Most animals hibernate during winter to conserve energy, stay warm, and generally wait for the right weather to enjoy the great outdoors. Without the right winter hiking outfit and gear, you will probably choose to do the same.
However, just because it’s below zero outside doesn’t mean you have to stay inside. Hiking in winter can be just as fun as hiking in summer. Hiking in winter time does have some advantages that you wouldn’t typically enjoy during peak hiking season:
- Fewer crowds
- No bugs or creepy crawlies
- No wildfires to worry about
- Improved air quality
Going out in the dead of winter will give you a whole new perspective on your environment and how to enjoy or survive it if necessary.
Tips on What to Wear on a Winter Hike
When hiking in cold weather, your number priority should be warmth. Maintaining an optimal body temperature requires wearing more than your regular hiking clothes. Here are some tips on how to dress up for a winter hike.
Note: This should apply every time you go outdoors during winter and not just for hikes.
Layering is the best way to ensure you remain warm and dry during the wintertime. This is a three-part system designed to include the following:
- The base layer wicks away sweat and keeps your skin dry
- The mid layer insulates your body from the cold
- The outer layer shields you from the elements
You can easily add or remove layers as needed during your hike with proper layering. A rule of thumb when layering is to make it a point to carry clothes for each layer whether or not you think you will need them.
It’s much easier to remove the unnecessary layers when you don’t need them than try to find extra layers when you need them, yet you didn’t bring them.
Learn more about layering with us by reading our article on How to Layer for Cold Weather – Outdoor Checklist.
Don’t Wear Cotton
While it’s comfortable, cotton doesn’t dry up quickly and should it get wet, it will remain damp for a long time. Wearing a cotton hiking outfit in the winter, even with the right gear, will make you feel colder, more miserable and leave you open to hypothermia.
Instead of cotton, the better option in terms of clothing material would be synthetics such as polyester or wool. These layers dry up faster and do a good job of wicking the sweat away from your skin, keeping you dry and fresh throughout the hike.
Keep Your Skin Covered
Any part of your body that will be exposed to freezing temperatures outside is at risk of frostbite. Therefore, you should ensure that every part of your skin is covered.
- Hands: To keep your hands warm and dry, wear fleece gloves such as these OZERO Winter Thermal Gloves. These are waterproof and work well with your cell phone. It’s a good idea to bring an extra pair just in case one get’s too wet for comfort.
- Feet: Synthetic or wool socks are the best option for your feet. They stay dry and wick away moisture from your skin. Thicker socks are often a great idea. Just ensure they aren’t so tight that they cut off circulation in your legs. You should also bring an extra pair, just in case.
- Face and head: Using a neck gaiter will keep your neck and cheeks warm. Neck gaiters are simple to use, lightweight and quite effective. For your head, a headband or a winter hat will pair well with the neck gaiter.
Winter Hiking Jacket
Even with all these necessary layers and gear, you still need a winter jacket for better insulation and protection against the elements, as part of your hiking outfit. Some excellent lightweight options include this REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket and this North Face Men’s Venture 2 Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket.
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Winter Hiking Pants and Boots
Comfortable and reliable hiking boots are necessary for every hiking enthusiast, especially if you are keen on hiking in the wilderness. When hiking in winter, however, you will need a different set of boots specifically designed for hiking in the snow.
Winter hiking boots are well-insulated and feature rubber that doesn’t harden in extremely low temperatures. They are also designed to reduce slippage, at least more than regular hiking boots.
When it comes to winter hiking pants, you need something waterproof on the outside and something made out of synthetic material on the inside. This wicks away sweat while the outer shell pants keep the inner layers dry and protected from the elements.
Tips on Winter Hiking Gear
To protect your eyes from wind, the sun and debris, you must wear goggles even when hiking in summer. Goggles become even more important when hiking in winter because you need to protect your eyes from potential snow blindness.
While tinted goggles will do the trick, some sunglasses are designed to allow for the swapping of lenses. This means that you can pick and choose the ideal lens tint for yourself and the prevailing weather conditions.
These OutdoorMaster OTG Ski Goggles are some of the best winter hiking options available.
If you live in the northern part of the US, you will experience less daylight during winter. However, that doesn’t mean that your trip needs to end when it gets dark. You can keep going even when you lose daylight by bringing a headlamp.
While this kind of hiking can be fun, it’s important to be familiar with the location. Don’t go hiking in places where there are cliffs, wild animals, and unfamiliar territory that might be prone to avalanches.
That said, it’s always a good idea to know how many usable daylight hours you may have before you set out on your hike. You also need to pack extra batteries for your headlamp.
It’s advisable to use lithium batteries during winter since they hold up better against the cold, at least better than alkaline batteries that tend to die faster in cold temperatures.
No matter how well-constructed your winter hiking boots are, slip and falls are likely to occur during winter hikes. One bad slip can make your hiking experience painful or end entirely by sending you to the ER.
Using microspikes on your boots will improve your traction to a whole new level. These are an absolute must if you intend to hike in locations where icy conditions and slippery surfaces are the norm.
Insulated Water Bottle
Just because winter weather is often below zero and sometimes wet doesn’t mean you won’t get thirsty. Taking a fist full of snow and letting it melt in your mouth if you start feeling thirsty is not advisable.
That fist full of snow might have a host of contaminants, making you sick. More importantly, however, taking a mouthful of snow to hydrate will lower your core temperature, putting you at risk of hypothermia.
To stay hydrated, you need to carry an insulated water bottle. These bottles are designed to keep whatever drink you put in them at the same temperature as it was when going in and prevent condensation, which means that the bottle won’t sweat.
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Winter Hiking Gear and Outfit Final Tips
All in all, walking in deep snow can be as fun and comfortable as hiking in warm summer weather. Cold weather hiking requires both a bit more preparation and gear. This means purchasing the right clothing items for layering, including winter hiking pants, leggings, winter boots, and winter hiking socks.
You also need hiking gear like headlamps and insulated water bottles because visibility and staying hydrated are important when winter hiking.
As long as you are properly prepared to tackle the harsh winter weather while hiking in the deep snow, you can surely have a hiking experience like no other.
While these tips on the right winter hiking outfit and gear are not exhaustive, it is a great start. You can add to the list depending on your specific location and the kind of winter hiking experience you intend to have on that particular day.
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Last update on 2022-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API