Hiking during winter is a different experience. With fewer people on the trail, you can find solitude and a quiet place to reflect. The snow also changes the scenery and your favorite trails, making them look more magical. This is also a great time to explore and head off your usual path.
However, snow can give you more than just a new view. It presents a new challenge as well – the cold. So if you are planning to go hiking during the offseason, it’s important to bundle up. As a guide, here’s what to wear for winter hiking. But before that, here are a few reminders when it comes to preparing your clothes and gear during the cold season.
4 Things You Should Know Before Hiking During Winter
When it comes to dressing for winter, it all comes down to layers. You need enough clothes to keep you warm when you are cold and remove them when you start to sweat. This is crucial as sweating can cause your clothes to get wet or damp, which can leave you chilling.
As a general rule, you need three layers if the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets less than 0 degrees F, you may use up to four layers or select a heavier mid-layer. For temperatures between 20 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, two layers will suffice. You should be wearing an outer layer plus a wicking base layer.
Choosing the right material for your winter clothes can determine whether you will have a comfortable or terrible experience outdoors. Some fabrics are not suitable for wintertime since they cannot wick moisture and sweat away from your skin. Instead, they absorb water and, as a result, losing their ability to keep you warm.
One example of this is cotton. Not only does it absorb your sweat, but it also dries very slowly. This can make you feel dangerously cold when you stop for a rest in the trails. Additionally, cotton is heavy and takes up too much space in your pack. So better ditch all your cotton hiking gears if you want to stay dry, warm, and protected during winter hiking.
The best material for your clothes is either wool or synthetic. They dry a lot faster compared to cotton, and they can move sweat away from your skin.
3. Cover Up
You need to cover up and make sure all your body parts and skin are protected from the freezing temperature. Exposure can lead to frostbite, especially when it comes to your fingers, toes, nose, ears, and cheeks.
4. Protect Your Head
You can lose around 10 to 30% of your body heat through your head. Thus, always wear a hat that reaches your ears. This helps you stay warm when outdoors. In choosing headgear, wool and fleece are your best choice since they are wicking and insulating fibers.
Tips on What to Wear for Winter Hiking
If you want to stay comfortable and protected during a cold-weather hike, here are the items you need to wear.
For your head
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Since your head is one of the places where you are losing heat, wearing a hat is a must. You can also use it to protect your ears. If you don’t have a winter hat, you might want to check out the Minus33 Merino Wool Ridge Cuff Beanie. It can fit both men and women. More importantly, it’s made of 100% merino wool, making it breathable, soft, and extremely comfortable.
For your ears, neck, cheeks, and nose
Your ears, neck, cheeks, and nose are among the body parts that are prone to frostbite. Luckily, you can easily cover them up with a single garment – the neck gaiter. You can use it as a face mask and cover your ears as well.
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The Tough Headwear Winter Fleece Neck Gaiter is a great choice if you need one. It has a layer of fleece, which makes it retain heat, and a microfiber layer that can wick away moisture. On top of that, it dries quickly too.
For your hands
When hiking in the snow, you will need at least two pairs of gloves in case the one you’re using gets wet. However, if your hands tend to sweat a lot while hiking, you may need three or four. When choosing gloves to bring, make sure that one of them has a waterproof outer shell with an insulating inner liner such as the Outdoor Research Alti Gloves.
You should also decide which one you prefer between mittens or gloves. If you need more warmth, mitts are a better choice for you. However, if you need dexterity, best choose gloves. If you can’t decide, you may try using lightweight or midweight gloves underneath waterproof mittens. This is so you can have both dexterity and warmth. You can then just switch liner gloves when they get cold or damp.
If you need wool liner gloves, you can try the Smartwool Merino. They are lightweight, soft, and can keep your hands from freezing. Just make sure to wear them with mitten shells for full protection.
For your feet
You need to wear warm socks and insulated winter boots to keep your feet warm and toasty during the hike.
Look for the temperature rating. It should be rated at -20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. If you are hiking through snow, you should also make sure they are waterproof. For very cold temperatures, you need boots with built-in insulation. You can get away with 200 to 400g of insulation (Thinsulate or the equivalent). Furthermore, when choosing winter boots, consider getting a full size larger than usual. This is to make space for thicker socks or liners.
For women, we recommend the Oboz Bridger 7” Insulated B-Dry Hiking Boot. It’s waterproof and breathable, keeping your feet dry even in intense weather conditions. It also features a 200g 3M Thinsulate insulation to keep you warm. On the other hand, the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni Cold-Weather Boot, which has a temperature rating of -25 degrees F, is a great choice for men.
- Winter Hiking Socks
When it comes to socks, it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. You can wear sock liners if you are prone to blisters, and you can use thicker socks for more warmth. Also, you may wear synthetic fabrics or stick with wool socks. But no matter what combination or system you follow, just make sure you carry an extra pair to change into.
For your body
As mentioned earlier, you need layers to endure the freezing temperature when hiking in winter. These layers include the following:
- Base Layer
Your base layer clothes will be responsible for wicking sweat away from your body. You can choose from a wide range of materials such as polyester, nylon, silk, and wool. Just steer clear from cotton.
Aside from the material, you also have to consider the weight. You can choose from lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight. Some are also labeled as ultralightweight or expedition weight, which is on the heavier side. Generally, the heavier the fabric, the more warmth it provides. But again, this layer is for wicking sweat. So you might want to focus more on that aspect when choosing a base layer.
- Updated with improved fit
- Flatlock seams prevent chafing
- Corespun fabric for added durability
- Brand name: Icebreaker Merino
For a lightweight base layer for men, you can try the Icebreaker Merino Anatomica Long Sleeve Shirt. It has great moisture-wicking and odor resistance properties, which is great for multi-day trips.
- Mid Layer
Mid-layer clothes can keep you warm and protected from the cold by retaining your body heat. Generally, thicker fabrics offer more warmth. However, take note of an insulating material’s efficiency as well.
We recommend polyester fleece mid-layers as they can stay warm even if they get wet. They dry fast as well. Synthetic insulated jackets are good too, especially for rainy conditions. Down insulated jackets offers the most warmth. However, they can lose their efficiency when damp, so make sure to wear it with a shell layer.
The Arc’teryx Thorium AR Hoody for women is a great choice for down-insulated jackets. For men, the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is perfect with synthetic insulation, minimalist design, and high performance.
- Shell Layer
The outer layer or shell layer can protect you from the wind, snow, and rain. This is a vital piece of clothing that you should always have for winter hiking. Without it, wind and water can penetrate your clothes. Thus, putting you in trouble.
You have a lot of options for a shell layer, from simple wind-resistant garments to expensive mountaineering gears. There are also several types of shells, but we recommend waterproof/breathable and water-resistant/breathable shells for winter hiking as they can keep you warm and dry. Generally, waterproof/breathable shells provide you the most protection.
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For light wind and rain, water-resistant/breathable shells will suffice. If you’re looking for shell-layer pants for men, the Marmot PreCip Lightweight Full-Zip Pants are perfect.
Now that you know what to wear for winter hiking, you will be better equipped and able to protect yourself from the cold.