There is an abundance of gear out there for any outdoor adventure. When it comes to deciding which gear is the most important you have to ask yourself what you will be doing. If that answer is backpacking in the winter, like a Canada winter where the temperature drops well into the negatives, then quality clothing should be at the top of your list. Here are a few things to consider before picking out your new winter clothing gear.
As far as hiking clothing goes, there are a few keywords to consider when choosing.
- Moisture wicking – you are going to sweat out there and you want that moisture to evaporate instead of saturating your clothing. Wet clothes in the winter can quickly lead to scary words like hypothermia.
- Quick drying – sometimes your clothes get wet, because let’s face it… you’re out in the wild! It rains, snows, hails, and sometimes you just fall and get wet. No matter how it happens you want to dry off quick. Because, again…Hypothermia = Bad.
- Waterproof – If it is wet outside you don’t want any of that coming through to your base layers. For three season hikes you won’t need a waterproof outer layer unless the weather calls for it. For your winter hikes, a waterproof outer layer is a must. It not only protects you when it wet out but it also protects you from the wind. If you haven’t noticed the trend yet, wet clothing is bad when it comes to winter hikes.
- Breathable – Breathable outer layers are so important. You could use a plastic bag as a jacket which would be waterproof but you would sweat like crazy, and that would mean, you guessed it!… wet clothes.
- Insulating – You already know you need to stay dry, now you might as well be toasty out there. When you are thinking of insulation you have a few options not to different from your sleeping bags. Synthetic, Merino Wool, and Down.
Layering is your friend. There is a standard 3 layers that you want to consider. Let it be known that cotton is the devil, ha but really.
- Base layer – This would be your long johns. Synthetic or (as we prefer) merino wool. Silk is also highly recommended for cold weather but in truth I have not tried it yet. These materials wick moisture away but synthetic seems to breed bacteria more, causing it to smell. We always lean towards merino wool when we have a choice. That applies to our hiking/snowboarding socks. For 2 blister free years now we have been rocking Cloudline merino wool socks and we will not go back.
- Mid layer – This is where you focus on your warmth. Micro fleece, or down filled jackets will be your friend. Down does not not insulate very well when it’s wet but it is super light , compressible and warm. Keep your trip location and weather forecast in mind when packing. I recently purchased an Ortovox merino wool jacket. I haven’t used it in extreme temps yet but can’t wait to put it through the ringer. Again merino wool = moisture wicking and if it gets wet it don’t fret too much because wet wool still works as a great insulator.
- Outer layer (shell) – You are going to shell out a lot of money in this department…get it? shell out?! Ha. I’m bringing up money because the words you’re looking for and are going to pay for are Gore-Tex or eVent. Less expensive shells will do a decent job at keeping the water out but they won’t release your perspiration to the same level as Gore-Tex.
After you pick out your new gear, realize that winter hiking is not getting dressed once and heading out. It is a constant monitoring of your body temp and moisture level. Many times you’ll ditch a layer while you’re pushing yourself. The second you stop, you’ll start to cool off. The first thing I do when I take a break is throw on some extra layers. Then you start hiking again and within a few minutes you have to stop to shred that extra gear. It’s a little game but it keeps you warm, and dry. And, dry and warm is the name of the game when enjoying winter hiking! Happy Hiking!