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What To Wear Winter Hiking


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Jillie Eden



Winter hiking can be a magical experience, with snow-covered trails and serene landscapes. However, when venturing out into the winter wilderness, it’s crucial to dress appropriately to stay warm, dry, and comfortable. Choosing the right clothing and gear is essential to ensure a successful and enjoyable winter hiking adventure.


In this article, we will guide you through the key components of a proper winter hiking attire. From base layers to outer shells, we’ll cover everything you need to know to stay protected from the cold elements. So, whether you’re planning a day hike or a multi-day winter excursion, read on to discover the tips and tricks for dressing for winter hiking.


Before we dive into the specific clothing layers and accessories, let’s understand the importance of layering in winter hiking attire. The layering system allows you to regulate your body temperature by adding or removing layers as needed. It helps trap heat, wick away moisture, and provides insulation, ensuring you stay warm and dry throughout your hike.


Now, let’s delve into the different layers that make up a comprehensive winter hiking outfit. We’ll start by discussing the base layer.


Layering System

In winter hiking, dressing in layers is crucial for maintaining optimal body temperature and staying comfortable. The layering system consists of three main layers: the base layer, mid layer, and insulation layer, topped off with an outer shell. Let’s take a closer look at each layer:

  1. Base Layer: The base layer is the foundation of your winter hiking attire. It sits directly against your skin and is responsible for moisture management. Choose a base layer made of moisture-wicking material like merino wool or synthetic fabrics. This layer helps keep your body dry by wicking away sweat and preventing you from feeling damp and cold.
  2. Mid Layer: The mid layer provides insulation and helps retain body heat. It acts as a buffer between the base layer and the outer shell, trapping warmth. Opt for a fleece jacket or a synthetic down jacket as your mid layer. These materials are lightweight, breathable, and offer excellent insulation properties.
  3. Insulation Layer: In extremely cold conditions, an additional insulation layer may be necessary. This layer could be a down jacket or a synthetic insulated jacket, designed to provide maximum warmth. It helps retain body heat and acts as a barrier against the cold air.
  4. Outer Shell: The outer shell, or outermost layer, protects you from wind, snow, and rain. It should be waterproof, windproof, and breathable. Look for a quality winter hiking jacket that is both durable and lightweight. Additionally, opt for pants made of a water-resistant material to keep your legs dry during your hike.

With the layering system, you can easily adjust your clothing to match the weather conditions and your exertion level. Adding or removing layers allows you to regulate your body temperature, preventing overheating or becoming too cold.


Now that we’ve covered the basic layering system, let’s explore each layer in more detail, starting with the base layer.


Base Layer

The base layer is your first line of defense against the cold weather during winter hiking. It is responsible for moisture management, keeping you dry and comfortable throughout your hike. When choosing a base layer, you want materials that are moisture-wicking and quick-drying.


Merino wool and synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or nylon, are popular choices for base layers. Merino wool is known for its excellent moisture-wicking properties and natural odor resistance. It also provides excellent insulation, even when wet. Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are known for their quick-drying capabilities and durability.


When selecting a base layer, consider the weight of the fabric. Lightweight base layers are ideal for high-intensity activities as they offer breathability and allow for better moisture management. Midweight or heavyweight base layers are more suitable for colder conditions and lower activity levels.


It’s important to choose base layer tops and bottoms that have a snug fit without being too tight. This allows for efficient moisture transfer from your skin to the fabric, keeping you dry and minimizing the risk of chafing. Look for base layers with flatlock seams to further reduce friction and increase comfort.


For your base layer bottoms, opt for thermal leggings or long underwear that cover your entire lower body. These should fit comfortably under your hiking pants or outer shell without being too bulky.


Remember, layering is all about versatility. If you anticipate changing weather conditions during your hike, consider packing an extra base layer top or bottom to add or remove as needed.


By investing in a high-quality base layer, you can effectively manage moisture and regulate your body temperature, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable winter hiking experience.


Mid Layer

The mid layer is an essential component of your winter hiking attire. It provides insulation and helps retain body heat, keeping you warm and comfortable during your outdoor adventures.


When selecting a mid layer, look for materials that offer excellent insulation properties while remaining lightweight and breathable. Fleece jackets and synthetic down jackets are popular choices for mid layers in winter hiking.


Fleece jackets are made from synthetic materials that trap air and provide insulation. They are soft, lightweight, and quick-drying, making them an ideal choice for active winter pursuits. Fleece also retains its insulation properties even when damp, making it a reliable option in wet conditions.


Synthetic down jackets, also known as puffer jackets, are filled with synthetic insulation materials that mimic the insulating properties of natural down. These jackets are lightweight, compressible, and highly effective at trapping heat. Synthetic down jackets are an excellent choice for colder temperatures and less strenuous activities.


