a hiker on snowshoes in mt rainier natioal park. there's clouds covering the top of the mountain with trees on the ground

16 Must-Have Winter Hiking Gear For Your Next Adventure

The temperatures are dropping. The days are shorter. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay cooped up inside. There’s an entire world out there ready to be explored, even in winter! While many may think winter is not a great time for adventure, I disagree. There are so many incredible destinations to visit.

You might just need some winter hiking gear – and that’s exactly what we’re diving into here.

Your Ultimate Guide to Winter Hiking Gear

A lone hiker stands in the snow at Mt. Baker.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

The Essential Winter Hiking Gear for Your Adventures

1 – MSR Snowshoes

I grew up in Arizona, so I had a negative understanding of snowshoes. Since moving to Washington, I’ve fallen in love with hitting the trails in the snow and seeing some unbelievable destinations.

Why these: I own these MSR Ascent Snowshoes, and let me tell you, the basket feature is a game-changer for putting these on. You only have one strap, and your feet never come out. I’ve tried other variations of snowshoes, and they’re okay.

But these *chefs kiss.* They’re so great for winter hiking gear!

A hiker snowshoes through the snow at Rainier. Winter hiking gear is crucial to enjoy this adventure.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

2- Top Tier Down Jacket

A good quality down jacket can last you years, and it is an investment you should make at one point in your life. It keeps you warm while you’re active and is pretty light, all things considered. One tip I have is to get it with a hood.

Even with a beanie, this will keep you exponentially warmer. (PS: If you’re more budget-conscious, I sorted this by price, lowest to highest.)

3 – Gloves

Everyone needs a good pair of gloves for their winter hiking gear. There are many options to choose from that basically all do the same thing. Aim to have them be warm, water resistant, and have a wrist strap.

4 – Wool baselayers

Wool is the GOAT, even if they do come from sheep. I highly recommend making wool the only clothes you wear during your winter activities. They wick away moisture, keep you warm, and dry fast. Basically, it is the perfect adventure attire.

Most companies will have a number next to the product name. The higher the number, the thicker the wool.

The wind blows the snow and trees at Mt. Rainier. This is why you need great winter hiking gear.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

5 – Fleece

A fleece is going to be your best friend and your warmth layer. This will go between your baselayer (see above) and your down jacket or outer shell.

Think of this as something comfortable yet warm. If you can picture that pullover jacket, then bingo, you’re set. But if you don’t have one, here are some great options to add to your winter hiking gear.

6 – Polarized Sunglasses (or Glacier Sunglasses to protect your eyes)

I invested in some “glacier glasses” (they have a side flap to protect your eyes from light) and loved them. They’re perfect for hiking on the snow, where light reflection is a significant cause of eye issues.

I have the one linked below and love it!

A wintry scene in Washington near Mt. Baker.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

7 – Wool Socks

Socks aren’t snazzy, but they’re ever needed. I always opt for wool hiking socks because they keep my feet dry and warm and help minimize blisters. It’s as easy as that!

In my years of experience, Darn Tough offers the best options.

8 – Outer Shell to Keep you Dry

Think of this as your overall defense. The layers below you keep you warm; this one keeps you dry. So, obviously, you want something that is waterproof and will stay that way.

A few things to consider are armpit vents, length, and if you want a hood (you do).

The gold standard for rain jackets is Arc’teryx. However, those are pretty expensive. (Men’s/Women’s)

Snowshoeing in the winter requires the appropriate winter hiking gear.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

9 – Mid-Sized Day Pack for Clothes and Gear

I assume most of you’ll have a hiking day pack for your adventures. But is it big enough for an extra jacket and gear? If not, this might be the time to upgrade. I would say a 32-40L pack is perfect, especially if you carry photography gear around.

Lastly, make sure your winter hiking gear has a rain cover.

10 – Waterproof Hiking Boots

Let me tell you, you do not want cold feet when you’re out and about in winter conditions. Now, if you’re snowshoeing, you ideally will be above the snow, but I still have found the toe of my shoe gets snow on them.

Thankfully, my LOWA boots kept my feet dry. I strongly recommend ensuring your boots are waterproof before embarking on any trip!

Two hikers brave the cold in Washington.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

11 – Emergency Blanket

This is a small but important addition to any winter hiking gear pack. An emergency blanket doesn’t take up a lot of room but can save your life if things go south.

12 – Garmin InReach Mini 2 Satellite Communications Device

I added the inReach to my gear supply this year as it provides peace of mind (to me and my loved ones) wherever I am.

Yes, it’s a bit pricey at $400, but this is cheap when the alternative is dying or having ridiculously high medical bills because you were lost for a while.

