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Layering 101: How to Layer for Winter Hiking

You are invited on a winter hike through a part of nature you’ve been wanting to explore. Although you are beyond excited for this adventure, you’re unsure how to dress to keep warm yet be able to move about freely and not be weighed down. You hear you need to dress in layers. But what exactly does that mean?

If this sounds like you, you have come to the right place. Here, we are breaking down everything you need to know about layering and how to dress for winter hiking.

How to layer for winter hiking

What Is Winter Layering and Why Is it Important?

Layering for hiking isn’t throwing every wool or fleece clothing item you own on and heading out the door. Instead, it’s about choosing the right quality pieces to ensure you stay warm and dry and can remove layers to maintain the perfect core body temperature.

When hiking in the winter, the number one goal isn’t to stay warm. It’s actually to remain dry. So, when wondering how to layer for winter hiking, you must pick moisture-wicking base layers and waterproof items. That is more important than a giant fleece-lined jacket.

Here is why layering is so important: hypothermia, if a layer gets wet, it needs to be removed and replaced. The same goes for layering too much; you begin to sweat. Regardless of how a layer has gotten wet, it must be removed or replaced immediately, especially in negative temperatures. So, what types of clothes need to be layered to make sure you stay dry, warm, and safe?

How to Layer Winter Clothes for Hiking

There are six main layers to think of when planning on layering for a winter hike. This may seem like a lot, but when you are open to the elements for hours at a time, you’ll be glad you have fully prepared.

First Layer: Base Layer

The base layer is the first layer you put on. Some may consider this layer the long john layer, but it’s best to pick thin and moisture-wicking clothing. Contrary to old beliefs, you want to avoid all cotton materials for this layer.

Second Layer: Mid-layer

The mid-layer consists of the bulk of your insulation, which can be your fleeced line jackets and pants. If you need even more warmth, choose a down or down alternative to bulk up this insulating layer.


Depending on the temperatures, this layer may look different. If you know you’re layering for a snowy, cold winter hike, you’ll opt for a down or down alternative. On the other hand, if it’s not as cold or windy, you may want a warm but light fleece-lined jacket or a warm, moisture-wicking zip jacket.

Third Layer: Coats and Jackets

Unlike the mid-layer, these jackets will be lined with wind protection and waterproofing to keep the elements from touching the base and mid-layers.

These jackets and coats should be made of heavier, more quality materials and should have an attached hood.

Fourth Layer: Shell Layer

The shell layer is only needed when hiking in extreme temperatures like single or below-zero temperatures. When thinking about how to layer for winter hiking, picture this as the bow that wraps everything together, or that final layer of frosting on a cake.

You won’t always need a shell layer, but depending on your winter hiking destination, you’ll want to be prepared. This layer will be completely waterproof, moisture-wicking, and wind-breaking. This is what could save you when a dip in temperatures occurs.

Fifth Layer: Socks and Boots

You may see a theme here, but once again, when it comes to picking the right socks, your running shoe socks will not cut it here. You’ll need moisture-wicking and waterproof wool or synthetic winter hiking socks.

Socks and Boots

Winter hiking boots should be durable, lined, flexible, and waterproof to ensure no moisture can get in, but of course, if it does, your socks should keep your skin safe and dry.

Sixth Layer: Protective Gloves and Hats

Lastly, don’t forget some waterproof, moisture-wicking hiking gloves. Unlike ski gloves, you should be able to use and maneuver your hands and fingers freely. Opt for fleece-lined gloves over bulky synthetic padded gloves.

Protecting the top of your head with a warm wool or synthetic fabric hat is also greatly important—something with moisture-wicking properties and warmth.

Layering Winter Hiking Clothes for Women: Our Top Picks

Base Layer

Cuddl Duds Women’s Long Sleeve Top and Leggings

Cuddl Duds Women's Long Sleeve Top and Legging Bottom Moisture Wicking Thermal Underwear Base Layer 2-Piece Set - Graphite, Medium

This Cuddl Duds base layer set is the perfect first layer for winter hiking. The two piece set offers thermal warmth before winter temperatures.