When choosing a mid layer, consider the activity level and expected weather conditions. For high-intensity activities or milder temperatures, a lighter mid layer may be sufficient. If you anticipate extremely cold temperatures or lower activity levels, opt for a thicker and more insulating mid layer.


The fit of your mid layer is important for maintaining warmth and mobility. It should fit comfortably over your base layer and allow for easy movement. Consider a size that provides a little room for layering without being excessively bulky.


Some mid layers come with additional features such as adjustable hoods, zippered pockets, or thumbholes for added functionality and convenience. These features can enhance your overall winter hiking experience and provide extra protection against the elements.


Remember, the mid layer is a versatile piece of clothing that can be adjusted or removed depending on the weather and your activity level. By choosing the right mid layer, you can effectively trap heat and stay warm and comfortable during your winter hiking adventures.


Insulation Layer

The insulation layer is an important part of your winter hiking attire, providing an extra boost of warmth in extremely cold conditions. This layer acts as a barrier against the cold air, helping to retain body heat and keep you comfortable during your outdoor adventures.


When it comes to the insulation layer, there are two main options to consider: down jackets and synthetic insulated jackets.


Down jackets are known for their exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio. They are filled with down clusters, which provide excellent insulation by trapping warm air. Down jackets offer unparalleled warmth and compressibility, making them ideal for frigid temperatures. However, it’s important to note that down insulation loses its effectiveness when wet, so they may not be the best choice for wet or humid conditions.


On the other hand, synthetic insulated jackets are made from synthetic fibers that mimic the insulating properties of down. These jackets are highly effective at trapping heat, even when wet. Synthetic insulation is a great option for winter hiking as it retains its insulation properties, performs well in damp conditions, and dries more quickly than down.


When choosing an insulation layer, consider the expected weather conditions and your activity level. If you anticipate wet or humid conditions, a synthetic insulated jacket may be the more practical choice. For extremely cold and dry environments, a down jacket can provide ultimate warmth and comfort.


Similar to the mid layer, the fit of your insulation layer is crucial. It should allow for easy movement and layering without feeling excessively bulky. Consider a size that fits comfortably over your base and mid layers, ensuring maximum insulation and mobility.


Additionally, look for features such as adjustable hoods, drawcords, or zippered pockets to enhance the functionality and versatility of your insulation layer. These features provide added protection against the elements and allow for easy ventilation when needed.


By adding an insulation layer to your winter hiking attire, you can ensure maximum warmth and comfort, even in the coldest conditions. Whether you choose a down jacket or a synthetic insulated jacket, this layer is essential for keeping the cold at bay during your outdoor adventures.


Outer Shell

The outer shell is the outermost layer of your winter hiking attire, providing protection against wind, snow, and rain. It acts as a shield, keeping you dry and comfortable in challenging weather conditions.


When selecting an outer shell for winter hiking, look for a jacket that is both waterproof and windproof. Gore-Tex and other similar materials offer excellent waterproofing capabilities while still allowing for breathability. These materials help repel water and prevent it from seeping through the fabric, keeping you dry even in heavy snow or rain.


Consider the length of the jacket as well. A longer jacket provides extra coverage, protecting your lower body from the elements. Look for an outer shell that extends below the waist and has an adjustable hem or drawstring to create a snug fit, preventing cold air from entering.


The outer shell should also have a hood to protect your head from rain or snow. Make sure the hood is adjustable and can be cinched tightly around your face to provide added protection while maintaining good visibility. Additionally, a jacket with a high collar can shield your neck from wind and cold drafts.


When it comes to the fit of your outer shell, choose a size that allows for comfortable layering underneath. You should be able to add multiple layers without feeling restricted or bulky. This will provide the flexibility to adjust your clothing as the weather conditions change throughout your hike.


Look for features such as zippered vents or pit zips, which allow for increased ventilation and airflow when you’re exerting yourself. These features help regulate your body temperature and prevent overheating.


Lastly, ensure that the jacket is durable and built to withstand harsh conditions. Reinforced seams, quality zippers, and sturdy materials will ensure that your outer shell remains effective and reliable throughout your winter hiking adventures.


By choosing a high-quality and functional outer shell, you can remain protected from the elements and stay comfortable during your winter hikes. A proper outer shell is essential for keeping you dry, warm, and ready to take on any weather conditions that come your way.



Choosing the right bottoms for winter hiking is just as important as selecting the appropriate top layers. Your lower body also needs protection and insulation to ensure maximum comfort and warmth during outdoor adventures in cold weather.


