The Gear You Need to Enjoy Hiking in the Winter
Hiking in the winter is totally different from hiking during the other three seasons.
Every season and condition requires a different mindset and set of gear to get the most enjoyment out of your hike.
In a previous post, we talked about what gear is best suited for wet and rainy spring-like weather.
Winter with the addition of snow and ice, adds a particular challenge to your normal day of hiking due to the added danger of walking on slippery or packed snow/ice.
Having specific gear can greatly aid in your ability to reduce falling and injuring yourself, or just make your hike much more enjoyable and use considerably less energy.
3 Primary Gear Categories for Winter Hiking
- Insulated and Moisture Wicking Layers
- Weather Shell
Insulated and Moisture Wicking Layers
First and foremost, before anything else you need to wear the correct clothing to even be outside in the cold. Winter hikes can range from subzero to sometimes pretty decently warm, and can even change drastically from cold to colder all in a single day hike, especially when in the mountains.
I’ve started at the base of a mountain at 60 degrees and by the time I reached the summit it was 20 degrees. However not every hike is this drastic of a change, but it’s important to always be prepared.
Dressing in layers, especially warm layers is incredibly important We talked about proper layering for New England Hikes over at this post.
- Warm moisture wicking base layer, best to be a synthetic material
- Warm wool moisture-wicking middle layer
- Breathable waterproof and windproof shell
**Feel free to add additional layers in-between to better suit your temperature
Moisture Wicking Clothing
It’s important to always wear moisture wicking clothing, especially in winter due to how quickly the body can cool when not moving. Sweating a lot in winter while moving is all fine and dandy, but while stopping to eat or take a break your body can cool drastically in the cold, and coupled with the wetness you can become hypothermic very quickly.
Moisture wicking clothing takes the wetness away from your body through the layers and allows your clothing to dry while on the move. Decreasing your overall wetness and risk of hypothermia.
While below tree line things can get very warm when working hard, once you break tree line or find yourself in a large open space wind in winter has a tendency to drop your bodies core temperature rapidly.
Weather shells are designed to do two very important things:
It’s designed to keep the weather off you like rain, snow, etc.
While the other is to keep the wind off you.
Most weather shells offer breathable waterproofing and wind proofing features.
Winter Jacket or Weather Shell?
I’ve heard this debate for a long while now, and while I understand both sides I’m still firmly standing on the weather shell side.
Reason being is Winter Jackets tend to have built in warmth liners that can not be removed from the actual shell itself.
What this means is while breaking a sweat as you’re making your way up the mountain, the only option is to remove the entire jacket, not just the outside shell or inside warmth layer.
Weather Shell’s are sold as a shell only, meaning it’s just the waterproof and windproof layer. I prefer this because depending on the day I can wear my own middle layers that suit my temperature best. This gives me a way better control over my bodies temperature as I’m hiking.
Plus I can still use my weather shell in other seasons where I cannot with a winter jacket.
Snow Pants or Rain/Shell Pants?
The same debate above can be made here.
Ever since I bought my first pair of REI Alpine Gaiters, I’m pretty sure that I’ve never gone on a hike without them. They come in handy, weight virtually nothing, and are very useful when trail conditions are unknown.
When you’re stepping in and out of deep snow you probably are getting the ends of your pants wet or worse snow in your boots. Snow in the boots or wet pants slapping your legs is absolutely the most annoying thing ever.
Coupled with the fact that once your feet get wet, they become colder faster and are prone to get blisters a whole lot easier.
Gaiters strap to the underside of your boot, are extremely easy to put on while standing, and enclose your leg all the way up to your knee saving you from the wetness of snow, or even splashing of water.
Snowshoes are one of those expensive investments that make winter hiking much more enjoyable and simpler.
Typically ranging above the 200+ dollar mark for a worthy pair of snowshoes, winter hikes just wouldn’t be the same without them.
The device lets you “float” on top of the snow by spreading out your weight. This is incredibly helpful in deep snow hikes where you typically would punch your foot deep into the snow, requiring extra effort to pull your foot out and step again over and over on repeat.
Snowshoes have even evolved over the years to have some pretty advanced features such as heel bars (to aid in climbing steep slopes), and lightweight materials to make your snow trek that much more enjoyable.
Microspikes / Crampons
The final item on our list of gear we believe would make your winter hike more enjoyable is microspikes and crampons. Now granted the difference is pretty big between the two devices, but each serves its own purpose.
Generally, on most winter hikes, microspikes will do the job, without the need or investment of expensive crampons.
Microspikes are slip on traction devices that go over your boot to add spikes to the bottom of your boots treads. Designed to increase traction when hiking on ice and snow, allowing the spikes to dig into the ground making it easier to step and push off.
Crampons on the other hand, have very large teeth, sometimes 2-3-4 inches long protruding from the toebox. These crampons are specifically designed for dealing with a lot of ice on steep terrain, and unless your specifically climbing mountains you won’t need these devices.
So, that’s our list of things we believe make hiking in the snow more enjoyable!
What are your favorite ways to layer your winter clothes, or the gear that is definitely going out with you in the snow? Let us know in the comments below.
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