cold weather hiking gear guide

Suppose you want the Cold Weather Hiking Gear Guide, then this article is what you need. It contains winter hiking for beginners and winter hiking gadgets. Also, it includes cute winter hiking outfits.

If you are planning to hike in the winter, having a reliable and warm mid-layer winter hiking jacket is very important, along with a great layering system! There are so many down and synthetic winter jackets for hiking on the market, so it can be overwhelming trying to decide which will work for you. This guide is going to review everything you need to know to find the perfect winter jacket for hiking, including the best winter hiking jackets on the market. 

winter hiking for beginners

Cold Weather Hiking Gear Guide

Hiking Essentials What to Wear by Rebecca Hosely for Hike it Baby

IMPORTANT FACTORS WHEN CHOOSING HIKING CLOTHING

While looking good on the trail is a bonus, there are factors to consider before you buy that adorable (yet not so functional) jacket or shirt for the trail:

1. Your safety: Clothing safety will depend largely on the environment you’re hiking in, along with the possible weather conditions. For example, if you’re hiking in an area with a Lyme disease outbreak, it may be best to be cautious and wear long pants and long sleeves that are treated with insect repellent, even in the summer months. In addition, if you’ll be hiking in rain, a windproof rain jacket is important since wind and rain tend to go hand-in-hand.

2. Your comfort level: There is a reason the term “cotton is rotten” exists in the hiking world. Sweating is our body’s way of regulating our temperature during exercise. Cotton retains water and keeps the sweat in toward your body, which can keep you hot in warm temperatures and chill in cold temperatures. Instead, wicking materials that move sweat away from the body, such as merino wool, polyester and nylon, can keep you much more comfortable throughout your hike.

In addition to material, the fit of the clothing is important. When I started hiking, I made the mistake of trying to look good on a hike and selecting clothing that was more fitted and tight. Unfortunately, that also meant that I had a more limited range of motion, making hiking in these clothes a rather miserable experience. Choosing a roomier fit provides more flexibility and comfort while hiking. Let’s face it, nobody looks good on a hike when they are uncomfortable and miserable!

3. Clothing versatility: Quality gear can come with a hefty price tag, so keep in mind clothing that can be used for multiple purposes. Two articles of clothing that come to mind are a) lightweight hiking shirts with long sleeves that can be rolled up and secured, and b) convertible pants with pant legs that zip off into shorts.

THE BASICS

1. Underwear: It’s taken me years of hiking to realize that the layer closest to your body can make a HUGE difference! Cotton just doesn’t cut it on our most sensitive assets! Better materials include polyester, nylon and merino wool, which move moisture away from the body, helping to prevent chafing and uncomfortable wetness. Check out this article that discusses five great sports bra choices for the active woman.

2. Shirts: This layer sums up in one word: wicking. Whether it’s a base layer on a cold winter hike, a short-sleeved shirt on a spring hike, or a long-sleeved UPF-protecting shirt in the summer, it needs to wick away sweat to keep you comfortable and dry. Merino wool and synthetic materials are the best choices for this layer.

3. Pants/bottoms: Whether you prefer pants, shorts, skirts, dresses, etc., freedom of movement and quick-drying materials are key here. Environmental hazards (such as ticks, poison ivy, sharp rocks) play a large role in the most practical length and thickness that bottoms should be. For example, a trail that requires some rock scrambling could tear up a thin pair of yoga pants, while a hike through tall grass may require long pants to prevent unwanted travelers from attaching to your legs.

4. Jackets: The type of jacket depends largely on the season and weather you’re hiking in. A good rule of thumb is to choose a jacket that is packable (in case you need to remove it along the way), waterproof and windproof. This ensures that the jacket is usable in any weather condition that may spring up on you during your hike.

5. Socks: Not to sound like a broken record here, but stay away from cotton socks! Since cotton absorbs sweat, your feet can stay wet for the whole hike. This can lead to painful blisters and make your hike miserable (not to mention put you out of commission from hiking if those blisters get infected!).