When it comes to bottoms, consider the following options:

  1. Hiking Pants: Look for hiking pants that are made of durable and water-resistant materials. Nylon or polyester blends with added stretch are excellent choices as they provide flexibility and ease of movement. Some hiking pants also come with built-in insulation or lining for added warmth. Opt for pants that offer a comfortable fit and have adjustable features like an elastic waistband or a belt.
  2. Thermal Leggings or Long Underwear: Wearing thermal leggings or long underwear underneath your hiking pants can provide added insulation for your lower body. Look for thermal bottoms made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabrics. Merino wool or synthetic materials like polyester or nylon are excellent options for thermal leggings.
  3. Waterproof Overpants: In wet or snowy conditions, waterproof overpants can be a valuable addition to your winter hiking gear. These pants are designed to fit over your regular hiking pants and provide an extra layer of protection against moisture and wind.

When choosing the right bottoms, consider the expected weather conditions and the level of activity you’ll be engaging in. Opt for lightweight and breathable options for high-intensity activities or milder temperatures, and thicker or insulated pants for colder climates or lower activity levels.


Layering is key for your lower body as well. Adjusting your layers allows for better temperature regulation and allows you to respond to changing weather conditions. Thermal leggings or long underwear can be added or removed as needed, depending on the temperature and activity level.


Pay attention to the fit of your bottoms. They should not be too tight or restrict your movement, but also not too loose to prevent wind from entering. Look for pants with articulated knees or gussets for better mobility on steep or uneven terrain.


Additionally, consider the length of your pants. They should be long enough to cover your ankles even when you’re on the move, preventing cold air or snow from entering. Some pants come with adjustable cuffs or gaiters, providing added protection against snow or debris.


By choosing the right bottoms and considering factors such as material, fit, and layering, you’ll keep your lower body warm and comfortable during your winter hiking adventures.



Proper footwear is essential for winter hiking as it provides stability, traction, and protection from cold and wet conditions. Selecting the right pair of boots will keep your feet warm, dry, and comfortable throughout your winter hikes.


Here are some factors to consider when choosing winter hiking footwear:

  1. Insulation: Look for boots with insulation to keep your feet warm in cold temperatures. Thinsulate or PrimaLoft insulation are popular choices as they offer excellent warmth without adding excessive bulk.
  2. Waterproofing: Make sure your winter hiking boots are waterproof to keep your feet dry and protected from snow, slush, and puddles. Gore-Tex or similar waterproof membranes provide excellent water resistance while allowing breathability.
  3. Traction: Winter hiking often involves walking on slippery surfaces. Look for boots with a robust and aggressive outsole pattern, specifically designed for winter conditions. Vibram or similar rubber outsoles provide superior traction on icy or snowy terrain.
  4. Support: Hiking in winter may require traversing uneven or challenging terrain. Choose boots that offer ample ankle support and a sturdy construction to prevent injuries and provide stability on uneven surfaces.
  5. Fit: Proper fit is crucial for comfort and performance during winter hikes. Ensure that there is enough room in the toe box for your toes to wiggle, while still providing a secure and snug fit to prevent blisters or discomfort. Remember to try on boots with the same type of socks you plan to wear during your hikes.
  6. Break-in Period: Before embarking on a long winter hike, it is essential to break in your boots to avoid discomfort or blisters. Wear them on shorter hikes or around town to allow the boots to conform to your feet and ensure a comfortable fit.
  7. Additional Features: Some winter hiking boots come with extra features such as gaiter hooks, snowshoe compatibility, or removable liners for added versatility and convenience.

Remember to wear moisture-wicking socks made of wool or synthetic materials to keep your feet dry and warm. Avoid cotton socks as they tend to retain moisture and can make your feet colder.


Investing in high-quality winter hiking boots is essential for the overall safety and enjoyment of your winter hikes. Make sure to test the boots in various conditions before setting off on your winter adventures.



When venturing out for winter hiking, it’s important to accessorize appropriately to protect yourself from the cold and enhance your overall comfort. Here are some essential accessories to consider for your winter hiking adventures:

