The winter season doesn’t mean you need to stop hiking altogether. While temperatures may drop, trails can get slick, and rapidly changing weather can alter plans, there are still plenty of trails you can explore in the snow. Winter hiking demands more preparation and gear, but with the right clothing and mindset, you can enjoy your favorite trails all year long!
Whether you’re a beginner hiker looking for the perfect winter wonderland without the crowds, or a seasoned hiker who doesn’t mind the cold, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of all the essentials to pack for a winter day hike.
- Base layer top – a short or long-sleeve synthetic, moisture-wicking shirt. You should always avoid cotton when hiking, but especially in the wintertime, as cotton dries slowly and can give you a chill, or even hypothermia, during cold winter months.
- Mid layer fleece – a heavier zip-up or pullover fleece, preferably with a hood.
- Outer layer jacket – a down or synthetic puffer jacket that can still be layered, but will be your primary insulation.
- Hard shell jacket – a windproof and waterproof shell that will protect you from the elements. This should be loose-fitting and large enough that it can fit all the layers beneath it.
- Base-layer bottom – leggings or long underwear that is synthetic and moisture-wicking.
- Mid layer – soft-shell hiking pants or leggings made from a synthetic material.
- Shell – windproof and waterproof hardshell pants that can fit over your other layers, preferably with zippered sides to make it easier when taking on and off over hiking boots, microspikes, or crampons.
- Hat – a warm, insulated beanie or hat that is fleece or wool.
- Neck gaiter – also called a buff, goes around your neck and helps cover your ears, neck, and face from the cold.
- Liner gloves – thin base layer gloves made from synthetic material, can be used on their own or underneath other gloves or mittens.
- Heavier mittens or gloves – a warmer, heavier pair of gloves that you can wear over your liners for colder weather or snow.
- Socks – wool or synthetic material. Always bring an extra pair in the winter, in case they get wet – you’ll thank us later!
- Hiking or snow boots – footwear will be dependent on your terrain, conditions, and trail. Some hiking boots can be worn year-round, while others may need winter-specific snowboots or even mountaineering boots depending on the conditions.
- Gaiters – tall waterproof fabric that is worn over your boots to prevent snow and water from getting inside the shoe, best used for deep snow or mountaineering.
- Snowshoes – depending on the trail conditions, snowshoes may be helpful on a winter hike. These flotation devices help you walk on top of deep, powdery snow, and distribute a hiker’s weight across the wide platform to prevent post-holing. Ideal for flat or low-angle terrain. Good Trip offers daily snowshoe tours of Yellowstone National Park in the winter!
- Microspikes – think of these are tire chains, but for humans! Small spikes that you can pull over your footwear to enhance your traction on slippery, icy trails. Best for packed-down snow or ice on flat or low-angle terrain. We also offer free microspike and snowshoe rentals on any of our winter tours that may need extra snow traction.
- Polarized sunglasses – protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. In the winter, the sun reflects off snow and ice, and can give you snow blindness if you aren’t wearing sun protection.
- Sunscreen – contrary to popular belief, sunscreen is crucial in the winter. Again, protect your skin from harmful UV rays bouncing off the snow.
- Lip balm – prevent chapped and cracked lips.
- Backpack – A daypack ranging from 15-25L is typically enough space to fit all of your winter gear and layers. Ensure you have enough space though, as all of those jackets and layers can really add up.
- Trekking poles – help with stability in the snow or on icy slopes.
- Headlamp – the days are shorter, and you don’t want to find yourself stuck in the dark. Always bring a headlamp, even if you aren’t expecting to stay out past dusk.
- Map/Compass – not only should you bring one, but know how to use it. You can also use a GPS tracking device like a Garmin to make sure you’re always on trail.
- First Aid Kit – a major 10 Essentials piece. Make sure your kit is fully stocked with bandages, medication, etc.
- Emergency blanket or bivy – be prepared to spend the night outdoors in case of emergency. Shelters or emergency blankets can oftentimes be lifesaving in unforseen situations.
- Lighter – for emergency situations.
- Hand warmers – the best for warming up quickly! They can also be used as foot warmers.
- Dry clothes – You don’t always have to pack these, but keeping additional clothes in the car is the best treat after a long day of hiking.
- Food + water – when hiking in the cold, your body requires more calories than usual to stay warm while moving. Make sure to pack enough snacks and water, and treat yourself with a hot drink (like hot cocoa) to warm up quickly!
Winter Hiking Overview
While the list mentioned above certainly covers the majority of what should be stored in your pack for a winter hike, this may not be a comprehensive list for everyone.
If you do take a winter tour with us, our expert team of guides will provide you with any additional information and a personal packing list, and will supply all of the safety and emergency gear, so that you can focus on having a good trip!