Winter hiking is a magical season to gain new perspective and appreciation for some of the places you have visited in the peak of hiking season. It is a time when the trails see less traffic, and there is a gentle calmness you are unfamiliar with in a familiar area. Winter Hiking Gear will keep you warm during this magical season.
Going on a winter hike might take some extra motivation as it can sometimes be challenging to get out of a cozy bed, but when you’re bundled in proper snow gear and marching through fresh snow, the views are worth a groggy wake up.
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Proper Winter Hiking Gear Attire
Proper hiking attire comes into play when hiking in winter conditions as the chances of being cold and wet are increased substantially. So the goal of these suggestions is to keep you both dry and warm from the elements and the inevitable sweat that will occur from these layers.
As you grow accustomed to hiking in cold weather, you will learn what you need to hike in these conditions. Your winter hiking gear can be broken down into four components: base layer, mid layer, external shell, accessories.
Base layers should be close to your body and manage your sweat. Regardless of the temperature outside, any physical activity will cause your body to heat up and produce sweat so your base layer should dry quickly and wick away moisture.
A winter base layer is traditional merino wool but can also be synthetic material. Cotton material will hold onto moisture and can cause chaffing, cools down your body, and becomes heavy.
The smartwool base layer set is extremely popular. It is my favorite set for all of my winter activities. I even use it as my sleep set for winter car camping.
Your mid-layer serves the purpose of insulating you and the material that this layer is made of usually requires it to stay dry. It is recommended to opt for a synthetic option over a down option in this case. There are a couple options for this layer depending how warm you tend to run and the conditions in which you are hiking.
My go to mid-layer is the Arc’teryx Atom Hoodie. It is actually my go-to jacket from fall through spring and some of summer in the pacific northwest, but it is worth every penny for me. As someone who runs cooler even when doing strenuous exercise, I found this to always have the perfect amount of warmth for the conditions I was in.
Another go-to option is the Patagonia Better Sweater. I like this option because it is good for those in-between months of fall and winter when the air is getting colder. It is also thick enough that if it is worn as an outer layer, a slight breeze will not penetrate the material.
If temperatures are going to be especially cold, freezing or below, your mid-layer should provide proper insulation while providing you the freedom of movement during activity. When paired with a water-proof outer layer, a down jacket is the best mid-layer for a frigid winter hike! This layer will keep you toasty without adding additional weight. This has been my favorite down jacket addition to my closet, the Access Down Hoody from Black Diamond. Its packability makes it easy to store in my pack when I’m not using it on the trail.
Out of all of your winter hiking gear the outer layer serves the purpose of handling the elements. Your outer layer will be windproof, waterproof, but will be breathable and durable. This is a hefty task for any jacket, which is why your base and mid-layers are such an important part of the process. In inclement weather, your outer layer will protect you from rain, wind, hail, ect.
However, with all these layers and with the hard work you’re sure to do on the trail, you’re sure to work up a sweat. Remember that baselayer, the one that is going to wick sweat away from your body to keep you warm? Yeah. See why it is so important now?
If you’re just starting out, your cheapest option for an outer-layer is going to be your favorite, most effective rain jacket. For the longest time I used the REI Rainier Rain Jacket as my outer layer, because it is a well made cost effective rain jacket.
A sturdier option, with a GOR-TEX exterior shell, is the Liquid Point Shell from Black Diamond. This upgrade took years to get too, but I was glad to make the switch as the breathability of this jacket was noticeable right away. The condensation build up that occurs in a jacket that lacks breathability, will leave you feeling wet and cold, this was something that I did not experience in this Liquid Point jacket by Black Diamond which I was entirely grateful for when in the alpine.
Accessories are EVERYONEs best friend when on the trail and you will need accessories from head to toe when weather seems to be working against you.
The following items need to be purchased thoughtfully:
- Traction Device
- Gaiters (The other kind)
You will have a hood on your shell, but the hood on your shell protects you more from rain and wind, than to keep you warm. You’ll want to wear a knit hat to keep you from losing heat from the top of your head. I suggest bringing two. One beanie to wear and one to keep in a dry sack in your backpack in case the one you’re wearing gets wet.
A gaiter is going to keep your neck, ears and nose warm depending on how you wear it in the cold. This all around accessory has come in hand for me on numerous occasions. Some emergencies that I will not be discussing.
This merino gaiter acts in the same way as wool base layers in that it will wick away any moisture build up. If extremely cold, having a gaiter will keep your face warm.
Gloves and Mittens
Whether you’re a glove or a mitten person, you need to keep your hands warm. Gloves are better for dexterity and grip, but mittens are better for warmth. Either way, getting an option that is insulating and weather proof will keep you enjoying your favorite activities more comfortably longer.
My preference has always been gloves.
Socks are important all year round and every hiker has a particular preference and if you’ve made it this far in the blog, I’m sure you already know what I am going to say about the material of your socks…WOOL. Darn Tough has a heavy weight sock option for colder weather, however I usually wear their mid-weight sock option year round.
Hiking on snow can most certainly be fun, but after numerous people have hiked on it, the snow becomes packed down and can turn to ice, which becomes slippery and treacherous. To avoid falling, use a traction device like crampons to attach to your boots to create additional friction between your boots and the ice underneath them.
Don’t want snow in your boots? Gaiters prevent snow from accessing the tops of your boots by wrapping around your boots and pants. There are various sizes of gaiters and some that can attach to trail runners as well, to fit whatever your needs are, but if you find that you’ll be hiking in an area in which you will be postholing a lot, securing a pair of gaiters would be advantageous.
There are seven principles of Leave No Trace to follow for every outdoor adventure to help mitigate our impact on the world around us. Following these practices helps ensure the spaces we visit will be around for years to come.
- Plan Ahead & Prepare
- Travel on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
- Minimize Campfire Impacts