Winter blues.. they are SO real. Without the proper winter hiking gear, I used to be one of those people who spent most of my winter shut up inside. I get cold really easily, and once I’m cold it takes me forever to warm up again. Just the thought of hiking in 30 degree weather, let alone 0-15 degrees, was unthinkable. But this winter, I decided I was done hiding out in my house, not doing the things that I love, miserable, just because it was cold outside. It’s also been one of our coldest winters on record, which is JUST my luck. Perfect timing.. HAHA!
Our G0-To Winter Hiking Gear
In order to survive, and even enjoy, hiking in the frigid cold, all you really need to do is be prepared. After some trial and error (and research), I came up with a system that works really well, both for the dogs and myself. Here are my suggestions!
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For the Two-Legged Adventurer:
One of the best tips I can give you for keeping warm on a cold hike is layer up! At the start of most winter hikes, you will really feel the cold. But once you start moving, your body temperature will rise and you’ll need less insulation. You want to make sure you don’t get overheated and sweaty. Being able to peel off layers as you acclimate to the temperature is paramount to comfort on the trail.
Layers are great, but what layer with really does matter. Make sure your base layers are NOT cotton, but rather wick moisture away from your body. Sweat is your enemy in the cold and if your clothing holds moisture, you’ll get cold quick. I prefer synthetic base layers (polyester or polyester blend), but some people opt for Merino Wool for extra warmth.
For active outdoor adventures in the cold, you want to be warm but not restricted. I recommend a lightweight, warm outer layer, preferably down or down alternative jacket to keep out the cold and protect you from the elements. I wear a Patagonia Puffy and swear by it!
For the bottom half, I prefer lightweight hiking pants that block out the wind or for really cold hikes, fleece lined hiking pants.
Your base layer keeps you dry and insulated, your outer layer keeps out the elements. Your middle layer(s) are your warmth. You want something warm that isn’t big and bulky and won’t get in your way. For the middle layer, you want either natural fibers (down or wool) or, my preference, fleece.
Natural fibers can be a bit warmer, but they don’t insulate well if they get wet and they take longer to dry than fleece if they do. Fleece is also nice and breathable, which is especially handy for more active outdoor activities. Match the weight of your middle layer to your itinerary. For more active days, opt for thinner layers. If you’ll be sitting around camp or doing something less strenuous, choose a thicker fleece or natural fiber middle layer.
Keeping your hands warm on the trail is really important. Even if you take them off eventually, keeping your hands warm is especially crucial at the start of hikes and when you’re staying still. I usually opt for gloves, but mittens are proven to keep your hands even warmer, as they don’t separate your fingers and therefore your body heat. As with your other layers, choose the type of glove based on your activity: weight, material, waterproofing, etc.
Keep Your Head Warm
They used to say that you lost 40-45% of your body heat through your head. While we now know that this is not true (it’s more like 7-10%), it’s still important to insulate your noggin in the winter. Make sure whatever head covering you choose, be it a hat or headband, covers your ears to protect them from frostbite.
I have a brimmed beanie from Adidas with a fleece lining that covers your ears.. LOVE IT!
Also consider a gaiter or scarf to cover the skin on your neck. The benefit of a gaiter is that you can pull it up to cover most of your face if it’s extra cold and/or windy.
Maybe even more important than the rest of these items is proper footwear. After all, your feet are the one part of your body that touch the outside world the entire time you’re hiking. Make sure that whatever you wear on your feet is adequate to keep your feet warm and DRY. Especially dry! Wet feet + cold temperatures is a recipe for frostbite. I recommend a good pair of waterproof hiking boots and some Smartwool socks for ultimate cold weather comfort.
For the parts of your skin that you can’t cover, make sure your skin is protected. The sun may feel great on your skin, especially when it’s cold, but it also reflects off the snow, so don’t forget your sunscreen!
Protect your lips from the cold and wind with chapstick and use lotion to keep your skin from drying out and cracking from the cold.
To Keep The Dogs Warm:
A Warm Jacket
While some dogs have thick coats that help to insulate them, not all dogs are built for winter conditions. Like us, they need a bit of extra help to be comfortable on the trail, especially for longer adventures. A quality jacket that covers their core muscles will make a big difference. Our favorite is the Extreme Warmer from Hurtta with it’s built in snood and heat reflective lining. Full review to come!
While a good coat is enough for most, certain short haired breeds may need a bit more insulation, as well as some more extreme conditions. For this, we again turn to Hurtta and their Body Warmers. They can be worn as a base layer on colder days or by themselves when it’s a bit less frigid outside.
Developed for dog sledders, paw wax like Musher’s Secret is an important tool for protecting your dog’s pads in winter conditions. It keeps their pads from drying out and provides a breathable barrier from the elements.
For most of our adventures, paw wax is more than enough to protect our dog’s paws. For more extreme conditions and long hikes in the snow and ice, consider also picking up some dog boots.
You may think paw protection is only important for dogs that go on long hikes in crazy conditions, but it’s just as important for city dogs. If you walk your dog on sidewalks or streets where they use salt or chemicals to melt the ice, make sure you either put boots or wax on them. If you go with wax, be sure to wipe their feet down when you get back inside so they don’t lick the salt.
In a super unscientific way, I’ve discovered that wearing a snood helps keep our dogs warmer on adventures. We use them when it’s cold but not cold enough for a jacket, and also when it’s so cold that a jacket doesn’t quite cut it. The Hurtta Extreme warmer has a built-in snood with a bungee, which is PERFECT for keeping out wind and snow, but my friend made a fleece one for our dogs that keeps their necks nice and warm. They’re super easy to make if you have access to a sewing machine. Or if you’re a hot mess with a sewing machine like I am, you can buy an inexpensive snood on Amazon.
I think that pretty much covers it, as far as clothing goes. Here’s some last words of advice to wrap up this post.
Know your limits
Know your dog’s limits
Do not be afraid to turn around if you think you are in over your head
More layers is ALWAYS a good idea.
It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Especially in winter, be aware of your surroundings, research the trail you are heading out on and make sure someone knows where you are, especially if you’re hiking alone.
Have fun and be safe!
Have other suggestions that you’d like to share for cold weather hiking adventures? Leave us a note in the comments.
Thanks for reading,