Check out our winter hiking gear guide for everything you should be wearing. Hint: layers, moisture-wicking fabric and thermal gloves, socks and boots to stay warm.
Many hikers think that winter hiking gear has to be extensive and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. You just need a few key pieces and you’re set for your winter day hikes!
Read on to see what proper gear and winter hiking clothing you need to stay warm during all your outdoor activities. And the number one thing you need to stay safe which you can buy for less than $10!
You’ll also find out which of your summer hiking equipment you can use in winter – saving you $$$.
The 2 Most Important Things To Know About Winter Hiking Clothing
1)Layering for Winter Hiking
Clothing layers are so important to keep the body warm. Even when the temperature is cool, you can work up a sweat. And when you do, you want the option to be able to take an extra layer off. It’s much better to wear 3 light layers than 1 or 2 heavy ones.
2) Choose Moisture Wicking Fabric When Hiking in Winter
Don’t even think about wearing cotton. It’s considered bad clothing for the winter because when you sweat, it gets wet and your body temperature will drop quickly. Instead, look for moisture-wicking fabric. When you sweat, it wicks the sweat away from you, keeping you warmer.
You can buy man-made moisture-wicking fabrics made of polyester, but my favorite wool base layer is Merino wool.
This winter hiking gear list assumes that you already own summer hiking gear. That way, you can save $$ by reusing some of your extra gear by layering it.
If you don’t have summer hiking gear, check out my Day Hiking Packing List here.
Recommended Reading: 18 Best Hiking Leggings
Recommended Winter Hiking Gear
Note: I’ve just listed women’s gear for consistency, but men can find something similar. The same information applies.
Choose Thermal Underwear for Your Base Layer to Conserve Your Body Heat
The first layer is your thermal underwear. I love Merino wool which is more expensive but feels SO good on your skin. Plus it will last for years, or a synthetic version, which is cheaper but not as warm or soft.
If you go for the Merino wool option, check out the two on the left by Icebreaker. Icebreaker is one of my favorite brands for performance clothing, and it lasts for years. Another great option is this long sleeve crew from Wooly. These will help keep in your body heat.
If you’re on a budget, then the thermals on the right are a good choice. They’re fleece lined so that they’re extra soft, and you get two in one package for a real bargain!
Icebreaker Merino Women’s 175 Everyday Long Sleeve Thermal Cold Weather Base Layer T-Shirt
Icebreaker Bodyfit 175 Everyday Legging – Women’s
Women’s Thermal Underwear Set Long Johns with Fleece Lined Ultra Soft Top & Bottom Base Layer
Related Reading: The Best Hiking Underwear.
Midlayer Clothing for Winter to Regulate Your Body Temperature
Next up is your mid-layer. For this, I love fleece for its warmth. On warmish days, you may even be able to take off your outer layer and just hike in your base layer and fleece (as I’m doing in the above photo).
I personally like ones with a full zipper. I’ll often leave it on but unzipped, so it provides more flexibility than one with only a half zip.
Despite its warmth, it’s still relatively thin though, which makes it more comfortable.
I especially like this NorthFace jacket because it’s lightweight and made of 100% recycled fabric. When you buy it, you know it’s helping our planet.
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Outer Layer Jacket for Winter to Stay Dry
When choosing an outer layer jacket, there are four things to look for:
1) Insulated jacket. You want something that’s insulated to keep you warm.
2) A jacket with an integrated hood. When it gets cold, an attached hood will stop cold air from going down your neck, and it serves as an excellent windbreaker.
3) A jacket that’s waterproof and wind-resistant. Some are only water-resistant, which won’t keep you dry when it’s really wet.
It’s important that you stay dry.
4) Outside pockets on the hiking jacket that are big enough for your phone. While I usually have my phone in airplane mode when I hike, I love using it to take pictures or to check the route on GPS.
That’s why I like the rain jacket below, which meets all of the above criteria. Plus it comes in a variety of colours.
Women’s Winter Hiking Pants
I have three types of winter hiking pants.
1) my regular summer convertible hiking pants that I wear with my thermal underwear underneath. This is enough on mild winter days and when it’s not snowing heavily.
However, these are not waterproof or even water-resistant, so they’re only suited for sunny, mild winter days.
2) I also have soft-shell pants lined with fleece, similar to the Eddie Bauer ones on the right. They’re a middle option to the two above.
They’re not 100% waterproof, but they move easier than hard-shelled waterproof pants and they’re more comfortable for longer hikes or for snowshoeing on packed snow.
3) I also have hard-shell waterproof pants. I mainly use these for skiing or when I’m backcountry snowshoeing and likely to encounter deep snow. I’ll also wear them on a winter hike if it’s snowing heavily.
Because they’re thicker, it’s important to look for breathable ones. That’s why I like these North Face ones on the right. I usually just wear my thermal underwear underneath, and it keeps me warm. Look for pants that are waterproof and insulated.
Related Reading: Women’s Guide to Hiking on Your Period
Best Winter Hiking Boots: What to Look For
Depending on the conditions, your regular hiking boots with warm socks MAY be enough for winter hiking IF they’re waterproof and IF it’s not too cold, and IF you’re going on snow-packed hiking trails.
If you’re hiking in the backcountry, in deep snow, or in cold temperatures, you’ll want a lined waterproof hiking boot. The boots below are designed to withstand cold and wet conditions. There’s nothing worse than having freezing feet.
