Winter Hikes: What to Wear and How to Prepare

Winter Hikes: What to Wear and How to Prepare

Hiking in the winter months can be a wonderful way to enjoy the spectacular views of winter. Snow-dusted trees, glistening fields, and intricate icicles all make for some incredible landscapes. Hiking is one way to enjoy the mountains and great outdoors in the wintertime. Winter hiking is a bit different than hiking during other seasons, so you want to be sure you are dressed and prepared accordingly.

Like Goldilocks, you want to be sure you are dressed so you are not too hot and not too cold but just right. Having the proper outdoor clothing and accessories can help you find that sweet spot so you can enjoy your cold-weather hike. Here are some tips for your next trek.

Wear Layers

Whether you are planning a long or short hike, correct layering is key. Pro tip: go with a three-tiered system where you have a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating mid-layer, and a wind-breaking top layer. These three layers work together to keep you dry, warm, and comfortable. Wear a thermal shirt for your base layer. Thermals are typically made of lightweight, moisture-wicking materials to keep you dry and comfortable. Choose a wool or lightweight cashmere blend as your mid-layer for warmth and a down jacket with a wind-breaking shell for an effective outer layer. This trifecta is sure to keep you comfortable regardless of the intensity of your hike.

Avoid Cotton

If you are planning a big hike, one of your best bets is to avoid cotton. While cotton won’t be such a deal-breaker on shorter hikes, it can be for longer hikes. Cotton holds moisture and takes a longer time to dry, making it wonderful in the warmer months but potentially problematic in colder months. Opt instead for animal fibers or synthetic fibers to ensure you stay warm and dry.

Cover Your Skin

Protecting your skin from exposure to cold temperatures or wet weather is also critical when preparing for hiking in winter. Take special care of your nose, cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes. Having the right winter accessories is key to keeping these parts adequately covered, especially your fingers and toes, which are prone to frostbite.

For your feet, wear insulating wool or synthetic socks to keep you warm and dry. Thicker socks will offer more insulation, but be sure they are not so bulky that your shoes are too tight and cut off circulation; proper circulation is important for keeping your appendages safe and warm. Be sure to wear hats that can pull down over your ears to keep them warm, while neck warmers or neck gaiters are great for keeping the nose and cheeks covered. Don’t forget your gloves. Fleece gloves or mittens with a waterproof shell are ideal. Bring an extra pair of winter gloves and socks just in case yours get wet.

Protecting Eyes and Face

You might not be at the beach, but you still have to protect yourself from the sun. In fact, the sun’s reflection off the snow can be particularly damaging for your eyes and face. This is why skiers and snowboarders often wear tinted goggles. Bring sunscreen or SPF cream to use on your skin and also a pair of sunglasses or snow goggles to keep your eyes safe.


The right boots are important when hiking in the snow. In fact, the right pair of boots could be the difference between enjoying your experience and getting frostbite or hypothermia, especially on longer hikes. Winter boots with thick soles and rubber or leather uppers are ideal. You will want to choose a pair that is insulated and waterproof. The thick soles help insulate and also avoid slippage. Alternatively, sturdy and waterproof leather or synthetic hiking boots will also work in most cases. Wear a pair of wool or synthetic socks that will wick up moisture, and carry an extra pair in case yours get wet. Snow gaiters are a useful addition to your winter hiking boots, as they keep snow and moisture from falling into the tops of your boots.

Different Jackets

The right jacket for winter hiking is key. Depending on the weather conditions, you will want to consider bringing along a lightweight insulating jacket, such as a packable down coat. Remember, you will want an insulating jacket that stands up to wind and water so you stay dry and comfortable in cold or wet weather.


Taking a roomy backpack is vital for keeping handy all the stuff you need. Beyond water and snacks, you’ll also want room for the “just-in-case” gear like headlamps, first aid kits, and dry clothes. Remember, when you’re hiking in the winter, there are fewer daylight hours. Prepare accordingly by bringing flashlights or headlamps in case your hike takes a little longer than planned.

Follow these tips to be sure you know what to wear to stay safe and comfortable during your winter hike.


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