What to Wear When Hiking in Cold Weather

You might think that hiking in winter means bundling up like you’re going on an expedition into the arctic tundra, but this isn’t true at all! If you know what to wear when hiking in cold weather, you’ll stay dry and warm even on the coldest days.

Yes! By wearing the right clothes for hiking in cold weather, you can stay comfortable while enjoying the outdoors all day long! This article will show how to dress for an enjoyable hike through snow-covered trails during cold weather.

2 people behind a wall of ice with light shining through while winter hiking
Brad and I winter hiking at Starved Rock State Park

We’ve put together a list of key clothing items to make sure that your next hike goes off without a hitch. This guide shows you how to layering clothes correctly to keep your body temperature regulated, so you don’t overheat or freeze during your time out.

Also included are some helpful links to our favorite brands of clothing that we use on our hikes throughout all four seasons. These links may be affiliate links which means we may earn a small commission if you purchase.

The number one rule of winter hiking: Stay dry!

The most important thing you can do to stay warm is avoiding getting wet. Wet clothing causes heat loss from your body because water absorbs heat faster than air.

You may not notice the extra heat loss when you are actively hiking because your exercising body creates more heat than you are losing. It’s like a balancing game, and often it’s only when you stop moving that the scales tip and your wet clothes start conducting heat away from your body faster than you can make it.

That’s when you start to feel cold, and the risk of hypothermia soars. Best case, you get chilled; worst case, the cooling rate quickly becomes unsustainable and depletes your core temperature within minutes. That’s how fast hypothermia can hit you. So when planning what to wear hiking, staying dry goes well beyond just keeping warm and comfortable. It’s about keeping safe too.

There are two ways that your clothes get wet. The first is obvious: your clothes get soaked by the rain and melting snow. The second is from the inside of your clothes as they absorb the sweat you create. Fear not! We have solutions for both, and that’s why it’s important to know what to wear when hiking in cold weather.

Layer Your Winter Hiking Clothes

There are many benefits to layering your winter hiking clothes. Layering your clothes allows you to remove layers as your body temperature rises. Layering reduces the risk of building up a moist sweaty layer against your skin, resulting in a wet base layer.

Conversely, you can add layers as temperatures drop or reduce your activity level. Those additional layers help trap air warmed by your body heat to keep you cozy when hiking in winter.

Finally, if it’s cold and windy, an outer layer that is wind and water-resistant will keep the cold from penetrating to your inner layers, so you stay dry and warm.

How to layer clothes for cold weather hiking

The most fundamental characteristic of your winter hiking outfit is the layering system. It might seem overwhelming at first glance as it is a lot of clothes to consider. But because it is a system, it’s pretty easy to put together the perfect wardrobe for winter hiking. There are 3 parts to your layering system for winter hiking clothes:

  • Next to your skin, your base layer is your first insulating layer. It must breathe freely, or the entire system will fail. Fabric against your skin that doesn’t breathe will stop water vapor (your sweat) from passing through, causing the material to saturate.
  • Your middle layer is your thermal layer. It consists of light, insulating clothes that trap heat. You can wear the thermal layer over top of your base layer but under your outer shell.
  • Your outer layer is a waterproof and windproof exterior shell to keep outside moisture out and protect against wind, snow and rain.

Key features of your layers

The key for cold weather hiking clothes is wearing layers that are easy to remove and add as needed during your hike. If adjusting your wardrobe requires a lot of effort, you are likely to procrastinate and get cold or damp in the process.

For hiking in winter, look for clothing with easy ventilation using zippers, front flaps, wrist zippers, collar zips, and ventilation strips so you can adapt to changes in your body temperature.

Last, look for lightweight clothing articles. Forget those heavy winter coats of your childhood. By using several thin layers that trap in warm air, you can get the same insulation value while enjoying greater comfort in movement—no need to be the little brother in A Christmas Story who can barely move through the snow.

