With decreasing temperatures, the number of hikers is falling as well. Not everyone is a fan of winter hiking and many times people think that it is just for the most devoted outdoor enthusiasts who don't mind wading through the snow and being outside in freezing temperatures. Cold weather might even be the most commont reason why people rather wait inside till spring. Right clothing, though, will keep you comfortable and safe all day long, even when it's freezing.
HOW SHOULD YOU DRESS PROPERLY FOR COLD WEATHER?
The golden rule when choosing the clothes (not only) for a winter hike is LAYERING. To keep ourselves warm, we simply need to dress like an onion – several thinner layers will keep you warmer than one thick layer. It is especially true for outdoor activities – the weather conditions might change as much as intensity of your performance. The right apparel has to work during a steep climb on a sunny slope, walking in a valley, or a break on a windy mountain ridge. The layers do their job excellently as we may add or remove a layer as needed at the moment. We should always count on three layers at least:
1) FIRST – BASIC LAYER
Basic layer is the one closest to your body, that's why it is especially important for it to be functional. Next-to-skin layer should regulate the body temperature and wick the moisture. It should be breathable, draw excessive heat and sweat away from your body, but at the same time it does not let the cold and humidity in. There are plenty of functional materials on the market, but from those of natural origin, merino wool is definitely the most suitable one. Forget the cotton. Its problem is that it absorbs and retains sweat easily, it doesn't let it out and thus it fails at keeping you warm and dry. Wet cotton will actually cool you down, which is not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous in winter. On the other hand, merino wool wicks moisture and even when it gets wet, it still keeps you warm. Modern synthetic materials might be able to breathe and regulate your body temperature, too. Unlike merino wool though, synthetics tend to develop an unpleasant smell when you sweat. Merino wool is odourless.
Functional base layer should be fitting, flexible and shouldn't restrict your movement in any way. By the way, it is always a good idea to have an extra base layer or a t-shirt in your backpack so you can either add one more layer or simply change it when needed.
Layers, layers, layers. It is crucial to stay warm and dry. Merino wool does this job excellently as first as well as second layer.
2) SECOND – INSULATING LAYER
Even the best performing base layer will not work at 100% if it is combined with a non-functional material. The second layer should maintain the body heat and provide insulation. It keeps the heat you produce during your activity close to your body, and it also prevents the cold from the outside to get in. Both layers – the basic as well as insulating one, should be fast-drying or be able to manage moisture properly. The thickness of the second layer depends on the conditions - from lighter layers, to heavier superwarm sweaters or jackets. When the conditions are changing, it is convenient to have a zipper and armpit ventilation, enabling you to better regulate the body temperature. Fleece is a very popular synthetic insulating material. If you prefer natural origin, merino wool performs extraordinarily. It has a unique thermoregulating ability. Unlike traditional sheep wool, it is very soft and does not itch. In milder conditions it works perfectly as the outer layer, too. It naturally repells water and thus you can wear it in drizzle, light rain or snow without any extra layer.
3) THIRD – OUTER LAYER
Use the third layer as protection from elements – mainly wind and water (rain or snow). Choose the third layer according to the weather, but also your activity. When performing intense aerobic sports (like skialpinism, hiking or snowshoeing), the outer layer should be breathable, too. Avoid heavy ski jackets - these are fine for downhill skiing or activities that do not produce much body heat. Technical materials such as goretex will work better, for lighter activities softshell is fine as well.
In extremely low temperatures, think about an extra insulating layer – down works just fine, but only in dry conditions. If you need water resistance, too, materials such as primaloft could be a better choice. You'll appreciate this extra layer especially when the intensity of your movement is low – for instance during a well-deserved break on a summit, when your body does not produce enough heat itself. Merino wool is a wonderful natural alternative. It is able to regulate your body temperature according to your performance. For instance, during a steep climb it will draw away excessive heat produced by your body, but it will trap it close to you when taking a break or descending from summit, and thus it will keep you warm when you actually need it.
Merino wool is the most universal functional natural material. It is an excellent choice for winter hiking and should not miss in any outdoor closet.
WHAT TO WEAR ON LEGS AND FEET?
In case of trousers, similar rules apply – we choose proper layers depending on specific conditions. Combine the comfortable functional base layer with the right outer layer. In dry conditions, merino wool trousers will keep you warm and protect you from unpleasant weather, even in snow. During intense activities you'll appreciate it is highly breathable and thus it prevents you from overheating. In high humidity (e.g. intense rain) you might need something with higher water resistance – for instance insulated softshell trousers.
Besides hands, feet are the most vulnerable parts of the body in cold weather. Never underestimate high-quality warming socks. Also here, functional material is crucial – it should be able to insulate but also manage the moisture. Merino wool socks are an excellent choice. Merino wool is soft, non-itchy, it prevents odour, but most importantly, it keeps your feet warm even when the socks get wet so sweaty feet or snow in your shoes do not need to bother you. If you keep moving, the sock will keep your feet warm.
Never underestimate the mountains and the preparation. Especially in winter.
WHAT ABOUT ACCESSORIES?
In winter, good gloves are important. Frozen fingers could ruin even the best trip. Fingers lose the heat very quickly - in cold weather, two layers are ideal as well: warm merino wool gloves as a base and an outer waterproof pair (for instance from goretex). Other accessories are always useful – headbands and hats, unitubes and scarfs will help you keep yourself comfortable. Our favourite material is – of course – merino wool. Read more about its excellent qualities you'll appreciate not only in winter here.
Our tip: Merino wool hat Arctic
The right clothes are essential for a good winter hike. However, it is certainly not the only criterium. We will write about other stuff to think about next time.
It is no rocket science to get ready for winter outdoor activities. The crucial thing is to never underestimate the mountains – insufficient equipment might cause serious troubles. In winter hiking, „less is more“ is certainly not applicable. On the contrary, it is good to have more layers and accessories – if you are not wearing them, have them ready at least in your backpack. Just in case. It is said there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. We in Black Hill Outdoor truly believe it and that's why we aim to provide you with the best apparel possible. Merino wool is an excellent base layer, insulant and in mild conditions, even the outer layer. Merino wool should not miss in any outdoor closet. With proper clothing, winter hiking is at least as enjoyable as hiking in summer. So let's explore the winter nature!