Before you embark on your snowshoeing adventures, be aware that what you wear will significantly influence your experience. Since you will experience various conditions, knowing what clothing to wear while snowshoeing is extremely important.
We’ll go through a few helpful tips for what to wear and provide a few clothing examples so that you can adequately dress for some on-snow recreation.
Keep in mind that you may not need to purchase new clothes for your outing. You may already have clothes in your closet that match these tips. Just check the materials to see if they could work.
Also, please note the tips below are meant for longer snowshoe outings where you’ll be away from home. If you are snowshoeing near home and have easy access to return to your house if needed, there is some flexibility in what you can wear.
For example, there have been occasions where I have worn my everyday clothes and layers while snowshoeing in my local park a block away from home. In these cases, I know that I was able to return home quickly if the need arose. However, I would never wear these items when snowshoeing away from home in a situation where I would not have access to change in a warm environment safely. The most important consideration to keep in mind when choosing what to wear when snowshoeing is safety.
Tips to Keep in Mind
- Dress in layers or bring layers with you to adapt to changing weather conditions.
- Not all clothing materials for snowshoeing are the same. Knowing the differences between materials will help you determine the best option.
- Always protect your extremities (hands, feet, head) to stay warm and avoid cold weather hazards.
Dress In Layers
Winter means quick-changing weather, so you need to make sure that you’re both comfortable, warm, and safe. The best way to do that is to dress in layers so you can easily adjust to the weather and your activity level.
As you get warmer or colder while on your hike, you can remove or add layers as needed to maintain an appropriate body temperature. Also, you’ll most likely be working up a sweat on your outing, so layers allow you to avoid overdressing.
We discuss the three layers below, but depending on temperature, all three may not be needed. For example, on warmer days (not actively raining or snowing), you may only need a shirt (base layer) and a light jacket (outer layer).
Your base layer is the layer closest to the body, such as a form-fitting shirt or pair of tights. The purpose of the base layer is to keep you dry and warm. Ideally, the base layer should be moisture-wicking or able to pull moisture away from your skin.
The fabric you choose is a matter of preference and what your body needs. For example, my body tends to run on the cold side, so merino wool is my favorite fabric for base layers because it is insulating, has natural temperature regulation, and isn’t itchy.
Polyester or another synthetic blend may be a better choice for those who may not want as much insulation from your base layer. Some individuals use silk for long underwear because it’s so lightweight but not as durable.
Also, many base layers come in different weights: lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. As noted in the names, lightweight base layers will be your thinnest fabric. Unless it’s an unusually warm or cold day, midweight base layers perform well on most snowshoeing outings.
Here are a few base layer examples:
Women’s Ridge Merino Aspect High Neck Top (Available at Amazon)
Men’s Midweight Base Layer Top (Available at REI)
Men’s Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer Bottoms (Available at Backcountry.com)
Women’s Columbia Base Layer Heavyweight II Tight (Available at Backcountry.com)
Mid-layers are meant to serve as your insulator on your snowshoeing outing and are incredibly important! Even if you’re hiking on a warm day and you don’t think you’ll need insulation, remember to bring a mid-layer just in case. Sometimes the weather can change quickly, and you don’t want to be stuck without extra insulation.
Like your base layer fabric, which mid-layer material you choose is based on personal preference and body temperature. For example, I use my synthetic down jacket on freezing days, my fleece jacket on moderate temperature days, and my polyester hoodie for warm days. As a bonus, the hoodie could be used a base layer instead of a mid-layer if you prefer.
Here are a few mid-layer examples:
The most important characteristic of an outer layer is to protect you from the elements, like wind and rain or snow. For that reason, you’ll want to choose an outer layer that fends off water and the wind, like a windbreaker, to keep you warm and dry.
Typically, outer layers will come with DWR (durable water repellent) finish or Gore-Tex for enhanced breathability.
For warmer days with light rain/snow, a breathable softshell jacket is a helpful piece of outerwear. A softshell jacket is more lightweight, has more stretch and soft exterior built to move with you, and is water repellent or sometimes waterproof.
For colder days with heavier rain/snow, a hardshell jacket offers increased protection. A hardshell jacket has a hood, is waterproof, not stretchy, and is very durable. If the day is frigid and you want extra insulation, you can add a down jacket as a mid-layer underneath your outer layer.
The same is valid for pants. Any hiking pant with a DWR finish is a great outer layer since it will protect your legs from getting wet from the snow. My favorite outer layer pants are the REI Co-op Taereen Pants, which are 4 season pants. Unfortunately aren’t available anymore, but there are a few other options below. If it’s particularly cold out, you can add a pair of warm fleece leggings underneath your pants for extra insulation.
Here are a few outer layer examples:
Men’s Backcountry Cottonwoods Gore-Tex Jacket (Available at Backcountry)
Women’s Burton Bixby Down (Available at Amazon)
Women’s Mountain Hardwear Dynama/2 Pant (Available at REI)
Men’s Marmot Arch Rock Pant (Available at Backcountry.com)
Choose The Material
Material is often one of the most forgotten considerations when figuring out your clothing and what to wear while snowshoeing. The best materials for winter outdoor activities are wool (including merino wool), synthetic materials (polyester, nylon, blend), fleece, down, and silk.