As we look at each clothing type below, we’ll talk in more detail about what fabrics work best for that layer. The fabric type is an essential piece of the layering system for cold weather hiking. Because each layer performs a different function, each layer requires a different fabric type.

What to Wear Hiking in Cold Weather to Keep Your Core Warm

It may seem obvious, but it’s essential to keep your core (your upper body) warm in cold weather. When your core is warm, it allows blood to flow more freely to your extremities.

When your core temperature drops, your body’s natural response is to stop sending blood to your extremities and divert it to essential organs like your heart and brain. As a result, the smartest way to keep your hands and feet warm when hiking in winter is to keep your upper body warm from the very start of your hiking day.

Base layer

Your base layer is any piece of clothing that touches your skin. It is what your grandma called long underwear. Except, today’s base layers are so much better at keeping you warm and dry than in your grandma’s day. Your base layer applies to your shirt and pants and to your underwear, sports bra, socks, gloves, and hats (which we will explore later in this post).

The Best Base Layer Fabrics

The best fabrics for your base layer efficiently wick away moisture from your skin and then dry quickly. That’s what everyone means when they talk about fabric breathing. This combination helps your clothing stay dry and prevents moisture from cooling your body.

  • My favorite fabric for a hiking base layer is merino wool because it excels in these areas, plus it is super soft on your skin. Merino wool is easy to care for and lasts for years.
  • Bamboo is another comfortable natural fabric that breathes well.
  • You’ll also find quite a few modern synthetic materials that have been developed specifically for their wicking ability and breathability. (Brad swears by his Under Armour ColdGear, a proprietary weave of polyester and elastane).

Cotton generally does not make a good base layer for winter hiking clothes. It checks the box on wicking away sweat as it is highly absorbent but ultimately fails the quick-drying test. So your favorite cotton t-shirt will grab all that moisture from your perspiration and hold it tight against your skin which means you will chill quickly when it’s cold.

That said, you will find a handful of clothing where, through unique processes and designs, cotton has been blended with synthetics to achieve acceptable wicking and breathability factors. Just make sure you read all the details before you wear cotton.

Underwear and Bras

The last thing you want is that skanky wet feeling around your most private body parts on a cold day. Anytime you are hiking, not just in cold weather, you will sweat more in those areas because you are so active. It’s important to make sure the sports bra and underwear you choose for your most intimate base layer are moisture-wicking and breathable.

Now’s the time to invest in a couple of pairs of wicking synthetic or merino wool panties and a good sports bra, and you’ll instantly feel more comfortable on the trail. You’ll find some pretty amazing hiking underwear for women and fantastic women’s bras for hiking especially designed to keep you dry and comfortable when this active.

Guys will benefit from choosing moisture-wicking and quick-drying hiking underwear for men to keep them cool and comfortable when the temperatures start to drop.

Black base layer shirt as an example of what to wear next to skin when winter hikingBlack base layer bottoms as example of cold weather layeringBase Layer Tops and Bottoms

Most importantly, you want your base layers to fit like your skin. If you wear base layers too loose, you have dead air spots that are not warmed by your body. A loose fit also causes rubbing between the base and mid-layers. If it is too tight, you will constrict your muscles, quickly becoming uncomfortable.

When selecting what to wear hiking in cold weather, look for details in your base layer like gusseting in the crotch and memory stretch in the fabric. We cover the features in our detailed article: Best Merino Wool Base Layer for Women.

Also, think about the ease of layering on top of your base layer. Features like cuffs, thumb loops and longer sleeves make it easier to pull on your next layer without the base layer bunching.

There are 3 warmth categories to base layers; lightweight, midweight and heavyweight. As you can easily surmise, the weight refers to the weight of the fabric yarn. However, these labels also represent warmth level.

Your gut might be to immediately start with a heavyweight baselayer when planning what to wear when hiking in cold weather. That is the wrong move. Remember you have several more layers to help capture your body heat. Those layers can easily be opened or removed if you get too warm.

