Essential Winter Hiking Gear for Newbies: What to Wear and How to Prepare

Introduction

It is officially winter, which means you have to bundle up to brave the cold! It’s time to get your winter hiking gear together to prepare for this season. The first step is knowing what clothes and other items you need. Our winter hiking guide for beginners includes tips on what type of clothing will keep you warm while hiking in the cold and snow. 

First things first, wear layers! This way, if it gets too hot or too cold, all you have to do is take off a layer or put one on. Make sure your base layer stays close to your skin, as this helps wick away moisture from sweat-filled hikes and keeps water out during rainstorms. Wool socks are also vital because they don’t itch like cotton does when they get wet, and wool also keeps your feet warm even when they are damp. A good pair of winter hiking boots with rubber soles is a must-have for any winter hike. 

When it comes to outerwear, hats are the first thing you should consider if it’s cold outside. Hats insulate your head from the cold air, so you don’t lose a lot of heat from your head. Make sure the hat is big enough to fit over your ears, and also consider a scarf or neck gaiter to keep your neck warm. Gore-Tex jackets are perfect for winter weather because they are water-resistant and windproof. You may also want to invest in some snow pants to keep your lower half warm when it’s snowing. Make sure you also have a fleece or wool sweater that you can wear in between layers during colder days.

Winter hiking is certainly different from summer hiking, so it might take some getting used to if this is your first-time winter hiking. To help prepare yourself, consider taking winter hikes as the weather gets colder so you can get used to the different conditions. This will help make your winter hikes more enjoyable and comfortable. And finally, always tell somebody where you are going and when you plan on returning, just in case something happens while you are out on your hike.

At the bottom of the page is our ‘Winter hiking clothing checklist” and a list of “16 essential items for a winter day hike”. With experience, you’ll create your preferred list, but these, we hope, get you started on the right track.

What are the top ten things to wear for winter hiking?

1. Wool socks – wool is warm; it’s durable, breathable, and has natural wicking properties to keep you dry

2. Warm boots with good traction for winter conditions – good traction makes a big difference in winter to maintain your balance on icy surfaces

3. Hiking pants – your hiking pants should be made of a material that is resistant to the cold and wind and thick enough so that you don’t feel the cold seeping in or out

4. Fleece jacket- if you’re going for a short hike, you may not need this, but it’s nice to have just in case

5. Synthetic shirts – these are great because they resist stains and breathe well so that you stay comfortable at all times

6. A shell layer – the shell helps protect you from wind and also acts as an extra barrier of warmth when it’s cold out, especially in winter

7. Gloves – have a pair for hiking and another one to use when your hands are exposed to the cold outside

8. Neck gaiter or scarf – they come in handy when you need a little extra warmth

9. Warm hat – a hat is a must even for winter hiking! You don’t want your ears or head to get cold because nobody wants a headache from the harsh winter conditions

10. Good quality socks – so many hikers have problems with their feet being wet and cold, leading to blisters, so make sure you wear quality socks that wick away moisture and keep your feet dry. Don’t be afraid to carry extra pairs and change them if they get wet

What pants should I wear for winter hiking?

My top tips for choosing the perfect pants for winter hiking are:

1) Choose a material that is resistant to the cold and wind.

2) They should be thick enough so that you don’t feel the cold seeping in or out.

3) Choose a design that has zippers, snaps, or buttons on them so you can adjust its tightness.

4) If you’re going for a short hike, fleece pants may not be needed, but they’re nice to have just in case.

5) If it’s really cold, you should have at least two pairs of pants just in case one pair gets wet.

6) It is best to choose winter hiking pants made for hiking so they are durable and will hold up longer.  

What gear do you need for a winter hike?

Winter hiking gear includes warm, winter-friendly boots with good traction for ice and snow. If you’re hiking outside in the winter, your feet must be dry because wet feet lead to blisters or other problems. It would be best if you had socks made of wool or wool blend, so your feet are warm, comfortable, well-ventilated, and less likely to have issues. The layers on top of your base layer also matter because they keep you warm when the temperature changes. Layering is essential when you’re wearing a shell layer like a hardshell jacket or raincoat because it provides extra protection from wind and acts as an additional barrier to warmth.

You should choose fleece or synthetic shirts because they are ideal for winter hiking since they resist moisture, dry quickly, and are lightweight. The shells are great because they are waterproof to protect you from the rain. The best winter hiking gear also includes gloves that cover your hands thoroughly. They keep your hands warm, provide protection if it’s cold and windy outside, and they should be easy to take on and off quickly if necessary.

