Winter Hiking Gear
Health,  Lifestyle

What to Wear for Winter Hiking: A Complete Guide

If you’re like me, from an area with cold weather for half the year, you don’t want to spend all your time stuck inside. Whether it’s playing with your kids outside or being active on the trails, it’s important to stay warm. I’ve rounded up a list of my favorite winter hiking clothing and gear. My advice is to use what works for you and for your budget. Not everything is going to be the perfect fit for every body type or perfect for every outdoor activity. This list is meant to give some ideas and possible options. I have accumulated most of these items over time, and most of them have truly withstood the test of time. These items have given me confidence that I will stay protected from the cold and snow while doing some fun daytime winter hiking on Minnesota trails.

One of the keys to staying warm and dry is layering. Layers also help you adjust how warm you are as you get moving. Focus on multiple thin layers, moisture-wicking and insulating materials. This will help you not only stay warm but dry. It’s always better to be more prepared and have extra layers than to have to cut your trip short because you can’t stay warm. Most of what I learned is from experts, enthusiasts, research, REI, and trial and error. It may take a few hikes before you find what works best for you, and that may change in different weather and altitudes. There’s always room to continue learning!

On a 20-30 degree, snowy day in Minnesota, here is what I would typically wear for daytime winter hiking:

Family Hike
Winter Hiking Gear


Thick wool socks

I have both Smartwool and Darn Tough socks. I’m obsessed with both for winter hiking, but I have the most of the Smartwool PhD outdoor light hiking mid crew socks. You honestly can’t beat the quality of either, but one added benefit to Darn Tough is their lifetime warranty. Some people also like to wear a liner sock while hiking, but I usually stick to one thicker pair so it’s not too bulky in my hiking boots.

Insulated, waterproof hiking boots

My all time favorite has been the Vasque Talus UltraDry hiking boots. I’ve had these for a handful of years and they still do not disappoint. I stay very warm and dry with the combo of wool socks.


I’ve had Yaktraxs for years and I honestly don’t think I could do Minnesota winters without them. They are a complete game changer, even if you’re just going for a casual winter walk.

On Top:

Lightweight, moisture-wicking base layer

I have an older version of the Under Armour HeatGear long sleeve and I tend to wear that as my first layer. A few other options and brands I like are Icebreaker half zip base layers and any lightweight REI brand base layer (usually really reasonably priced).

Midweight, insulating layer

I’ve been told fleece is the best mid layer because it’s breathable and dries quickly. My favorite midweight item that I wear on a regular basis is the REI midweight crew top. I love how warm and stretchy it is, and it dries quickly.

Outer Layer/Shell

Honestly, I usually just wear whatever trusted winter coat or jacket I have. I think if it insulates well, is warm enough for everyday wear and comfortable enough to hike in (with the additional layers), it will work! This season I’ve been wearing my everyday jacket, the Columbia mighty lite hooded jacket. It’s not sporty by any means but it’s been very comfortable on all my hikes this winter, and I really like that it is long for the extra protection on my legs and bottom.

On Bottom:

Lightweight, moisture-wicking base layer

This layer should be thin tights or long underwear. As long as it’s moisture-wicking, the material will be whatever your personal preference is. I like REI tights (even though they say midweight, they feel thin) and these REI silk bottoms.

Midweight, insulating layer

Similar to what you’d wear on top, fleece is an ideal choice. My preference is a mid weight merino wool 250 base layer by Smartwool. I consider these pricey, but they’re my favorite! They’re so comfortable, great to layer, and so warm.

Soft Shell

Another favorite of mine is The North Face Isotherm Tights. These are so functional but also sleek. They’re designed for running but are also perfect for hiking. The shell provides wind protection for added warmth and water-resistant panels. I often wear these on their own in the winter while out and about, and I especially love the comfortable elastic waist.


  • Hat
  • Gloves/Mittens – My favorite are my Fox River Double Ragg Mittens
  • Face covering – This Buff goes with me on all my winter hikes
  • Hiking Bag – Osprey Daylite is my all-time favorite lightweight backpack for day hikes. I like to pack a few extra layers in case I need them along with a water bottle or CamelBak.
  • Child Carrier Hiking Backpack – We’re really enjoying the Journey Perfectfit Elite
  • Other extra layer options – Waterproof top and bottom outer layer in case there is rain or wet snow, a skirt if you have a shorter jacket and need a little extra coverage over your bottom (check out the Prana Esla skirt or Smartwool skirt)

I hope this gives you the confidence to piece together some hiking gear and hit the trails! Let me know your  winter hiking must-haves and favorite trails in the comments. 

If you’re interested in other fitness activities, check out my post about Completing My First Triathlon & 5 Tips for Success.

Family Winter Hike
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