However, your base layer stays on for the duration of your hike. Unless you are hiking in extreme conditions, it’s better to use a thin layer underneath and let your mid-layer do the rest of the insulation work.

The Insulating Mid Layer

Your insulating layer is the clothing that goes on top of your base layer. This mid-layer is the source of the bulk of your insulation.  This is the layer of your cold-weather hiking clothes that you will be reaching for when it’s cold outside, and you need more insulation to keep your body warm.

There are two types of insulation for mid-layers: synthetic and down.

  • Down is made from the plumage of ducks or geese. It is lightweight, compressible and has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. It’s easy to smoosh into a small ball and pack in your bag. However, when it gets wet, down loses its ability to insulate.
  • Synthetic insulation is man-made and does not have the limitations of down clothing when wet. Synthetic insulation factor has changed quite a bit over the years with developments in materials like fleece and polyester, along with these fibers becoming ever more sophisticated.

As you’re planning for what to wear when hiking in cold weather, synthetics are often preferred over down for your mid-layer insulation because it will give you better performance when wet.

To keep super warm on winter hikes, using 2 mid-layers on top will give you more flexibility in adjusting your body temperature. In this case, a fleece jacket, a down vest or a puffy down jacket worn over a synthetic warm insulating layer can be the ticket to trapping air close to your body.

Your outer waterproof shell will protect the down, making it unlikely to get wet. And if an accident happens that get’s the down wet, you can remove it and still maintain some insulation.


The mid-layer of your winter hiking clothes will have various features depending on the type of top you select. A good hood is a welcome feature by many hikers, especially if you’re planning to be out in bad weather.

Handwarmer pockets are also a plus, and chest pockets can act as an internal stash spot for gloves or a map. A cinch cord at the hem and waist drawcord will help you adjust your mid-layer to fit around the base layer clothing while keeping warmth in and cold out.

Winter hikers often use 2 pieces of clothing for their mid layer if the temperatures are frigid. The first is a lightweight and breathable shirt worn over your base layer. Then another layer of a jacket or vest. Remember, keeping your core warm is critical for a safe and comfortable day of winter hiking, and extra layers add more ways to trap heat.

Not everyone chooses to use both, usually depending upon the weather conditions, and these 2 clothing items can be worn as standalone pieces or in combination with each other.

The purpose of the first shirt is to continue to move moisture away from your body. This shirt often does double duty as a year-round summer hiking shirt because it breathes easily and dries quickly.

The insulating winter hiking layer for your top is a jacket or vest that will capture a lot of warming air pockets. We often wear a fleece jacket for its versatility.

Vests are popular as part of winter hiking clothes because they give you additional warmth without the added bulk of a full jacket, so they’re easy to wear under your shell. And vests don’t have hoods, allowing your hat to fit more easily over it.

Mid Layer Bottoms

Your pants or trousers should also be part of your waterproof and breathable system for what to wear hiking in cold weather. What you select for mid-layer bottoms depends on your outer layer.

If you prefer to wear well-insulated pants, like snow pants or ski pants, with multiple layers already built-in, lightweight hiking pants or women’s leggings with a high moisture wicking factor are perfect.

If, when hiking in winter, you prefer your outer shell layer to be lightweight, then you need to select winter hiking pants with an insulating layer to keep warm.

Avoid wearing jeans as a mid-layer as jeans don’t dry easily. There’s nothing worse than a wet pair of jeans rubbing and chaffing on a hike!

Look for mid-layer hiking pants that have a good degree of stretch to them, so you can move easily when hiking. When it comes to what to wear when hiking in cold weather, you don’t want your pants too tight or loose. If they’re too tight, you’ll run the risk of overheating. If they’re too loose, the wind will cut right through them, leaving you shivering.

Outer Layer

The top layer is often called an outer shell. The purpose of the shell layer is to keep heat in and cold wind, snow or rain out. If you think about it in those terms selecting the best outer layer for hiking in cold weather becomes pretty simple.

