Don’t stay inside just because the weather is frightful outside! Use this guide on what to wear hiking in cold weather and hit the trails all year long.
Ahhh cool weather. I anxiously await the changing of seasons. In March I’m tired of cold weather and by August I’m tired of 99 degree days. I guess it’s a good thing that we live in Georgia where we typically get to experience all four seasons. 🙂
We shared what you should wear hiking in hot weather and now it’s time to layer! Let’s talk about what to wear hiking in cold weather.
We hike year round and dress appropriately for the season and weather. We’ve done winter hiking in Zion National Park (the picture above is from that trip when we climbed Angel’s Landing!), Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Yosemite National Park. We also do outdoor activities when we go to Jackson, Wyoming each December. We’ve even been fat tire biking in negative 15 degrees!
The key to cold weather hiking is to control your perspiration and pay attention to how much heat your body is producing. If you’re exerting a large amount of energy with clothing that is suited for conditions colder than what you’re hiking in then you’ll end up drenching your clothes in sweat and risk being cold all day or, worse, hypothermia.
It’s extremely important to know how to read the weather for the place you are hiking. There is typically a large discrepancy between the weather at the bottom of a mountain and the top. We like to say that mountains create their own weather. Many people only look at the weather for the closest city but that isn’t good enough when it comes to trying to be fully prepared for any weather conditions that could exist.
Quick Dressing Tips for Cold Weather
- Layer, layer, layer!
- Control your perspiration
- Pack your accessories
We’ve been hiking for many, many years and we’ve basically worn the same things the whole time. While hiking gear and attire can be expensive, you will get many years of use out of quality items! We’ve purchased almost all of our hiking clothes on sale. Rarely do we ever pay full price for anything, instead we will buy last years design, wait for a sale, or buy gently used.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Check our disclosure policy for more details.
COLD WEATHER HIKING CLOTHES FOR WOMEN
- If it is going to be really cold I will usually start with a base layer. One of my favorites is the Under Armour ColdGear Mock.
- My next layer is usually the Smart Wool Baselayer or the similar Smart Wool Baselayer Zip Top. These provide the warmth I need but are also very comfortable to move around in while hiking. If it isn’t too cold outside I will just wear these without the ColdGear underneath.
- This Under Armour ColdGear Reactor Jacket is SO WARM. Sometimes too warm but when it’s really cold outside it is perfect. I don’t feel any cold air at all, which is important to me because I tend to get really cold quickly.
- Just a side note, I don’t usually hike in this one because I don’t want to get it sweaty but if you don’t mind that the Under Armour Swacket fits very well and also keeps me very warm.
- I tend to wear base layers less frequently than top layers. However, If it is very cold outside (typically when we are doing outdoor winter activities in Wyoming) I will wear the Under Armour 3.0 Base Layer. If I just need something underneath but it isn’t that cold I will wear the Smart Wool 150 Base Layer Bottoms.
- I only wear bottom base layers if it is going to be under 32 degrees the entire time during the activity.
- Yes, my favorite pants again! I wear the prAna Monarch Convertible Pants all year long.
- For shorter, more maintained trails I wear Under Armour Horizon KTV Women’s Trail Running Shoes or Salomon Ellipse GTX Hiking Shoe.
- When the trail requires boots (rocky, unmaintained trails) I opt for my Asolo Attiva GTX (you could try the Asolo Atlantis GTX Boot or the Asolo Revert GV Boot).
- For socks, in the winter I wear higher socks like these Balega Blister Resist Crew Socks or Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks.
- My sports bra doesn’t change with the seasons so I still typically wear the NIKE Victory Compression Sports Bra.
- Underwear: Same as the summer (with the Under Armour Pure Stretch Thong)
- If you think you may encounter ice or snow then you’ll need some Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats. These very convenient as they easily slip on and off your boot.
- The liner glove that I prefer is the Under Armour Ponte Liner. If it isn’t too cold I will wear only the liners. The Under Armour Windstopper is the glove that I wear on top, when necessary. I have been through a lot of different gloves because I have (what I believe is) Raynaud’s. So, trust me on this combination. 🙂
- Most people like to wear beanies to keep their head and ears warm. For some reason, I can’t stand to wear them. I normally wear ear warmers similar to these foldable fleece ear warmers. I also don’t like the ear warmers that go all the way around your head because it’s hard to get them on and off without having them mess up my ponytail! 😉 The foldable ones are super easy and don’t require as much work to make them stay up or take them on and off as needed. If you do want a beanie, I do own one similar to this Mountain Hardwear one that I pack in case I get really cold or need a backup for some reason.
- In cold weather, I always carry the Osprey Talon 22 Hiking Pack (mine is an older version) so that I can pack my layers as necessary.
COLD WEATHER HIKING CLOTHES FOR MEN
- If the weather is going to be below 40 then I like to add a base layer to help me stay dry. The most comfortable base layer shirt I’ve found is the long-sleeve Under Armour ColdGear Compression Crew.
