In order to not only survive, but also have an enjoyable winter hiking experience, you will need to use a layering system. Layers allow you to regulate your body temperature to both stay warm and avoid sweating – something that is often easier in theory than practice. Everyone may have different needs depending on your tolerance for warmth/cold and your body type, but below you will find an overview of the system that I use that keeps me comfortable down to frigid near 0 temperatures all the way back up into the 70’s. While you may prefer different individual types of layers, the concept is still the same:
- Thermal Base Layer(s)
- Insulated Mid Layer(s)
- Windproof/Waterproof Shell
- And, most importantly – AVOID COTTON!
Your baselayer is an important aspect of your winter hiking apparel. Your base layer helps to wick away moisture, while serving as your 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!