  1. Gloves: Invest in a good pair of insulated and waterproof gloves to protect your hands from the cold and to maintain dexterity. Look for gloves that offer both warmth and the ability to grip trekking poles or other equipment.
  2. Hat or Beanie: A hat or beanie is essential for retaining heat and preventing heat loss from the head. Opt for a hat that covers your ears for better protection against cold temperatures and wind.
  3. Neck Gaiter or Buff: A neck gaiter or a buff can be worn around your neck or pulled up to cover your face and nose, providing additional warmth and protecting against windburn. Choose one made of moisture-wicking and breathable materials.
  4. Sunglasses or Goggles: Protect your eyes from harsh winter sunlight and glare by wearing sunglasses or goggles. Look for ones with UV protection and anti-fog coatings for clear vision in various weather conditions.
  5. Socks: Wearing high-quality, moisture-wicking socks made of wool or synthetic materials is crucial for keeping your feet dry and warm during winter hikes. Invest in several pairs of thick and cushioned socks to avoid discomfort and blisters.
  6. Hand and Toe Warmers: Disposable hand and toe warmers can provide extra heat and comfort during extremely cold hikes. These small packets generate heat when activated and can be placed inside gloves or boots for added warmth.
  7. Gaiters: Gaiters are useful accessories for protecting your lower legs and feet from snow, debris, and moisture. They wrap around your lower legs and cover the top of your boots, providing an additional layer of insulation and help keep snow out of your boots.
  8. Trekking Poles: While not strictly an accessory, trekking poles are valuable tools for stability and balance during winter hikes. They help distribute weight, reduce strain on your knees, and provide additional support on slippery or uneven terrain. Look for adjustable poles with durable tips for added traction.

Remember, these accessories are meant to enhance your comfort and protect you from the elements. Select accessories based on the specific needs of your winter hiking adventure and the prevailing weather conditions.


By incorporating these accessories into your winter hiking gear, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle cold temperatures and ensure a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience.


Winter Hiking Tips

Winter hiking can be a thrilling and rewarding experience, but it’s important to take certain precautions and follow some essential tips to ensure your safety and enjoyment. Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind when embarking on a winter hike:

  1. Check the weather: Before heading out, thoroughly check the weather forecast for the area. Pay attention to expected temperatures, wind speeds, and any potential storms or inclement weather.
  2. Plan your route: Choose a winter hiking trail that suits your skill level and experience. Consider the distance, elevation gain, and terrain difficulty. Research the trail conditions and any potential hazards before you go.
  3. Start early: Begin your winter hike early in the day to allow ample time for daylight since the days are shorter during winter. This will also give you more time to navigate challenging terrain or handle unexpected obstacles.
  4. Layer appropriately: Dress in layers, including a base layer, mid layer, insulation layer, and outer shell. This will allow you to adjust your clothing to changes in temperature and activity level throughout the hike.
  5. Stay hydrated: It’s easy to overlook hydration during winter hikes, but it’s just as crucial as in warmer months. Drink plenty of water and bring a thermos with warm fluids to prevent dehydration.
  6. Use proper footwear: Invest in sturdy, insulated, and waterproof boots with good traction. Consider using crampons or microspikes for added grip on icy or snowy surfaces.
  7. Be cautious on ice and snow: Take extra care when walking on icy or snowy terrain. Slow down your pace, use your trekking poles for stability, and watch your footing. Plan your steps carefully, especially when traversing slopes or crossing frozen water bodies.
  8. Carry essential gear: Bring a map, compass, headlamp, extra batteries, a whistle, a first aid kit, and a multi-tool. Carry emergency supplies like extra food, water, extra clothing, and a space blanket in case of unexpected situations.
  9. Travel with a buddy: Whenever possible, hike with a partner or a group. Winter conditions can be unpredictable, and having someone by your side increases safety and provides assistance if needed.
  10. Be mindful of daylight: Sunsets occur earlier in the winter, so ensure you have plenty of daylight for your hike. Plan your return time accordingly to avoid hiking in darkness.

Remember, winter hiking brings unique challenges, and preparation is crucial. Regularly assess your condition and be aware of the signs of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related hazards. Stay on marked trails, follow park regulations, and always let someone know your hiking itinerary.


By following these tips and using your judgment, you can have a safe and enjoyable winter hiking experience and appreciate the beauty of the winter landscape.



Winter hiking offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience, but it requires careful planning and proper preparation to ensure your safety and enjoyment. By utilizing the layering system and selecting the right clothing and gear, you can stay warm, dry, and comfortable during your winter adventures.


Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep your skin dry, then add an insulating mid layer to trap body heat. An additional insulation layer may be necessary in extremely cold conditions, followed by an outer shell to protect against wind and precipitation. Don’t forget to pay attention to your bottoms, footwear, and accessories to keep your lower body, feet, and extremities well protected.


Remember to check the weather forecast, plan your route, and start your hike early to allow for ample daylight. Take precautions on icy or snowy terrain, stay hydrated, and always carry essential gear and emergency supplies. Hiking with a buddy is recommended, and be mindful of the limited daylight hours in winter.


By following these guidelines and practicing caution, you can make the most of your winter hiking adventures while staying safe and comfortable. So, go ahead and embrace the beauty of the winter landscape as you embark on memorable hikes in the snow-covered trails!