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. Cold weather camping or 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 one priority should be warmth. Maintaining an optimal body heat temperature requires wearing more than your regular hiking clothes. Here are some tips on how to dress up for a winter hike.

Layer Up

Note: Base layer, this should apply every time you go outdoors during winter and not just for hikes. You’ll need different outfits for layers and clothes for hiking in the fall.

Layering is the best way

To ensure you remain warm and dry during the wintertime. This layering in three-part system designed to include the following:

  • The base layers wick away sweat and keeps your skin dry
  • A mid layer insulates your body from the cold
  • The outer layer shields you from the elements

How to Layer

When it comes to layering, it’s important to have the flexibility to add or remove layers as you need them during your hike. A handy rule of thumb is to always bring clothes for each layer regardless of whether you think you’ll actually use them.

This way, you’ll be prepared for any bad weather conditions that might come your way. So go ahead and insert that base layer, and you’ll be ready for whatever the great outdoors has in store for you!

Top Layer Choices for Maximum Protection

Your outer layer should shield you from wind, rain, and snow. Materials like Gore-Tex offer excellent protection while allowing your body to breathe.

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 base layer. It is recommended to utilize synthetic fabric or merino wool for base layers in order to effectively wick moisture and facilitate quick drying.

Insulating Mid-Layers: Balancing Warmth and Breathability

Mid-layers like fleece or down jackets provide essential warmth. They should be snug enough to trap heat but loose enough to allow movement.

Base Layers: Your Second Skin

Base layers are critical for moisture management. Materials like merino wool or synthetic fibers keep you dry and warm by wicking away sweat.

It is advisable to steer clear of cotton materials such as t-shirts and cotton sweatshirts, as cotton tends to retain dampness and weight, thereby losing its insulating properties when exposed to moisture.

This guideline should also be applied to selecting a suitable sports bra. The choice of thickness for your next-to-skin base layer should be determined by the outside temperature and personal preference. Some individuals prefer wearing a lightweight synthetic exercise t-shirt beneath a mid-weight base layer, while others find a single lightweight baselayer to be sufficient.

Learn more about base layer and layering with us by reading our article on How to Layer for Cold Weather – Outdoor Checklist.

Don’t Wear Cotton

Cotton, while comfortable, does not dry quickly. Don’t let it get wet. If it becomes wet, it remains damp for an extended period of time. Wearing a cotton hiking outfit in the winter as base layers, 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 merino 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

If any part of your body will be exposed to freezing temperatures outside, it is at risk of frostbite. So, make sure to cover every inch of your skin when winter hiking.

  • 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 gets too wet for comfort. In addition to wearing gloves, you may also consider using hand warmers and long underwear to provide an extra layer of heat during extremely cold temperatures. Hand warmers are small packets that generate heat when exposed to air. You can easily place them inside your gloves to keep your hands toasty and comfortable for extended periods.
  • Feet: Synthetic or wool socks are the best option for your feet. They stay dry and wick away moisture from your skin. Thicker moisture wicking wool 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. One popular brand that offers durable and reliable socks is Darn Tough, a good choice. Their socks have gained a reputation for their high-quality materials and construction, which makes them a trusted choice for outdoor enthusiasts and everyday wear. So, when it comes to taking care of your feet, investing in synthetic or wool socks, such as those from Darn Tough, is a wise decision that will keep your feet happy and comfortable all day long.
  • 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.
  • Arms: Wearing long sleeve shirts is a great way to warm your arms. Additionally, you can layer with a sweater or a jacket for added warmth. If you’ll be on winter outdoor activities for an extended period, protecting your skin from the sun is important, so consider wearing a long sleeve shirt made from UV protective fabric.

Winter Hiking Jacket

Even with all these necessary layers and winter hiking gear, you still need winter clothing like winter jacket for better insulation and protection against the elements, as part of your hiking outfit in cold weather. A puffy jacket and down jacket would be a great addition to your outfit, and some popular options include the Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff Jacket and the North Face Men’s Thermoball Eco Jacket.

Some excellent lightweight rain jacket options include this REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket and this North Face Men’s Venture 2 Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket.

THE NORTH FACE Venture 2 Hooded Jacket - Men's... The North Face Men’s Venture 2 |
REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket - Men's Army Cot Green
REI Co-Op Rainer Jacket

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, you will need a different set of waterproof boots specifically designed for hiking in the snow. Waterproof boots are essential for winter hiking.

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, use 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.

Recommended Read: The 12 Best Double Sleeping Bags, Best Personal Locator Beacons – How to Save Your Life When Hiking

Snow Pants

Snow pants keep you warm and dry during winter hikes in snowy conditions. They are made from waterproof or water resistant materials and have insulation for extra warmth. People commonly wear cold weather pants for winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and sledding, for winter months as well as for everyday activities in cold weather.

These pants are durable and protective, with reinforced knees and seat areas. They often have adjustable waistbands and leg openings for a comfortable fit and layering with other clothing.

Also, they come in various styles and colors to suit different preferences. These water-resistant rain pants are essential for staying warm and dry during winter activities.