The close-to-the-body fit allows you to easily layer on top of without being too bulky. This set is designed with a moisture-wicking fabric that maintains dry comfort and warmth while the breathable dense knit fabric maximizes airflow.

Made of mostly spandex, this base layer hugs your body in all the right places, keeping you cozy and offering full mobility without sagging and bagging.

Mid Layer

Women’s Lightweight Water-Resistant Puffer Jacket

Amazon Essentials Women's Lightweight Long-Sleeve Water-Resistant Puffer Jacket (Available in Plus Size), Black, X-Large

The close but comfortable fit helps retain your body’s warmth while allowing you to move freely. Made of 100 percent polyester, this jacket is lined and filled to ensure warmth even on the coldest winter days.

This jacket is 100 percent waterproof and will be perfect for a snowy winter hike. It’s also exceptionally travel-friendly, so if the weather warms up or you find yourself a bit too hot, you can easily remove this jacket and pack it away with no issues.

Third Layer

Women’s Waterproof Ski Jacket

TACVASEN Ski Jackets for Women Winter Waterproof Jackets for Women Outdoor Jacket Women Hiking Warm Fleece Jacket Full Zip Snow Coat

With this hooded winter coat, you’ll be fully prepared for that winter hike. The polyester materials retain warmth by being water and wind-resistant to keep any cold snow from soaking through the jacket.

The fleece lined inside keeps you cozy and warm while not letting any wind in but still being flexible and comfortable moving around.

It comes with a fleece-lined hood that can be removed if needed. You’ll stay nice and dry with this fantastic layering option for your winter hike. Remember, you may want to size up since this is the third layer of clothing.

Shell Layer

Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Insulated Jacket

Layering 101: How to Layer for Winter Hiking 1

This jacket is the way to go when looking for a proper shell layer for winter hiking. The lightweight yet breathable fabric offers moisture-wicking technology. The air-mesh lining is designed to help your body regulate temperature in extreme weather conditions.

You won’t be disappointed with this shell layer. It moves with you and keeps you toasty warm while feeling lightweight enough to hike and move around in.


RANDY SUN Waterproof Breathable Socks

RANDY SUN Waterproof Hiking Fishing Socks For Men, Daily Dry Warm Moisture Wicking Novelty Elite Business Barefoot Camping Wading Running Performance Outdoor Recreation Crew Socks, Black Grey L

One of the most important layers is your footwear when looking into how to layer for winter hiking. You’ll have to grab some waterproof socks that can aid in keeping your feet ultra dry and warm.

With their three layer knt construction, these socks are breathable and 100 percent waterproof. The cushioned sole and seamless toe help make walking even more comfortable, especially long-distance hiking.


Columbia Women’s Waterproof Hiking Boot

Columbia womens Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Hiking Boot, Black/Poppy Red, 8 US

Winter hiking doesn’t mean finding the biggest warmest boots to wear. It’s all about maintaining a dry foot while still having a flexible and comfortable shoe.

With the Newton Rigr Hiking Boot, that’s exactly what you will get. They are lightweight with a durable sole to handle all hiking conditions, while the tongue mesh offers superior breathable technology. Don’t worry about the mesh tongue; the entire shoe is waterproof, full-grain leather to keep your feet 100 percent dry.


Winter Touchscreen Gloves for Men & Women

XTSZX Winter Warm Gloves for Men Women Touchscreen Gloves Cold Weather Windproof Thermal Snow Gloves for Running Cycling Skiing Working Hiking(Medium)

When hiking in winter, you cannot forget to grab a pair of suitable winter gloves, and with our phones near us at all times, you’ll want to grab a pair of these touchscreen gloves.

Waterproof, warm, and comfortable are how these gloves are designed. They will keep your hands warm and dry throughout your hike and are made with a premium flannel material that allows them to be extra elastic to move with you and not against you.

