The author McKenna Mobley with other hikers, posing with their best winter hiking gear on Mount Shasta on a sunny and cold day

23 Winter Hiking Gear Essentials (for 2023)

👉 Jump to: Winter Hiking Gear Packing List | Other Winter Hiking Essentials | Clothing to Pack | Tips | FAQ

Preparing for snowy and icy adventures is made easy when you have the right winter hiking gear. Hiking in the winter is intense, but having the right gear makes all the difference.

As a mountaineer, I’ve tested out a lot of gear throughout my climbing career. In this article, I’ve compiled the absolute best winter hiking gear packing list and can’t wait to share it with you. Before we dive right in, be sure to bookmark our expert list of essential hiking gear.

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Winter Hiking Gear Packing Checklist

Waterproof Backpack

Our Pick
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 40 Pack

The winter backpack of all winter backpacks. This pack is 100% Gore-tex and keeps contents safe and dry.

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 40 Pack is arguably the best backpacking pack on the market for winter hikers. This winter hiking packing list item features Gore-tex technology, meaning it’s 100% waterproof and guarantees that your gear will stay dry inside.

1.5-liter Water Bottle

Our Pick
Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth Water Bottle

This bottle is winter-friendly and has a lower chance of freezing over in extreme cold conditions.

The Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth Water Bottle carries up to 1.5 liters of water, and the wide mouth means the water inside doesn’t easily freeze. I typically carry two of these bottles with me on longer hikes during the winter.

 👉 Pro Tip: Bringing a hydration pack with a hose is a winter hiking beginner mistake. Water freezes in the hydration hose, making it impossible to drink out of.

Camp Stove

Our Pick

This bottle is winter-friendly and has a lower chance of freezing over in extreme cold conditions.

The Jetboil camp stove is one of the quickest boilers on the market. The boiling pot comes with a handle and doubles as a cup or bowl, eliminating the need for hiking with extra kitchen gear weight. I’ve used a Jetboil plenty of times and am always blown away at how fast the water boils. 

Waterproof Hiking Boots

Our Pick
La Sportiva Nepal Cube GTX Mountaineering Boots

I’ve tried countless winter hiking boots on the market. None stack up to extreme cold like this pair.

The La Sportiva Nepal Cube GTX Mountaineering Boots is the best hiking boot pick for women winter hikers. La Sportiva consistently delivers high-quality outdoor recreation products for both men and women. After all, reliable waterproof shoes are the most important aspect of hiking in the snow.

I’ve hiked both Mont Blanc and Mount Kilimanjaro in these boots, as well as the local Southern California mountains in cold weather, and have no complaints.

Mountaineering Socks

Our Pick
Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks

Almost every winter mountaineer I know uses these mountaineering socks. They’re the best on the market with merino wool and quick-drying technology.

Darn Tough Mountaineering Socks should be on everyone’s winter hiking packing list. 9/10 mountaineers can be found climbing in these socks come winter, including myself. I never hike in the snow without these wool socks, which can be paired with toe warmers for added warmth in freezing temperatures.


Our Pick
Kahtoola MICROspikes

These microspikes help you stay upright when hiking through moderate snow conditions or on ice.

Kahtoola MICROspikes are perfect for easy-level winter hikes. The traction on these microspikes keeps you from slipping in the snow and the lightweight property makes them easily packable.

I always keep a pair of microspikes with me on winter hikes, even if I know the conditions won’t be icy. Being prepared with the essential winter hiking gear may just save your life.

Trekking Poles

Our Pick
Leki Legacy Lite Trekking Poles

Lightweight is the name of the game with these trekking poles, one of the highest-rated on the market.

The Leki Legacy Lite Trekking Poles are highly rated among cold-weather hikers and four-season backpackers alike. Leki’s are some of the most lightweight poles on the market and are easy to carry in a day pack when not in use.

