but not least is your day pack. If you don’t need all your layers you’ll have a dry place to store them and don’t forget to bring plenty of water and yummy trail snacks!
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About The Author
Hi! We’re Lauren & Jesse. A travel couple who quit our corporate jobs in 2016 in order to fulfill a dream. The dream of making time for ourselves, living in the now and exploring the beautiful people and places Mother Earth has to offer. You know, all that good stuff. We’re here to give you travel tips, epic itineraries & overall travel inspiration to help you plan your next adventure!
Happy Travels, Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stus)