Hiking in the snow, admiring the snowflakes falling, setting up your bivouac in the snow.
Winter hiking is fascinating, but it requires the right equipment.
What kind of clothing you will need?
Discover our checklist!
How equipment differs from summer?
Winter hiking is a dream, crossing entirely white landscapes, snowshoeing in the powder, watching the snowfall from the refuge window.
But hiking in winter requires specific gear, whether for a day trip or a multi-day hike.
First, you should consider wearing insulating clothing to protect yourself from the cold.
Because even during a simple walk, it is possible to find yourself under severe weather conditions.
The equipment must also be prepared carefully, especially the one intended for the bivouac.
The equipment varies of course according to the chosen destination, the temperatures that will prevail, the risks of avalanches, the duration of the hike.
You want to organize your first hike under the snowflakes of winter, here is an article that will help you in the preparation of your gear to be sure not to forget anything and to have thought of everything.
Table of Contents
Clothes for winter hiking and snowshoeing
As with summer hiking, in winter the layer system is the best way to protect yourself against the elements.
To be prepared for the cold, layers are generally more insulating and long-sleeved starting from the first layer.
In winter, it is more difficult to maintain constant body temperature, because as soon as you put in a little less effort, your body cools down very quickly.
Merino wool offers an excellent combination of thermoregulation and heat while not proliferating odors.
For this purpose, dress in layers (the onion technique), which consists of putting and removing small insulating layers according to the needs, makes it possible to keep that temperature under control.
It may be interesting to opt not for a single thick insulating layer, but two thinner layers, i.e., a 4-layer system and not a 3-layer as in summer.
Having an extra down jacket in your backpack is not insignificant.
Compressible, it will take up little space and will keep you warm during breaks. Its insulating capabilities is indisputable.
For itinerant hikes with nights in unheated/lightly heated shelters or tents, it becomes essential.
For the lower part of your body, it is important to have pants adapted to snow, waterproof and insulating or, failing that, to have a waterproof overpants and a pair of tights.
Even if the weather forecast indicates a big blue sky on the day of your hike, you can still fall into the wet snow or engage a snowball fight.
For your feet, warm and waterproof boots, such as snow boots, should be preferred, compiled with thick socks.
If your pants do not have integrated gaiters, you will need to get some. There is nothing more unpleasant than having snow in your shoes.
It is also essential to cover your head well with an ear band, a beanie, a neckband (Buff), and/or a hood depending on the cold and wind.
For your hands, mittens remain the best protection but have a lower grip than a pair of gloves, and they can also be doubled with thin undergloves that will allow you to handle your equipment more easily (take a picture, open your bag, etc.).
Winter hiking gear
Winter hiking requires specific equipment.
Given the weather conditions that can be tricky, it is crucial to prepare your equipment correctly and adapt it to your trip.
First of all, we must not forget the risk of avalanches.
For all exposed hikes (in the mountains outside a resort), it is imperative that each person in the group carries a safety pack including an avalanche transceiver (avalanche victim search device), a probe, and a shovel.
Of course, having this equipment with you is not enough, you must know how to use it!
A reminder in the form of a game before the start can be funny.
Here is a checklist, not exhaustive, of essential equipment, recommended for the comfort/pleasure for a snowshoe hike.
A safety pack (avalanche beacon, shovel, probe) which is essential for all hikes exposed to avalanches.
This device must be kept within easy reach at all times.
The avalanche beacon must even be worn systematically off-piste, on skis or snowshoes, and as close to the body as possible.
It can be completed for off-piste skiers with an ABS airbag to be triggered in case of an avalanche.
A pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis or nordic skis are the main elements of winter hiking, and it prevents you from sinking into the powdering snow.
There are many specific models of snowshoes according to your practice, to choose them well, do not miss the article: How to choose your pair of snowshoes?
A pair of hiking poles with their snow baskets, often in the shape of a snowflake. Read the article on how to choose and adjust your hiking poles.
The majority of hiking poles come with interchangeable summer/winter rings. A stick without its baskets is useless in the snow.
A pulk (hiking sled) for itinerant hikes can be very useful for transporting the heavy load.
A powerful headlamp with backup batteries because night falls quickly in winter.
It will be used more than in summer, usually in the late afternoon. Even for a day hike, it is better to have one, as it is easy to get trapped by night.
A little sled to have fun on the way down! In the shape of a shovel, it can also be used to arrange the bivouac area or as a seat in the snow to avoid getting your buttocks wet.
A hiking thermos keeps your favorite drink warm and will always be a little comfort during breaks in cold weather.
It can also be used to keep water at a temperature in extreme cold.
Beware of tubes in water bladders, non-insulating bottles; they will freeze when the temperature drops below 0°c.
An insulating mat (or a small square of foam) for day hikes allows you to sit dry in the snow and isolate from the cold during breaks.
A GPS… even for a day? Be careful, the orientation in winter is more delicate. Read the article on how to choose the best hiking GPS.
Everything is white! The paths and sometimes the markings are covered by snow, and it is more difficult to find your way.
And when the fog gets involved, you can quickly find yourself completely confused. It is also essential to find out if the chosen route has suitable winter markings.
Winter gear for itinerant hikes
The tent, preferably four seasons, must be able to withstand the weight of snowfall at night and be well secured in the snow on the ground (see the article: How to choose the right hiking tent?)
Be careful, regular tent stakes are of no use, and it is necessary to provide snow anchors.
The sleeping pad no longer has the simple vocation of comfort in winter, but above all of the insulation with snow. It is necessary to choose a mattress with an R-value (insulation coefficient) sufficient for negative temperatures (see the article: How to choose your hiking sleeping pad?).
The sleeping bag must be of a “comfort temperature” adapted to the negative temperatures that you will encounter. Even for nights in refuges (unheated), huts, it is necessary to provide a down sleeping bag for cold weather. Read the article on how to choose your hiking sleeping bag?
The liquid fuel stove is generally recommended, as the gas stove is more sensitive to negative temperatures, even if it can still be used. See the article for the best hiking stoves for your needs.
The most important thing is to provide enough fuel for cooking, but also to melt the snow. Because some water sources usually used in summer can be frozen during winter.