A red winter jacket as example of type of jacket to wear when hiking in cold weatherGreen Ski pants as example of outer layer for hiking in winter

Your outer layer is a waterproof jacket, pants or both. The exterior fabric should be waterproof and wind-resistant. Look for synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon because natural fabrics, such as cotton and wool, will absorb water and will not keep you warm when wet.

Most hiking jackets and pants are coated with a DWR (durable water-resistant) finish to increase their water resistance. You can refresh or apply this treatment on your own if you want to improve the waterproofing on your outer layer for wet and icy conditions.

It may seem like a contradiction, but your outer shell should also breathe to allow moisture to escape. Otherwise, it would be like a sauna under your jacket. Just imagine wrapping yourself in plastic garbage bags. Yuk. While many outer layers accomplish this by creating zones for breathing, such as pit zips and mesh panels, the best quality jackets and pants are made of water-resistant and breathable fabrics.

How much insulation you want in your waterproof shell layer depends upon two things: The weather conditions and how much insulation you use in your other layers.

Avoid wearing jeans to hike in winter, they don’t insulate well and if jeans get wet they take forever to dry out.

Your Outer Jacket

In addition to wind and water resistance, for winter hiking, look for an insulated jacket that has room underneath for your other layers so you can comfortably move.

For the best fit, also consider where your backpack will ride, so you don’t find your jacket riding up your back all day. A coat that sits around the hips works best. That length also keeps wind from blowing under your jacket.

The choice of a hood is personal. Most people wear a separate hat when hiking for a tight fit on their heads. However, snugging your jacket hood around your face can stop a cold wind if it’s icy. If you prefer a snow jacket without a hood, then look for one that zips up around your neck to keep that cold air from swirling down your chest.

Some people use a rain jacket as their outer layer when hiking in winter as a low-cost solution, depending on their other layers to keep them warm.

An outer layer that can pack compactly is a bug plus when hiking. On a day of packed snow and sunshine, you can get warm fast and will want to strip off a few extra layers. It’s great to be able to roll that jacket up into a tight ball to tuck into your backpack.

Your Outer Shell Bottoms

The requirements for your shell pants are the same as the jacket. Your pants should be worn comfortably without restricting your winter hike movements.

You want your outer hiking pants to be quick to take off over your boots, ideally using a long zipper that lets you put them on and off without removing your boots. You can find ski and snow pants styles using a gusseted crotch and articulated knees in the design to improve your range of movement.

For warmer weather in the winter, you’ll often find rain pants are adequate because you will get plenty of insulation from your base and mid layers. But in freezing temperatures, you’ll want hiking pants with a layer of insulation to keep you toasty warm.

Keeping Your Extremities Warm

Because your body’s instinct when cold is to protect your core, it’s critical when deciding what to wear hiking in cold weather that you do your part to keep your head, hands and feet warm. I’ve always felt that if I can keep my toes and fingers warm, I can handle any weather!

Your Hands

Your hands will get colder faster than other parts of your body because they have limited insulation. It’s easier to start warm than it is to try to warm up your hands once they get chilled, which means you should layer your winter hiking gloves just like your core when winter hiking.

Your Inner Gloves (glove liners)

These should be lightweight and fit inside of your gloves or mittens snugly. The best liner gloves work just like your base layer. Look for glove liners made of breathable and moisture-wicking synthetics or a natural fabric like silk or merino wool.

Glove liners that fit snuggly and stretch easily with your hand movements will be the most comfortable. You’ll also want them to be long enough to cover your wrists. Features like cell phone compatible fingers are a big plus, so you never have to bare your hands in the cold.

Gloves and Mittens

The never-ending argument of Gloves vs. Mittens for hiking in cold weather! Mittens are significantly warmer as they create a larger pocket of warm air around your fingertips. However, mittens also have less dexterity. It is much easier to hold on to your hiking poles and pick up your hiking gear with gloves.

Red Winter gloves with insulation for winter hiking

Most important is that your gloves or mittens are waterproof. Those adorable knit mittens won’t do you any good when they get soaked with snow.

