I get this question all the time. What do you wear while hiking in the winter?! Although, I haven't done A TON of winter hiking, I feel like I have my layers down to a science for what keeps me warm in all of the conditions I have encountered so far. (Including a real feel of -2° at a 4,000 foot summit) I will go over what I use and would be happy to answer questions and give any feedback on items you are looking at! You will come to find out that I am somewhat of an @llbean junkie but there are TONS of great brands out there! I am just lucky enough to live near a few nice LL Bean Outlets and find really good deals! I also highly recommed checking out sites like Poshmark, EBay, Gear Trade, REI and Steep and Cheap!
Base layers: Top LL Bean Hooded Heavyweight The hood has come in handy a couple of times on this base layer because I have come up in windy situations where I didn't quite want' my neck buff but wanted some extra coverage. Bottoms LL Bean Heavyweight and then I typically put another pair of thin fun print leggings over those. I lucked out and found my base layers at the LL Bean outlet for 50% off so I only have $50 invested in my tops and bottoms.
For my first winter hike I grabbed some performance cuddle duds at Walmart the night before and those worked perfectly fine. I just didn't think the quality would last a long time and got a great deal on my LL Bean gear, that is the only reason I upgraded. Just stay away from cotton products. Wicking away moisture is very important while hiking in the winter as you don't want wind to hit a layer and freeze.
Tops: Depending on temperatures, I may only need one layer over my base but I like to typically have one to two for insulation. I typically have something similar to this Mountain classic windproof zip up jacket on over a base layer and then I will put either my Sweater Fleece Pullover or my Hi-Pile Fleece Zip up over that.
Outer Shell: Most commonly, you will see my outer shell being my Dragon Heatwear Jacket (which I belieave has now been bought out by gobi heat) But I love the features of this jacket and most of the time I don't even need to use the heated portion because it is just that well made! Up to a 10 hour battery life, 3 heat settings: low, medium, and high, wind and water resistant soft shell outer material, ultra-soft fleece inner material, battery and charger included and they are machine washable!
Boots: For my first true winter hike, I did a sunrise Cadillac Mountain hike in Acadia National Park. I didn't have the time to special order hiking boots so I did use my Muck Boots (which worked great however, they are heavy to most and definitely made my calves burn more than hiking boots would have!) Just make sure that since you will be on snowy trails in the winter you have something with a little traction, a little insulated and waterproof and you will be fine!
I am currently using the Salomon Women's X Ultra Mid Winter CS Waterproof Hiking Boot.
Microspikes: This is something I highly recommend you keep in your pack. I use the Hillsound spikes just because I like the added feature of the velcro strap the runs over the top of your shoe to keep them in place a little better. Always check fitment of your spikes over the shoes you are wearing before you get on the trail! If you are just starting out and plan to do mostly walking trails in the winter, you can find a cheap pair of spikes/ice stabilizers for around $20. Yaktrax Walking/Traction Cleats
Gloves: Thin liner pair of gloves are great for most applications if you run fairly warm while hiking. Something like this would be fine. I have a cheap pair of Isotoner gloves and some cheap Under armor gloves. I do prefer something that has the ability to use a touch screen with my glove on. For an extra shell, I purchased a nice pair of LL Bean waterproof ski gloves. These are incredibly warm and cut down any wind you may be in. I also suggest to always keep hand warmers in your pack. (I typically carry them year round but especially in the winter) These do take about 15-30 minutes to start working but can be extremely helpful!
This variety pack would be a great addition to add to items you can put in your pack.. obviously not the whole package but put a few in there!
Neck Buff: You want something to give you coverage in case of wind. I love my polar neck buff! They come in mulitple different prints and have a nice fleece liner to keep you warm!
Socks: I tend to run a really nice pair of thick wool blend socks with a medium or heavy cushion. I treat them like a baselayer. I typically wear smartwool but there are other great brands like: Darn tough, Minus33, Wigwam, LLBean and REI. And then I usually put a fun, thin pair of socks over what I would consider my base sock. This additional layer is JUST FOR FUN. 1. Because I love fun prints and like to stand out and 2. Because I'm a nerd!
Hat: I am normally in an Arctic Cat beanie I have from snowmobiling which is fine. In a heavy sweating situation, I would suggest a performance style of beanie like this one from LL Bean. I personally want the red plaid one to match my Sweater Fleece from them and my cool red plaid boot socks made by Muk Luk
I typically swap back and forth between two different packs. This really comes down to how much gear you have an how many layers you plan on bringing with you! My last major hike I probably should have swapped over to my larger pack so that is what I will suggest. If you only plan on being out for a half day hike you can probably get away with around a 20-25L pack. My larger pack is the Osprey Kyte 36L which is great for day trips and when I need to pack extra items for Brock as well. There is plenty of room for layers and dog accessories!
**ROOKIE BLOOPERS/WARNING** I will warn you that if you normally hike with a water bladder in your pack and you go out in cooler temperatures or plan on gaining some elevation, ditch the bladder! I did make this mistake once! Luckily, I always pack a propel with electrolytes in the side of my pack so I still had that to drink from. I have since learned to bring a wide mouth nalgene bottle with me. (Wide in case you do get into a slush situation or need to melt snow down for extra hydration.) You fill your nalgene with hot water and then insulate them while hiking. (You can also use thermos bottles, however they tend to be much heavier). A couple should get you through a long hike no problem.
If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out! I can give you my opinion on outfits/gear you are looking at for winter hiking! Always remember your 10 essentials, especially in the winter! Help is usually farther away and rescue efforts are more strained with snow out there. Happy Hiking!!