In winter hiking, it’s also essential to keep your head warm because that’s where you lose a lot of heat from. Make sure that you have a winter hat and a neck gaiter or scarf to cover all of your extremities. You also can’t forget about your hands and feet that need to stay warm. No matter the weather conditions, it’s still essential that you wear good socks and shoes with traction to avoid slipping. Choose a pair of winter hiking boots if possible because they provide more warmth than an average boot does, plus they’re waterproof, so there’s less chance of you getting wet feet.

You should have a winter hiking jacket that can withstand whatever winter throws at you, plus it needs to be easy to take on and off or even zip into another layer if the conditions change. The best winter jackets are made from weatherproof materials that resist snow, moisture, wind, and cold. In addition to choosing a winter jacket that is rated to withstand the coldest temperatures possible, you should wear a base layer or mid-layer underneath your winter jacket. I recommend layering because it can help regulate body temperature, and if it gets too hot outside, you can easily take off an extra layer without getting too chilly.

The mid-layers are also great for winter hiking because they provide insulation and warmth. Choose a mid-layer that fits well, is lightweight but warm, and maybe even water-resistant if possible.

Finally, the outer layer gets the job done by protecting you from rain or snow as well as wind and cold if needed. Your winter hiking jacket may be waterproof, but it still needs to breathe so that you don’t end up sweating or overheating while wearing it. Your winter hiking gear should also include a hat that’s made of wool, fleece, synthetic materials, or other materials able to withstand harsh weather conditions. It should cover your ears and the back of your neck if possible, plus you can put a brim on the front for extra protection.

Your winter hiking headgear should also protect you from the back of your neck to the front of your face. I recommend wearing a neck gaiter or balaclava when it’s below freezing outside because they are two incredibly versatile winter accessories that will help keep you warm. You can even wear them by themselves or in layers for extra warmth. With the right winter hiking gear, you’ll be able to tackle any winter excursion without fear of sub-zero temperatures or harsh weather.

How do you prepare clothing and gear before heading out on your hike?

1. Before you head out, pack extra clothes and gear for the hike in advance so that you’re not limited to what you have on your person when packing up camp and heading out.

2. Your winter hiking gear should include a quality stove and fuel as well as meals that don’t need refrigeration or cooking even while hiking.

3. When it comes to winter clothing, remember to dress in layers and avoid cotton clothing because it doesn’t insulate very well.

4. Finally, make sure you have a good pair of winter hiking boots on your feet, plus waterproof socks, and you’ll be ready to go!

Basic rules when hiking in winter weather.

1. Wear layers to adjust the temperature by adding or shedding clothing as needed to regulate body temperature.

2. Always wear waterproof boots and pants if possible with gaiters

3. Carry extra clothes for the hike in advance so that you’re not limited to what you have on your person when packing up camp and heading out.

4. Eat meals that don’t need refrigeration or cooking even while hiking. The best winter backpacking gear should include all the essentials: a warm sleeping bag, a down jacket, and waterproof boots, to name just a few.

5. The right hiking gear will help protect you from the elements.

Winter Hiking Safety Advice

Regardless of where your hiking route takes you, here is some advice that all winter enthusiasts should consider:

Always bring a map, trail guide, compass, or even GPS. Make copies of maps so you aren’t carrying around a heavy book.

Ensure you have everything you need to stay dry, warm, fed, and well hydrated; regardless of unexpected weather or if you don’t make it to your intended destination, things like an emergency shelter or blanket will help out big time. Bring along a first aid kit and add something to help in cold conditions.

Look at the forecast to see what weather might come your way during the hike. Make sure your daypack has everything you might need to stay safe if the weather changes suddenly.

Let people know where you are going and when you expect to return. Don’t forget to let them know when you are safely home.

Stay on the maintained trails and paths. They are often used by many people who want to enjoy nature, and there are restrictions in place for your safety. If you run into problems, this is where you have the best chance of being found and receiving help.

Conclusion

All winter hiking gear is not created equal. If you’re looking for the best possible performance on your next hike, it’s essential to have the right clothes and equipment designed with this specific activity in mind. We’ve covered some of what you’ll need if you want to be prepared for a snowy day outdoors—but don’t forget about hydration! It can help keep your energy levels up so you can enjoy all those beautiful sights at high elevations without tiring out too quickly. Stay warm, stay safe, and most importantly, have fun!

Winter hiking gear -frequently asked questions

Do you have any burning questions about winter hiking gear and clothing? Please send us your questions.

Is it safe to hike in the winter?

Absolutely! Just make sure you bring along the gear that will keep you warm, dry, and safe. Our Winter gear and clothing checklists will help you prepare.

Be smart, don’t overstretch yourself, and always tell someone where you plan to go when you expect to be back. Finally, remember to let people know you’re back safe and sound.

Can I use the same winter hiking clothing for all seasons?

