Cold Weather Clothing
The simple rule of winter camping is to stay dry and warm. Your best bet is to
wear layers with different properties. The three basic layers:
- The base layer is basically your underwear - the layer next to your skin.
Synthetic and merino wool fabrics work best (avoid cotton). They wick
perspiration away from your skin to outer layers so it can evaporate. They
dry quickly so you spend minimal time in wet clothing. When snow camping,
it's common to wear 2 base layers: a lightweight or mid-weight layer, then
a thicker heavyweight layer.
- The middle layer is your insulating layer. It is primarily designed to help
you retain body heat. For snow camping, consider expedition-weight fleece or
microfleece shirts, pants and jacket and/or a goose down jacket.
- The outer layer, or shell, is your waterproof/windproof/breathable layer.
Laminates such as Gore-Tex offer premium protection. Less expensive alternatives
use polyurethane-coated fabrics that are equally waterproof but somewhat less
breathable. Look for core vents and underarm vents that expel excess heat and
- One alternative is to wear thermals, uniform pants and then ski pants or snow pants
for an outer layer that is both insulating and waterproof.
- If you take a break, put on a layer so you don't cool off too much. Your body
will have to work harder to warm up again.
- As you warm up, remove layers to avoid getting your clothing sweaty (sweat
- Avoid getting wet. Boys always think it is fun to stomp in a puddle or to
risk stepping into a stream. In cold weather, avoid these urges. If you are wearing
knit mittens or gloves, don't make snow balls.
While it may be possible to get by with traditional hiking boots, most snow
trekking is greatly enhanced by winter or mountaineering boots that are waterproof
Tip: Warm up socks and boot insoles by keeping them in the sleeping bag next to
- Hats: You lose a significant percentage of your body heat through the top of
your head. Follow the old mountaineering adage: "If your feet are cold, put on
a hat." A knit cap that covers the ears may be a good start. A balaclava that
covers almost all of the face is even warmer.
- Gloves and mittens: Another must. Take extras, too, in case they get wet.
Mittens are better for keeping the heat in, but gloves allow more activities.
Consider what you will be doing. For example, you won't want to wear nice,
fleece mittens to collect firewood.
- Gaiters: A must for deep snow, they help keep snow and water out of your boots.
They even add a bit of warmth. Be sure to use a waterproof/breathable model
designed for winter use.
- Goggles and glasses: Always protect your eyes from sun and wind. There are
different lens tints for various weather conditions.
- Socks: Wear a thin, snug synthetic layer next to your skin. Wear a second
layer over that made of wool, or a wool/synthetic mix. Avoid cotton
socks for winter camping. The thickness of your second sock is determined
by your boot fit. An extra-thick sock will not keep your feet warm if it makes
your boots too tight. Take extras. If they get wet, put them in the sleeping
bag next to you to dry.
- Traction Cleats: Add something like Yaktrax or MICROspikes to the bottom of your
shoes to give you traction on ice.
- Snow Shoes: If there is significant snow on the ground, snow shoes are a great
addition as they will give you traction. They also keep your boots out of the snow so
they are less likely to get soaked if they are not waterproof (snow melts in
contact with your warm boots).
- Hand and foot warmers: If you have all the right gear and still find your hands or
feet getting numb, you may want to try disposable hand or foot warmers. Just be sure
not to put them in direct contact with your skin as they get too hot for that.
Acknowledgement: The initial version of this page was based on part of an
the REI.com website. In addition
to that website, REI has a camping gear store in
Page updated 2/12/21