6. Shoes: The shoes you wear while hiking relies mainly on three factors:

  • Personal preference: What do you find most comfortable? I tend to stick with my clunky hiking boots most of the year due to the added ankle support and traction. (My family sarcastically nicknamed me “Grace” at a young age due to my klutziness … I could trip over air!) However, I have friends who will wear hiking sandals all year until the snow makes it hugely impractical.
  • Weather conditions: A snowshoe or rainy hike would require some waterproof, durable footwear, whereas you could probably get away with sneakers or hiking sandals for a short summer hike.
  • Trail terrain: If you are hiking on a pretty flat trail, a pair of comfortable sneakers may be all you need. However, once you start increasing in elevation and the terrain turns rocky, a sturdy pair of hiking boots with ankle protection may be a better choice.

7. Hats: Every season calls for a hat! It keeps your head warm in winter, the sun off your face and neck in summer, and your head dry in rain. Hats are as essential as hiking shoes! We recommend the company Sunday Afternoons, which carries hats for every season that are durable and practical while also being fashionable. (Have you seen the gorgeous designs on their trucker hats?!)

Hiking Essentials What to Wear by Rebecca Hosely for Hike it Baby

Photo by Jessica Human.

BY THE SEASON

Now that we have the basic clothing considerations out of the way, let’s get more specific regarding clothing needs by season. These needs will change depending on where you live and what part of the season you’re in (i.e., early fall vs. late fall). Here are some general tips for choosing the most appropriate outerwear by season.

1. Spring and fall: These seasons are together because layering needs are similar in these more moderate and variable seasons. For footwear, many outdoor experts recommend hiking boots vs. sneakers or hiking sandals due to the possible temperature fluctuations and muddy trail conditions from snowmelt and rain. The boots add traction and support, with an added bonus of keeping your feet dry if they are waterproof. In addition, a packable waterproof and windproof jacket will help keep you comfortable in these wet and unpredictable seasons.

Moving inward, a long-sleeved hiking shirt makes a great mid-layer depending on how chilly it is during the hike. Follow with a short- or long-sleeved wicking base layer. A zip-up fleece jacket is a good addition if the temperatures are chilly. I prefer convertible pants on a chilly spring/fall morning hike so I can easily zip off the pant legs when things heat up. Last but not least, a hat to keep the sun out of your eyes or the rain from drenching your head!

2. Summer: Personally, I love summer hiking and the flexibility it gives for clothing choices! It usually doesn’t require the constant addition or removal of layers, and it makes a combo hike and swim possible. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind of environmental hazards (e.g., ticks, poisonous plants, snakes, etc.) and terrain when choosing summer hiking clothes. Hiking sandals and sneakers are appropriate for most terrain, though longer treks may still require hiking boots. Breathable wicking materials (no cotton) are key for shirts, bottoms and hiking socks to keep the sweat off your skin. Lighter colors absorb less heat and can keep you cooler on hot days. And, unwanted hitchhikers tend to prefer darker colors. A wide-brimmed hat can keep the sun off your face and neck!

3. Winter: Hiking in winter is a whole different animal, but it’s worth the extra effort to enjoy the beauty of nature in winter! The key here is layers: a base layer with insulating properties such as wool or budget-friendly synthetic materials; an insulating, removable middle layer; and a waterproof/windproof outer layer. Hiking boots, warm wicking socks, a wool or synthetic beanie hat and warm gloves are also key to a comfortable winter hike. For more detailed tips for winter outerwear, check out these articles on adult winter gear  and what to wear when hiking in the rain and winter.

cute winter hiking outfits

Hiking Essentials What to Wear by Rebecca Hosely for Hike it Baby

The Best Winter Hiking Jackets

Patagonia Down Sweater

patagonia down sweater- best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

The Patagonia Down Sweater is a down winter jacket for hiking that has been used and trusted for years. I’m sure you have seen many people wearing the Patagonia Down Sweater while hiking, climbing, or just around the town because it is a go-to jacket for many people. Although it is on the pricier side, it is well worth the money for the quality of the jacket.