13 – Hiking Pants (plus pullover rain pants)

My favorite hiking pants in the world are Prana. They’re flexible and comfy, allowing me to do whatever I want on the trails. And yes, they’re perfect winter hiking gear. Then, in case it’s raining or snowing (or worse…fingers crossed it’s not that), having some rain pants to pull over is clutch!

14 – Soft Shell Pants (Wind/Water Resistant)

Adding onto the above, having a sweatpants-like material that still protects you from the elements is a great snowshoeing option. Plus, the fleece will keep you warm.

Now, I will be upfront with ya’ll; I’m not exactly sure which option will be best. So do your best research – but these will steer you in the right direction. These waterproof sweatpants could work great, too.

15 – Hiking Poles with Snow baskets

As you’re snowshoeing, having hiking poles with a basket is paramount. I’ve been using my normal ones without baskets for a year, and there have been a dozen times a hike where my pole goes a yard deep into the ground.

It’s not a fun time, so don’t be like me. Get poles with baskets to ace your winter hiking gear test!

Hikers head up the slope in winter.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

16 – Beanie/Headwear

You have to keep the noggin warm! Make sure to have a well-fitting, warm beanie that stays on your head. One that moves around a lot is annoying (from experience! haha).

Winter Camping Gear Suggestions

This won’t be a full winter camping gear list, but here are some tips and suggestions to stay warm and have a good time with your winter hiking gear.

Two tents overlook the beautiful North Cascades. Having the right winter hiking gear can make this an awesome trip.

Extra Insulation

You’ll want a warm sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Aim for an R-value over four and a sleeping bag at least 15 degrees, but a 0-degree bag cannot hurt. I always like to add a ridge rest under my sleeping bag to increase insulation and keep the cold, snowy ground further away.

Unless you’re going to be in really wintry weather with a lot of snow falling, you probably can still use your three-season tent. (But check the weather forecast.)

Four-season tents are stronger to ensure they hold up in heavy snowfall and high winds and are the best winter hiking gear for this scenario.

Keep moving

Keep moving around your campsite to stay warm unless you’re allowed a fire. Simply moving around will be the best thing for your blood and body and make you the happiest!

Two hikers wearing winter hiking gear survey the scene.
A backpacker stands by his tent.

Drink warm Liquids

Having warm liquids will keep you warm and ensure you are hydrated. Making tea with your JetBoil is a great way to change it up.

Do something active right before bed

Right before you get into your sleeping bag, do some jumping jacks, high knees, or something that will warm your body up so that when you get into the sleeping bag, your body’s heat can warm up the cold bag.

A solo hiker snowshoes.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What you need to know about winter adventures

Check the weather

Before you head out on any winter excursion, check the weather. Even the best winter hiking gear stands no chance in front of an all-out blizzard and weather front. Do your due diligence and make sure what you’re going to be recreating in is tolerable.

(Plus, no one enjoys being miserable in bad conditions.)

Understand Layering with your Winter Hiking Gear

Layering is crucial to being warm but also super easy to understand! So here we go!

Base Layer: This layer touches your skin and should be moisture-wicking so your sweat doesn’t just sit on your skin. Wool is terrific as a baselayer – cotton is not.

A female snowshoer stands at the end of the overlook. She has all the right winter hiking gear to be safe.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Middle Layer: This is your fleece jacket, long-sleeve wool, or down jacket level. This helps keep you warm and toasty. This can be multiple levels if needed.

Outer Layer: This is your rain jacket/wind jackets of the world. Its mission is to keep you dry and not let outside elements affect you as strongly as they would otherwise.

Wet is deadly

In the cold, getting wet can be the end. So, do your best to stay dry, and if you do get wet and begin to show signs of hyperthermia, seek help and/or shelter.

Tell someone where you’re going

Whether it’s a hike, an overnight, or just a drive, tell someone who cares about you where you’re going. This will ensure people expect you back and know where to send help.

A peaceful scene in winter at Mt. Rainier.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Become a member

Becoming an REI Co-op member has excellent benefits and something that lasts you a lifetime. It’s only $30, and you’ll more than make it up, considering you get 10% back in dividends for each full-priced item you purchase. (Trust me, it adds up over the year for a nice lump sum in the spring.)

REI Outlet

The REI Out has a TON of great options that are heavily discounted. If you’re just starting, have a low budget, or maybe your kids are growing, and you know they will outgrow it by next year, take a peek at the outlet.

I promise you you’ll find some great steals.

Wrapping up – The Best Winter Hiking Gear

Thanks for reading my winter hiking gear round-up! I hope it provided you with everything you need to head out this winter and connect with nature in a way you possibly haven’t before.

Trust me when I say spending time outside in the winter is beautiful and good for the soul. You’re going to love it!

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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