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Beginner’s Guide to Hiking in Cold Weather

Preparing for winter or cold weather hikes

Deciding what to wear, then dialing in what’s in your pack for your first winter hike can certainly prove to be one of the most challenging aspects of cold weather hiking!  The weather can change in an instant, so it’s important to be prepared, but also not bring too much stuff!!! It’s a complicated art form, which this article hopes to assist you in developing. 

What to Wear for a Cold Weather Hike

  1. Base Layer
  2. Vest, if you want to be cool like me. (haha!)
  3. Rain Jacket
  4. Puffy Jacket
  5. Glove liners & down mittens
  6. Wool socks (I bring two pairs usually – one to wear to and from the trailhead and one to wear on the trail)
  7. Winter beanie
  8. Baseball hat
  9. Fleece Neck Liner
  10. Gaiters (if the snow is deep)
  11. Hand and feet warmers
  12. Waterproof hiking shoes
  13. Microspikes or Snowshoes (depending on trail conditions)
  14. Hiking poles
  15. 10 Essentials
  16. Snacks
  17. First Aid


Clothing Recommendations for Cold Weather Hikes

First off, you always need a base layer, and it should NOT be made of cotton. Pick a nice spandex or polyester undershirt. Smartwool and Icebreaker are two recommended brands.

For your bottoms, depending on the temps and the hike, you’ll need one, two, or all of these things… wool base layer, fleece leggings, spandex layer to go under your waterproof pants. EMS makes affordable trail pants (and they usually have decent sales or coupons going on).  You’ll see that we love the funky leggings – I typically wear my REI base layer underneath them or my fleece leggings. You should always plan to butt slide on ice during cold weather hikes, so if you don’t like a wet butt, waterproof pants are the way to go!

I can’t recommend a vest enough. It keeps your core warm while keeping the rest of your body cool. I wear one of these, always. Sometimes it’s puffy, sometimes it’s not. I’ve been able to score some great name brand vests at resale shops. I’m currently into Old Navy vests for my hikes, and I recommend them. They are cute and keep me warm! 

For your outer layer, you’ll want a waterproof rain jacket and a puffy jacket. 

For your extremities, you’ll want a warm hat, neck buff, waterproof gloves and or mittens, and wool socks. I also always bring hot hands hand and feet warmers with me! 

Here are some of the products I recommend for cold weather hiking!

Icebreaker Merino Wool Baselayer

I love mine. I wear it everywhere. I even travel with it. It looks cute on and keeps me soooo warm as a baselayer. It’s not heavy and it absorbs moisture very well. 

Fleece Tights with Pockets

These are great as a baselayer, or I’ve found them warm enough to wear on their own. I love the pockets. Even better – they are available on Amazon Prime!

Marmot Precip Rain Jacket

This is a fantastic packable outer layer rain jacket. It is great for all seasons and blocks the wind. There are vents in the armpits if you get too steamy! 

Smartwool Women’s Crew Hiking Socks

These are the only cold weather hiking socks I will use. Make sure you get the right size! These are by far my favorites. 

Love Maine Adventures Beanie

Obviously. This comes in a bunch of fun colors! Wear this out on the trail and enjoy all of the compliments that come in!

Gear Recommendations for Cold Weather Hikes

Packing Your Bag

In the winter, you might need a bigger backpack for storing your extra gear, and possibly attaching your snowshoes to your bag.  A 30-40 liter bag is perfect for storing all of your extra layers if you’re hiking a big mountain. You don’t really need all of this space for day hiking, but it’s nice to have. But – with a bigger bag – more stuff, so be careful what you pack.  Lots of pockets and a place for a water reservoir can be nice. Storage hooks or loops on the outside of your bag for attaching poles, snowshoes, or an ice axe can also be very helpful! Here’s some more gear you should definitely pack in your bag. 

Outdoor Research Down Mittens

“These are like sleeping bags for your hands!” – My friend Melinda

They are perfect for putting hand warmers in. I love these mittens so much! 

High Gaiters

These keep the snow from getting in your shoes! They are necessary especially in higher elevation where the snow levels are higher and you are surely using snowshoes or postholing. They are also great for backcountry adventures. But definitely if you might posthole, you need these. 

Hiking Poles

These are very helpful to keep you from sliding downhill or slipping and falling! Remember to check your baskets (those little things at the bottom of the poles) to make sure they are in tact – you’ll need them to make sure your poles don’t sink in the snow! I like the carbon ones that fold up. They are easier to manage for sure. 

Turtle Fur Fleece Neck Buff

This baby will heat you up fast and will keep you surprisingly warm if you need it. I always have one in my bag because it’s super helpful in the wind and can give you a lot of warmth, quickly

Kahtoola Microspikes

This is probably the most important thing in your pack if you’re hiking in Maine in the winter! They will keep you from sliding on ice, and snow and slush. Kahtoola also has a great warranty and is a great company. 

MSR Ascent snowshoes

MSR Ascent Snowshoes

These are the ones I have, in an older version. The new bindings I’ve heard are easier to manage, so that’s great! Whatever snowshoes you get, make sure they have televators on them. They will help you out tremendously when going up hills! 

Hot Hands Hand Warmers

I buy these in bulk and keep a handful in my pack at all times. They are serious lifesavers. 

Hot Hands Toe Warmers

Same for these, I attach them ASAP to keep my toes from getting cold! 

This list is constantly updated with new gear and ideas so be sure to check back often! Make sure to use #lovemaineadventures when you post on social so that others can share in your adventures! 

beginnners guide to hiking in cold weather


Florida born, Maine living. Outdoor life is for me. I love adventures - hiking -photography - running - camping - reading - creating - learning - traveling - deep eddy vodka - cats and living, basically. Follow me on social - @DanielleDorrie