Trekking poles like the Leki Legacy Poles are essential for cold-weather hiking. Having a third point of contact helps immensely with balancing on the snow and may just save you from a fall.


Our Pick
Black Diamond Contract Strap Crampons

These crampons are ideal for beginners but can cover terrain suited for intermediate mountaineers and alpinists as well.

The Black Diamond Contract Strap Crampons are the ideal beginner pair of crampons. Crampons are for more serious terrain and often require the accompaniment of an ice axe, not trekking poles. Make sure to bring this winter hiking essential with you if climbing steep slopes or ice faces during your winter hike.

I started with the contact strap crampons and they’re still going strong five years later.

Ice Axe

Our Pick
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe

This beginner-level ice axe will be your best friend and a possible lifesaver on the backcountry winter trails.

The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe is a winter hiking packing list must. A good rule of thumb is to only venture into snowy terrain with an ice axe, especially on higher-altitude hikes or steep trails.

You can even opt to switch out your trekking poles for an ice axe on mid-level hikes just to be safe. Having an ice axe and knowing how to use it saves many hiker’s lives in the wintertime. 


Our Pick
Petzl Boreo Climbing Helmet

Protect your head from falling rocks or ice with this durable, lightweight helmet. It’s available in both women’s and men’s sizes.

A helmet like the Petzl Boreo Climbing Helmet is one of the most important winter hiking accessories. Helmets are a must when climbing steep terrain, especially when there’s the potential of falling rocks and ice.

Rock falls are frequent in the winter, especially on warm days. Additionally, rime ice is known to fall from trees in the wintertime, all the more reason to be prepared with your hiking helmet. 

Wool Neck Gaiter

Our Pick
Buff Merino Lightweight Neckwear

This versatile neck gaiter can be used in a variety of ways and protects your face and neck from both sunburn and windburn.

A neck gaiter is the perfect accessory to protect you from a nasty sunburn or windburn when winter or summer hiking. Of course, there are so many different ways to wear the Buff Merino Lightweight Neckwear, including as a headband or bandana. It can also be used as a napkin or to help bandage a wound in the backcountry.

This versatile neck buff is an essential part of snow hiking gear and may come in handy when you least expect it. I recommend having at least two on you at all times.

Polarized Sunglasses

Our Pick
Julbo Vermont Classic Glacier Glasses

Protect your eyes from sunburn with these polarized sunglasses, complete with side eye flaps ensuring full-optical coverage.

Did you know your eyes could get sunburnt from the reflection of the sun off the snow? Julbo Vermont Classic Glacier Glasses help protect against just that with their ultra-polarized properties and extra side eye protection flap.

I’ve hiked some of the highest mountains around the world with these glacier glasses and couldn’t recommend them more.

Offline GPS

Our Pick
Garmin inReach Mini 2

Whether you have a signal or not, this handy offline GPS helps you stay on the trail.

The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is a device that provides two-way communication, tracking, and interactive SOS capabilities. Clip this lightweight GPS to the front of your backpack and have SOS help ready at your fingertips in case of an emergency.

You can also send messages to loved ones back home with the Garmin inReach, even when there’s no cell service. 


Our Pick
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

This headlamp has a battery port and an option for a reusable battery to guarantee light even in emergency situations.

The Petzl Actik Core Headlamp is one of the top competitors in the headlamp industry. This superior headlamp has a max beam distance of 115 meters, ensuring you don’t hike off a cliff during an alpine start (starting before sunrise).

The rechargeable battery feature also ensures your battery lifespan lasts throughout a multi-day backpacking trip, especially when paired with a solar charger.

Gore-tex Gaiters

Outdoor Research Gore-tex Gaiters

These Gore-tex gaiters keep the snow and ice out of your hiking boots, ensuring you stay warm and dry for hours. 

Outdoor Research Gore-tex Gaiters are completely waterproof and protect your winter boots and socks from getting damp. I never hike in the snow without these Gore-tex gaiters.

