It can be tempting — when the snow is falling and outside temperatures drop sub-zero — to get yourself comfortable on the sofa with a good book or a new film. But the winter months provide some of the best outdoor experiences of the year. With spectacular sunrises and sunsets, snowy scenes and quieter trails, it's not just skiing and snowboarding that you can do in winter in the US.
But winter requires a whole different set of gear to stay safe and warm and to enjoy your days out on the trail. Along with knowing how to navigate on the trail in the winter, understanding the dangers of avalanches — if they apply to where you hike — or knowing what to do if you get caught out in a storm, having the right winter gear is a seasonal essential. This list of eleven items isn't a comprehensive winter packing list, but it does contain some winter essentials and a few items that will make your winter days that bit better.
Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks
No list of the best winter hiking gear would be complete without a great pair of socks. Keeping your feet happy is a priority on any hike, so choosing the right socks is essential. On icy winter outings, help ensure your feet stay toasty with a pair of Mountaineering Micro Crew Heavyweight Hiking Socks from Darn Tough. Crafted using a blend of thermoregulating merino wool, nylon, and Lycra, the heavyweight socks wick moisture and reduce odors while providing plenty of warmth. For long-haul hikes, the seamless toe and generous heel cushioning provide plenty of comfort, and ribbing above the ankle keeps socks from bunching and help to prevent blisters. And the socks come with Darn Tough’s unconditional lifetime guarantee — so they’ll be around for plenty of winter adventures.
Kahtoola EXOspikes Footwear Traction
Trail conditions can change quickly on a winter hike from packed snow to frictionless patches of ice to craggy beds of rock. Be prepared for all types of dicey terrain with Kahtoola’s EXOspikes Footwear Traction System. For exceptional stability and grip, the innovative system features a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) matrix outfitted with a trifecta of traction, including a dozen tungsten carbide tips per foot to dig into ice and snow, aluminum steps to provide grip on uneven patches of ground, and lugs to burrow into shifting surfaces. And for comfort, the highly malleable thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) foot harness fits a wide variety of boots and running shoes. The traction system is also tough enough for regular winter use, from snowy walks in the neighborhood with your favorite pooch to icy morning trail runs.
HeatBank 9s Rechargeable Hand Warmer
On long winter treks, sometimes even the best gloves don’t cut it. Thaw out icy digits with the Zippo’s HeatBank 9s Rechargeable Hand Warmer. Weighing in at just 5.5 ounces, the pocket-sized hand warmer offers nine hours of warmth on the trail, with six different heat settings to keep you comfortable (topping out at 140 degrees F). Another bonus is that the HeatBank also doubles as a charger for USB-compatible devices, so you can charge your smartphone while defrosting your fingers.
Hydro Flask Standard Mouth Water Bottle
A hot beverage can be a real morale booster on snowy adventures – so treat yourself on the trail with the Hydro Flask Standard Mouth Water Bottle. The perfect cold-weather-companion, the vacuum-insulated bottle keeps drinks hot for as long as 12 hours, so hot chocolate will still be steaming when you need it. The stainless steel bottle is BPA-free and bacteria-resistant, and Hydro Flask’s unique powder coat is easy to grip – even with icy fingers.
SOL Emergency Blanket
On a winter hike, being prepared for extreme weather is essential. And for emergencies, a featherweight Emergency Blanket from SOL is worth bringing on any winter adventure. Weighing just 2.9 ounces, the ultralight blanket reflects 90% of your radiated body heat, and in gnarly conditions, the tear-resistant HeatSheets material blocks both wind and rain. And for backcountry emergencies, the blanket’s bright orange exterior is also easy to spot.
Outdoor Research Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters
On snowy winter hikes, a pair of gaiters can be a lifesaver. And, in extreme conditions, the Crocodile GORE-TEX Gaiters from Outdoor Research provide a reliable buffer from snow and debris – keeping your boots drier, and your feet happier. A blend of GORE-TEX and nylon ensures the gaiters offer breathable protection against water and wind, while abrasion-resistant Cordura and triple-bartacked BioThane webbing guarantee the aptly named Crocodiles are tough enough to handle anything you encounter on a winter trek, from knee-deep slogs through the snow to icy stream crossings.
Bare Republic Mineral SPF 50 Sport Sunscreen Stick
While the chances of being scorched by harmful Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are greater during the summer, there’s still a risk of getting a blistering sunburn during the winter. In particular, snow can reflect as much as 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet light, meaning you can get a double dose of sun on a winter hike. Protect yourself with Bare Republic’s Mineral SPF 50 Spot Sunscreen Stick. The zinc oxide-based formula provides broad-spectrum protection against Ultraviolet A (UVA) and UVB rays without parabens or chemicals. And the palm-sized stick goes on sheer and is easy to stash in your backpack or pocket.
HydraPak HydraSleeve Reservoir 3L
Staying hydrated is just as important on winter hikes – so make it easy with the HydraPak HydraSleeve. More innovative than a standard hydration bladder, the reservoir is designed for year-round use, with an insulated drink tube, internal foam insulation, and a heat-reflective liner to help keep liquids from freezing. The insulating ripstop nylon sleeve also provides a layer of abrasion resistance, making the hydration system sturdy enough for any rough-and-tumble winter adventure -- from day hikes to ski tours.
SunSki Treeline Sunglasses
It may seem counterintuitive, but sunglasses are crucial for colder months – especially in the snow. Intense overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness, which can cause painful damage to your corneas. Ensure your eyes are protected on winter adventures with Sunski’s Treeline Sunglasses. Inspired by the iconic glacier goggles worn by mountaineers, the Treelines feature polarized lenses and detachable magnetic side shields for added protection from the debilitating glare cast by snow or ice. Made from recycled plastic, the shades are also stylish enough to wear for post-hike libations – and they’re backed up for life by Sunski’s Forever Warranty.
Even if you're not planning on being out later into the evening, the evening often catches you out in the winter months — especially when it comes about mid-afternoon. When darkness falls, you must navigate safely on the trail, especially on ice or unstable ground. The BioLite Headlamp 425 is a lightweight headlamp that can stow away in your pack while still packing enough of a punch to light up winter trails. This fully rechargeable headlamp is water resistant, so you can wear it whatever the weather. What's more, if you need ongoing power, you can link it to a BioLite battery pack for run-through power to see you through the night.
Ruffwear Vert Dog Jacket
Of course, your favorite four-legged adventure buddy also needs to be comfortable on frosty winter hikes. Enter Ruffwear’s Vert Dog Jacket. A windproof and waterproof shell crafted from 70 denier nylon ripstop and 30 denier polyester protects from icy gusts and wet snow, while recycled polyester insulation keeps your pup toasty on the trail. For adjustments, side-release buckles make the jacket easy to tighten or remove, and the handy leash portal makes the coat compatible with a harness. In extreme weather, the elastic leg loop can be used to keep the coat in place, while the oversized collar provides added protection – and plenty of styles.
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- The best merino wool socks (whether you’re hiking, skiing, or going to work)
- The best leg gaiters for exploring the snowy outdoors this winter
- The best heated clothing for your cold-weather adventures in 2023
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