Look for gloves and mittens with thermal layers to keep your hands warm. I particularly like ones with a zippered pocket for hand warmers since I naturally tend towards colder hands. As I said… start with warm hands!

Your Feet

It takes more than just a good pair of waterproof hiking boots to make it through cold weather hiking. Let’s get real here… if the clothing layers on your body are doing their job, you have a nice little furnace going. That heat tries to escape through your extremities, and your well-insulated feet sweat a lot when hiking in winter.

You need to do everything possible to avoid wet feet because wet feet equals cold feet. And just as bad, the skin of wet feet is softer and more tender, so wet socks rub your feet, leaving nasty blisters.

Winter Hiking Socks

Winter hiking socks are the key to warm and comfortable feet for winter. There are many different types of winter hiking socks, but the most important thing is to make sure you buy ones that will keep your feet warm and dry.

The best socks for hiking are made of merino wool blended with nylon or another tough synthetic fabric. Merino wool takes care of wicking away moisture, and quick-drying and provides a great insulation layer.

Unfortunately, wool is not strong enough for the workout your feet give your socks. Blending merino wool with stretchy and strong synthetic results in a magnificent winter hiking sock that keeps your toes warm and your feet dry.

Don’t even try other socks unless you are allergic to merino wool. And note, most people who are allergic to wool discover merino wool safe because of the longer fibers in the material. Most important, avoid cotton socks if you don’t want blisters, as cotton will absorb every bit of sweat and stay damp for your whole hike.

Always carry an extra pair of hiking socks in your backpack. They weigh practically nothing, and it feels incredible to put dry thicker socks on your cold toes after hiking in the deep snow!

Should you wear Sock Liners too?

Many hikers love the double sock system, especially if they will be doing a lot of strenuous hiking like hiking uphill or long backcountry adventures. The purpose of the thin sock liner is solely to wick away moisture from your feet. Then your wool hiking socks can do the heavy work of insulating and breathing so that moisture dries quickly.

You probably don’t need to use a sock liner for light day hikes unless you have unusually sweaty feet. Your hiking socks will be able to do the job on their own.

Brown boots hiking in the snow

Shoes and Boots

Let’s look at the factors you should consider to select the best winter boots for your needs and budget. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of winter hiking boots is to keep your feet dry, warm and provide traction when hiking.

There are three categories of winter hiking boots: light, medium, and heavy-duty work boots.
  • Light boots for casual walks on dry terrain or packed snow-covered surfaces; typically, these boots have lower ankle support and less insulation than other types of footwear.
  • Medium-duty hiking boots are most commonly used for hiking as they have more ankle support and a moderate level of insulation that works well to keep you warm when you are on the move.
  • Heavy-duty work boots aren’t the best for hiking as they usually weigh over 5 pounds, making for a real workout on the trail. However, you may want to consider these well insulated boots in extremely cold conditions.

Of course, you should also consider the insulation value of your boots to help keep your feet warm when hiking in winter. Most insulated boots for hiking in winter have thin to moderate layers of synthetic insulation, like 3M’s Thinsulate or another proprietary product, between the boot’s exterior and the lining.

Summer hiking boots and hiking shoes fall into the same category as lightweight boots. You’ll find little insulation. However, if the trail is compacted and the winter temperatures moderate, you can comfortably hike in these lighter boots as long as you have warming socks. Not everyone has a budget for 2 different hiking boots when first starting.

Waterproofing is critical in winter hiking boots. Most hiking boots have a rubberized exterior around your foot with uppers of seam-sealed leather or a synthetic breathable waterproof material. The uppers allow your feet to breathe while still keeping water out. If leather, take a moment before you head out to apply a leather conditioner to keep the boots waterproof.

You’ll find boots with a 6-10 inch height most comfortable for hiking. Taller boots can inhibit your movement on the trails.


The best insulated, waterproof boots will do you no good if the snow comes in over the top of your boots. It only takes one step into a drift, and your boots are filled with snow that quickly melts and soaks your socks.