Gaiters are also necessary when wearing crampons. It’s more than likely that you’ll accidentally (gently) stab your leg with the opposing foot’s crampon, especially when you’re first learning. Gaiters protect you from a wound and keep your winter hiking pants tear-free.

Hardshell Pants

Our Pick
REI Co-op Trailmade Rain Pants

Be unstoppable in extreme weather with this pair of hardshell waterproof pants. They are also great for glissading down snow.

The REI Co-op Trailmade Rain Pants are waterproof hardshell rain pants that remain durable even in the most intense rain or snowstorm.

A tough hardshell pant also protects your legs from getting wind chilled and keeps the snow from soaking through when glissading down the mountain (sliding down on your bum to get to the bottom faster).

Fleece Jacket

Our Pick
Patagonia Synchilla Fleece Jacket

I never hike a high-altitude mountain without this warm fleece jacket, the perfect item to layer in cold conditions.

The Patagonia Synchilla Fleece Jacket is one of the warmest fleece jackets on the market and also comes in a pullover style.

I’ve been to some of the highest mountains around the world with the Patagonia Synchilla. The Synchilla kept me warm at 19,300 feet on both Mount Kilimanjaro and Cotopaxi, at 18,500 feet on Pico de Orizaba, and at nearly 17,000 feet on Mount Ararat in Turkey. 

Puffer Jacket

Our Pick
Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket

Stay warm and stylish with this 800-fill down jacket that packs down into its own pocket.

A puffer jacket like the stylish Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket is a big component of a winter hiking packing list. Layer this heavy goose-down jacket atop a Merino wool base layer and fleece jacket for added warmth on winter hikes below 50 degrees.

I love that the Cotopaxi Fuego jacket has a hood. Look for this feature when choosing a puffer jacket to keep your neck and head warm during violent wind gusts.

Rain Jacket

Our Pick
Outdoor Research Aspire II Gore-tex Jacket
Rain and snow are no match for this Gore-tex rain jacket, guaranteed to keep you as warm as ever on the mountain.

The Outdoor Research Aspire II Gore-tex Jacket is one of the top rain jackets in the winter hiking clothes market. The Gore-tex features of this jacket make it completely waterproof on the mountain, even in bouts of downpours.

I recommend sizing up when considering a rain jacket to ensure extra room for all your extra layers underneath.

Water Filter

Our Pick
Katadyn Hiker Pro Clear Micro Filter

This water filter cleans bacteria out of your drinking water and is one of the most efficient in the outdoors.

The Katadyn Hiker Pro Clear Micro Filter is a water filter that keeps you healthy and quenched on the trail. Odds are, most of the water sources will be frozen on your winter hike. The best way to go about attaining water on a winter hike is to first melt down snow in your camp stove and then filter it further for extra protection against bacteria.

Glove Liners

Our Pick
Arc’teryx Rho Glove Liners

This base layer glove is perfect for mild conditions or for layering with other warmer gloves.

You need glove liners like the Arc’teryx Rho Glove Liners on extremely cold days. Hands and feet are among the first body parts to get cold on a winter hiking trail, so ensuring they’re nice and toasty guarantees a comfortable winter hiking experience.

Arc’teryx is one of the highest-quality outdoor brands there is. Pair this glove liner with a mid-layer and heavy-layer glove and you’ll be guaranteed to get your money’s worth.

Medium-level Gloves

Our Pick
Gordini Fall Line Gloves

These gloves are perfect for when a storm starts to roll in or for when you’re hiking with a cold metal ice axe.

The Gordini Fall Line Gloves are the perfect mid-layer pair of gloves for hiking in the winter. Pair these gloves with the Arc’teryx Rho Glove Liners for a dynamic duo that’s sure to keep your hands warm, especially when holding a cold metal ice axe.

For an added degree of warmth, add hand warmers to the inside of your Gordini Fall gloves or add a pair of down mittens on top.

