It’s common for hikers to hang up their boots when winter comes around. But we have a message: Don’t. With the proper gear and a little know-how, you’ll discover a whole new world of outdoor adventure—one full of silent, crowd-free trails, new wildlife-spotting opportunities, and gorgeous winter landscapes. Bundle up and let’s get out there.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What gear and clothing you’ll need for winter hiking
- How to manage layers for ultimate comfort
- How to stay properly fueled and hydrated
- Techniques for walking on snowy slopes
- Navigation tips for winter
- Preventing cold injuries and avalanche exposure
Gearing Up For Winter
No surprise: You’ll need to be prepared for cold temps, snow, and bitter wind. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather—just bad gear. Here’s how to get equipped.
Staying warm is all about layering. In cold temps, you’ll want four upper-body layers that you can mix and match: a wicking baselayer, a midlayer, an insulating puffer jacket, and a weather-resistant shell (either a waterproof hardshell or a more breathable softshell). Depending on the conditions and your exertion level, you’ll want to add and remove layers to stay in that sweet spot of being warm without sweating.
On the bottom, you can go with a pair of hiking pants alone in more moderate weather. Add baselayer bottoms underneath for colder conditions; if you’ll be in wetter weather or high alpine terrain, add a pair of softshell or hardshell pants as your outer layer.
Protecting your extremities is key. Make sure you have a warm beanie and gloves or mittens. Add a neck gaiter and/or face mask for the coldest conditions. And if you’ll be walking or snowshoeing in deep snow, gaiters over your boots will help keep your feet dry.
Start with thick, warm socks, but make sure they fit inside your boots. You don’t want to restrict blood flow with too-tight shoes. The boots you wear in summer might work, if conditions are moderate, or you can upgrade to insulated, winter-specific boots.
More snow on the ground? If it’s packed and icy rather than deep and powdery, traction devices like spikes or coils will give you extra grip. These devices fit over your boots. If you’re heading for deep snow, you’ll need the superior flotation of snowshoes.
Poles are a great idea in the winter, as they help steady you on slippery or uneven ground. You can use winter-specific poles, which tend to be a bit longer and have snow baskets on the ends to keep them from sinking too deep, or trekking poles with snow baskets swapped for the usual smaller baskets.