Best gear, gear for winter hiking and camping
Effective layering is essential when hiking in winter, starting with long underwear. Quality base layers will wick sweat away from your skin, keeping you warm and dry. Every expert we spoke to recommended long underwear made from merino wool, which is exceptionally warm and breathable even when wet, and also combats odor. For overnight trips, the leader of REI’s virtual outfitting team, Forrest Jarvi, suggests bringing a spare pair of extra long underwear to sleep in if you can sacrifice the weight.
Chyla Anderson, founder of outdoor representation company Outdoorism, calls her Smartwool base layers “much softer and more comfortable than others I’ve tried,” adding that they don’t itch either. The brand has been mentioned by everyone we spoke to and is a favorite of strategists for the colder months.
If you don’t have the budget for wool base layers, our experts have advised you that synthetic diapers will still work. Just make sure you don’t buy anything made from cotton, which dries slowly and doesn’t retain body heat.
Anything you put on your base layers will act as insulation, and there are a variety of materials that can be used for this purpose, including synthetic fleece, wool, and down. If you sweat at low altitudes and don’t face too much wind, rain, or snow, you might not want to wear a full down jacket on the go – a lighter fleece option, or even a T -shirt, can be more comfortable. Just be sure to carry something thicker when you stop. “You can get cold very quickly,” warns Herndon-Powell. “So it’s important to change your diapers before you even need them. Wilkinson agrees, adding that you should constantly layer yourself up and down on the trail as it feels like work. “It’s a problem, it really is,” he said. “But just take the time; it will make the trip so much better.
For hikers who run hot, Kindra Ramos, director of communications and outreach at the Washington Trails Association, suggests a fleece vest to keep your core warm but your arms “free and cooler” as you hike.
This jacket from Smartwool has all the benefits of merino wool, which our experts said was the gold standard for winter hikers and backpackers. The full zipper also helps regulate the temperature on the go.
As a reliable synthetic mid-layer, Jarvi recommends the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoodie, which is lightweight and reliable even when wet. He says it’s probably “my single most used garment living in Colorado.”
Whitman says the classic Patagonia Nano Puff, which is more windproof than the other options mentioned here, is both warm and pleasant to walk on.
Whitman is also a fan of the Marmot Tullus, especially for mountaineering, due to his tighter sleeves which allow for more dexterity.
Anderson recently traded in her bulky 3-in-1 Columbia for this quilted jacket from Amazon Essentials and was pleased with the results. “It’s reasonably priced, it’s available in a variety of colors and – surprisingly – it holds up in cold weather,” she says. “I have the color dark camel and I like its neutrality. So far this coat has kept me warm in the desert and in the mountains.
Our experts have advised you to pack an outer layer of clothing that will protect you from wind, rain and snow. Because you already lock in heat with your base and mid layers, something lightweight but waterproof will work here. “I like an all-weather thin raincoat that’s big enough to fit over a down jacket,” says Herndon-Powell. Rather than waterproof pants, many of our experts have favored gaiters, which allow more flexibility on the track.
Jarvi says your regular rain jacket will likely be good for non-extreme trail conditions. If you’re looking to improve yourself, the Patagonia Snowshot is loved by winter hikers and backpackers because “it’s designed like a ski jacket but without a ton of extra insulation.” The jacket is constructed with extra length, “which is great because you don’t have a seam going up behind your backpack.” If you shop, Parker adds that any Gore-Tex jacket “is a great investment because it will keep you from getting wet from falling snow.”
Wilkinson tells us that gaiters are too often overlooked. He calls them “fantastic gear” for insulating your legs, keeping snow off your shoes, and preventing snags when you hit the trails. Ramos adds that they are also “much easier to put on and take off” than rain pants.
Winter hiking pants mostly depend on your personal preferences and weather conditions, especially if you have a pair of gaiters to protect your boots. Some of our experts go on a winter hike in their sticky underwear, perhaps with shorts and gaiters worn over them, while others prefer to put on trekking pants over their underwear. If you opt for pants, Jarvi advises to opt for “flexible pants that stretches and wicks snow very easily”.
Jarvi says these pants, which would suit any season, have “good stretch,” as well as a snap at the bottom that you can clip to your hiking boots to create a makeshift gaiter. They also have plenty of pockets for snacks.
For a better fit, Jarvi mentioned this slim option from Arc’teryx, which “looks like climbing pants”.
“It’s not necessarily always true that everyone will need insulated boots in the winter,” says Wilkinson. “A lot of it depends on the temperature, the weather conditions, whether it’s wet or dry, and the individual: some people’s feet always freeze and they will need more insulation. . On the budget side, it’s better to invest in a quality waterproof boot that can be used in all seasons, like these Gore-Tex Salomons that Whitman uses in winter and summer. Whether you wear running shoes, light boots, or heavy boots, Wilkinson notes that “it is absolutely essential” to keep circulation in your feet. “The best way to do this is to make sure you have shoes that are at least one size larger than what you normally wear,” he says. “The toes need room to extend and wiggle.”
Contrary to what one might think, thick hiking socks are less effective than thin insulated socks. The material your socks are made from is much more crucial than the weight, and again, our experts have been evangelical about the benefits of wool. “Cotton socks in particular, if they get wet they will stay that way forever and you are going to be miserable,” says Ramos. “The material really makes a difference in winter conditions. Parker agrees, “If there’s only one wool item you’re going to invest in, make sure it’s wool socks. Vermont brand Darn Tough, which advertises a lifetime warranty on its socks, was mentioned favorably by everyone we spoke to. Jarvi says it’s worth paying extra for the brand’s merino wool socks on multi-day trips because they’re odor-resistant. “Which is handy, especially if you are sharing a tent.”
Gloves are an important item to take on any winter expedition, especially if you are using hiking poles and exposing your fingers to the elements. As with other winter hiking clothing, layering is key here. Herndon-Powell wears soft, tight liner gloves when out on the trail, but keeps a waterproof pair handy for pulling on the uppers. Jarvi and Whitman do the same, but they opt for mittens as a second layer, for extra warmth. Just note that you won’t have much dexterity with these.
A warm hat makes all the difference when hiking in cold weather. When you buy one, our experts say, go for something that completely covers your ears. As long as this requirement is met, a cute beanie that looks great in photos isn’t a bad idea, says Ramos. “Because if you don’t like your hat, you won’t wear it. “
Jarvi says this beanie “has the most annoying name you can imagine, but it’s extremely comfortable and fits well under a helmet if you’re ski touring.”
While this is probably unnecessary for many trips, a few of our experts have said that a merino balaclava or choker like this from Smartwool would be a good investment.
If you hike in the rain, do like the Pacific Northwest and don a Seattle Sombrero. Ramos says these wide-brimmed rain hats are especially useful if you wear glasses.
Polarized sunglasses are underrated if you are going to the mountains on a clear winter day. “Especially if you are hiking at a higher elevation, sunlight can be incredibly powerful, especially when reflecting off white snow,” Parker explains. While you’re at it, don’t forget the sunscreen.