Hiker in snow with boots and gray gaiters

That’s where gaiters come in! A gaiter is a waterproof sleeve that is worn over the top of your shoe or boot and your leg to keep snow away. The primary purpose is to keep snow from filling the top of your boots.

But gaiters also work well to keep your pant legs dry and snow from working its way up under your pants and soaking your other winter hiking layer.

Traction Devices

Traction devices like Yaktrax and Microspikes are fantastic to help you keep your balance when the trail gets icy, or you have to cross a frozen creek on your winter hike. These simple pieces of hiking gear stretch over the sole of your boot and provide extra traction by adding spikes and chains to your foot—a bit like snow tire chains for your feet.

The best part of these traction devices is they are easy to take on and off and are very lightweight. So you can just tuck this basic piece of hiking gear in your backpack until they are needed.

Woman putting traction device over boots in the snow


According to Snowshoe Magazine, “You get three major advantages from a snowshoe that you do not get from a boot or shoe alone: Floatation, traction and stability.”

Snowshoes are used when the snow is deep to help you walk on top of the snow instead of sinking into the snow with each step (called snow plowing or post-holing). Many hikers never own a pair of snowshoes, but they miss out on an opportunity to travel trails that you might not be able to traverse in just a pair of snow boots.

Your Head is your Chimney

Think about your head covering as part of a thermostat that can open and close an opening from which heat can escape. When you have a hat on, you are holding in the heat. When you get too warm, you can remove your hat to let the heat escape.

To fine-tune this heat management system, you can use various head coverings either alone or in combination. Let’s take a look at all the options!


The most popular hat style for hiking is the beanie because it is an incredibly efficient design for holding in warmth. A beanie fits snuggly on your head, so it doesn’t blow off easily in high winds. It should be long enough to keep your ears warm.

It is also easy to layer another hat over your beanie, such as pulling up the hood of your jacket or covering it with a rain poncho when weather conditions change on the hiking trail.

Merino wool or synthetic beanies combine breathability with moisture-wicking properties. If you work up a sweat on your hike, avoid the old-fashioned knit beanies that just absorb moisture but do not dry quickly. They will get gross quickly and cause your head to chill rather than hold heat.

For extreme weather conditions or if you are not active on your hike, for example, you plan to sit and ice fish, consider a trapper style hat or a balaclava. A trapper-style hat has an extra warm lining and ear flaps that tie down in the cold.

A balaclava covers your whole head and usually most of your face to protect you from cold winds. Today’s balaclavas are made from moisture-wicking and breathable fabrics that are also water and wind-resistant.

For more information Check out our Complete Guide to Selecting Winter Hiking Hats.

Headbands and Ear Muffs

I usually wear a fleece headband on a sunny winter day instead of a beanie. Hiking in the sun and climbing uphill works up a lot of body heat, and I’m happy to let it escape through the top of my head. But… I want my ears to stay warm. Some hikers prefer the comfort of a pair of behind-the-neck ear muffs.

Either way, it’s a good idea to have a lightweight beanie tucked into your backpack in case the weather changes, and you want to stop heat from escaping through your head.

Neck Gaiter, Buff Scarf

Forget those 6-foot-long scarfs you wore as a child to protect your neck and face. With those long scarfs, you end up with 1 foot of valuable material and 5 feet of bulk, which you don’t need when active.

Instead, add a neck gaiter or a buff scarf to your hiking gear. They are perfect for keeping the wind off your neck and face. They can stop the warmth from escaping from your core up your neck. You can even pull it over your mouth to help cut the wind.

Don’t forget sunscreen and snow glasses

Even on a cloudy day, UV rays still get through, and snow reflects the light at you. Snow reflection in the sunlight can also cause burns or skin irritation. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin to prevent damage or sunburn, especially on your face, which is the most common place to get a sunburn in winter.

