The most important ingredient for Winter Hiking is to wear layers that will keep you both warm AND dry. That means from the elements as well as your sweat. The KEY to a successful Winter backpacking hike is to be able to regulate your body temperature. Not too hot, not too cold. Rarely will it be perfect, but the goal is “comfortable”.
There are 3 principals to the layering system.
- Base Layer
- Mid Layer
- Outer Layer
Your base layer is all about regulating your body temperature, while also wicking sweat. You sweat when you’re backpacking, and in winter months it’s extra important that this perspiration is removed from your skin so you stay dry, rather than damp and cold. By the way, this is the layer that will stink the most because it takes the brunt of your sweat. Base layers should be made of synthetic fabric or Merino Wool that wick moisture and can dry fast. Cotton Tshirts or the absolute worst choice to wear during Winter. It absorbs sweat and does NOT dry fast. Usually it’s a benefit to wear a long sleeve thin base layer. Remember your body is a natural furnace. Get to know your body and how hot or cold you are when you exercise outdoors in the Winter.
- Smartwool Merino Sport 250 Long Sleeve 1/4 Zip – Men’s
- Smartwool Merino 250 BL Pattern 1/4 Zip – Women’s
The mid layer is critical for maintaining body heat by trapping air close to your body and providing insulation. Generally, a warm insulating layer will be made of wool, down, or fleece. Keep in mind that down isn’t warm if it gets wet. If you live in a wet or humid climate, you should opt for a synthetic alternative to down. It’s important to remember that this is the layer that most likely will be worn all day and night. Again, the key is to stay DRY! A good example of a Mid Layer would be Arc’teryx Covert Cardigan.
The Outer Layer is usually the Layer that you put on when you STOP hiking. You get to camp and start setting up. You are now DONE sweating and excising. You start getting chilly. Put on your Outer Layer. Outer Layer can be a lightweight Down (or synthetic) Puffy Jacket. Make sure to take into account the layers you’ll be wearing underneath when figuring out what size you need. It’s important to note that high-quality outer layers can be very pricey. A good puffy jacket that can compress is a good choice here. A good lightweight example is the Arc’teryx Goose Down Jackets
The 4th Layer: WHAT? You said there are only 3 Layers. Kind of. There is a 4th Layer which we recognize as the layer that can be multi-purposed. That is the Hard Shell, or Rain Jacket. This 4th Layer is of course essential and is ALWAYS carried with you no matter what the season. We include in our Winter Layering System because cold wind can cut right through you and nothing can protect you like a Hard Shell Rain Jacket that is acting like a Wind Breaker. It also helps with that cold rain or wet snow that can occur in Winter. So yes, there are actually 4 layers that can be utilized in Winter. A few good examples of a lightweight Rain Jacket that can be used as a Hard Shell would be:
- Rab Men’s Kinetic Plus Jacket (Women Also)
- REI Co-op Women’s Drypoint GTX Jacket
- Marmot Men’s Minimalist Jacket
Other accessories can help keep your Winter Backpacking a fun one. A good beanie and some good wool gloves. Long underwear to put on right before you crawl into your sleeping bag. REMEMBER, the key when you get in your bag is be DRY. Waterproof compression bags are probably a good idea to put your extra dry clothes in.
- The North Face Wool Racking Stitch Beanie
- Fox River Wool Glomitts
- Patagonia Men’s Capilene Thermal Weight Long-Underwear Bottoms
- REI Co-op Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms
Hope this post helps you plan and prepare for some winter hiking and backpacking adventure! Got questions? Leave them below in the comments.
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