Summer is officially over, but your hiking adventures aren’t! Although many of us enjoy hiking on bright, sunny days, hiking in winter or autumn is exceptional in its own way. The wonderful spectrum of autumn colors or snowshoeing through the pure white snow. It sounds tempting, isn’t it?

But hiking in cold weather is challenging too. If you want your hike to be pleasant, flawless and enjoyable, the first requirement is proper clothes which will make you feel warm and comfortable during your hike. Read this tips to learn how to manage hiking in heavy rainfall, strong winds and temperatures just above freezing.

What Materials You Should Avoid

First, forget cotton! One of the most used materials actually retains moisture and dries slowly, so it’s extremely poor in regulating your body temperature. Cotton clothes easily get soaked with sweat and that can be very unpleasant, especially when you rest.

The fibers in the cotton line up next to each other, and these tiny, air pockets are filled with fluids when you sweat, so the cotton doesn’t behave like an insulator. When it’s cold, cotton just can’t help you to retain heat.

There are many other fabrics which are suitable for hiking and various sports activities. The best alternatives to cotton clothes are natural fibers like merino wool or synthetic fibers like polyester. Merino wool is very prized material among hikers. It is quite effective in retaining the warmth of your body due to its high porosity. Merino wool and synthetic fibers don’t retain moisture, so they’ll keep your skin dry.

Manufactured fibers made from cellulose, such as modal, rayon, viscose and lyocell, are even the worse solution than cotton, so avoid using them for hiking activities.

Magnificent autumn colors at the Bachalpsee lake

Layers for Hiking in Cold Weather

As you probably have experienced by yourself, weather in mountains is quite unpredictable. You can experience all four seasons in one day. Thereby the easiest way to manage weather and temperature changes is to dress in layers. When it suddenly gets warmer, you can easily make the adjustment and take a layer off.

If you’re feeling cold during your hike in mountains, that could be a real pain in the neck. But not only it can be extremely uncomfortable – it can be dangerous because it can lead to hypothermia. And besides that, shaking from the cold will attract you from the beauty that surrounds you, and you don’t want to miss the real pleasure of hiking in mountains.

So, here are the basics of clothes layering for hiking in cold weather.

The first layer is the against-the-skin layer. This base layer manages moisture in order to keep your skin dry. As previously said, avoid cotton and various forms of cotton, and use clothes made of merino wool or synthetic fibers.

wehike mauvoisin glacier de corbassiere
WeHikers are crossing the Passerelle de Corbassière bridge above the Glacier de Corbassière

Second or middle layer is an insulation layer. While the first layer manages moisture, the second one protects you from the cold. This layer helps your body to remain warm by capturing warm air close to your body. You can’t make a mistake if you choose merino wool or goose down for the insulation layer.

Third or the shell layer protects you from rain, snow, and wind. It will prevent water and the wind from penetration into inner layers, but they also let some perspiration to escape to avoid condensation on the inside. There are several categories of shell layers, so it’s up to you to choose whether you like the water-resistant shell, waterproof and breathable shell or perhaps waterproof but non-breathable. The difference is in purpose and price, but it’s always recommended to invest your money in high-quality hiking gear.

A note of caution – try not to overdress because over-dressing can lead to intensive perspiration so you will get the opposite effect of intended.

Protect Your Head and Extremities

A sunny day in mountains doesn’t mean a warm day. So, when you’re hiking on a cold day don’t get fooled by a cloudless sky. You should protect yourself from the sun, even if you don’t feel the sun heat. Wear sunglasses if needed and always use sun protection to shield your skin from UV rays.

Le Berarde
Even on a cold day, protect yourself from the Sun. Photographed at our WeHike in the Parc National des Ecrins

Don’t forget to protect your hands from cold. Gloves are essential hiking gear when hiking in cold weather. There are many hiking gloves on the market, but make sure they fit you well and give your hands a proper insulation and warmth, and choose gloves which give you mobility if you don’t want to take them off anytime you need to use your hands.

Don’t forget hiking socks! Keeping your feet dry during hiking is of a great importance, so always wear socks recommended for hiking and always bring an extra pair of socks. Choose between wool socks or socks made of synthetic fibers, but avoid wearing both synthetic socks and boots at the same time. Even if your body feels warm, wet feet can make you feel cold and ruin your hiking adventure.

And finally –  an umbrella on a hike? Why not!

WeHikers on their way to Creux du Van in the Swiss Neuchatel Canton



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