Ski pants are a must-have for winter activities. They offer a comfortable fit and the ability to layer with other clothing layers, thanks to their adjustable waistbands and leg openings. Plus, they come in a variety of styles and colors to suit different preferences.

These waterproof pants are essential for staying warm and dry while enjoying outdoor adventures.

winter hiking

Winter Hiking Gear Essentials

Other than winter hiking clothes for your outfit, you also need winter hiking gear, a. Just as you need hiking poles for winter and hydration bladders when hiking in the summer.

Backpacks for Winter Hiking: What to Look For

Choose a backpack that can carry all your gear comfortably and has easy access to emergency items.

Size and Capacity: Winter hiking often requires more gear than summer treks, including extra layers of clothing, emergency supplies, and potentially snow-specific equipment. Look for a backpack with a capacity of around 30 to 50 liters for day hikes, and upwards of 50 liters for longer excursions. This size range provides ample space for all your necessities without being overly cumbersome.

Safety Features: Reflective elements and bright colors can enhance visibility in winter conditions, especially during shorter days or in case of emergency. Some backpacks also come with built-in whistles on the chest straps for safety.

Ventilation: While insulation isn’t a primary concern for backpacks, ventilation is. A pack that sits too snugly against your back can lead to excessive sweating. Look for a backpack with a suspended mesh back panel or other ventilation systems to promote airflow and reduce moisture buildup.

Navigational Tools for Snowy Trails

GPS devices and traditional maps are essential for safe navigation in winter landscapes.


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 polarized sunglasses and 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.

Polarized sunglasses and tinted goggles are effective in shielding your eyes from UV rays. However, if you prefer more flexibility, there are sunglasses available that allow for interchangeable lenses. This feature enables you to select the perfect lens tint to suit your individual needs and the current weather conditions.

These OutdoorMaster OTG Ski Goggles are some of the best winter hiking options available.

OutdoorMaster OTG Ski Goggles - Over Glasses...

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A Headlamp

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.

Deilin Beanie with Light, Guy Gifts, LED Beanie...
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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.

With a good pair of microspikes such as these Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System, you don’t have to worry about an accidental slip or fall.

Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

Insulated Water Bottle

Just because winter weather is often below zero and sometimes wet doesn’t mean you won’t get thirsty. It’s not advisable to eat snow when you’re thirsty.

That fist full of snow might have a host of contaminants, making you sick. More importantly, however, taking a mouthful of melting snow to hydrate will lower your core body 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 like hot chocolate, at the same temperature as it was when going in and prevent condensation, which means that the bottle won’t sweat.

This Iron Flask Sports Water Bottle is an excellent option. It’s affordable, lightweight and has a cool look.

IRON °FLASK Sports Water Bottle - 40 Oz 3 Lids...
IRON °FLASK Sports Water Bottle - 40 Oz, | From

Safety and Survival Gear

Emergency Kits for Winter Hiking

Your kit should include first aid supplies, a whistle, a fire starter, and emergency blankets.

Signaling Devices and Their Importance

Carry a whistle and a mirror for emergencies where you might need to signal for help.

Winter Hiking Gear and Outfit Final Tips

All in all, walking in deep snow can be a fun physical activity and as 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 (base layer, mid layer and outer layer), including winter hiking pants, leggings, winter hiking boots not just regular hiking shoes, and winter hiking socks to stay warm.

You also need hiking gear like headlamps, trekking poles, ice ax, 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 with trekking poles, 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 like ice climbing, you intend to have on that particular day.

Recommended read: Best Summer Sleeping Bags for Every Budget, What Are The Best Pocket Knife Brands?

Frequently Asked Questions FAQs

What are the Most Important Layers in a Winter Hiking Outfit?

The most crucial layers for winter hiking are the base layer, which manages moisture and keeps your skin dry; the mid-layer, which provides insulation and retains body heat; and the outer layer, which protects against wind, rain, and snow. Each layer plays a vital role in ensuring comfort and safety.

How Do I Choose the Right Winter Hiking Boots?

When selecting winter hiking boots, look for features like waterproofing, insulation, ankle support, and a rugged sole with good traction. It’s also important to ensure a comfortable fit, leaving enough room for thick merino wool socks without being too loose

How Do I Keep My Water from Freezing on Winter Hikes?

To prevent water from freezing, use insulated water bottles or hydration system sleeves. You can also store your water bottle upside down, as water freezes from the top. Keeping it close to your body in an internal backpack pocket can also help.

Is a GPS Necessary for Winter Hiking?

While not always necessary, a GPS device can be incredibly helpful, especially in snowy conditions where trails are less visible. It provides an extra layer of safety by helping you navigate and track your route.

What Should Be Included in a Winter Hiking Emergency Kit?

A winter hiking emergency kit should include items like a first aid kit, emergency blanket, fire-starting tools, a whistle, a multi-tool, extra food and water, and a headlamp with extra batteries. It’s also wise to carry a portable shelter, like a bivy sack or space blanket.

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Last update on 2024-04-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API