Winter Hiking Clothes & Cold Weather Layering Basics

Learn our top winter hiking tips to keep you toasty and safe on cold and snowy trails, including advice on layering, snacks, staying hydrated & more.


Being prepared for frigid and wet weather conditions is critical when exploring the outdoors in the winter. Staying warm and dry while hiking in the winter is important not only for your comfort but also to keep you safe from more serious issues like hypothermia.

In this new blog post, we talk about winter hiking clothes and the cold weather layering basics for your winter adventures.

For our other top winter hiking tips, head to this blog post.

Winter Layering Basics

The key to winter hiking clothing is wearing layers that will keep you both warm AND dry – and that means from the elements as well as your sweat. You’ve probably heard that it’s better to shed layers than to not have enough? That’s especially true when winter hiking. It’s always a good idea to throw in your daypack more than you think you’ll need. Once you have a few winter hikes under your belt, you’ll see how much heat your body generates, and then you can adjust your cold-weather hiking clothes accordingly.
For winter layering, you’ll want a next-to-skin base layer, a mid-weight insulating layer, a fleece or puffy, and a weatherproof shell. On the bottom, you’ll want a next-to-skin base layer, as well as an outer layer. In the sections below we discuss the details of each layer and include recommendations for each item.

Winter Hiking Next-To-Skin Base Layer

You next-to-skin cold weather base layer is all about regulating your body temperature, while also wicking sweat. You sweat when you’re active, and in winter months it’s extra important that this perspiration is removed from your skin so you stay dry, rather than damp and cold. Base layers should be made of synthetic fabric or merino wool that wick moisture and dry quickly. Avoid anything cotton (t-shirts, cotton sweatshirts) because cotton stays damp and heavy and loses its insulating properties when it’s wet.
The thickness of your next-to-skin baselayer depends on how cold it is outside and is also based on personal preference.  I tend to sweat a lot, so I prefer a lighter synthetic layer next to my skin, and then I wear a mid-weight layer over it.  If you know you usually run cold, then you might start with a mid-weight base layer, like the SmartWool midweight layer recommended below.

Winter Hiking Base Layers for Women


Winter Hiking Base Layers for Men

Winter Hiking Insulating Layer

The middle layer is critical for maintaining body heat by trapping air close to your body and providing insulation. Generally, a warm insulating layer will be made of wool, down, or fleece. Keep in mind that down isn’t warm if it gets wet. If you live in a wet or humid climate, you should opt for a synthetic alternative to down, like the Patagonia Nano-Puff listed below.

Recommended Insulating Layer for Women

Recommended Insulating Layer for Men

Interested in winter hiking? Learn what clothes to wear for cold weather hiking and how to layer appropriately for snow and chilly temps.

Winter Hiking Outer Layer

If it’s sleeting, snowing, raining, or windy, you’ll want to add an outer shell to your winter hiking clothes. This will protect you from the elements and keep your other layers dry.  Look for an outer layer that is water-resistant but still breathable. You don’t want a super heavy ski jacket for instance. You’re either looking a simple waterproof shell, or an outer layer with a light layer of insulation (like there is in the Patagonia Nano-Storm Jacket I’m wearing in the picture below). If you choose a shell with light insulation, you might not need one of the previously mentioned layers. Make sure to take into account the layers you’ll be wearing underneath when figuring out what size you need. It’s important to note that high-quality outer layers can be very pricey, but keep in mind that these waterproof layers can double as ski jackets or cold weather rain coats, and they should last you for years. For those of you on a budget, I’ve included a great value REI-Brand shell as well.

Winter Hiking Shell for Women

Winter Hiking Shell for Men

Interested in winter hiking? Learn what clothes to wear for cold weather hiking and how to layer appropriately for snow and chilly temps.

Winter Hiking Pants Shell

You’ll want to layer a second pair of pants on top of your next-to-skin base layer, and what outer layer pants you wear depends on whether or not it’s raining or snowing. If it’s dry out, you can get away with a warm pair of leggings. If it’s wet, you’ll want something waterproof.

Recommended Pants for Women

Recommended Pants for Men

Interested in winter hiking? Learn what clothes to wear for cold weather hiking and how to layer appropriately for snow and chilly temps.

Winter Hiking Accessories

Durable hats, gloves, shoes, and socks are just as important as the rest of your cold-weather layers for keeping you comfortable. A hat is especially important because you lose a significant amount of heat through the top of your head. We’ve shared our favorites here as well as other necessities for winter hiking like a buff and sunglasses. A buff is always a good idea for keeping the wind, cold air, and sun from hitting your neck and face directly. Sunlight reflects off the snow so it’s smart to protect your eyes with good sunglasses when hiking in the winter. 

Interested in winter hiking? Learn what clothes to wear for cold weather hiking and how to layer appropriately for snow and chilly temps.

Get our top 10 tips for winter hiking.

Hope this blog post helps you plan and prepare for an awesome winter hiking adventure! Got questions? Leave them below in the comments.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Any purchases you make help to support this blog at no added cost to you. I only recommend products that I stand behind, and if you ever have any questions about any of the products featured on my site, please email me. Thanks! Kristen

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

10 comments on “Winter Hiking Clothes & Cold Weather Layering Basics

  1. I would suggest that you take a look at a brand new base layer fabric “CARFIBEX” being crowdfunded at the moment by Iron Ocean, it looks like it could potentially set the standard for all base layers to come.

  2. Great article! There is a best collection of clothes which will help to enjoy cold weather hiking. I like this article so much. Thanks and keep sharing.

    1. Hi Christie! We don’t at the moment but it’s something we’ll keep in mind for future content. Thanks for reading 🙂

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