While hiking in any climate requires preparation, you need to be more prepared when hiking in cold weather, especially when it comes to what to wear. Like any hike, you need the right gear as well as the right clothing to stay comfortable, warm, and safe.
From freezing rain and temperatures to strong gusts of wind and snowy conditions, you want to make sure you’re dressed to take on all of nature’s elements. If you’re not prepared for a cold-weather hike, you may get uncomfortable, or worse you could get seriously injured or sick.
So, what do you wear while hiking in cold weather? We’ll break it down for you from head to toe!
It’s better to have too many layers than not enough when you’re hiking in cold weather. You can always take off a layer if you get too hot. Your layers should do two things: keep you warm and keep you dry, both from the weather elements and your own sweat. Layering is especially important to keep your core warm. When your core is warm, your body will continue to release a consistent blood flow to your extremities.
Typical base and insulating layers include:
Some of the best fabrics for the base and insulating layers include fleece, wool, silk, polyester blends, and other synthetic materials.
The outer or shell layer is what you wear on top of the base and insulating layers for your core. This layer consists of a hooded jacket that’s warm, breathable, and weather-resistant, like a women’s rain jacket or windbreaker. Consider a pair of soft-shell or hard-shell pants for your legs. And don’t forget the right winter accessories to keep your face, head, ears, neck, and hands warm!
Typical outerwear for cold-weather hiking includes:
Don’t get cold feet when hiking – figuratively or literally. Keeping your feet dry is key to staying warm and comfortable on your hike. Men’s and women’s winter boots for hiking and warm, thick socks are a must. Make sure your socks don’t cause your boots to fit too tight, however, which could cause poor circulation or cut off your circulation. Make sure to also pick the right height for your socks. In cold weather, taller socks are preferred since the coverage will help keep your lower legs warm. Another way hikers choose the right sock height is by looking at their footwear. The higher the cuffs of your boots, the taller you want your socks so they protect your skin from rubbing against your hiking shoes.
Typical footwear for cold-weather hiking includes:
Try these additional clothing tips to keep you warm, dry, and safe during your cold-weather hike:
We know we’re repeating ourselves, but you need to wear clothes that will keep you warm and dry. Cotton and other wood-based fibers like rayon and modal take a long time to dry when they get wet. When you get damp, you get cold, and then your fun hike turns into a miserable one. Wool and synthetic fabrics are better at wicking moisture and drying quickly, which is why they’re preferred for hiking.
This will accommodate wearing a thicker pair of socks without cutting off your circulation. If you can comfortably walk and wiggle your toes around, then your cold-weather socks and winter snow boots combination is a good one.
The rule of three rings true with cold-weather hiking. You need a base layer to wick away any sweat, a mid or insulating layer that keeps you warm and an outer layer that protects you from wind and moisture. Also, don’t be afraid to de-layer and re-layer as needed. Between the weather and terrain, you may need to remove or add layers during your hike.
If you sweat easily or will be going on a longer hike that covers warmer afternoons and cooler evenings, then we recommend packing a lightweight hat and then a warmer winter hat. Many hikers pack at least a pair of fleece gloves and a pair of waterproof gloves. Some hikers bring 3-4 pairs of men’s or women’s winter gloves if their hands sweat a lot or if they’ll be trekking through really wet conditions.
We know you’re not headed to the beach, but just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you won’t get sunburned. If there’s snow on the trails, the sun’s rays can reflect off the snow and back onto you, so wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen to areas of your face and neck that are uncovered.
This one is totally optional, but it’s nice to have comfy clothes to change into after your hike, especially if you’ve gotten wet from the weather or are starting to sweat through your underlayers.
We hope our suggestions on what to wear while hiking in cold weather let you safely and comfortably enjoy your hike and the views – and stay warm and dry in the process!