Winter hiking is awesome - especially since not enough people do it! To be alone in the stillness of a snow-blanketed valley is an incredible experience, as long as you've got the right gear. How do you stay warm and comfortable when the temperatures are low? We've got the ultimate winter layering guide below:
The Base Layer
Your base layer is crucial. If you're going to be doing any sort of activity, you're going to sweat, no matter how cold it is. The most important piece of advice we can give you here is DO NOT WEAR COTTON! Merino wool or a synthetic material like polyester are best, since they wick moisture away from your skin and dry quickly. Cotton, on the other hand, just stays wet and cold.
Personally, I like to wear lightweight merino wool long underwear with a synthetic or merino wool t-shirt over the top for a little added warmth.
The Mid Layer(s)
The mid layer is all about retaining body heat. A nice synthetic fleece pullover is always a solid choice, since it does a great job of insulating even when wet, and like merino or polyester, it dries out quickly. Try to find something lightweight to give yourself the option of adding another layer without overheating.
More likely than not, three layers will be all you need, but for extreme cold or when you get to your campsite, you may need a second mid layer. Here, I like a lightweight, synthetic down pullover or hoody. Stay away from natural down, since it won't retain its insulating properties if it gets wet.
The Outer Layer
Your outer layer needs to be 3 things: windproof, waterproof, and breathable. It should also be lightweight. Don't bring your big, heavy winter coat to stay warm. Instead, find a shell made from a material like Gore-Tex or alternatives like eVent and Sympatex. Jackets that have waterproof zippers and vents underneath the armpits are a plus!
You're also going to want a pair of pants that meet these same criteria. As much as we love denim, an unexpected rain, hail, or snow storm is going to be pretty miserable in a pair of jeans.
Stay warm out there and stay tuned for our next post on winter shoes and accessories!