I didn’t need to worry so much about the clothes I wore on hikes in Florida. In Pennsylvania its another matter. As I write another four inches of snow covers the ground, and the daytime high was 27 degrees F. Its cold. And unless I want to become sedentary for a third of the year I need to consider what I’m wearing.
Each winter I evaluate what I wear based on past years, and try to find the perfect ensemble to keep warm during cold and snowy hikes. Perfection, as always, eludes me, so I keep working on it. But here is a list based on what I wore during my last snow hike, on the Mid State Trail with my friend Peter.
Base layer – in layman’s terms, this is underwear. And in winter its what used to be called “long underwear.” But we’ve come a long way from cotton. I currently switch between a sets of synthetic fabric tops and bottoms by Dickies and Russell Athletic, both of which I found at a large discount retailer. Since I am, ahem, bigger than the average hiker, as well as slower, I’ve looked in areas selling work wear instead of hiking and outdoor gear. Stuff designed for hunters and construction workers comes in the right sizes and keeps me warm, and its usually durably made too.
Socks – I wore two pairs on the Mid State Trail hike. First on is a synthetic athletic sock, and then on top a wool hiking sock. The Woolrich socks are in the photo above, but I’ve also used Wigwam and Columbia for the top layer. Wool is warm and cushioning, and the two layers help keep my feet warm. And by using a thin inner sock I reduce the potential for chafing AND don’t make the boots feel too tight.
Headwear – I will often wear a tight fighting cap by Underarmor on hikes above freezing. Below freezing I have a fleece balaclava, seen in the photo above. The problem I’ve had with balaclavas is fogging of my glasses, so I often have to fuss with them when hiking.
Pants – I’ve hiked in jeans in cold weather, but cotton isn’t the best fabric for winter and, lets face it, wet jeans are annoying. Instead I use synthetic fabric hiking pants I’d wear in the summer. My go to pair are Cabela’s Guidewear pants, but a good alternative are the Switchback Venturing pants sold by the Boy Scouts of America. Both come in extended sizes and are well made. The Boy Scouts pants are cut very large, however. I need to wear them with a belt, unlike the Cabela’s pair.
Shirt – usually a flannel shirt by Woolrich or Cabela’s. I’ve also worn my usual fishing shirts by Columbia and Underarmor. I suppose the synthetic fishing shirts are preferable to the heavier wool and cotton flannel, but I don’t find much difference between them. Both kinds of shirts keep me warm in frigid weather.
Jacket – as you can see in the above photo, I wear an orange blaze hunting jacket from Cabela’s. The jacket has a removable lining so I can wear it as a shell if I want to. I usually keep the lining in, however. Incidentally the bright orange color serves two purposes – it makes me visible during hunting season and stands out if I ever, God forbid, need to be found in a rescue.
Gloves – the weak link in my lineup. I’m using a pair of Descente winter cycling gloves, but cold hands are a problem I’ve never resolved. I’m not only a slow hiker, but I’m stopping to take photos as well, which means removing one or both gloves.
Boots – I’m currently in a pair of Scarpa boots, which I’ll be using for hiking in all seasons. Snow boots I’ve tried don’t fit or walk like a hiking boot, so I’m sticking with the Scarpa for now.
Traction – Kahtoola Microspikes are a pain to get on and off my boots, and they are the best investment I’ve made for winter hiking. I refuse to hike in winter without them. And they very well may have saved me from a serious accident last winter on the Appalachian Trail.
So, that’s my list. What’s yours? What can I improve on?