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February 17, 2022 3 min read

There is something to be said about hiking in the mountains during the winter. Perhaps it is the forest’s stillness or the relief of escaping the usually crowded trails that happen in the warmer months. Whatever it is, it is one of our favorite times of the year to go and experience nature. With the right gear, hiking can be a year-round activity. So make every day a potential hiking day with our list of winter hiking essentials.

The Winter Essentials

For those of us that grew up where it snows, we understand the feeling of wet gear. As a kid, damp snow pants or mittens quickly turned a day of outdoor fun into warming up inside while you waited for your clothes to dry. The number one rule of enjoying the outdoors in the winter is the importance of staying dry. Let’s break down what is needed to keep you enjoying the great outdoors, even if it is in the winter.

Base Layers

A quality base layer is critical if you plan hiking during the winter. You will want to invest in a Merino wool base layer top and pants. Yes, synthetic options are available, but Merino garments are made to go the distance. Since keeping dry is the main objective of allowing you to enjoy your day outdoors fully, moisture-wicking base layers help make this happen. We all know the feeling of soggy undergarments that eventually make us feel cold. Luckily, a Merino wool base layer is naturally designed to remove moisture from your body and move it to the outside of the garment. Since this type of wool is incredibly soft, you do not need to worry about chafing or itching. Although base layers come in various weights, the primary purpose of a base layer is to wick moisture, while it is the mid-layers job to keep you warm. To learn more about Merino Wool, check out our Merino 101 article.

Insulating Mid-Layer

Your middle layer is responsible for retaining heat and keeping you comfortable even in colder weather. An insulating mid-layer is usually made of down or a synthetic material. If your base layer and out shell are doing their jobs, you shouldn’t have to worry about this layer becoming wet. However, if these layers get wet, their ability to insulate effectively diminishes. Therefore, when selecting which mid-layer should be used for your day out, make sure you keep in mind the temperature. The colder the weather, the heavier the mid-layer should be.

Waterproof Shells

Working as the first line of defense against the elements, a waterproof shell is essential in shielding rain and snow and as a windbreaker. When purchasing a waterproof shell, try to select a shell made of synthetic material. Even though you will be wearing a beanie or ear warmer, your shell should still include an adjustable hood. Zipper vents are another feature to keep in mind as they will help to allow excess moisture escape and help to keep your mid-layer dry. Since this layer will be the final layer after your base and mid-layer, you might want to order a larger size than usual.

Footwear

Waterproof boots are an absolute must for hiking in the winter. Boots might be the only footwear needed for some trails. However, additional gear might be required. MICROspikes, crampons, or snowshoes might be necessary, depending on the terrain you will encounter. MICROspikes are great for flatter terrain and easily attached to your hiking boots. In contrast, crampons are generally used with stiffer mountaineering footwear for icy slopes. If you might encounter deep or powdery snow, then strapping a pair of snowshoes to your pack is a good idea.

Winter Hiking Checklist

Check out our top seventeen items below that we recommend for a winter hike.

  • Ear warmer or beanie
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Neck gaiter
  • Mittens or gloves
  • Moisture-wicking undergarments
  • Merino wool base layers
  • Insulating mid-layer
  • Waterproof outer shell jacket
  • Waterproof shell pants
  • Merino wool socks
  • Waterproof boots
  • Crampons, MICROspikes, or snowshoes
  • Day pack
  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Hand & toe warmers

The Bottom Line

Hiking can be done year-round with the proper preparation and gear. There is no time like the present to get out and enjoy nature.


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