January 16, 2019 5 min read

With the bulk of the holiday season in the rearview mirror and a long stretch of cold weather ahead, it can be easy to let the winter blues set in. Between the freezing temperatures and the snow and ice coating all of your favorite alpine destinations, getting through the end of winter can feel like running an ultramarathon. At Roanline, we understand the need to get outside despite the cold weather, so we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide to winter hiking, to keep you safe, warm, and stylish on your next winter getaway.

While we’re at it, we might as well mention Roanline’s Big Winter Sale, which will no doubt feature an array of amazing products to take along on your next mountain romp (especially if there’s snow on the ground).

Don’t Over-Gear

Snowshoes, adzes, ice axes, avalanche beacons. What a lot of people envision when they think of winter activities comes from popular documentaries, featuring world-class athletes summiting icy peaks in below freezing temperatures, and then climbing down with the help of uber-technical gear like crampons and avalanche backpacks. When it comes to winter hiking, it’s tempting to believe that only the best gear is required to last in the snow-laden wilderness. While the right gear is critical to a successful cold-weather adventure, there is nothing in the Official Outdoorsperson Guidebook that requires much more than your traditional camping gear to last in the snow. With the exception of a few pieces of winter gear (read LAYERS), winter hiking can actually be easier than it seems for the average enthusiast.

Do Research Your Destination

That said, it’s critical to know where you’re going, and if more technical gear is recommended or required, then it’s a good time to consider making the investment or changing your destination. Although most average winter hikes will not require crampons, ice axes, or other specialized winter gear, some alpine destinations vary greatly in terrain and difficulty based on the snowfall, temperature, and wind speeds. In any case, but in the winter especially, it’s important to abide by the rules of research. At the end of the day, if the excursion you’re planning doesn’t seem doable in the summer months, it might not be the best choice for a first-time trek, particularly if there are beginners amongst your hiking crew.

Don’t Underestimate the Weather 

It’s winter. It’s freezing. Need we say more? Each year, hikers and backpackers alike are taken by surprise, particularly in high alpine settings, by rapidly changing weather patterns. This is something to think about any time of year, but particularly in the winter, it’s vital to prepare for the worst, no matter what the forecast is calling for.

Do Layer Up

Experts and amateurs and those who’ve had to experience the spine-tingling sensation of frostbite will tell you: layers matter. Far above technical gear, handwarmers, and weatherproof outdoor stoves, having the right layers will make or break your winter hiking experience. It’s not about how many layers you’re wearing as much as what kind of material they’re made of, and whether or not it insulates in the presence of moisture and cold. Below is a quick summary of the ideal materials to pack on your next wintry weather excursion:

  • Base Layer: wicking material, preferably a synthetic fabric like polyester (nylon, polypropylene, and ryon are popular too!). Another more recent option for base layer is merino wool. The primary function of the base layer is to wick away moisture from your body, not necessarily to keep you warm, so keep that in mind as you’re looking for the perfect piece!
  • Mid Layer: mid-layers are where the warmth starts to become a major factor. That and moisture retention. Oh, and breathability matters too. If you’re looking for the quick version: fleece rules, cotton drools. For the gear junkies out there, the middle layer for winter hiking can be anything from a lightweight fleece to a down / synthetic jacket. Think something close to KAVU’s Teannaway Fleece Pullover or the ever-vibrant Topo Designs’ Mountain Fleece. If you’re looking for a spendier option, a jacket like Cotopaxi’s Kusa Insulated Jacket (did we mention it’s reversible?) would offer a diverse and well-worth-it option for your next winter hiking adventure.
  • Outer Layer: unlike the inner layers, the outer layer is primarily about water resistance and protection against those fierce, chilly alpine winds that can turn a winter hiking experience from a wonderland to a house of horrors in an instant. The best options here can get pricey, so pick and choose according to what’s most important based on the conditions you’re entering into. If you’re planning to hike in a blizzard, then the fully waterproof / breathable option may be the best choice. If you’re anticipating a small amount of weather with a little bit of wind mixed in, then a water-resistant / breathable option might work, or even a soft shell, which offers lighter protection in exchange for more flexibility and breathability. Cotopaxi’s Teca Windbreaker is a prime example of a safe, mid-range jacket that would work well in light winter weather, while Topo Designs Global Jacket is a fully-waterproof, wear-in-all-weather type of shell.

Don’t Bring Less Water Than Normal

It’s easy to think that our bodies aren’t thirsty when we’re focused on staying warm, but as any winter expeditioner will tell you, water is even more important in the cold weather. Along with being harder to tell you’re dehydrated, the cold weather can trick us into thinking that we’re hydrating enough, because there’s often more moisture in the air than in the warmer months. When it comes to prepping for your winter hiking trip, skimping on fluids should not be an option.

Do Prep Cold-Weather Resistant Foods

We’re not against throwing a summit beer into your bag, but when it comes to food, be sure to pack foods that can withstand freezing temperatures. Things that are ideal in cold weather include a variety of protein bars, cheese (for 1-3 days), crackers, deli meats (for 1-3 days), and trail mix. Try to avoid foods like peanut butter, certain fruits, or other trail snacks that might freeze or become difficult to eat in the cold weather.

Do Shop Roanline’s Big Winter Sale

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the best place to prep for your next winter hiking trip. Right now, catch a slew of your favorite brands on sale from 20 - 60% off in-store and online right here at Roanline.com for a limited time. From Parks Project tees to winter-caliber jackets, there’s sure to be something to help you suit up for your upcoming winter hiking adventure!

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