First Aid Kit / Travel Medicine Kit

Our Pick
Protect Life First Aid Kit Amazon
Be extra prepared for health-related issues or emergencies in the outdoors with this first aid kit.

The Protect Life First Aid Kit has everything you need for a minor hiking incident, including bandages, scissors, tweezers, and medicine.

The first aid kit can also be combined with a Travel Medicine Kit, especially when hiking abroad. This kit includes many different tablets, including electrolytes and painkillers.

Other Winter Hiking Essentials to Pack

  • Energy gels
  • Water tablets
  • Extra socks
  • Baseball cap
  • Bivy Waterproof Sleeping Sack
  • Extra batteries
  • Map and compass
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand warmers
  • Foot warmers
  • Solar charger

Clothing to Pack for Winter Hiking 

Layering is the most important aspect of hiking in the winter. I recommend overpacking your hiking layers in the winter as you want to be prepared for anything, including quick-changing weather conditions.

On extremely cold days, you’ll often find yourself wearing 1-2 tops, a fleece layer, a puffer, a rain jacket, a beanie, baselayer pants, hardshell pants, and at least two pairs of gloves if not more. Clothing and gear really do make or break a successful winter hiking trip, so don’t skimp on items and bring the top hiking essentials.

So what clothing should you pack for winter hiking? Here is a quick clothing checklist for hiking in the winter: 

  • 2 pairs of socks
  • Mountaineering boots
  • Gore-tex gaiters
  • Baselayer pants
  • Softshell pants
  • Hardshell pants
  • Baselayer top
  • Mid-layer top
  • Fleece layer jacket
  • Mid-layer down jacket
  • Heavy down jacket
  • Rain Jacket
  • Parka
  • Liner gloves
  • Mid-layer gloves
  • Down mittens
  • Down booties
  • Beanie
  • 1-2 neck buffs

Keep in mind that your hiking backpack will likely be heavier in the winter due to the extra amount of gear and clothing that’s required. However, the items in my winter hiking packing list are essential and should accompany every winter hike.


Our Pick
Smartwool Thermal Merino Block Beanie

Keep your head protected with this wool beanie, compact enough to fit under a climbing helmet.

Even if the forecast says your hiking day will be bright and sunny, I still recommend bringing a warm wool beanie like the Smartwool Thermal Merino Block Beanie just in case.

Winter weather in the mountains can quickly change, making it essential to pack for anything. This Smartwool beanie keeps your head and neck warm while hiking, can fit under a climbing helmet, and is the perfect pajama topper for an overnight adventure.

Down Booties

Our Pick
Outdoor Research Tundra Trax Booties

Keep your toes warm with these down booties, perfect to slip on during breaks on the mountain or for overnight snow adventures. 

Down booties like the Outdoor Research Tundra Trax Booties are a must in the winter, especially if you’re spending the night on the mountain. I always bring these booties with me when I backcountry camp, even on mountains like Half Dome, one of the coolest hikes in Yosemite National Park.

Waterproof Hiking Pants

Our Pick
Black Diamond StormLine Stretch Rain Pants

Be unstoppable about getting stranded in the rain with this pair of rain pants.

The Black Diamond StormLine Stretch Rain Pants are comfortable enough to hike in and waterproof enough to endure any storm. They’re far more comfortable as hiking pants than hardshell pants. They can even be paired with a Merino wool base layer and a hard shell rain pants for extreme weather days.

Merino Wool Base Layer

Our Pick
Smartwool Thermal Women

Keep your core warm all hike long with this Merino wool base layer, available in both men’s and women’s sizes.

Winter hiking clothes like the Smartwool Thermal Women help keep you warm even in freezing temperatures. This Smartwool layer is perfect for pairing with other winter hiking outer shells to guarantee warmth during your adventures.

Also available in men’s sizes, this Smartwool layer also doubles as the perfect pajama top during overnight expeditions. 

