When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors in the winter, there’s seldom bad weather, only bad outfit choices.
As someone who did not grow up with winter – do I have any fellow Southern Californians in the house? – I had to learn this the hard way when I moved to Berlin and started traveling in wintery places.
Then last year in -25°F in the arctic of Canada, I was out for 4 hours in the middle of the night chasing northern lights – and I wasn’t even cold!
So please don’t swear off the great outdoors just because it’s cold outside. It’s less crowded, quieter, and beautiful when the winter months swing around. Here’s all you need to know about what to wear winter hiking:
When it’s just freezing to -10C/14F
Enjoying the outdoors when it’s cold is all about layering, and anticipating that despite it being cold, you will sweat and need to wear clothing that dries quickly.
For this reason I stick to merino wool and waterproof outer shells, with lots of room to add or remove layers as needed:
- Base layer: synthetic or merino wool top. Zip neck is preferred
- Intermediate layer: fleece or puffy down jacket
- Top layer: heavy duty, water resistant jacket
- merino wool leggings
- Snow pants: soft-shell or insulated ski pants
- Sunglasses or ski goggles
- Neck gaiter
- gloves: 1 fleece, 1 heavy duty, waterproof gloves, or hand warmers + mittens
- thick wool socks
- hiking boots or snowshoes (for deep snow)
- gaiters for clipping the bottom of your pants and the top of your boots
This covers a wide temperature range, but it’s meant to, since winter temps can swing wildly between day and night, or even week to week.
Be sure to check out my guide on winter hiking for more on layering, prepping food and water, and how to check for signs of frostbite.
When it’s -10C/14F to -35C/-31F
Once it gets so cold that you feel it in your chest, any bit of exposed skin feels brutal, and you’ve got to plug the car in well before starting it up, most people will want to stay indoors – but no need! You can still enjoy the outdoors provided that your gear is rated for the temperature extremes you’re likely to encounter. As you’ll see in this video, I was actually getting too hot hiking in -25F!
Most of what I’ve been able to find for the coveralls you’ll see in the video and packing list is men’s options (which is probably what I had on, too), but at this point it’s mostly a unisex fit, anyway. Check the sizing before ordering to make sure it will fit your body!
I still recommend the same base layers from the list above, but it’s important to switch up the outer layers, hand, and foot coverings:
- Fleece-lined Beanie
- Chemical hand and foot warmers
- Whole body coveralls
- Whole body coveralls for even more extreme temps
- Mittens rated for extreme cold
- Boots rated for extreme cold
- Smartwool neck and face gaiter
You’ll notice that the colder the temperatures you’re likely to experience, the more expensive the gear gets. Some shops or tour agencies will rent out the coveralls, so only make this purchase if you’re confident you’ll use the coveralls over and over again.
Though it’s certainly possible you’ll encounter temperatures below -40, I don’t have personal experience with those and have generally heard that at that point, outdoor exposure should be limited.
Have an amazing adventure in the cold temperatures – it’s one of my favorite times to explore!
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