The Patagonia Down Sweater is the perfect women’s winter hiking jacket because it is warm with 800-fill down, lightweight at 12.2 ounces, and windproof. One of the things I love the most about the Patagonia Down Sweater is the down is ethically sourced, which means it is sourced from places that don’t live pluck or force-feed. The other thing that I love about the Patagonia Down Sweater is it packs down into its pocket! It is one of the best winter hiking jackets on the market.

Pros:

  • Warm with 800-fill down
  • Lightweight
  • Packs down into a pocket
  • Durable
  • Water repellent finish

Cons:

  • Can find lighter & warmer options for the same price

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Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody

arc’teryx atom lt hoody - best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

Arc’teryx is a well-known and trusted brand known for its incredible quality and long-lasting gear. And the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is no different and is one of the most popular synthetic winter jackets for hiking for a reason. It has a high-quality shell that is breathable and warm, making it one of the best winter hiking jackets. It is also very lightweight at 11.3 ounces and packs down well. The Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody is expensive compared to other women’s winter hiking jackets on the list, but the high quality is worth the money.

Pros:

  • Warm with 60g synthetic insulation
  • Lightweight
  • Packs down well
  • Durable
  • Water repellent finish

Cons:

  • Can be short on some women

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Rab Valiance Down Jacket

Rab Valiance Down Jacket - best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

I bet you haven’t heard of Rab before. Rab is a great company that makes great quality gear, like the Rab Valiance Down Jacket. It may not be as well-known as Patagonia and Arc’teryx, but it is up to par with its quality.

The Rab Valiance Down Jacket is a warm and waterproof winter hiking jacket that is perfect for all hikers. It is durable, packs down into a small stuff sack, and is very warm with 800-fill down, which is ethically sourced. One of the downsides to the Rab Valiance Down Jacket is the weight. It is 1 pound and 5.8 ounces, so it is not the most lightweight option on the list. The Rab Valiance Down Jacket is on the pricier side, but it is one of the few waterproof winter jackets for hiking on this list, which makes it worth the money.

Pros

  • Very warm with 800-fill down
  • Waterproof
  • Packs down into stuff sack
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Bulky

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Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket - best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

The Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket is another classic women’s winter hiking jacket that is very popular. It is warm with 60g synthetic fibers, lightweight at 10 ounces, and durable. It also packs down into its pocket, so it can be stored easily when it’s not being worn. Two things stand out with the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket. The first is that it is made of the most thermally efficient synthetic insulation on the market, PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco. The second is it is more breathable than the Patagonia Down Sweater, making it one of the best winter hiking jackets.

Pros:

  • Warm with 60g synthetic insulation
  • Lightweight
  • Packs down into a pocket
  • Water-repellent finish

Cons:

  • Not as durable as other jackets

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Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2

Mountain Hardweater Ghost Whisperer 2 - best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is a classic ultralight winter jacket for hiking that continues to be a fan favorite for those who want to pack ultralight. It is warm with 800-fill down, packs down very well, and is lightweight at 7.8 ounces. One of the best things many love about the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is the fact it uses completely recycled fabric and responsibly sourced down. It is a pricier winter jacket for hiking, but because it is lightweight and warm, it is worth the price.

Pros:

  • Warm with 800-fill down
  • Lightweight
  • Packs down well
  • Water repellent finish

Cons:

  • Not as warm as durable as other jackets

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REI Co-op Stormhenge 850 Down Jacket

REI Co-op Stormhenge 850 Down Jacket - best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

I was very pleasantly surprised about how well the REI Co-op Stormhenge 850 Down Jacket performs for the price. It is very warm with 850-fill down, waterproof, and breathable. It is one of the few winter jackets for hiking I have seen that have pit zips that allow airflow and breathability. And the best part? It is only around $250! But the REI Co-op Stormhenge 50 Down Jacket does not pack down well and is not as lightweight as the other women’s winter hiking jackets on this list. It is 1 pound and 6 ounces, but for the quality, waterproof shell, and warmth that comes with this jacket for the price, it is one of the best winter hiking jackets if you don’t mind the extra weight.

