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Explore the great outdoors this winter with these top-rated boots, pants, mittens, and more.
Cold weather doesn’t have to keep you inside all winter long—instead of staying cooped up, you just need to get creative. The best winter hiking gear allows you to stay on your favorite trails no matter the winter weather that comes your way.
What you wear while hiking during the winter months should focus on keeping you dry and trapping your body’s existing heat, says Kim Kelley, a sales associate who’s recommended gear to hikers at REI in Arcadia, CA for the past 13 years. You don’t need to spend a ton on your gear, but you should make sure you’ll be protected—and that you can adjust your layers as your activity level and the temperature fluctuates.
Before you go hiking this winter, here’s what you’ll need to pack, according to the pros.
Layer, layer, layer. Your outfit should consist of a base layer for moisture-wicking, a middle layer (like a fleece) for warmth, an insulating layer to trap more heat, and a wind- and waterproof shell for protection, Kelley recommends. It’s actually easy to overheat when you’re hiking during the winter, warns Nick Jenei, coordinator of community engagement at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, where he regularly organizes outdoor activities in cold weather, so layers also allow you to control your temperature throughout the day.
Prioritize dryness. A common saying among outdoors enthusiasts is “cotton kills,” Jenei explains, because the material holds moisture, which only makes you feel colder. Instead, the experts recommend opting for inner layers made of wool or synthetics like polyester, which wick sweat and therefore keep you warmer. Your outer layers should have some waterproofing, especially if you’re in a rainy or snowy environment, they say. And Kelley notes that down coats won’t offer much protection if they get wet, while synthetic fills will continue to trap heat.
Block the wind. Bundling up is great, but if your clothes don’t protect against cold, cutting winds, they won’t do you much good. All of your outer layers, from your coat to your pants to your winter hat, should be made from windproof materials, Kelley says, to make sure that you won’t fall victim to wind chill.
Time to get hiking! These are the best options available online, according to our experts and reviewers.
“Moisture against your body is going to make you cold,” Kelley explains, so make sure your base layer is made of a sweat-wicking material. Smartwool’s merino wool is especially great at keeping you dry and warm—and its natural deodorizers also keep you smelling fresh, too. Plus, this midweight option offers enough warmth for most hikes in the United States, and reviewers love its durability and style.
“The really key thing is to think how not to get cold from your sweat,” Jenei says. “Good long underwear can really go a long way.” Another pick from Smartwool, these merino wool bottoms will keep you warm and dry throughout your winter hike, and they aren’t bad-looking, either.
On top of your base layer, you’ll want to add clothes to trap your body’s heat. “Clothes don’t make us warm; they keep us warm,” Jenei explains, so it’s worth investing in garments that are especially great at holding in heat. This affordable fleece is one such example—and it’s earned tens of thousands of glowing reviews on Amazon.
With water-repellent, quick-drying fabric, these hiking pants will help keep you dry on winter hikes, and they’re not as bulky or heat-trapping as snow pants. One reviewer even wore them while hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, a sign that they’ll also survive your next trip to the trail.
Hiking shoes don’t necessarily need to be made specifically for winter, Kelley says; insulating heavier pairs (i.e. ones that aren’t vented or lightweight) with a pair of socks should work well. She’s a big fan of Keen because of the brand’s signature wide toe box, and this top-rated pair is waterproof, meaning your feet will stay dry even on snowy or rainy trails.
“A vest is a really easy, good way to modulate your temperature,” Jenei says. “It can come off when you need, it can go on when you need, and it’s pretty lightweight and easy to pack.” Although plenty of great puffer vests are also available, Patagonia’s Better Sweater vest, which can fit under other layers and features recycled fabrics, is a favorite among online reviewers. “It’s warm but very lightweight,” one says.
Although these hiking boots aren’t exactly ideal for summer, they’re insulated enough to enjoy from fall through spring—and they’re completely waterproof. Better yet, they come in both standard and wide widths, ensuring you won’t have to squeeze your feet (or your bunions) into a too-small boot. “They really are sturdy enough for winter,” one reviewer writes, and they don’t require much breaking in.
This exact pair is a “super-heavy, really warm sock” that’ll ensure your feet don’t freeze on frigid hikes, Kelley explains. Made with a blend of merino wool, nylon, and elastane, they’re moisture-wicking, stretchy, and cushioned for optimal comfort and warmth.
These are “the base layer equivalent” for socks, Kelley says—just like inner layers for your legs or torso, this anti-blister, sweat-wicking pair will keep your feet toasty and dry inside wool socks. They might feel odd at first, but reviewers absolutely love them: “No more blisters on my toes!” raves one reviewer, who wears these under Smartwool socks.
Because the experts stress wind- and waterproofing so much, it’s important to find a coat that can withstand the elements. With a water-resistant coating and finishes that seal out arctic gusts, Patagonia’s premier coat is ideal for winter hiking. Plus, reviewers absolutely love it: “It’s light enough that I wear it on hikes, and yet super warm!” one writes. “Size is perfect to be able to wear a baggy sweater underneath.”
Wind- and waterproofing are the most important features for winter mittens, Kelley explains, more so than insulation. And yes, you should be wearing mittens, Jenei says, because they allow your fingers to touch, keeping them warmer. These ones from Carhartt are beloved by reviewers, and they look pretty slick, too.
Kelley recommends wearing glove liners under your mittens, since you’ll inevitably have to use your fingers at some point during your hike and don’t want to expose them to the elements. Another important feature, she says, is touchscreen-friendly fingertips, and these affordable, top-rated liners fit the bill perfectly.
Sometimes, the simplest option is the best. Columbia’s fleece hat seals out wind with a double-layer earband, keeping you from losing too much heat from the top of your head—a feature Kelley strongly recommends. Reviewers love that it’s both warm and lightweight, plus small enough to fold up into a pocket when you step inside.
If you’re planning on wearing a gaiter, you might as well invest in a balaclava, Jenei says. This one won’t replace your face mask if you happen to go inside a public space, but it will keep you protected from the elements with its wind-resistant and UV-protective material. One reviewer, who climbed Mount Shasta with it, reports that “it did not fail me, and I’m glad I didn’t spend a lot more on a name brand.”
Trekking poles with metal tips to dig into ice are “super-helpful” if you’re planning on encountering ice, Kelley explains. This ergonomic pair is sturdy and adjustable, ensuring that beginners and experts alike will be able to put them to good use. Need an extra push? Just read the reviews.
Don’t force yourself to squint through your sunny hike; bring these polarized, anti-slip sunglasses instead. Sure, you could buy more expensive pairs, but we like that these aren’t too much of an investment—if you break or lose them, it’s not the end of the world. “These stay in place and don’t hurt my nose or ears,” a reviewer notes.
Most people don’t need spikes for winter hiking, Kelley explains, but if you happen to live in an icy area or want to take on a more challenging trail, adding cleats to your boots can make all the difference. “Don’t waste your time or money on any other type of traction system,” one reviewer recommends. “You can walk on ice, snow, rocks, and water and they don’t break.”