Layering Winter Hiking Clothes for Men: Our Top Picks

Base Layer

Thermajohn Thermal Underwear for Men

Thermajohn Long Johns Thermal Underwear for Men Fleece Lined Base Layer Set for Cold Weather (Small, Black)

When searching for the best base layer for winter hiking, you have everything you need with these men’s thermal underwear.

These long johns are perfect to help keep your body’s warmth retained while also being moisture-wicking in case you sweat on your hike. Designed with the softest fleece, you won’t mind wearing these all day long.

Made with a four-way stretch material, this base layer keeps moving with your body, keeping close for warmth but allowing you to move about easily.

Mid Layer

Men’s Lightweight Full Zip Fleece Jacket

GIMECEN Men's Lightweight Full Zip Soft Polar Fleece Jacket Outdoor Recreation Coat with Zipper Pockets X-Large

This polar fleece jacket is made with ultra-soft microfleece materials for staying toasty warm while hiking during even the coolest winter conditions. Not only will you stay warm and dry, but you will also be extremely comfortable.

The soft collar, zippered front, and elastic cuff keep you easily mobile without restricting any movement. This is indeed one of the best items when layering for winter hiking.

Third Layer

Columbia Men’s Lite Hooded Jacket

Columbia Men's Powder Lite Hooded Jacket, Black, Small

You’ll feel beyond warm and comfortable when zipping this jacket up for your next winter hike. The waterproof outer shell protects you from the elements while blocking wind from cooling down your body’s temperature.

This jacket material repels water, so it’s impossible to penetrate, keeping you nice and dry even during snowy weather conditions. This is the perfect jacket for layering, and it’s also built to last with impeccable materials and stitching.

Shell Layer

Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket

Layering 101: How to Layer for Winter Hiking 2

If your winter hiking involves traveling below-zero temperatures, you’ll want to invest in a durable outer shell layer. You’ll need this professional hiking jacket if you’re tired of not feeling protected enough.

The three layer waterproof materials keep you dry while offering a breathable and flexible design that lets you move freely and comfortably. Better yet, this very lightweight design does not weigh you down or have any unnecessary padding.


Men’s Merino Wool Hiking Socks

Time May Tell Mens Merino Wool Hiking Cushion Socks Pack (Brown(2 pairs), US Size 9~13)

Keeping your feet dry is comforting and can save your extremities in below-zero temperatures.

These wool blend socks repel water and absorb, so there will be no more sweaty feet while hiking around, even in the coldest temperatures. The super thick food pads keep you less fatigued so you can hike longer, and the reinforced toe design helps prevent rubbing or blistering.


Columbia Men’s Suede Waterproof Hiking Boot

Columbia mens Newton Ridge Plus Ii Waterproof Boot Hiking Shoe, Cordovan/Squash, 10.5 US

Long days on the winter hiking trails are now better than ever with these comfortable yet breathable waterproof materials.

They are lightweight and durable, but these shoes were designed to have the best traction in snowy, slick conditions with dual-zone winter treads. These boots keep all the elements out, letting you go that extra mile.


Winter Touchscreen Jobs

ihuan Winter Cold Weather Gloves Waterproof Windproof Mens Women - Warm Touchscreen Anti-Slip Palm Thermal Gloves for Driving, Biking, Running, Hiking, Working

These windproof and waterproof gloves will keep your hands warm and dry throughout your hike. Unlike thick padded ski gloves, you’ll be free to move, climb, and keep traction in slick conditions.

Keep that final layer for winter hiking light and warm to ensure a comfortable yet safe hiking trip.

Wrapping up How to Layer for Winter Hiking

Instead of relying on a big, fully oversized jacket and multiple cotton layers, make sure to follow the proper layering techniques to have a comfortable and safe winter hiking experience.

If you want to renew your hiking and outdoor clothes, you must check out our women’s and men’s outdoor camping clothing for some new, fresh finds!