How to Layer for Winter Hikes

woman hiking in the snow
woman hiking in the snow

Getting outdoors in the winter months is a must! Everything turns into a winter wonderland, is quiet, and gives you a new way to experience some of your favorite places. If you have not already tried snow hiking or snowshoeing, I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a very inexpensive way to get outside and hike!


You can also try cross country skiing or skiing or snowboarding at resorts! If you don’t believe me, here is my blog post with why you should try skiing or snowboarding this winter.


One of the keys to getting outdoors during the winter months safely and comfortably is all about what you wear. It’s important in the summer months too, but in the winter months especially because you want to make sure you stay warm but dry and prevent hypothermia and frostbite.


In this blog, I’m going to break down the different layers, what additional clothing accessories you should consider, and different clothing recommendations!


Layer 1: The Base Layer

The base layer is the most important layer when dressing for winter hikes and adventures. The principle is similar as with summer hikes, keep cool/warm and dry.


The goal of this layer is to wick moisture away from your skin as you sweat, but at the same time regulate your body temperature. You don’t want to be cold or too hot. You need to keep yourself dry in the winter months because it prevents hypothermia.


You have several fabric options including synthetics like polyester and nylon, or natural fibers like merino wool and silk. My personal favorite to wear merino wool. You also have several weight options. The main idea with the weight, is the thicker the fabric, the warmer it will keep you. The Icebreaker200 Oasis Crew Top and Icebreaker200 Oasis Leggings are a great lightweight option for a base layer. And the SmartwoolMerino 250 Base Layer Crew Top and SmartwoolMerino 250 Base Layer Bottoms make a great midweight base layer.


For the base layer, you’ll want to wear a long sleeve shirt and leggings. As the name suggests, these go under your other layers! You can choose to wear snow pants, hiking pants, or leggings over the base layer.


Layer 2: The Insulation

Next is the insulation layer! This layer is designed to insulate you from the cold!


With the top half of your body, that’s going to look like wearing a fleece and a warm puffy jacket. Or you can also opt in to wearing a snow jacket. Either one works, the key here is to be warm.

On your lower half, you’re going to wear snow pants, or wear hiking pants or legging over your base layer. If you’re planning on sitting in the snow, sledding, snowboarding, or anything that involves you basically rolling around in snow, I highly recommend opting in for snow pants. You’re going to want to keep your butt and legs dry! Like these Burton snow pants and this Burton snow jacket.


Depending on the conditions, I will either wear a snow jacket and pants, or I will wear leggings over my base layer and a fleece and a puffy. I like this lightweight fleece and this midweight fleece, and this Patagonia Down Sweater is my favorite puffy.


If I’m snowboarding, mountaineering, it’s very cold, or if it’s snowing, I’m going to wear my snow pants and jacket. This way I’m waterproof and insulated.

woman in the snow

If the temperatures are more mild and I’m snowshoeing or snow hiking and I will not be rolling around in the snow, I will wear leggings over my base layer and wear a fleece with a puffy jacket.


This gives you a picture of how I layer and insulate depending on the conditions, this also gets us to the next layer, the shell!


Layer 3: The Shell

The job of the shell layer is to shield you from the wind, rain, and snow. It keeps all of your layers dry! Because remember, you want to stay dry in the winter months to prevent hypothermia!


If you’re wearing snow pants and a snow jacket, they already should be a shell combined with insulation, so you’re set here. If not, then you’re going to want to bring something like rain pants and a rain jacket with you. I recommend this Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket and the Torrentshell Rain Pants.


When choosing your shell, there are usually two choices, water-resistant and waterproof. Get the waterproof. Yes it will be more expensive, but if you invest in quality gear, it will last you a while. Plus if it starts raining, you’re not going to get soaked! And you can also use this layer in the summer months! I’ve had it rain on me in every season, so I quickly learned you always want to be prepared.


Additional Clothing Accessories

Now that we’ve covered the main basics, let’s go over additional clothing items you should be wearing on winter hikes!



Always, always, always wear sunglasses or snow goggles in the snow! Snow blindness is real! The sun’s rays reflect off of the snow and can sunburn your eyes and even temporarily blind you.


Different sunglasses and goggle manufacturers design different lenses to be worn in different conditions so you can still see! Whether the skies are clear or it’s overcast! So when shopping around for eye wear, keep this in mind.


On the note of eye protect, make sure to also wear sunscreen!


Insulated Winter Hiking Boots

Now let’s chat about shoes. This is a very important one so pay close attention!


I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people hiking in the snow in running shoes or tennis shoes. Please do not be this person. You might be nodding your head right now, but actually take note here so you don’t end up this person!


You want to wear waterproof and insulated boots when hanging out in the snow. Weather you’re playing on the side of the road or heading on a hike into the mountains, always wear insulated and waterproof hiking boots. I wear the Salomon X Ultra Winter Insulated hiking boots. And here is the men’s version of this boot.


Footwear is so important. Not only will you be far more comfortable, but then you don’t risk frostbite! Do you really want to lose your toes because you didn’t listen?


Wool Socks

On the subject of footwear, you also want to wear wool socks. Wool (as mentioned above) is a great base layer. It regulates your body temperature and is moisture wicking! Two things that are essential in keeping your feet comfortable, preventing frost bite and even preventing blisters! I wear the Injinji Outdoor Midweight NuWool toe socks on all of my hiking adventures, in the summer and the winter!


Microspikes or Snowshoes

When hiking in the snow, you’re going to want something that gives you traction with the ground! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people slipping and sliding or pot holing (when you step into deep snow, sink and create a hole). Those are also usually the same people who aren’t wearing correct footwear. Please don’t be this person.


Microspikes are spikes that go over the bottom of your shoe. They grip the snow and ice so you don’t slip and slide! These Kahtoola Microspikes are the ones I wear.


Snowshoes are much wider and help you basically float over the snow so you don’t sink in when it’s deep. These are the MSR Evo snowshoes I wear, also here is my guide to snowshoeing.


I wear microspikes when the snow is more compacted like on a well traveled trail. While I wear snowshoes after fresh snow, during powder conditions, and when going on terrain that might not be packed down.



Wear good gloves when playing in the snow. If conditions are warmer, you can wear fleece ones if you don’t plan on really playing around in the snow and just hiking, like these gloves. If you plan on doing something that will involve you touching snow or conditions are colder, I suggest wearing snow gloves that are waterproof and insulated, like these gloves. You want to keep your hands dry and warm! The last thing you want is frostbite!



Another thing to think about is adding gaiters to your winter hiking wardrobe. Gaiters go over your boots to prevent snow from getting into your shoes through the top. They keep your feet dry and comfortable! Like these Outdoor Research Gaiters.



I’ll keep this one short and sweet! Wear a beanie and keep your head and ears warm!


Neck Gaiter

If it’s cold out, wear a buff to keep your face warm. There are some that just go around your neck and you pull them up and over your face. And there are some that go over your whole head. Like this SmartWool neck gaiter.

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