Beginner’s Guide to Winter Hiking Maine’s 4000 Footers

Beginner’s Guide to Winter Hiking Maine’s 4000 Footers

Winter Hiking Essentials - What to pack for hiking during the winter

What to pack for hiking during the winter is one of the most popular posts that is seen in Facebook hiking groups. Winter hiking gear is something that our readers and aspiring gear junkies have asked for and we are thrilled to share with you some of the things we have found helpful!

Much of winter hiking is about learning to layer and regulate your temperature. Keep in mind that every individual is different, but these are the essential pieces of gear that you need to hit any trail in winter conditions. Don’t hesitate to pivot, and start your own list. We hope you benefit from this list of that to pack for winter hiking!

Getting started

Your outdoor gear is comprised of an essential layering system that covers you from head to toe. Baselayers help to wick moisture away from your body so you can stay dry. Midlayers and outerlayers provide warmth, block wind, and keep the rain, sleet and snow from sneaking in. Winter gear can be expensive so do your research and splurge a little for the items that are windproof and waterproof. You want to carefully pick your essential items to build a system that works for you.

Penobscot Mountain summit in Acadia National Park winter hike

Lower Body

Keeping your lower body warm and dry is important when you’re out in the elements all day. You want layers that are not too constrictive, yet not too bulky so you can move quickly and without restriction. The level of warmth on your bottoms is also relative to your hiking environment. For example, if it’s 30 – 40 degrees out, you probably won’t need a base layer. But if you’re hiking a 4,000 footer – you’ll need a base layer and a dry layer! Closer to sea level, you won’t need much and you’ll need to watch the weather – we recommend using http://weather.gov

  • Baselayers
  • Midlayers
    • Waterproof/windproof pants- Pictured below are brushed water resistant pants from EMS.
  • Outerwear
    • Full-zip Goretex pants- If you’re going to spend time in the alpine zone with the possibility of wind and precipitation, these help keep you dry and go on and off easily over crampons or double boots. This will end up being one of your most expensive layers.
    • Snow pants- If you run warm, you probably won’t need snow pants. Winter hiking is incredibly aerobic and you’ll be surprised at how your body heat can keep you comfortable. Some people run cold, however, and like the added warmth of snow pants.

Core

Your core is very important when it comes to layering. You want to ensure that you are dry and warm, but not too warm (that’s when you sweat which then can make you cold). These items will range from your baselayers to your outerwear. These will be the layers that you take on and put off all day long so having the right layers for the conditions and weather is critical. Take our advice, spend the extra money for the nicer gear, you’ll be glad you did every time. Remember – ditch the cotton.

  • Baselayers
    • Wool or synthetic baselayer t-shirt and a long-sleeved shirt- If you sweat a lot, you may want to bring an extra t-shirt to change into halfway through the day.
  • Midlayers
    • Mid-weight synthetic jacket or fleece- A light puffy jacket does wonders for breaks and for your stop at the summit.
    • Down or synthetic vest- This is probably Willow’s favorite layer. It keeps your core warm, but lets your arms breathe.
  • Outerwear
    • Windproof and waterproof shell- Here’s a layer you don’t want to sell yourself short on. Make sure your jacket truly is waterproof and will stand up against wind and rain.
    • Down or synthetic jacket- An expedition weight puffy is likely a piece of gear you won’t have to wear often, but when conditions turn or temperatures drop, you’ll be glad you have one.

Head & Hands

You know the old saying, “if your feet are cold, put on a hat.”  It’s true and it goes for your toes too.  You can easily regulate your temperature by removing your hat and gloves interchangeably. Having protection for your eyes is key as well to shield you from snow glare, wind and precipitation.

In Your Pack

We’ve talked about the ten essentials plus and what to have your pack, but below are some of our favorite items to carry all year round. We’ve featured a picture of Willow’s MacGyver Kit and first aid kit below. These items are important to have in case of emergency or mishap. We can’t tell you how glad you’ll be that you have them with you if you ever need them.

Check out this post on What to Have in Your Emergency Kit

Feet 

There are many options for keeping your feet warm and you’ll want to carefully consider what kind of conditions and climates you’ll be adventuring in. An insulated, waterproof boot is essential to keep your feet warm dry. Don’t forget the gaiters to keep the snow and ice out of your boots.

  • Winter boots- A stiff boot works better with crampons and often offer additional insulation. Neither of us own a pair of double boots, but they are key for steep alpine climbing.
  • Gaiters- The OR Crocodiles are great since they hold up against crampons or if you are hard on your gear. If you aren’t using crampons, you can go with a less expensive pair.
  • Wool socks. Don’t forget to pack an extra pair! Smartwool and Darn Tough are our go to brands for socks. Depending on your preference, you may also want liner socks.

Traction

The ice and snow of New England is one of my favorite things. Willow’s first-year winter hiking was spent on ice and her second was on powder. Prepare yourself for all conditions and do not hesitate to carry all three, you never know when you will need it.

  • Microspikes/Trail Crampons- Willow alternates between her Kathoola Microspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons depending on the conditions.
  • Snowshoes- MSR and Tubbs are our favorite brand of snowshoe. If you are planning on hitting the New England 4000 footers, be sure to get snowshoes with heel lifts or televators. More to come on this subject later!
  • Crampons- Reserved for the iciest and steepest of conditions. Willow has been thrilled to have the extra traction on steep, icy slopes.
Black Diamond Serac Crampon

Gaiters

Microspikes

Pro Mountaineering Crampon

In Your Pack

We’ve talked about the ten essentials plus and what to have your pack, but below are some of our favorite items to carry all year round. We’ve featured a picture of Willow’s MacGyver Kit and first aid kit below. These items are important to have in case of emergency or mishap. We can’t tell you how glad you’ll be that you have them with you if you ever need them. FMI: Check out this post on What to Have in Your Emergency Kit

Do Your Research

Doing your research can save you a lot of money in the long run! Don’t jump into a purchase until you’ve read the reviews, talked to gear experts and those who have used the product or a similar product. Your research helps prevent you from buying a piece of gear that will not meet your needs. It also ensures that you don’t waste your money on an item that needs to be replaced after a few uses because it is poorly made. Acquiring the gear you need can be expensive initially, but if you start accumulating gear slowly over time, you can ease the financial impact. We highly recommend that you take full advantage of used gear sales, outlets and Craigslist whenever possible.  You can read this post for more information on how to research and get the best deals.

Safe, sunny trails!

Not ready for big mountains yet? It’s OK!!!! We’ve got you covered with prepping for cold winter day hikes. Read more here.