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The Best Hiking Gear, Clothes, and Essentials for Winter Backpacking

Hiking in the deep winter is tough. You have to carry a lot more weight, and there's dozens of items that you're going to need. This article will help you decide on which insulating items you'll need in the extreme cold of winter.

Hiking and backpacking can be a great hobby that keeps you fit and healthy, and wilderness adventures also help you build friendships that can last a lifetime. However, hiking can also be a dangerous pastime to the unprepared.

In this guide to hiking essentials you can find the gear that you’re going to need to fill your backpack with for hiking and what accessories you’ll need to stay safe on the trail, no matter what’s thrown your way.

The most important aspect of hiking is staying warm. If you’re hiking in the summer you don’t need a winter coat, snow pants, high cut boots, crampons, or any of the other numerous items cold winter hiking and camping requires.

Every moment that you’re on the trail you should consider if this moment could turn into a survival situation. You need to be prepared for anything, and your first line of defense is the clothes on your back keeping you warm, so you can spend the time in warmth setting up a habitable space to survive for a little while.

Insulation – The Best Clothes For Backpacking And Hiking

There’s a lot of gear that you’re going to need if you’re looking to hike during the winter, a lot of this can be omitted if you’re hiking during the summer, but we’re going to list everything that you could need as a definitive list to help you out with winter, or cold weather in mind.

Head Gear – The Best Balaclavas, Hats, Scarves, and Ski Goggles for Hiking and Backpacking

Balaclavas are head garments made of wool, fleece, or other synthetic materials, that fit over the entire head and protect the neck as well. As you’ll notice throughout the guide, wool, cashmere wool, or synthetic materials such as polyester polar fleece, or nylon, are the best for winter.

Cotton should never be used because if it becomes wet it will rob your body of heat and cause you to shiver and freeze.

Balaclavas are the optimal choice for keeping your head and neck warm during the winter because there’s no need for a scarf which can be annoying to manage as you’re moving around while hiking or backpacking, plus you can fit a hat over top of a balaclava, or wear ski goggles.

When it comes to scarves there are ways to tie a scarf that keep you from needing to readjust it, but we prefer the balaclava when it comes to winter hiking since it’s just so simple. Make sure that if you’re going into town you take off your balaclava though, so people don’t think you’re trying to rob their store.

Hats aside from the balaclava are great for keeping your noodle warm as well. As we stated earlier, a polyester fleece, or wool, are the best choice for any type of clothing during the winter and will keep you nice and toasty.

We love all of the fuzzy beasts on the planet, and want to see them happy, healthy, and thriving. If you’re looking to purchase fur then you should consider an animal that’s raised in a loving environment and trimmed for its fur such as a sheep, or an alpaca.

If you’re looking for an alpaca fur hat, or clothes, we will be writing an article in the future which lists the most humane and wonderful breeders which produce clothing for consumer use. Alpacas are winter creatures and their fur is warm and a great choice for hiking and backpacking, but it is quite expensive.

Keeping your head and face warm are critical to your survival during winter wilderness adventures which means, if the winter wind is gusting, you may want to consider ski goggles as a part of your arsenal if you’re not using a balaclava that has it built in.

Ski goggles fit over the head with a cloth band that wraps around the head, and they have a plastic sheet that covers the eyes, and protects almost half of the face from the elements. If you’ve never used one before you’re in for a shock because they make traveling through the snow much more enjoyable. You never notice how much wind is hitting your face until you have a ski mask to protect you.


With the proper equipment, winter travel on a trail, or even during mundane tasks, such as shoveling your driveway, are not bad at all. Another great option is a scarf and we suggest using merino wool.


Scarves should always be made from wool, or a synthetic polar fleece, and there are dozens of ways to tie a scarf which will be hands off and do not require you to mess around with them while on the move.

Chest Gear – The Best Hoodies, Shirts, Jackets, and Coats for Winter Hiking and Backpacking

Hoodies are sweaters that have a hat built into them. Of course you know what a hoodie is, but what’s important when it comes to purchasing a hoodie for hiking is that if you want the best hoodie you need one made of wool, cashmere wool, or synthetic fleece.

Finding a hoodie made of wool is sort of rare because most commercial hoodies are made of cotton. As was stated above in the headgear section, it is essential that you do not use a hoodie made of cotton because you’ll be robbing your body of heat if the hoodies becomes wet which will happen as you sweat during a hike.


Shirts, in conjunction with a hoodie, are going to keep you very warm and comfortable if you choose them as your under layers. You’re going to want a long sleeve shirt to cover your upper body to retain body heat. Since you’re going to be sweating onto this fabric you’ll need a breathable material that wicks away moisture.

We suggest a synthetic material such as polyester, polyurethane, polypropylene, or a microfiber fleece for your shirt. You can find matching sets of shirts and long underwear that are made of these materials.


