Winter Gear for the Woman Who Loves to Spend Time Outdoors ~ Part 1: Layering
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
During my group outdoor adventures and mindfulness walks, I often have requests for recommendations for trail and outdoor gear. While we are all different with what is comfortable for our bodies, I thought I would share a few items and things I have learned about being outside in the winter.
Winter is a beautiful time of year and for those of us who love the outdoors, we don’t let the cold weather stop us from hitting the trail or spending time in the more than human world. I used to hate going outside in the winter until I learned that I didn’t have the right gear. The saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." Having the right cold-weather gear makes the difference between a miserable day and an amazing one.
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
In the next few blog posts, I will make recommendations for gear to keep you warm and will include a guide at the end of this section on how to layer for different temperatures. There is definitely a balance when it comes to outdoor winter activities. There is a saying in "hiker land" to "dress for the second mile, not the first". This means that you might be a little chilly at first, but if you don't overdress you will be comfortable for the rest of your hike. At the same time, it is wise to be prepared and carry extra gear in your backpack (hat, gloves, and an extra layer) for those unexpected temperature drops. Being safe means being prepared.
Without further ado, let's start with layering:
If you have read any hiking blogs about winter gear or talked with hikers, then you know that layering is essential. Let’s start with base layers. Wool or synthetic base layers are a must for outdoor winter adventures. An outdoor rule is no cotton in any season. You may have heard the saying "cotton kills" because when cotton gets wet (think sweat, drizzle, or a sudden downpour) it stops providing insulation which can be deadly in very cold conditions. Wool and synthetic fabrics have a "wicking" quality to keep you dryer and warmer.
I have several base layers including an REI polyester and spandex blend, Smartwool merino wool, and Eddie Bauer base layer merino, polyester, and spandex. I like the REI blend for days that are not as cold, but below 30 degrees I prefer the merino or merino blend. You can’t beat the warmth and moisture-wicking properties of merino wool, but if I wear merino wool when it’s too warm out I find it itchy (this may not be everyone, but it's worth experimenting on shorter hikes to see what works for you). Also, I like the ¼ zip tops because you might want to start zipped up as you venture out, but if you get too warm it is easy to zip them down to let in some air. Here are some suggestions:
REI Midweight Base Layers
Smartwool Merino Wool
Eddie Bauer Midweight Baselayers
Unfortunately, the Eddie Bauer no longer carries the merino wool base layer that I have, but many women hikers are recommending the following from Woolx:
I've also seen some options through Lands' End, L.L. Bean, Duckworth, 32 Degrees, Icebreaker, and even Costco, but I have not tried these brands. Sometimes people find good deals on outdoor clothing at stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls too. The supply issues we saw last year seem to be resolved this year, and I'm finding most base layers in stock. All can be pricy, so watch for sales this Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday.
Next comes your mid-layer. A mid-layer may serve as a top layer if you get too warm. There are many options here, but again, stick to wool or a synthetic like fleece. I have a polyester/spandex option for days that are not the coldest and prefer fleece for the coldest days. Last year I discovered Duckworth and the Appalachian Gear Company. These are very pricy items, but I've been happy with the performance and quality. I think I will have these items for many, many years.
Appalachian Gear Company
There are so many options for outer layers. I really like a down or down alternative jacket that is lightweight and packable because I tend to put it on and take it off several times during a long hike. Look for something that is water/weatherproof. I personally wear the Eddie Bauer Downlight 2.0 Hooded Jacket. It has 800 fill power with a -20 degree temperature rating and "Stormrepel" to shed moisture. I like my jackets with a hood for extra warmth on cold or windy days, but I find that is a personal preference and some people find hoods annoying. I have purchased several different sizes of Patagonia brand jackets, but I find that they are a slimmer cut and just don't fit my body type well. However, I know many people who have them and love them. As much as I love the warmth of a long parka-type jacket, I prefer a short jacket for hiking especially when scrambling over rocks or climbing. However, when out for a stroll or on a nature and forest therapy walk, the long options are definitely worth it.
Eddie Bauer Downlight 2.0 Hooded Jacket
Patagonia Women's Nano Puff Jacket
I belong to a Facebook group called "All Women All Trails: Hiking and Backpacking". This group of 74.3K members (as of this writing) offers amazing gear advice. While people have many different experiences, a quick search for "winter jackets" turned up many suggestions.
Other recommendations included The North Face, Mountain Hardware, and Carhartt. Many also offer layering advice in their posts, so if you are on Facebook it is worth joining this group. It's my starting point when I'm looking for new equipment any time of year.
What to wear on your bottom half is another area of personal preference. There are many options including insulated and lined leggings, snow pants, fleece pants, and lined hiking pants. For many, many years I wore fleece pants when it was above 30 degrees and added a base layer under the fleece pants for days below 30 degrees. A few years ago I purchased fleece-lined hiking pants from Eddie Bauer and have been very happy with them. What I wear on my bottom half is very weather-dependent. It is easy to shed top half layers but not as easy on the bottom. For 40 degree days, I simply wear my unlined hiking pants and layer my top half. When it is going to be around 30 degrees, I add a base layer under my unlined hiking pants. When it is around 20 degrees or below, I wear a base layer and my lined hiking pants; especially when I will be sitting in the snow. It does take some experimentation to find what works for you since we are all different and have different levels of heat and cold temperature tolerance.