Goggles or sunglasses are critical hiking gear when the sun is bright. They will protect your eyes from UV rays as well as shade your vision from the snow glare. You’ll also love the protection from the wind they provide for your eyes.


In addition to layering clothing and staying hydrated when hiking in winter, there is another option for keeping warm while hiking in winter: disposable or rechargeable hands, feet and core warmers. These little packages heat up in cold weather and will keep you warm for hours.

Most warmers last 8 to 12 hours and fit easily into gloves, pockets or tuck into your boots to keep you toasty.

The downside of warmers is the environmental impact. With disposable warmers, you are creating more trash. With rechargeable ones, you are using hard to dispose of batteries.

But let’s get real, no matter how well you plan what to wear when hiking in cold weather, you will make an occasional wardrobe mistake or misjudge the weather. And when that happens, a warming packet might be the difference between life and death.


What to wear when hiking in cold weather?

Wear layers on your torso that will insulate you against the cold air and wind while retaining your body heat. Layers should wick away sweat, so you don’t get wet from hiking. Protect your extremities like your hands and feet, also using layers and topping off with water-resistant gloves and boots.

When is the best time of year for winter hikes?

The best time of year for winter hikes is typically in January and February when the temperatures are colder, but the days are still short. The ground is usually well frozen then, so you aren’t sloshing through mud and water. Winter is a great time to enjoy the outdoors without worrying about the extreme heat of summer.

Do you need Rain Gear in Winter?

When the temperatures are hovering around freezing, it’s smart to pack a rain poncho in with your hiking gear. Heavy rain will soak through almost all water-resistant winter clothes making you miserable on the trail. It’s easy to throw a lightweight ran poncho over your pack and clothes and stay dry.

How do you stay warm on a hike during the winter?

There are a few things you can do to stay warm on a hike during the winter. First, dress in layers of water-resistant or windproof clothing. It’s essential to keep your core warm, so wear a hat and gloves, and make sure your boots are waterproof.

You’ll also want to drink plenty of fluids and eat a hearty meal before hiking in winter. And finally, don’t forget to take along a thermos of hot coffee or tea to keep you warm on the trail!

Should I wear wool socks while hiking on icy trails?

When hiking on icy trails, it is best to wear wool socks. Wool socks are a great option because they help keep your feet warm and are also water-resistant.

Wardrobe Tips for Beginning Winter Hikers

This article may make layering feel a little overwhelming and incredibly expensive for a new cold-weather hiker. There are a lot of clothes mentioned here! If you are on a limited budget, you can get away with using a lot of things you already have in your closet to create warm layers if you are thoughtful in your selection.

  • Look for items that create warming layers and fit over each other.
  • Avoid cotton, especially against your skin.
  • If you don’t have the perfect jacket for your outer layer, consider the intent of keeping melting snow and wind from penetrating your layers. I’ve often worn a lined windbreaker, which is wind and water-resistant, in moderately cold temps, making it work by adding an extra insulation layer (a fleece) underneath. I wouldn’t do that at 10 below… but on a 25-degree sunny day when we were on the move, I was cozy.

As a newbie to winter hiking, if you had a limited budget, I’d splurge on three things: a good pair of boots because dry feet are critical to keeping warm, a pair of thick wool socks and some merino wool long underwear. Get creative with your closet for the rest of your layers.

Then you can add quality winter clothing items to your wardrobe over time because you will become addicted to winter hiking!

Wrapping up your Cold Weather Hiking Clothes

As you can see, it’s all about the layering system you use when planning what to wear when winter hiking. It might seem like a lot, but it’s quite simple. In general, think about layering in sets of 3.

  • The first layer is to wick away moisture from your skin, so you don’t get chilled by the dampness.
  • The middle layer is to insulate and trap your body heat.
  • The third layer is to keep out wind and water.

Winter hiking will take you into a wonderland that you can only experience in cold weather. Don’t be afraid to step on the trail and give it a try. With a simple layering wardrobe plan, you can keep warm and toasty and embrace the beauty winter brings.


  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!