Jackets and coats are the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to staying warm, and the most important. If you’re out in the wilderness your ability to stay warm is determined by a combination of your under layers, and your jacket’s ability to stop the wind.

Breathable synthetic materials are the way to go when it comes to jackets which is why you’re going to want one made of nylon, polyurethane, or polyester. If you’re going to be trekking in cold weather, you may want to wear a light jacket underneath a coat to stay extra warm.

Jackets tend to be waist length while coats tend to be thigh or knee length, so if you’re braving the most extreme weather conditions, you’re going to want both. As we have stated numerous times (you’re probably getting sick of hearing it), a nylon, polyurethane, or polyester is also best for your coat’s material.

Check out our guide on the Top 5 Best Women’s Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking if you’re looking for a jacket.

Leg Gear – The Best Long Underwear, Leggings, Pants, and Snow Pants for Warmth While Hiking And Backpacking

Long underwear is your absolute best friend. Even if you’re not braving the most extreme cold conditions, you’re going to want to bring a pair of long underwear on your backpacking journey. If you choose the right material it will wick away moisture that accumulates on your body and move it to be dried.

You’re going to have to decide if you want a light, medium, or heavy material based on how cold the conditions will be. All of the following materials come in light, medium, and heavy variants, so no matter the conditions you can rock your material of choice.

Light weight long underwear is for moderate to cool temperatures, medium weight long underwear is for cold temperatures, and heavy weight is for below-freezing temperatures. Your best options are synthetics, such as polyester, merino wool, or silk because they trap heat and dissipate moisture the best.


Leggings, a more popular trend for women these days, are made of spandex which is a polyurethane fabric. As I’m sure you’re aware of by now reading this article, a synthetic material such as polyurethane, or polyester, is a good choice for heat retention and wicking away moisture due to its price point and ability to retain heat.

Two other wonderful choices for legging materials are merino wool, and polar fleece lined leggings. These are a very high quality choice to stay warm, and our suggestion when it comes to leggings.


All of these are great choices though to use as an under layer, and will do the job when used with high quality pants.

Pants, when combined with a quality base layer such as long underwear, or leggings, provide the next layer of protection against the elements. If you’re wearing only pants, with no underlayer, you’ll notice that you’re still cold, especially if you chose those denim pants made of cotton.

This is because if you don’t have the proper underlayer to help you retain heat, too much of your body heat is escaping through the gap between your leg and the exterior of the pants, or through the bottom of the pants by your leg, and you’re going to be freezing. You want to reduce the gap between your leg and the external material as much as possible to help you retain heat.

The best materials, as I’m sure you’re aware by now after reading this article, are synthetic materials such as polyurethane, or polyester, fleece lined pants, merino wool, and solid wool pants. If we were to choose the material we would suggest a solid synthetic such as nylon which is water resistant, lets your skin breathe, and provides apt warmth in the most wild winter conditions.

Snow pants and rain pants accomplish the same goal. They keep water, whether in solid of liquid form, from absorbing into your clothes, and robbing you of your warmth. The most absorbent article of clothing you can select is cotton, which is why you’ll want to avoid it all costs.

Instead, you’re going to want to find a pair of snow pants, or rain pants that are a synthetic plastic material with a combination of polyester, polypropylene, or polyurethane to deflect the rain, and allow your skin to breathe underneath.

High Quality Waterproof Snow Pants


High Quality Waterproof Rain Pants


Foot Gear – The Best Thermal Socks, and Hiking Socks For Men and Women, and the Best Hiking Boots, Trail Runners and Running Shoes for Hiking and Backpacking

Your feet are the most important part of your body when you’re walking for long periods of time which means you need to take care of them more than anything. Nothing can cripple you more than having injured feet because you chose the wrong socks, or shoes.

When it comes to sock, the best thermal socks for hiking are those that help wick away moisture. Your feet have the highest density of sweat glands on your body and are going to produce the most moisture during a hike, so you need a high quality synthetic material.

The best socks are made of polyester, nylon, and lycra spandex. There is a particular brand that we prefer for hiking on the trail, Wrightsock, which produce very high quality socks that keep you from developing blisters as well.


Hiking boots, shoes, or trail-runners are arguably the most important, be-all end-all, piece of gear you will bring with you on a hiking trail. We really cannot stress enough how important it is that you size your shoes properly, and have adequate support for the arches of your feet and for your ankles.

Each person is different when it comes to their needs for shoes. Some people don’t need ankle support, while others need the most possible. Rolling your ankle is horrible and can end your thru hike, or day hike, so you should choose the shoe which suits you best.

Conclusion

As you can see there are dozens of pieces of gear just for body insulation, and there’s a good chance we missed a few, and we would love to hear from you in the comments down below with your questions, comments, concerns, and additions to the article.

As far as we’re concerned this is a living document and we will constantly be updating and improving it over time to provide you with the highest quality list of hiking and backpacking gear forever.

Thanks so much for being here, may the trails treat you well, and as always have a wonderful day!

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