This post is from Rebecca, a world traveller and hiker from the US. More about Rebecca below.*
Hiking trips are very different depending on the season, so it’s no wonder you need specific equipment in the winter. It’s more difficult to navigate through the snow, with harsh winds and cold temperatures in addition to the danger of slippery ground. That’s why you need to be prepared with the best gear for winter hikes.
Insulating and waterproof layers
It’s never more important than during winter to make sure you wear an insulating third layer. The best winter coats for extreme cold will keep you protected from the outside temperatures, but will also add resistance to the elements. That means you need to be looking for waterproof and windproof jackets, so you can stay warm and dry. Even if it sounds counterintuitive with the windproof feature, the best such jackets are also breathable, so the air will pass from the inside out, but not the other way around. That allows you to stay comfortable, minimizing sweat. Check the hood too, this should be comfortable and fit so it doesn’t fall off.
Of course, you’ll need the other layers to be well designed so they can actually help your jacket protect you. In other words, you need a first layer that’s breathable and wicking, maybe merino wool or polyester. The second layer should also provide some insulation and have a high degree of breathability.
Don’t forget to check the zippers, pockets, and hood. The zippers should be waterproof too, they should be easy to open and sustain many uses without damaging. Get bigger zippers, they’re easier to operate with gloves on. Using the same logic, you need big, comfortable pockets that are easy to roam through without taking off your gloves.
Four season tent
Chances are you already have a tent if you love hiking, but a four season tent is your best option for winter. That’s because it’s more resistant to inclement weather, starting with more solid poles that keep it anchored firmly so it can hold up snow and face bigger winds. Speaking of the cold winter winds that send shivers down your spine, such tents will stop that from happening. They are generally windproof, so they stop the cold breeze from getting inside, and much stronger than their 3 season counterparts.
A winter tent is going to add a bit to the weight of your backpack because of the additional fabric and poles, but the strength and reliability is worth the weight. Double check its size to make sure it’s as compact as you can get. The best tents in this category are easy to set up and take down, especially when your hands are freezing. And they allow more than one person to get warm inside.
A GPS can be very useful for this time of year, particularly if you’re hiking on a more secluded trail that doesn’t see many hikers. You can get lost more easily during the winter when everything is covered in white snow.
A good GPS for winter treks should use lithium batteries of some kind that work better in the cold. Some can use multiple types of batteries, so you can swap them out when needed. Remember to keep your batteries warm. Since winter hikes pose more dangers and risks of falling, you should make sure your GPS can withstand these impacts. A strong body is one thing, but you should ensure it remains in working order. You don’t necessarily have to choose a standalone GPS, either. You can kill two birds with one stone and get a GPS and satellite phone or satellite radio combo. That allows you to stay in touch with the proper authorities and get timely weather alerts.
Always remember to take your map and compass as well. They will still work if your GPS dies or gets too cold.
You’ll need solid winter boots for bad weather hiking. Also, a pair of gaiters is essential for protecting your pants and your boots. These garments should be made from scratch-resistant, windproof and waterproof materials, and they should match your activity.Hiking gaiters are light, yet breathable, and they’re suitable against most impacts caused by debris. But for winter hikes, you should choose a pair of mountaineering gaiters which offer increased protection against rocks and snow. Even a solid pair of backpacking gaiters can do the trick because they’re designed to be used across all four seasons.
If you’ll be doing some ice climbing or practice other winter sports on your hike, check the reinforcements of your gaiters. You’ll need more resistant stitches because you’ll be doing a lot more effort. Also, something knee height is a good choice.
Pot and stove
There’s nothing like a warm meal to give you strength and help you recover at the end of a strenuous hike through harsh weather. A good hiking stove is light and compact, made from lightweight, durable materials. It can be used even in rough winds and cold temperatures. Often it’s better to have a stove than trying to start a fire, especially in the areas where you’re not allowed to start a fire. Besides, it takes less time, though you still need some quality windproof and waterproof matches or a reliable fire-starter.Needless to say, you need a pot for cooking and water boiling. Make sure this pot is light, compact and durable.
What will you take?
There are many pieces of equipment you might need for your winter hikes, but that is my top 5. Is there anything from this list you can’t hike without? Which one would you rather leave at home? What did we miss? Leave us a comment below!
Rebecca lives in USA, but loves hiking all over the world. Her favourite is Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. It usually takes 16 days, but she likes to slow down, enjoy mountains, company of other adventurers and take more pictures, so it took her 28. Another of her passion is the ocean, so all short and long hikes along the ocean shore bring a lot of joy. She also writes for HikingMastery.com.