It’s not a good idea to wear winter garments in summer or fall because they may not be designed for those temperatures. Then again, winter in parts of the Southern States and UK might feel more like an early Canadian Spring or late Fall. This is where a little common sense goes a long way.

What types of equipment do I need to take on a winter hike?

At a minimum, you should include some cold-weather clothing, crampons or other traction devices, water/hydration gear, fire-starting kit, first aid kit, compass/trail map/GPS, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

You might also want to carry a lightweight emergency shelter.

Not exactly gear but plenty of food, including emergency rations.

Take the time to research what winter outdoor activities you might take part in ahead of time.

How to Choose Winter Hiking Apparel

Hiking in winter is an experience that requires you to wear layers of clothing, which will help keep you both warm and dry during your winter hikes. It would help if you never forgot the importance of keeping dry. Wet clothes are a surefire route to feeling cold. That means clothing that wicks away sweat but keeps out the winter weather elements. Not always an easy task. Spare clothing can help.

What to wear hiking in 40-degree weather.

If you’re hiking in 40-degree weather (here we’re talking Fahrenheit, so think 4C), the main thing to remember is that there’s a temperature gradient from your core down to your extremities. If you dress too warmly in the middle of the day, you’ll overheat and sweat, which can cause discomfort and a chilling effect on your extremities. And if you dress too lightly at night, you’ll be more sensitive to colder temperatures. You should avoid cotton clothing since it doesn’t wick moisture away from your body well.

The best choice for this weather is generally a basic base layer made of wool or synthetic materials like polyester or down for insulation, coupled with layers of fleece or wool sweaters to regulate temperature as needed.

What temperature is too cold hiking?

Some people can trek across the Antarctic, but that’s not going to be you if you’re a beginner. Caution is the watchword. Make sure you check weather forecasts and don’t overstretch yourself. This is meant to be fun, not an exercise in extreme survival. Best to build experience and live to walk another day.

Bear in mind that dampness and winds can significantly affect chilling and frostbite. How well you are dressed for the weather also has a significant impact.

Below I’ve given the Environment Canada information on frostbite. My own experience after moving from the UK to Canada is to be very cautious. My own experience is that anything below -10 Celsius, you need to be careful, and at -20 Celsius, snot and eyes start to freeze and exposed skin starts to sting.

Environment Canada says at -10 to -27 degrees Celsius the risk of frostbite is low. At -28 to -39 degrees Celsius, exposed skin can freeze in 10-30 minutes. Exposed skin can freeze at 40 to -47 degrees Celsius in 5-10 minutes. 

What are the best boots or shoes to wear for hiking in winter?

Your winter hiking boots or shoes should provide sufficient insulation to keep your feet warm and dry.

An ideal winter hiking boot has a gusseted tongue, which will prevent snow from entering the shoe, and a thick rubber sole with aggressive tread for gripping slippery surfaces.

Winter hiking clothing checklist

Here’s a useful winter hiking clothing guide:

  • Insulated hiking boots
  • Warm socks (sock liners optional)
  • High gaiters
  • Hats
    • Lightweight fleece or wool hat
    • Heavyweight fleece or wool hat
  • Gloves
    • Lightweight fleece or wool gloves
    • Waterproof shell mitts or gloves, with insulated liners
  • Jackets
    • Puffy insulated jacket with attached hood
    • Waterproof and windproof jacket with attached hood
  • Pants
    • Hardshell pants that are waterproof and windproof
    • Softshell pants (optional)
  • Mid-Layer Insulation
    • Fleece jacket
    • Fleece pullover, fleece vest, insulated vest, or softshell jacket
  • Base-Layer Insulation
    • Long sleeve t-shirt
    • Long johns
    • Spare clothing ( just in case you get wet or a bit sweaty from the hike)
    • Snowshoes (depending on how much snow there is)
    • Extra pair of socks
  • Water Bottles
    • 35-45 liter backpack with side compression straps or a shovel pocket for attaching snowshoes and microspikes to the pack
    • Water bottle insulation, if bottles are stored outside your backpack

16 Essential items for day winter hiking

As well as Winter hiking clothing, there’s also other important gear you’ll need for a safe Winter hike. Below is our Winter day hiking gear list. Even though all the items in this list might be considered essential items, you probably only need them all if you are planning a long winter hike over challenging terrain and the possibility of having to stay out overnight. If you are new to winter hiking best to set your goals a little lower.

  • Map
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Mobile phone
  • Headlamp with extra lithium batteries
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Fire starting materials
  • Small knife or multi-tool
  • Gear repair supplies
  • High energy snacks
  • Lightweight bivy sack or tent body without tent poles
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Toilet paper
  • Survival Gear – this can be distributed among hiking group members or carried if hiking alone
    • Group first aid kit
    • White gas stove, fuel, pot, stove base
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