- For my mid-layer, I like something that fits a little loose and provides decent insulation, but with some breathability so I don’t feel clammy when I stop for breaks. I love to wear a half-zip or quarter-zip pullover because you can work in some ventilation by unzipping the pullover. I also prefer something that is lightweight, so the Mountain Hardwear Cragger 1/2 Zip Top is perfect. If the temps are above 50 degrees, you’d be fine wearing just the pullover.
- If it’s not too cold, but temps are around 40 (or between 40 to 50 with some wind), you need a shell to keep the wind off of you. The key when wearing a shell is to try to only keep it on when you’re stopped on the uphill or when you’re moving back downhill because you’re not sweating a much and the shell will be enough to keep you warm. There are two options for shells:
- Softshell – this type of jacket is great for when you’re not expecting rain or strong winds. You can even replace your mid-layer pullover with the softshell if the weather is decent, but you want to pay attention to your perspiration. I love the Marmot Gravity softshell jacket because it’s affordable and also very comfortable and durable. I’ve had this jacket for at least 10 years and has held up to rain and snow, but is at its best when cutting the wind.
- Hardshell – this jacket is typically very light and can withstand all the elements. It’s durable and can be useful if you’re mixing in some climbing or rock scrambling. Because this jacket is typically very light and often uninsulated, you’ll need to make sure you work some insulation in with your mid-layer in order to stay warm. The Under Armour Scrambler Hybrid is one of my favorites.
- I typically wear a base layer for warmth and use my pants as an outer shell and look for the same three factors – they must allow for free movement, they’re typically weatherproof and durable. If it’s not too cold (anything between 45-60 degrees Fahrenheit), I may wear compression pants and shorts unless we know the trail will be muddy or we have several stream crossings.
- I like Under Armour for my base layers and use one of two kinds depending on how cold it is. If it’s colder than 40 degrees, I wear the thicker Under Armour Cold Gear 2.0 base layer pants. If it’s warmer than 40 degrees, I wear regular compression pants to help wick the sweat away to keep me dry which will keep me warm. If the temps rise above 50 and it’s not windy, I’ll put shorts on with my regular UA compression pants.
- I have two pant options – one if I know it’s going to be colder all day and another if the temps are between 45-55, but for the coldest temps, I love my Fjallraven Vida Pro trousers. I love the fit of these pants and the full range of motion they allow with the pre-shaped knees and they’re incredibly durable. They’ve handled some pretty tough rock scrambles and sliding down scree slopes in the big mountains out west. They are also wind and water-resistant, so they stand up to inclement weather if you happen to encounter it. These truly are mountaineering pants!
- I like to go with convertible pants when the temps are a bit warmer or will increase gradually throughout the day. The most comfortable convertible pants I’ve found are the prAna Stretch Zion Convertible pants. I’m much taller than average, so I love that I can choose the length to have these pants custom fit to my body.
Trail Running Shoes
- If it isn’t too cold outside I will wear my favorite Salomon Men’s Speedcross Trail Running Shoes, which I also wear during the summer.
- If the temperatures drop below 35 degrees, you’ll want Gore-Tex insulated boots to keep any snow and other moisture out, but allow your feet to ventilate. I love Salomon boots and the X Ultra 3 GTX are crazy comfortable and very light.
- Same as Whitney, I love the Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats because they easily slip on and off my boots.
- Believe it or not, you don’t need to wear thick socks when hiking in cold weather. Thicker socks will cause your feet to sweat more and you’re just going to end up with wet, clammy feet…the perfect recipe for blisters. Balega socks are by far the best blister resistant socks on the market. I do like to wear crew socks when I hike in the winter and these Balega Blister Resist Crew Socks are perfect.
- The key with gloves is to find something to keep your hands out of the wind. If you can just avoid exposing your hands to the cold air then you’re going to stay warm, so you might as well invest in Windstopper technology. These Under Armour gloves are perfect!
- Same as with gloves, you just want something that will keep the wind off your head and provide a good amount of insulation. This Under Armour hat is very versatile and can be worn in all weather conditions.
The Talon 22 is perfectly designed for all-day hikes, regardless of distance. It holds a hydration reservoir up to 100oz/3L and the back panel is perfect for keeping the pack off your body to help provide airflow and keep you dry.
The Atmos 50 is an awesome pack just like the Talon 22, but on a much bigger scale to give you the necessary space for all your gear on backpacking trips. The Anti-Gravity suspension system is very comfortable and handles the extra weight so well you almost don’t even notice it’s there! The shoulder straps and hip belt are very comfortable and work well to help you distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders, back, and hip. The top lid is removable if you’re a lightweight junkie and love to go on minimalist excursions.
Remember, you don’t have to buy everything all at once. It will take time to build your hiking and/or backpacking wardrobe. 😉 Look for things on sale at stores and join gear trade groups on Facebook to find bargains!
Looking for more hiking inspiration?
- How to Get in Shape for Hiking
- What to Eat While Hiking
- What to Wear Hiking in Warm Weather
- Hiking Etiquette 101
- Top 5 Tips for Visting National Parks
- 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Hike
- Our Trip Recaps
- 6 Tips for Outdoor Enthusiasts to Help Keep Invasive Pests from Spreading