Down Mittens

Our Pick
Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Mittens

These down mittens are perfect for keeping your hands warm in extreme terrain.

Down mittens like the Outdoor Research Coldfront Down Mittens are best suited for the coldest, highest, and most extreme mountain terrain. I’ve used Outdoor Research down mittens on some of the highest mountains I’ve been on (almost 20,000 feet) and probably wouldn’t have made it to the top without this warm outer layer.

Winter Hiking Packing Tips

Start Hiking Before Sunrise

A line of alpine starters between the glacier portion of Mont Blanc at dusk
A line of alpine starters near the glacier portion of Mont Blanc 

Hiking before sunrise ensures you’ll have sturdy snow throughout the beginning of your hike. Slushy snow can be dangerous to hike on and can lead to avoidable winter hiking accidents.

Also known as an ‘alpine start’, hiking before sunrise eliminates a bulk of the weekend hiking crowds, leaving the snow trail pristine and rid of copious boot tracks. 

Always Bring More Food Than You Need

The author McKenna Mobley with other hiker, posing while having their snack on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Stopping for a hiking snack on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Bring more food than you would normally eat on a summer hike to take into account the extra energy you’ll be exerting in the winter. Extra food also comes in handy to share with other hikers who didn’t bring enough.

You expend way more energy on a winter hike than you do during the other three seasons. This is especially true if the snow isn’t compact and you need to break through the top ice layer.

Start Off Hiking a Little Cold

Panoramic view of the snow covered landscape from the summit of San Gorgonio
A photo I took from the summit of San Gorgonio

When starting a hike, avoid overheating and sweating by not wearing all your layers at the onset. Sweating in the cold is not enjoyable, especially before the sunrise.

I recommend starting off in your base layer and maybe one other layer on extremely cold days.

Carry Both Microspikes and Crampons 

Closeup look of the snow gears on San Jacinto, Southern California
Posing with my snow gear on San Jacinto, Southern California

Bring both microspikes and crampons on your winter hike and be prepared for any terrain. It’s sometimes hard to tell which you’ll need depending on recent snow and ice conditions. Bringing both means you won’t have to turn around due to ill-fitted gear.

On days when you bring both, make sure you have your ice axe packed too.

Always Check the Weather Beforehand

View of the hikers in the middle of the snow storm on Cotopaxi, Ecuador
We endured a brutal storm on Cotopaxi, Ecuador
The author McKenna Mobley with other hikers, posing after the storm on Cotopaxi, Ecuador
The aftermath of the storm was frozen solid clothing

Always make sure to check the weather before you set out on a hike. Winter weather can change in the blink of an eye, especially on high-altitude mountains. I like to use the mountain weather website because I find that it’s more accurate than other mountain weather sites. Plus, you can see the weather from various elevations on the mountain.

FAQs About Winter Hiking Gear 

What do you wear hiking in the winter?

Hiking in the winter means wearing items made of Gore-tex. This is more reliable than waterproof and water-resistant hiking clothes, so try to look for the Gore-tex label when shopping for gaiters, hiking pants, hiking boots, and a hardshell jacket.

How do you stay warm on an overnight winter hike?

Stay warm on overnight winter hikes by sleeping in a warm Merino wool base layer paired with a fleece jacket, mountaineering socks, gloves, and a beanie. Make sure you use foot and hand warmers and sleep in a sleeping bag rated 20 degrees F and lower.

How do you choose a tent for winter hiking?

You need a 4-season tent for camping in the winter. While a summer tent or other 3-season tent will get the job done, it won’t be as comfortable as a warmer-rated 4-season tent.

What is the best base layer for winter hiking?

Any Merino wool base layer is the best for winter hiking. This is the warmest type of base layer out there and is guaranteed to keep you warm throughout the entire hike.


Thank you for reading my guide on winter hiking gear essentials! Comment below which gear item is your favorite and check out this guide to hiking with kids. Happy hiking!

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