The Complete Guide on What to Wear For Winter Hiking

February 17, 2021 5 min read

winter hiking how to

I don’t know about you, but - winter hiking is my favorite cold weather pastime.

I get it - it can be cold, more gear needs to be prepped, and there is more to think through.

Since this is the time of year where amateur adventurers tend to stay inside, we get the great outdoors to ourselves.

Never before have you been able to quickly and inexpensively purchase the gear you need to enjoy an afternoon, weekend, or extended weekend away hiking and exploring nature's beauty.

For this blog, I am writing under the pretenses of hiking recreationally - somewhere like a National Park where there are varying levels of difficulty of trails, well-marked paths, and established facilities for emergencies.

So let's get into what you need for an enjoyable winter hiking excursion.

Let's start from the ground up.

Winter Hiking Footwear 

winter hiking footwear

Let's get this out of the way from the start - just because it is cold does NOT mean you aren’t going to sweat.

That means you need to not only prepare to be warm, but you need to plan to manage your sweat and loss of water throughout your winter hiking excursion.

Beginning with your feet - layering your socks is the foundation for an excellent winter hiking trip (and for recovery after your hike).

Sock liners, cotton, or wicking athletic socks will help keep the sweat managed around your feet to help keep them dry.

After the initial layer, warm, thermal socks are a must for both warmth and cushioning (depending on the length and difficulty of your hike, additional pairs of socks in your bag could be a great idea).

Now, boots are a very personal thing.

Finding a pair that fits well, is comfortable, and supports your foot is essential to having an enjoyable hike.

No matter the brand or style, they need to be insulated, and I always recommend purchasing a waterproofed pair and then adding a layer of waterproofing to them.

Finally, depending upon the snow’s depth (mud, water, etc.), a pair of high gaiters would be a great idea (at least have them available in the car).

Inner Layers for Winter Hiking

inner layers winter hiking

Layering your clothing makes body temperature regulation much more manageable.

Base Thermal Layers have become more affordable alongside becoming more effective.

We have come a long way from cotton, waffled fabrics (but it is hard to deny how comfortable that long underwear was).

Most thermal layers now come with a rating - indicating temperature ranges that it was designed for and optimal use cases.

Keep in mind, just because we often call this layer 'long underwear' to keep yourself “comfortable,” you are still going to want to wear some breathable, athletic design underwear to prevent any chafing or other undesirable results from your winter hiking trip.

Winter Hiking Middle Layers

middle layer winter hiking

Fleece is your best friend!

Vests, Jackets, Pullovers - nothing else is going to help you regulate your body temperature like a fleece over layer.

I would recommend taking several variations of fleece layers depending upon the temperature and length of the hike.

A vest and a jacket make a nice combo, as do a pullover and a vest. Keep options so you can stay comfortable as the day changes.

Outer Layers For Winter Hiking

outer layer winter hiking men

Here you are going to want both waterproofing and wind-proofing.

This is your final barrier from the elements.

It needs to be the walls and roof that protect you from the elements.

Choose a jacket with a hood and the ability to close down the wrists and waist to prevent wind from entering and coming into contact with your skin.

You will not be happy with those little bursts of cold when you’re taking your winter hiking trip.

Same with your pants - be sure to select a pair that fits nicely around the waist - perhaps even with a belt - but that also fits snug around the ankle, so it either fits in your boot/gaiter or boot cut to cover the ankle.

Either way, ensure you have full mobility.

Accessories for Winter Hiking

gloves for winter hiking

Gloves and hats are a must.

Just like your clothing, gloves should be layered with an inner layer of wool, fleece, or any from the list of synthetic fibers on the market today that will help keep you warm.

But this layer does little against moisture and wind.

An outer layer should protect from these as a mitten or glove (I prefer a mitten as the more of your extremities you can keep together, the more heat they can share).

I would also encourage you to take tinted glasses, goggles, and/or a face mask.

Depending upon your location, winds could be piercing, and keeping your face protected is very important.

Backpack For Winter Hiking

For my “backpack,” I use the Heavy-Duty Tactical Canvas Bag I just got from the emergency pack we just released.

valley food storage emergency pack

I’ve always used our products before in my own day-to-day life, but this emergency pack really knocked it out of the park for me.

The pack includes:

  • Long Term Emergency Food Pack
    • Macaroni & Cheese (5 Servings)
    • Tomato Basil Soup (5 Servings)
    • Multigrain Cereal (10 Servings)
    • Freeze-dried Strawberries (15 Servings)
  • Pressure Water Filter Straw
  • Utility Utensils
  • Emergency Shelter Tent
  • Waterproof Matches

This is an excellent start to your standard kit and for a fantastic price.

I like this pack so much - it’s easy and inexpensive. I don’t have to think about it. It’s just there when I need it.

We’re even running a sale right now on the pack for a fantastic deal, and if you’re not 100% satisfied with it - we will make it right.

Click here to check out the Valley Food Storage Emergency Pack now!

Next - water - 1-3 liters of water depending on how long in the day I am hiking.

Literally, 3 Nalgene bottles regularly come with me (and roll around the car the rest of the time).

Here is the rest of the list of what I keep in my backpack when I hike in the winter:

  • Map or GPS
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Headlamp
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Small knife
  • Multi-tool
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen

On top of all of that, I like to carry a bottle of CLO2 Water Treatment Tablets.

The water tablets will purify water against bacteria, viruses, and much more just in case you run out.

Conclusion - What To Wear For Winter Hiking

Now you’ve got everything you need for your next winter hiking trip.

I hope that really helps get your head on straight, and now that winter is here, we will start some gear testing as well and will keep you posted.

Right now, I’m going to check my emergency pack and get ready for another winter hike.

Have you got your emergency pack yet?

I’m telling you - it makes prepping easy (and inexpensive).

Click here to check out the VSF Emergency Pack now!