Winter Kit Checklist | What To Take On A Winter Hike
How to layer efficiently, safety equipment, the good materials and bad materials – it's all covered here
Winter is an incredible time of year to get out in the mountains, but to enjoy the experience and to stay safe, it’s vital to be properly kitted out.
Now first up, don’t fall into the common trap of trying to make your summer kit stretch into the colder months. For some items, like your pack or your sunglasses, that might be fine, but by and large, it’s worth investing in specific kit for the season.
The second essential thing to bear in mind when you’re hiking in winter is that you don’t necessarily want to aim to be as warm as possible. If anything you need to be aiming to keep cool. That means maintaining a temperature where you’re comfortably warm but not breaking a sweat, because that can easily lead to a chill developing.
And how do you maintain a temperature then? That’s easy: you layer.
When choosing gear for keeping warm, it’s really easy to concentrate on the torso and then neglect the amount of insulation you need below the waist. Think about protecting those knees – you don’t want the joints to end up stiffening up from the cold when you’ve still got miles ahead of you.
Softshell tends to be a good choice if you want windproof warmth, and the Bergen by CimAlp (pictured above) are a good example of a softshell pair made for winter. They offer an extra layer of dependability thanks to their incredibly comfortable and insulating layer of microfleece inside. They even have zipped vents on the legs as well, so you’re able to dump heat when you feel you might be close to breaking a sweat. The Bergen have waterproof panels across the front, but if you’re expecting very heavy rain, it’s worth also arming yourself with a pair of waterproof overtrousers.
If you’re heading above the treeline and are expecting wet or snowy conditions then a burlier pair of trousers, like the CimAlp Piton, will be your best bet. These offer 10,000mm waterproof protection throughout, zipped ventilation at the thighs, crampon spike-proof kevlar at the ankles and then a built in RECCO reflector for emergency location.
A waterproof jacket is essential for outdoor activity right the year-round, but come winter you also want that jacket to bring a little bit of insulation to proceedings. It’s also worth looking for one that has good amount of adjustment at the hood so that it’ll hold closely and reliably even in gale force winds.
Once again, ventilation is key with a waterproof jacket, so if you can find one with pit zips that’s all the better.
Mid Layers And Baselayers
Down jackets make excellent insulators and without much of a weight penalty but they can leave you somewhat vulnerable in wet weather as dampened feathers can lose their ability to trap heat. While some brands do offer down jackets with special hydrophobic treatments to help get round this problem, if you are heading into any particularly wet conditions then our recommendation is to choose a jacket with synthetic insulation. Generally it might not be as warm or as light as down but it tends to be more reliable and in winter the ability to trust your kit is essential.
Depending on the conditions, you might also want to consider another lighter layer underneath that insulation. Either a good fleece or wool pull over is good here as both of these forms of material are warm and also water resistant.
Wearing base layers (top and bottom) will go a long, long way to making your day an enjoyable one. Whether you choose a natural fabric or a synthetic tends to be a matter of preference though Merino wool is generally considered to be the safest bet when dealing with very cold temperatures.
Gloves or mitts? That’s another thing that’s down to personal preference. Gloves are useful if you need the dexterity of your fingers for, say, scrambling and climbing or if you’ll be using equipment like a GPS. On the flip side, some people prefer the fit, feel and performance of mitts.
Waterproof gloves or mitts are great for those very wet days, but just make sure you combine them with a pair or two of liner gloves so that you can manage any perspiration.
Just make sure that your gloves or mitts aren’t so tight that they limit any circulation to the tips of your fingers. This, in the worst case scenario, can lead to frostbite. A tight watch, ring or bracelet can also lead to problems here.
Tests have shown that when the head is allowed to get cold and the body is effectively insulated, the body’s core temperature drops a lot more rapidly than most people would expect. So, in other words, hats are important. Our recommendation is to choose a hat that has a wicking fabric, like wool, against your skin and then a water resistant fabric on the outside. In very challenging conditions, you might want to double up with your headwear, wearing a baselayer-type hat underneath another bulkier one.
Try and keep your neck covered too, perhaps with a neck tube as that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the conditions or your situation.
In winter, it’s absolutely essential to upgrade to a thicker pair of socks. Generally, when it comes to insulation, we’d say that the higher the wool content the better, though you do want some synthetic material for wicking and durability. Check out our round up of the best hiking socks for our advice on what material is best for difficult conditions. Also, similarly to what we said regarding gloves, make sure to look for socks that aren’t too tight as you don’t want to hinder circulation to your extremities.
Equipment and Emergency Items
Sunglasses or goggles – When there’s snow on the ground, these are absolutely vital.
Suncream – Same as above.
Navigation – There’s no denying that GPS devices are great for navigation and the same can be said for phones (when they have charge). Just make sure you’ve always got a map and compass as well though.
Headtorch – Even if you don’t intend to stay out in the dark, you should still carry a head torch just in case things don’t go to plan. Two are better than one.
Batteries and power packs – It’s amazing how quickly cold weather will drain a battery so make sure you’ve got back up for your phone and headtorch.
First Aid Kit and whistle – Both are vital on any hike, whatever the time of year.
Shelter – It’s always worth carrying an emergency foil blanket or bivy in case of injury or benightment. Carry a sleeping bag when you’re heading into areas of particularly challenging terrain and conditions.
Fire – If you’re not able to carry a stove, make sure you have some means of creating a fire for warmth – whether that’s matches, a lighter or a fire steel striker.
Extra food and water – Carry a small bag containing emergency rations. You might want to tape this bag up so you’re not tempted to dip into it in non-emergency situations! With your water, it’s best to keep it in a bottle, ideally an insulated one. Avoid hoses as the water can freeze in them.
Extra layers – Bring beyond the minimum expectation, just in case.
There’s a lot on this list, right? That’s why a standard sub 20-litre daypack isn’t really going to cut it in winter. Realistically you’ll need something with a volume of 30 litres or more and our advice would be to choose something that comes up completely flat against your back – you don’t want anything with gaps that snow can creep into and where heat can be lost. You might also want something that’s designed to hold the following…
If you’re heading to any steep terrain where you can expect frozen and/or snowy conditions, that’s when you’re going to need extra pieces of equipment for safety. These would be things like an ice axe, crampons and potentially also snow shoes, an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and snow shovel.
Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.