Pros:

  • Very warm with 850-fill down
  • Waterproof
  • Durable
  • Pit zips

Cons:

  • Heavier than other jackets
  • Does not pack down well

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Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie

arc’teryx cerium lt down hoodie - best winter hiking jackets - women’s winter hiking jackets

The Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie is another great winter jacket for hiking from Arc’teryx. It is very warm with 850-fill down, packs down into a stuff sack, and is lightweight at 9.9 ounces. The Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie also has synthetic insulation in areas that are prone to moisture, including the shoulders, armpits, and cuffs, which helps manage sweat. The only downside is it is not as durable as the other women’s winter hiking jackets on this list. But if you are in an area that is not super rugged, the Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie will be one of the best winter hiking jackets!

Pros:

  • Warm with 850-fill down
  • Lightweight
  • Packs down into stuff sack
  • Water repellent finish

Cons:

  • Not as durable as other jackets

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What to Consider When Looking for the Best Winter Hiking Jackets

Down vs. Synthetic

Choosing between down and synthetic insulation will be one of the first decisions you make when searching for the best winter hiking jacket. Down insulation will provide the most warmth with the least weight and is very packable. The downside to down is it does not like getting wet, but there is water-resistant down that is made to handle some dampness. Synthetic insulation is a great and cheaper alternative to down insulation and performs better when damp. The downside to synthetic is it is not as packable and durable as down. Overall, both are incredible insulators and have great options for the best winter hiking jackets.

Water Resistance

Most winter jackets for hiking come with a form of DWR, which is durable water repellent finish if they are not completely waterproof. DWR does not make a winter hiking jacket waterproof, but it does provide water-resistance to light rain or snow. If you plan on hiking in very wet weather, I highly recommend finding a winter jacket for hiking that is waterproof or buying a waterproof outer shell jacket. If you purchase a winter hiking jacket with DWR, it is important to clean the jacket properly to keep the jacket’s performance high.

Weight and Compressibility

When buying a winter hiking jacket, it is important to consider weight and compressibility. Unless you are hiking in the alpine or very cold temperatures, you most likely will not be wearing your jacket on the entire hike as you work up a sweat, so having a jacket that won’t add a lot of weight to your pack and can easily pack down is important. Down jackets tend to be more lightweight and packable than synthetic jackets, but with new technology, synthetic is becoming more lightweight and packable. Many winter hiking jackets come with a stuff sack they can pack into or can pack down into a pocket on the jacket, which are fantastic options when packing your jacket in your backpack.

Features

When buying a winter hiking jacket, it is important to consider what features you want on the jacket. Here are a few features to consider:

  • Hood: Many of the winter hiking jackets in this list can come with or without a hood. If you won’t be hiking in conditions where you need an outer shell jacket, then having a hood would be nice to have. But at the end of the day, it is all personal preference. Many hikers choose not to have a hood to save weight.
  • Vents: Although not many winter hiking jackets come with vents, the ones that do are more breathable. Vents are commonly found in jackets that have a waterproof shell, which alone does not provide much breathability.
  • Zipper: I know this may sound silly to consider because most winter jackets for hiking have zippers, but others don’t have a full zipper. All of the winter hiking jackets on this list have a full zipper, but there are jackets on the market that have a quarter zipper or no zipper at all. Most hikers prefer a full zipper jacket because of accessibility, and it is easier to take on and off.
  • Adjustments: There are many adjustments winter jackets can have, with the most common being drawcords and hood adjusters. Drawcords are typically at the bottom of the jacket along the waist and are great to block cold air. Hood adjusters are used for adjusting the hood to fit tighter on your head to block wind and rain.

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