winter trail in the mountains

What to wear on winter hikes? Snowy trails are easy when you know the basics.

The same trails that you walked on with no difficulty during the summer are now covered in ice and snow, most of the time looking like a real winter wonderland. If you fancy such an experience and you are a beginner, you must know what to wear on winter hikes to keep warm and have a delightful trip.

You will be mesmerized by the beauty of the frozen pines and mountains if the weather is sunny and clear. For sure, winter hikes have a unique flavor.

What clothes should you wear?

people hiking in winter through the forest

It is essential to know that even at very low temperatures, there will be moments when you will feel rather hot than cold because of the high-intensity effort. You must be able to take off and put on the clothes effortlessly and rapidly.

So, if you are asking yourself what to wear on winter hikes, and maybe you’re afraid of the low temperatures, this is where you can begin: dress like an onion, in multiple layers. :)

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

Alfred Wainwright, “A Coast to Coast Walk”

This is my usual clothing list for winter hikes:

  • Base layer – a long sleeve top and leggings. This layer must be made of synthetic or wool so that they dry quickly. If possible, I always bring a second top with me and change it during the hike.
  • Mid-layer clothing – you can choose a hoodie, fleece, or whatever makes you feel comfortable and allows you to move freely. My choice here is a soft and a bit fluffy fleece. :)
  • When it comes to jackets, you have the option to use a hard shell or a softshell jacket. The hard shell will protect you from humidity and wind; they are waterproof. The downside is less breathability than softshell jackets. The softshell jackets are water-resistant but not fully waterproof. So, they may be suitable for snowy weather but not so much for heavy rain. Some of these come with a removable fleece lining that can be very useful, keeping you warm in cold weather. They can be used also as a mid-layer.
  • You must think of your entire clothing as a system and choose your jacket depending on weather conditions and what else you plan to wear.  This is why checking the weather conditions and planning are so important.
  • Pants – you can choose from a large variety of models. I usually use waterproof skiing pants with no additional lining. I prefer to add myself the base layer leggings only if necessary.
  • Gaiters – super useful for winter hikes, keeping the snow away from your boots, and keeping you warm.
  • Winter boots – Hiking boots are one of the critical elements of your hiking equipment. Having the right boots keep your feet happy on the trail and will protect you from injuries. Either way, you want to choose some high waterproof boots that cover your ankle and hold it fixed while walking. Consider adding a pair of crampons or microspikes if you know there is a lot of ice on the trail.
Microspikes on hiking boots for winter hikes
  • 2 pairs of gloves: insulating gloves and waterproof gloves. I can wear them both at the same time for maximum warmth and comfort. This way, you can be sure your hands will remain dry. The insulating gloves do wonders if you need to handle your phone or other small objects.


Here are other accessories that you could keep in mind while preparing for your winter hike:

  • Balaclava and hat – depending on the outside temperatures, you will prefer one or the other.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen – if the weather is clear and sunny, you will enjoy the views to the max, but you can also get a sunburn because of the powerful sun rays reflecting in the snow.
Man hiking with trekking poles through the snow
  • Trekking poles – they help discharge some of the weight from your back and keep your balance while walking. Not to mention that they are a total blessing when it comes to going downhill, protecting your knees. Tip: You can use trekking poles to test the snow depth before going further on the trail.
  • Hiking socks – Their main goal is to protect your feet from blisters and keep you comfortable throughout the hiking trail. I choose my socks depending on my boots and the season. For winter trails, the best socks are high over the ankle with proper cushioning and made of merino wool. I also love their stretching system that helps blood to circulate. Tip: You may want to take 2 pairs of hiking socks to wear on your winter hike and change them if necessary on the trail.
  • Ski face mask – this is a must-have in winter hikes if you ask me. It will protect you from the cold and also from the blizzard.  

Other tips and tricks for winter hikes

Here are some extra essential tips that can help you have a pleasant experience in nature even in the harshest weather conditions:

  • Take an insulated water bottle with you to prevent water from freezing, or take warm tea or hot cocoa in a thermos. In this way, you will keep warm on the road.
Man pouring tea from thermos on winter hike
  • Bring food that is high in protein and that you can consume while walking. Even though I like taking a break once in a while, those should be short, not to get cold.
  • Your electronic devices may fail in extreme temperatures. Don’t rely solely on your phone for a map. If possible, take a classical map with you and study the trail before starting the hike.
  • Inform yourself about the weather conditions and the state of the trail before beginning the hike.
  • Have a first aid kit with you every time you go hiking. When it comes to winter hikes, you mustn’t leave without a first aid kit (that should also include a heat-reflective blanket for hypothermia)
  • Avoid any clothing made of cotton, especially if in direct contact with skin. Cotton takes a long time to dry.

So, now that you know what to wear on winter hikes, you are ready to go out there and fill your soul with the joy and beauty of nature, see those snowy peaks and create unforgettable memories.


Important note: Please be responsible, do your planning, and don’t access summer hiking trails in winter. If they are closed, it means they are not safe during wintertime, and you can put yourself and others in danger. Other hikers may see your footsteps on the trail and follow them, even if there is a high-risk area for an avalanche.

Photo credit : Unsplash

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