The best sustainable winter hiking gear for 2021
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As the Scandinavians say, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. Learning to prepare for the elements in advance is a key part of any outdoor activity. With the right equipment, even hiking in extremely cold weather can be comfortable.
Preparing for a winter excursion doesn’t have to be a chore either. A well-planned winter hike can be a thrilling and unique experience, giving you year-round access to places most people wouldn’t dare to visit when the weather changes.
Whether you’re heading out for your first hike or hopping on snow like you were born on ice, our handy guide to the best sustainable winter hiking gear will keep you warm, this season and winters to come.
What to look for in winter hiking gear
There are a lot of options when it comes to winter hiking gear. How do you choose what is right for you? These tips can help you get started.
Buy material in several types of fabrics.
Different fabrics have different benefits, so a breathable recycled polyester base layer can wick moisture away from your skin and a more absorbent and moisture tolerant woolen outer layer. A combination of fabrics can separately protect against very cold temperatures, humid weather or sudden temperature changes.
Buy clothes of different weights.
Layering is essential for cold-weather activities, but that doesn’t mean you should focus exclusively on light clothing options. Mid-weight fleeces and other well-insulated choices can keep you from overloading on very cold days.
Pay attention to the features.
If you are incorporating winter clothing into your existing hiking gear, it may be worth taking the time to match your gear to the characteristics of your new jacket or fleece. While many pockets can be great, it’s even better to have the right pockets for the right items, so it can be worth measuring ahead to make sure items like your trusty GPS will fit.
What emergency supplies should I bring for a winter hike?
Whether you’re heading out for a day hike or planning a multi-day adventure, it’s wise to pack the ten survival essentials and check that your gear is in good working order before heading out to the start. from the trail:
- Navigation help like a map, compass or GPS device
- Light, such as a headlamp (with extra batteries) or a lantern
- sunscreen, including sunglasses, sun protection clothing and sunscreen
- First aid kit, including foot care, wound care and insect repellents
- A knife or multi-tool, plus a gear repair kit
- Fire starter, like matches, lighters and / or a stove
- A shelter, like a light bivouac or a tent
- Supplementary food
- Additional water
- Additional clothing
How do you stack up for a winter hike?
Mastering the art and science of layering will keep you comfortable while hiking. Layering is essential because it keeps you warm when you’re at rest without overheating you when on the move. Wearing the proper layers makes it easy to adjust your insulation to suit the conditions.
Some things to consider owning for outdoor layering include:
- Top and bottom base layers
- Wool socks
- Softshell pants
- Mid-weight sweater and / or jacket made of a material such as wool or fleece
- Waterproof shell
- Down / synthetic puffer jacket
- Waterproof mittens / glove shells
- Under gloves
- Winter hat
- Insulated winter hiking boots
Everyone has different needs, so it takes trial and error to find the right equipment, but here are some basic guidelines to get you started.
Start with a solid base by choosing a good base layer.
A base layer is just a fancy name for long underwear. These initial layers should be close to your skin but not too tight. You don’t want to hamper your movement or your circulation. Choose an absorbent material like wool or polyester (never cotton!), Which keeps you dry and warm even if the fabric is wet.
Then add one or more insulating layers.
Choose synthetics, down or wool for this layer. Fleece is a perfect mid layer because it’s breathable and, again, insulates you even if it’s wet. Fleece also dries quickly and has a high warmth to weight ratio. Make sure this layer is a bit larger than the layers it will fit over so that you have proper mobility. This layer will likely be the one you peel off once you really start moving, so make sure it’s easy to peel off (avoid sweaters!)
Top it off with a weatherproof layer.
This is a crucial layer as it is needed to keep water and wind out, while still being breathable enough for your clothes to effectively wick moisture away from your body. A great quality hardshell jacket can get expensive, but it’s often worth it because the only layer guaranteed to go with you on every hike. Choosing one that has underarm zippers can help provide additional ventilation.
Other variations of jackets may come in handy as well, including breathable shells, softshells, waterproof and non-breathable shells, and insulated shells. All of them are suitable for different climates.
Don’t neglect your bottom half.
It’s also essential to wear a moisture-wicking base layer on your lower body, so don’t neglect your legs. A pair of waterproof or weatherproof pants can keep snow out. Additional zippers can increase ventilation and help you put on and take off your pants over your boots.
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Treehugger is committed to helping readers reduce the environmental impact of our daily lives. Our testers have years of combined experience in outdoor activities.
Heidi Wachter has been writing about travel and adventure for over a decade. When not writing, you’ll likely find her outdoors, even in winter, so she knows how important the right gear can be for cold-weather hiking.