Staying Warm While Hiking In the Cold

Photo credit: Gideon Haden ChomphosyTrue hiking enthusiasts will brave the cold of winter to get their tread on the trail. Being enthusiastic will only get you so far, of course. You need to stay comfortable and warm while you’re at it. Lots of people are looking for tips to stay warm while hiking in the winter or backpacking in the winter. It’s not just about staying warm, though. It’s about managing your body temperature.

A heavyweight base layer, a thick fleece, and a down sweater will keep you warm while hiking, but that setup will also leave you drenched in sweat well before your first hill climb.

Here are some other tips to stay comfortable and warm while hiking in the cold.


It’s not cliché, or played out. It’s the law of the land. Layering is key for any outdoor pursuits in cold weather, especially aerobic activities like hiking. What you wear depends on the conditions.

Generally speaking, you want a good base layer, a warm insulating mid layer, and an outer layer such as a rain jacket or soft shell jacket.

Base layer

Put some thought into your base layer. Choose one that wicks away moisture and one insulates when wet. Synthetic and merino wool are good options for cold weather base layers. Avoid cotton in the winter. Get a long top and bottom base layer for extra warmth.

Mid layer

A synthetic fleece is typically your go to for a mid layer. Again, steer clear of cotton. The weight of your mid layer will depend on weather conditions and preference.

Outer layer

Wear a hardshell or a softshell jacket for extra warmth and protection from the elements.  A hardshell will repel water and block wind better than a softshell, but softshells are more breathable.

Keep your core warm

Once your core gets chilled it’s going to be difficult to feel warm again. Vests help you stay warm while hiking in the cold, because they insulate your core and still provide breathability.

Start cool

It’s better to start your hike a little chilly than a little warm. Think about it this way: if you’re toasty at the trail head at 60 bpm, you need to lose some layers because you’re going to be roasting in the first mile.

Do a warm up before your hike

This will help warm up your muscles and elevate your heart rate. This will also help you feel warmer before you start hiking.


Hats, gloves, neck gaiters, etc. provide extra warmth, and will help you stay warm while hiking in the cold. They’re also ideal for regulating body temperature.


No cotton. You’ve probably picked up on a theme here. Merino wool hiking socks are more comfortable, they are warmer, and are all-around better than traditional cotton socks.


Your body burns calories for energy. Eating food will give you the energy you need to keep moving on the trail, and will also help your body stay warm.

Warm beverages

Pack a thermos of your favorite hot drink or your backpacking stove and a couple packets of teat, cider, cocoa, or coffee for a little extra warmth on the trail.

Heed nature’s call

Holding it is only going to make you feel colder. An empty bladder will actually help your body stay warmer.

Hand warmers

Cheap or expensive, disposable or reusable, they’re all good for adding some extra warmth on the trail.

Keep moving

You can still take time to stop and smell the roses, but you’ve got to keep moving if you want to stay warm. Keep your heart rate up and keep your blood flowing. Of course, take rest breaks if you need to, especially to help prevent sweat from building up.


What are your favorite tips to keep warm while hiking in the cold? Let us know in the comments below!

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