Outdoor / November 15, 2012

Winter Hiking Essentials: Everything You'll Need for the Cold Adventure

BY Jane

For many outdoor enthusiasts, hiking is a three-season sport. By the end of fall, they’ve stored their packs and poles in favor of less treacherous winter activities. Although I sympathize with these fair-weather hikers, several of my friends are loud campaigners for winter hiking.

They argue that winter hiking is an incredible, outdoor experience. Trails are far less crowded in the winter, and provide an excellent opportunity for solitary enjoyment with few intrusions. Winter hiking is an adventure with a massive payout.

If you’re one of the few, brave souls who have been persuaded to try winter hiking, you need to be prepared to tackle the elements. Winter hiking requires greater planning, and more gear than hiking in other seasons.

The gear checklist we've created below is designed for a moderate winter day hike only. Always consult with a hiking expert before you tackle something more difficult.

What to Wear:

Winter Hiking Clothing

Channel your inner-onion and layer your clothes. You should be prepared to hike with the following three layers of clothes:

  • The Base Layer: Your base lawyer of clothing should keep you warm and dry. Make sure your shirt, pants, gloves, and socks are made from synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fabrics are plastic-based, meaning they aren’t as likely to trap moisture against your body and cause hypothermia. Look for clothes made from polyester, nylon, spandex, rayon, and acrylic.
  • The Insulating Layer: Your insulating layer of clothes should keep your body heat from escaping. You’ll lose a lot of heat through your head. Wear a fleece hat, with weatherproof outer that covers your ears. Look for heavy wool socks (to wear over your synthetic base socks), a fleece vest or jacket, and down jacket for colder trips.
  • The Weatherproof Layer: No matter how well you’ve planned your base and insulating layers, if you don’t have some way of keeping yourself waterproof, you’re going to be vulnerable to hypothermia.

    In case of inclement weather, pack waterproof outer gloves, a waterproof wind and rain jacket, and waterproof wind and rain pants. You should also have a pair of gaiters, warm, comfortable shoes, and sturdy waterproof boots for wading through deep drifts of snow.

  • If you’re one of the few, brave souls who have been persuaded to try winter hiking, you need to be prepared to tackle the elements.

Gear Essentials:

Winter Hiking Gear

Regardless of the duration of your trip, there are certain safety essentials you need to have when you hike. Always, always make sure you have the essentials.

  • Map, description of the trail, compass, and someone who knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back
  • Sturdy backpack and weather proof pack cover
  • Complete First Aid Kit with working emergency blankets
  • Crampons for your boots
  • Small knife, with multi-tools
  • Headlamp with extra batteries (keep the batteries warm, or they might not work properly when you need them)
  • Bivy sack or sleeping bag, and a foam pad (in case you have to stay overnight)
  • Waterproof matches and a fire starter
  • Reliable hiking shoes
  • Snow shovel, for bathroom and emergency use
  • Cell phone

Depending on the hike, you might need more than the basic safety gear. Know your hike in advance, and find out if you’ll need:

  • Snowshoes or Cross Country Skis
  • Ice Ax
  • Sunglasses or Goggles (for extreme cold, high wind, or snow glare)
  • Trekking poles
  • Avalanche Beacon
  • Avalanche Probe

Food Items:


You’ll burn more calories in the cold than you would otherwise. Make sure you’re prepared with enough food and water to meet your needs.

  • Water: Depending on the day hike, you’ll need about 2-3 liters of water. Pack warm water, it will take longer to freeze. You could also pack a thermos of tea or hot cocoa for a nice, warm treat.
  • Protein: Pack foods that are high in protein, and hard to freeze, like jerky and salami.
  • Carbs: Bagels are a high carb, easy-to-pack foods. So are dry cereals, granola, and crackers.
  • Snacks: Pack some trail mix, energy bars, chocolate, and hard candies for a quick, pick-me-up snack.

When you get back from your winter hiking adventure, stop by KURU Nation and tell us about it. We’d love to hear where you hiked, what you saw, and where your KURU’s will take you next.