It’s that time of year again, whether you love the snow and frigid weather or dread it with all your might, winter is starting to ramp up in much of the US. That means, we need to figure out what to wear hiking in winter!
I do believe it’s key for our physical – and mental – health to keep getting outside on a regular basis throughout the year, even when it’s cold out.
Outdoor activities like hiking, snowshoeing and skiing can help ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder, improve your mood, and help burn off all those holiday meals, drinks and treats.
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But getting outside during the winter months isn’t always easy and just getting out the door can seem like a daunting task, especially if you aren’t sure what to wear or what gear you need for wintery weather.
I promise, getting out the door is usually the hardest part and once you’re out there, you’ll wonder why you put it off at all. Well…. most of the time 😉
Layering up for winter hikes
The clothes you wear can make or break the experience.
Luckily, most of our summer and shoulder season hiking clothes can just be added into our winter hiking outfits. Don’t worry, you don’t need to go out and buy all new clothes for cold weather hiking.
Unless you’ll be doing quite a bit of technical mountaineering or ice climbing, then yes, you probably will have to invest in quite a bit of new gear and outer layers made for more extreme conditions.
But for most hikers, the same rules as always apply: you want all synthetic, breathable clothes and jackets so you don’t turn into a giant sweatball underneath, plus one outer hard shell/wind blocking coat just in case it’s super windy or snowing/hailing/raining.
Here is an example of a soft shell vs a hard shell jacket or outer layer:
Soft shell jackets are usually thinner and not quite as warm as a hard shell jacket. Sometimes they are water and wind resistant, but not usually waterproof.
Hard shell jackets are usually waterproof and protect well against wind. Sometimes they are insulated, sometimes not, but insulated hard shell jackets are great for skiing or harsh conditions.
Here’s what my winter layers look like:
- Synthetic short sleeved tshirt, as a base layer
- Synthetic long sleeved tshirt, as my regular ‘shirt’
- A fleece jacket or hoody, as one insulating layer
- Then a puffy coat (down or synthetic) over all that
- *Plus my rain jacket to block out wind and precipitation
- Synthetic leggings/running pants/yoga pants as a base layer on bottom
- Synthetic hiking pants over the leggings
- *Plus waterproof rain pants to help block wind or precipitation, or insulated snow pants if it’s super cold
- I usually wear one pair of thick, winter hiking socks from FITS
- And very high cut, waterproof Keen winter boots for hiking or snowshoeing, and obviously ski boots for skiing
- Then of course all the extras – a winter hat, fleece buff, gloves or mittens, and waterproof gaiters for deep snow
Extra Winter Hiking Tips
I’m also a big fan of the Hot Hands hand warmers, to go inside my gloves or any pockets of my inner clothing layers to add some extra heat around my body, or even add toe warmers inside my boots.
Always be sure to carry a backpack with all your usual day hiking supplies, like a first aid kit, snacks, water, etc, but I like to also bring hot tea sometimes.
I always start with plenty of empty room in my pack to put all those extra layers in either as the day warms up, or my body warms up from working out.
As soon as you take a break, stop moving, or move into a shady/windy area though, be sure to start putting layers back on.
The trick is to add layers before you get cold since it’s much easier to maintain your body temperature than it is to warm it back up once you get chilled.
I also like to keep my Yaktrax or other traction devices in my day pack during the winter, in case the trail is icy – they totally saved my butt in Arches National Park in the winter time!
As always, please look over the signs of hypothermia and know when to turn around or ask for help.
Share your must have piece of winter hiking gear in the comments below, and stay safe out there this season 🙂
For more winter hiking tips, check out:
- 5 Essential Winter Hiking Gear Items To Add To Your Pack
- 10 Winter Hiking Tips
- 22 Snowshoeing Tips For Beginners