Best Women’s Winter Hiking Boots Comparison Chart
Best Men’s Winter Hiking Boots Comparison Chart
Related Reading: The 7 Best Microspikes for Hiking in Winter: And Why You Need Them
Winter Hiking Gear Accessories
I also hike in merino wool socks in summer, and on days when it’s just below zero, I’ll often hike in the same socks. So this is a money-saving hack if you hike in places where winter is milder.
Otherwise, it’s worth purchasing a couple of pairs of hiking socks made for winter. The merino wool is so soft on your feet and will keep them toasty. Bring an extra pair in case they get wet.
Bring an extra pair of gloves in case they get wet. My hands and my feet are always the first to get cold, and they’re also the most exposed to the elements.
When choosing a pair of gloves, look for thermal ones that will keep your hands warm and ones that are also waterproof and windproof. It makes a huge difference to your warmth and comfort
Hiking gaiters are a staple in my backpack no matter the time of year. In winter, they’re great for keeping snow out when I’m snowshoeing or doing a hike in deep snow.
On cold days, they’re also good for added warmth since they’re thick. In summer, they’re good for keeping gravel out when scrambling.
My neck warmer stays in my backpack even in summer. It really helps keep you warm on cold days and keeps the wind out. Not every hiker uses a neck warmer, but I think everyone should, especially a fleece one for its comfort.
You may think you don’t need another hat since you already have a hood on your outer shell, but that one is to keep out the wind and the snow. This one is for warmth. Once again, I’m recommending my favorite, Merino wool.
When you’re hiking in cold temperatures, your water will freeze in a regular water bottle, so look for an insulated one.
Besides water, you may also want a hot drink such as coffee or tea to warm you up on short breaks. I don’t always carry a thermos but think it’s nice to have – especially on really cold days or on longer hikes.
A headlamp is always a staple in my hiking backpack, even in summer, but in winter, it’s critical since the days are so much shorter. It’s lightweight, doesn’t take much room, and comes in handy when you get caught out in the dark.
While you can buy insulated winter hiking boots, like the ones recommended above, you may not need to. I always hike in my regular hiking boots with thermal socks. I find that this is fine (for me at least) until about – 20C (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).
But what’s essential is to waterproof them since they will get wet. I always buy water-resistant hiking boots, but they still need to be sprayed regularly to keep them water-resistant.
Depending on how cold it is where you hike, this tip could save you a lot of money.
Related Reading: The Best Gaiters for Hiking.
Winter Hiking Gear To Stop You From Slipping
I love these for traction and have tried several different kinds and have found Snowline to be the best microspikes for hiking.
They actually stay on your feet, unlike some other brands or models made with velcro. They’re also lightweight and don’t take up much space. I use them at some point on almost every winter hike that I do – especially when going down.
It’s easy to slip when winter hiking which is why microspikes are an essential part of your winter hiking gear.
While some hikers don’t consider hiking poles to be an essential piece of gear, to me, they are. Especially in winter, since they help with balance, help prevent you from slipping and make it easier to go both up and down the mountain.
Look for ones that you can use in both winter and summer. The only difference is for winter, you want the ones that have snow baskets so that they don’t sink.
You also want hiking poles that are collapsible so that you can easily carry them in your backpack when you’re not using them. That’s why I like these ones.
In Case of Emergency: THE Most Important Piece of Winter Hiking Gear
An emergency thermal blanket is the #1 piece of winter hiking gear that I think every hiker should have in their backpack – even in summer.
It’s made from weatherproof foil and retains/ deflects 90% of your heat when in use. If you find yourself unexpectedly having to spend the night due to getting lost or a sprained ankle and you can’t walk any further, this could help save your life!
Plus, an emergency thermal blanket is small, lightweight and inexpensive.
Related Reading: 63 Best Gifts for Hikers.
FAQs About Winter Hiking Gear
What equipment do you need for winter hiking?
-base layer that wicks moisture away
-a waterproof outer layer
– hiking pants for cold weather
– thermal hiking socks
– thermal gloves
– trekking poles with snow baskets
– emergency thermal blanket
-insulated hat (ideally merino wool)
-head torch (with extra batteries)
– insulated thermos for a hot drink
– insulated water bottle (so that it doesn’t freeze)
-sunglasses designed for cold weather or goggles
Do you need snowshoes for winter hiking?
It depends on the type of snow you’ll be walking on. If the hiking trail is packed and you don’t sink, you won’t need the floatation that snowshoes provide. However, if you’re planning on going in the backcountry or want to explore deep powdery snow, then you’ll definitely want them. Check out the best snowshoes and how to choose the right ones.
How do you stay warm when hiking in winter?
1. Layer, layer, layer.
2. Moisture-wicking thermal base layers.
3. Wear thermally insulated gloves, socks, boots and a hat.
4. Bring an extra pair of socks and gloves in case they get wet.
5. Bring an insulated thermos (for a warm drink) and an insulated water bottle (so that it doesn’t freeze).
6. Eat more than you normally would when hiking (hiking in winter takes more effort so you’ll be hungrier).
7. Choose a hiking trail in the sun.
8. Plan your hike so that you’re hiking in the warmest hours of the day. The sun goes down quickly in the winter, especially in the mountains so plan to finish by mid-afternoon.
9. Keep moving. It’s better to take more frequent but shorter breaks than a long break where you’ll cool off quickly.
How do I keep my legs warm when winter hiking?
Wear a base layer of merino wool that will wick moisture and a pair of waterproof insulated winter pants for cold weather.
Can you go hiking in winter?
YES! Absolutely. Although you do need more gear and have to be aware of avalanches – check out the mountain safety training by WEMountain. Also, be aware that hiking in winter takes longer and more effort than summer hikes do.
Related Reading: The Best Hiking Boots for Men