Clothes for winter hikes

Brave the cold!

Winter is a great time to get your hiking boots on and hit the walking trails in Ireland. Not only are there fewer people walking the mountains and hills but you can also explore the landscape in more tranquil surroundings. You might even be lucky enough to catch some stunning landscape shots or spot some elusive Irish wildlife like the stoat or pine marten!

With Winter just around the corner, this means you have to make the switch between your lightweight hiking clothes to warm, insulated and waterproof ones. All you need to do is choose the right clothes to prevent you from getting cold, wet, and damp.

Hiking Tour in Ireland on Slieve Foye above Carlingford
Descending Slieve Foye into Carlingford on the Cooley peninsula

Protect and prepare

Protecting yourself from the effects of cold and hypothermia is vital of course. With that in mind, here are a few tips to prepare you when it comes to your clothing. Remember equipment such as a good backpack, maps, and necessary orienteering equipment are also essential, but if you don’t get your clothes right, your hike will quickly become uncomfortable.

Taking the following factors into consideration will help you to choose your hiking clothes wisely:

  • Where kind of weather are you expecting and should prepare for
  • What type of trail you are taking (path/ trail/ mountain)
  • The approximate length of time it will take you to complete your hike

Clothing materials for hiking the winter months

You may think that cotton is the right material to wear; however, it’s not. The reason being that cotton traps sweat and moisture, which will mean that the material stays wet and this, in turn, will lower your body temperature and make you feel cold. Damp cotton will rapidly cause you to get a chill particularly if you are hiking up a mountain as the temperature drops. Synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon make the best hiking clothes.

Slieve Doan, Mourne Mountains
Hiking to Slieve Doan, Mourne Mountains

This type of clothing allows your body to breath which will make you more comfortable as you walk. Merino wool is also an alternative material, as it not only removes excess moisture from your body but is super light and breathable, with the added benefit of driving away odours.

Let’s talk about the importance of layering your clothes for hiking. The three layers to consider are; the base layer; the insulating layer and the outer layer.

How to layer for your winter hikes:

Base layer

Sports bra – This lies directly on your skin and is one of the first layers to soak up the sweat. Choose one made of polyester, spandex & nylon – a good sports bra will offer both breathability and moisture-wicking comfort. You may choose not to wear a sports bra and instead wear a tank top.

Tank top – Make sure you look for a material that is a mix of polyester/spandex. It shouldn’t fit so tightly that your skin can’t breathe while hiking.

Underwear – The most important thing here is that the material is both comfortable and capable of preventing rubbing and chaffing. Quick drying and breathable materials are a must. Examples such as polyester and nylon are good and of course merino wool

Our Tip – Merino wool is a perfect base layer in colder weather, and the beauty of it is that it can also be used in warmer weather hikes too. The additional benefit is the antimicrobial properties which are second to none.

Clothing for winter hike

Insulating layer

This layer should be light to mid-weight, and it should help regulate body temperature by moving sweat away from your skin while keeping you warm and dry.

Outerwear

This layer will help you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Natural fibres such as down are excellent insulators. Down is ultralight, ultra warm and super packable. You will need a shell that will protect you from the wind, rain and snow. A waterproof shell will be the best option for hiking in winter.

Hiking trousers versus leggings

Don’t forget to keep your lower body warm and dry by wearing trousers made from quick-drying materials such as spandex or nylon. My advice is to wear whatever makes you more comfortable – once made of spandex or another type of synthetic material, that is thick enough to keep you warm.
People also find spandex leggings (yoga leggings) more comfortable than hiking trousers. Leggings have become trendy with hikers, and work well. It’s your choice!

Winter walking / Hiking Boots

While hiking in winter make sure you own boots that aren’t super heavy and that are waterproof, comfortable and that will not make your feet sweat. And of, course, keep your feet warm and dry with wool or synthetic socks that dry fast and let your feet breath. A pair of gaiters is a must in the winter if you are walking off the grid!

Our Tip – always carry an extra pair of socks!

Accessories

Accessories like a good pair of gloves/mittens made of thicker polyester and sunglasses as they protect your eyes from the reflection of the winter sun are also necessary. A beanie/ hat is essential, it will keep your body temperature warm and will prevent heat from escaping from your head.

So, here is the entire list:

  • Base layers: sports bra, tank top, long sleeve jersey, an extra pair of socks
  • Mid-layer insulation: fleece jacket, fleece pullover, fleece vest, shell jacket
  • Hardshell pants that are waterproof and windproof; softshell pants
  • Puffy insulated jacket with a hood
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket
  • Wool gloves or mittens
  • Wool hat or beanie
  • Warm socks
  • High gaiters
  • Backpack

To keep warm, you can carry a thermos with hot chocolate or tea. Don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of room temperature water (cold water will lower your body temperature).

To summarise, when buying your winter hiking wear or deciding what to wear, go for synthetic materials like spandex, polyester and nylon or merino wool. Think of the merino sheep, their coat keeps them warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

Synthetic materials and merino wool have the considerable advantage of allowing your body to breath while removing the excess moisture from your body. Now that you know what you need to include on your list, zip up that jacket, grab some snacks and get hiking!