If away from home, one material you’ll want to avoid wearing in cold weather is cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and keeps it near the body, and can easily make you feel colder, faster. So that means you’ll want to avoid wearing jeans or t-shirts if you’re snowshoeing away from home.
There’s a reason why wool has been used for ages by cold weather cultures all over the world. Traditional wool and merino wool are insulating, lightweight, comfortable, and breathable. In addition, both wool varieties keep moisture away from the body by absorbing it directly.
In fact, wool can hold a significant amount of moisture while still keeping the wearer dry, regulating temperature, and limiting odors. It also has some natural water repellent properties, so if it starts to snow on your trek, initially, it will still provide insulation. With that said, because wool absorbs moisture, it dries slowly and gets heavier when wet.
Wool is ideal for base layers in longer, more intense snowshoe treks or snowshoers who naturally sweat more when exercising.
Merino wool (from Merino sheep) is easy to care for with no extra procedures needed. However, if using traditional wool, remember that it requires additional care when washing. Some individuals may also find traditional wool to be itchy. In general, wool clothing may be more expensive than other material choices but is worth the investment for a warm, dry, comfortable snowshoe outing.
Polyester or Synthetic Blends
Polyester, nylon, or synthetic blends are common materials for base layers or mid-layers. These materials are lightweight and breathable clothing for your snowshoeing outings. In addition, they keep moisture away from the body through moisture-wicking, which helps water evaporate. The moisture-wicking properties of these fabrics also make them fast to dry.
Polyester, nylon, and synthetics are less expensive and easier to take care of than wool. However, they do not regulate temperature as well as wool or have odor resistance.
Silk is an incredibly lightweight and soft material, even more so than synthetics or wool. It also has moisture-wicking properties, which keep moisture away from the skin while remaining breathable. Additionally, silk dries very quickly.
However, silk does not provide as much warmth as polyester or wool. It also is not as durable and requires extra care when cleaning. Therefore, many snowshoers will choose silk as long underwear under tops or bottoms on cold snowshoe outings.
Fleece makes for an excellent mid-layer fabric choice. It is a moisture-wicking (not absorbing) synthetic fabric and is often compared to wool. Both are very breathable fabrics. Also, fleece is less expensive than wool, more lightweight than wool, and without itchiness.
But, if caught in active snowfall, fleece loses its insulating properties when wet even though it is quick-drying. In general, too, fleece does not provide quite as much insulation as wool. So, instead, many products use fleece as a liner with a wool or synthetic top layer.
Those who snowshoe occasionally, have sensitivities to wool, or go on casual cold-weather treks may find fleece a warm and affordable option.
Down & PrimaLoft
Down and synthetic down (PrimaLoft) and are often the material in the mid and outer layers. Both provide insulation. However, down will be warmer and less bulky than PrimaLoft. However, PrimaLoft has better water resistance if wet because it is made of moisture-wicking materials.
When snowshoeing, bringing a down or synthetic down jacket is recommended. It’s an excellent insulating layer for cold temperatures. But, if the weather becomes too warm, it is very lightweight and easily compressed into a pack.
Protect Your Extremities
The extremities such as the feet, hands, and head can be overlooked. But, they are so essential to cover appropriately on your snowshoe outings.
Whether running, climbing, backpacking, or walking, always try to match your snowshoeing style and the weather.
It would be best to have boots or shoes that are waterproof and insulated, with leather or rubber uppers and thick soles. Waterproof leather hiking boots will do great as well.
Regarding socks, it’s recommended to use synthetic or wool socks with wicking liners as this will help promote dry and warm feet, which is incredibly important for snowshoeing. But, of course, you can always layer your socks as well for extra insulation.
Here are footwear examples:
SynchroKnit Snow Junkie Socks (Available at Synchroknit.com)
Hands & Head
Your hands and head should be covered at all times, not only to prevent body heat loss or protect you from sunburn but to keep your head and hands warm.
Therefore, to supplement your snowshoeing clothing layers, a hat and gloves are a must. These items are also where synthetics or wool do the best work. A balaclava, headband, beanie, or ordinary hat will do just fine at retaining heat.
Mittens or gloves should be waterproof as this is paramount for keeping your hands warm and dry.
Here are a few glove and hat examples:
By dressing in layers, paying attention to fabrics, and covering your extremities, you’ll be prepared for the weather conditions on your snowshoe outings. We provided a few examples of clothing above. However, you may not need to purchase new items for your items and can use existing items from your wardrobe depending on the location and length of your trip.
What other tips do you have for choosing the appropriate clothing for snowshoeing? Please share your thoughts or additional questions in the comments below!
Originally published March 27, 2019. Updated to include additional information (fabrics, examples) on December 20, 2020, and most recently updated on November 14, 2021.
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