One of the most frequent questions that I get is “How do you survive the winter?” – and I love answering this one. I actually grew up in Florida, so temperatures below 30 degrees were something completely new to me. And so was snow – I recently upgraded to an All -Wheel Drive car to deal with driving in that, but I won’t get into that here.
The funny thing is, is that with the proper winter attire and gear, you might actually be less cold than you are in a late-fall outing. I’m not sure who originally said it, but there’s a saying that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices” – and after three brutal Northeast winters, I fully believe that statement.
Your baselayer is an important aspect of your winter hiking apparel. Your base layer helps to wick away moisture, while serving as the first layer of insulation against the elements. A base layer should fit tight against your skin, and cover from ankle, through your upper body and down to your wrists (in 2 pieces of course).
Your mid layer is your insulating layer – what traps the heat and air between your base layer and the outside elements. Your mid layer should be something synthetic – I usually go with fleece, but some prefer the puffy-down style if you are going into colder elements. When combined with a waterproof/windproof outer layer and warm baselayer, I’ve found that the Columbia Zip-up Fleece Jackets are incredibly comfortable, durable, versatile, and can usually be found for around $25-30 at retailers like TjMaxx, Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, Macys, etc.
Your legs carry the brunt of the work when you are hiking in the winter – and its important to keep them warm and dry. I actually use these pants from about late October through early May, as they are both comfortable in just cool weather, and insulating enough in cold temperatures. In extreme old (below 20 degrees), I also wear a set of synthetic wool leggings underneath these.
You don’t have to spend a lot to get a decent set of pants – I used these throughout many hikes in the winter, and other than one zipper failing, they have held up great!
If you’ve ever seen one of those classic movie or cartoon scenes where a character slips on a banana peel, feet fly out from under them, and they land flat on their back, you know that its a bit of an exaggeration. But, its exactly quite accurate of how someone falls when trying to walk on slippery snow or ice. Microspikes are essential if you plan to do any hiking in the winter, and many trails even post warnings during the winter about continuing on without them. Not to be confused with crampons (which require a special boot), microspikes simply slip over your existing boot.
To keep steady a footing, myself and my clients hike equipped with Kahtoola Microspikes. Kahtoola is also a sponsor of Roulette Travel, but I owned a pair of their spikes prior to the partnership. I had previously bought a cheap pair from an off-label brand, and they broke during my 4th or 5th hike (inconveniently, halfway up a mountain). Not fun.
Kahtoolas are great for the following reasons:
- Great fit over most shoes and boots
- Easy to slip on and off
- Excellent traction on ice, packed snow, frozen ground
- Easily stowed when not in use (small bag included)