15 things you need to go hiking during the winter
Bundle up and hit the trails.
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During the summer and fall of 2020, people took to the trails. In the midst of a global pandemic and with statewide restrictions, hiking was one of the few activities you could do while still social distancing. The open air, the views, and the additional exercise made it all idyllic. But now that the temperature has dropped in certain parts of the country and trails have frozen over, hiking during the winter is no easy feat.
With the right gear, you can still reach the highest peaks (even if the temperature may be in the negative degrees up there). With things like thermals, hand warmers, and crampons (more on those later), you can stay bundled up without feeling too constricted during your hike. Here are 15 top-rated things you’ll want to make sure you have before attempting to hike during the winter.
1. Face masks for an extra layer of warmth
Not only are face masks recommended to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, but they provide an extra layer of warmth, making them the ultimate winter accessory. When I hiked the Rockies last year in negative 30 degree, snowy weather, I kept my face mask on for warmth even when no one was around. After testing the best face masks, we found that the Athleta Non Medical Face Masks were our favorites for their comfort and snug fit. They’re also quite breathable, which is ideal when you’re huffing and puffing up a hill.
2. Hiking boots with good traction
While sneakers will normally suffice for a not-too-strenuous 3-mile hike, during the winter, you’re going to want to upgrade to a pair of hiking boots. The ground is most likely cold and snowy, making roots, rocks, and other elements slippery—so you’re more likely to take a tumble. Hiking boots are much sturdier and have better traction for these environments. The Timberland Mt. Maddsen boots come highly rated on REI for being durable and grippy, though they need to be broken in before you start a long hike.
- Get the Women’s Timberland Mt. Maddsen Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots at REI for $99.95
- Get the Men’s Timberland Mt. Maddsen Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots at REI for $99.95
3. Crampons for gripping the ice
Ever heard of crampons? Well, they’re about to be your favorite winter hiking accessory. They’re essentially a chain of spikes that attach to your hiking boots, making it possible to walk on ice without slipping. They’ll make you feel safer and help you glide through the trails faster rather than crawling slowly on icy surfaces. These crampons from Cimkiz have more than 2,000 reviews and a 4.6-star rating at Amazon, with reviewers saying they’re easy to attach to shoes and have an excellent grip.
4. A headlamp to see after the sun sets
Daylight is shorter during the winter months compared to summer, meaning you have less time to make it back down the mountain with light. If you do find yourself in the woods after the sun goes down, you’re going to want to have a headlamp on you. Not only is it dangerous to hike in the dark, but it’s more challenging to move downwards when you're clutching your phone's flashlight. But a headlamp will keep your hands free to grip onto rocks and branches for stability. The BioLite HeadLamp 330 offers 330 lumens of bright light, a rechargeable battery with 40 hours of light, and has five different light settings.
5. The best touchscreen gloves we’ve ever tested
Warm gloves are important to keep feeling in your fingers, but you also want the ability to use your phone to snap a quick picture or respond to a text during your hike. That’s where a good pair of touchscreen gloves come in. These ones from Harrms happen to be the best touchscreen gloves we tested at Reviewed. Not only are they super warm, but all 10 fingers are touchscreen compatible and we had no issues using our phones with them.
6. A warm hat that that’ll fit under a hood
When it comes to covering your ears, you want a hat that’s warm but breathable. This one from Columbia is a good unisex option that will keep your ears warm and can still be bundled up under a hood. It’s earned more than 1,500 reviews and has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon, with reviewers loving how snug it is.
7. Thermals for an extra layer
When it comes to hiking in extremely cold temperatures, you need to layer up. Throw on a pair of thermals under your hiking outfit for some well-deserved warmth. One of our writers is obsessed with these thermals from Thermajane, which she wore to survive her first overnight camping trip in 35-degree weather. She says they’re soft, super warm, and they come in both men and women’s styles.
- Get the Thermajane Women’s Thermal Underwear Set at Amazon for $23.99
- Get the Thermajohn Men's Thermal Underwear Long Johns Set at Amazon for $22.98
8. Wool socks to keep toes toasty
Wool socks will keep you warm—the thicker the socks are, the more insulation you'll have. Just make sure they’re not too tight with your boots or you could cut off circulation. It’s also a good idea to carry an extra pair with you in case your socks get wet from the snow. Smartwool are some of the most popular socks out there and the Mountaineering Crew Socks are specifically designed for winter hiking, making them a great choice.
9. A cozy pullover for the top of the mountain
While you'll probably want a breathable coat to survive the chill, it’s also good to layer up with a nice pullover. While it always gets colder at the top of the mountain, you can easily rip off the pullover if you get too hot while descending. The Patagonia Better Sweater is always a good choice for warmth and style, and you can wear it outside of hiking as well.
- Get the Patagonia Women’s Better Sweater Quarter Zip Performance Jacket at Nordstrom for $119
- Get the Patagonia Men’s Better Sweater Quarter Zip Performance Jacket at Nordstrom for $119
10. A backpack to drink water from
When you’re bundled up, it’s especially hard to grab a water bottle from your backpack and take a sip. That’s where a hydration backpack comes in handy. The Gregory Nano H20 holds 18 liters, including a three-liter 3D Hydro reservoir. There's also so much storage with a mesh side pouch, top zippered pocket, and a zippered side stash pocket. I own this bag and I love how comfortable it is on my shoulders and how easy it is to drink from.
11. Sunscreen to protect from UV rays
Wearing sunscreen is just as important on sunny hikes as it is in the winter—especially with the increased altitude, as it’s easier to get sunburnt since there’s less of earth's atmosphere to block sunlight. Be sure to apply some before you hit the trails. This one from Aveeno is recommended by our beauty editor because it has an SPF 30 to protect from UVA and UVB rays and moisturizes with antioxidant oatmeal, which is great for dry winter skin.
12. A gaiter to keep your neck warm
Even if you have gloves, a hat, and a warm jacket, you still need to make sure your neck doesn’t freeze. Aside from a scarf, a fleece gaiter will keep it nice and toasty, and you can pull it up to keep your mouth warm, as well. Just note that it doesn’t replace the effectiveness of a face mask in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Turtle Fur Fleece is super cozy and comes highly rated for hiking and winter sports.
13. Hand and toe warmers for some extra heat
If you have really cold hands, then you know gloves and thick socks alone aren't going to cut it during a chilly hike. That's where hand warmers come in. The Hot Hands are possibly the most popular hand warmers on Amazon with nearly 10,000 reviews and a 4.8-star rating. People love that they last for up to 10 hours and are easy to activate, and use them for everything from skiing to running errands.
14. Gaiters that protect your boots
You’ve heard of neck gaiters, but did you know that there are boot gaiters to ensure no snow sneaks in while hiking? They also add a bit of warmth. To ensure that your pants and boots don’t get wet, make sure that the gaiter you choose is both waterproof and breathable like the REI Co-op Backpacker Gaiters.
15. A portable battery pack for cold phones
Cold weather can kill your phone battery quickly—even if you’re trying to keep it warm in your pocket. If you’re worried about being stuck in the woods with a dead phone, it’s a good idea to bring along a portable battery pack. Anker makes a lipstick-sized one that can easily fit into a pocket or hiking pack and offers a full charge to an iPhone before needing to be recharged itself.
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