Winter Hiking Gear
- A good layering system can be the difference between enjoying a hike and being miserable or perhaps even hypothermic.
- Cotton is not your friend – reference my rant under my backpacking clothing section.
- Pants – Wind and rain resistant pants are a good idea, with a base layer either on or in your pack (I like silk tights)
- Top – My base layer is usually a lightweight long sleeve merino wool shirt (the one I use as part of my sleep system when backpacking), next layer could either be a wind shirt or a polar fleece, with the other possibly in my pack.
- Jacket – I always have my nano puff jacket either on or with me, and most likely I”ll also have my rain/wind shell
- Hat, Neck Gaiter, Gloves – In my bag of tricks I always have a micro fleece or merino wool hat, head band, and neck gaiter. I have several pairs of gloves depending on conditions, with a preference toward merino wool.
- Boots/Shoes – depends on location and weather, but during the winter, they are always Gortex.
- Water – when the weather is cooler, you aren’t as aware of your thirst. It is easy to become dehydrated, especially when snowshoeing or when spending lots of time hiking up and up and up. Bring more than you think you’ll need. Be aware and drink often. I use the 15-minute rule.
- Lunch/Snacks – you burn a lot more calories when it’s cold so you need to prepare accordingly. Additionally snow hiking takes much longer than normal, so it’s easy to have an unexpected trip length.
- YakTrax and Micro Spikes – great for use on slick snow or in icy conditions
- Gaiters – much better than having wet pants when I find myself in snowy conditions
- Snow Pants – I have shell pants that I’ll throw in my bag to wear over my hiking pants when conditions warrant it
- Poles/Baskets – I keep the baskets in my gear bag for those times my hike becomes more of a snow walk
- Foam or Inflatable Insulated Sit Pad – Maybe a luxury but it sure is nice to sit on something warm and dry when it’s cold and wet outside.
- Hand/foot warmers – wind, wet and elevation can make for some COLD conditions
- Thick waterproof mittens – I usually layer over my gloves when I take a break or sometimes on downhill sections
- Extra pair of socks – in case feet get cold
- Plastic bags – for sock covers in case feet start getting cold or wet
- Stove – usually a luxury item on my winter hikes, except for snowshoeing when I love a hot cup of soup or cocoa fresh made on the trail
- Dry Bag – to keep safe all your clothing, etc.
- First Aid Kit
- Extra Food/Drink – throw in an extra snack or two, or some dry soup and a bottle of water, better to be prepared.
- Fire Starter – conditions can change quickly in the mountains, and it is best to be prepared. A lighter and fire starter weight next to nothing and take up very little room in your bag.
- Emergency Blanket
- Personal Locators Beacon (PLB) or Satellite Messenger – especially important if you are hiking solo
- Headlight/Flashlight – it gets dark early in the winter!
- Rain Poncho – for those times I don’t bring my rain shell
- Sunscreen/Lipbalm – especially important in snow conditions
- Maps/Compass/GPS – especially important in snow conditions when the trail can be hidden and it is much easier to hike off trail; furthermore, the consequences of being lost can be life threatening during the winter!
To the above list, I’ll add:
- Avalanche Gear – in the backcountry, you need not only the training and skills, but also the tools including a transceiver, probe and shovel.
- Goggles – if inclement weather is a possibility
- Snow Pants – I prefer shells with merino wool or silk tights as my base layer. Since I overheat easily with exertion, I also like to have leg zipper to regulate my temperture easily.
- Insulated Boots – I have a pair of Keen boots that I really like for snowshoeing
- Snowshoes – If you plan to explore, side hill, hike steep up and down sections, I strongly recommend snowshoes made for backcountry adventure such as the MSR Ascent. MSR provides this nice snowshoe selector guide based on terrain and hiking styles.
- For newbies, I recommend renting initially and taking time to learn the difference between types of shoes and how they work on the terrain you will be visiting.
- For those in the Redding area, Hermit’s Hut usually offers a two for one special on New Years Day, so if you’re looking to buy, find a friend to share in the 50% discount.
- The Winter Hiker – an excellent resource for additional tips on gear, preparedness and techniques
- Snow Safety Courses – I can’t say enough good things about what Ned does to help keep hikers and backpackers safe in snow conditions. Through Mountain Education, he offers hands-on training on avalanche safety, hypothermia, snow condition travel, etc. His contribution to the PCT community is truly a gift. I’m looking forward to taking one of his classes next year.
- Wilderness First Aid – If you, a hiking partner, or someone you meet on trail is in need of first aid, you’ll want to help. Nothing is worse that feeling helpless. The First Responder class is highly recommended, but it is an 80-hour class, time most don’t have available. There are other options available with NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) being the most recommended resource including Wilderness Basic First Aid, Advanced First Aid, and EMT courses. I plan on taking one of these classes also.