Snowshoeing is one of the most popular winter activities for fitness and recreation that a lot of people tend to enjoy, and it’s not without its fair share of history. However, before you embark on your winter adventure of a lifetime, be aware that what you wear will greatly influence your experience. Since these are harsh weather conditions we’re talking about here, knowing what clothing to wear while snowshoeing is of the utmost importance.
We’ll go through a few useful things that you should know so that you are able to properly dress for some on-snow recreation.
Tips On What To Wear While Snowshoeing
When it comes to snowshoeing, keep these three tips in mind:
- Dressing in layers is your friend for changing weather conditions.
- Not all clothing materials are created equal. Choosing the appropriate material (moisture-wicking) for your clothing is imperative.
- Always protect your extremities to stay warm and avoid cold weather hazards
Each of these three tips is discussed in more detail below.
Dressing In Layers
The 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 dressing in layers so you can easily adjust to the weather and your activity level.
We discuss three layers below, but depending on temperature all three may not be needed. On warmer days (not actively raining or snowing), your mid-layer can serve as your outer layer.
Your base layer is the layer closest to the body, such as a form-fitting shirt or pair of tights. It should be moisture-wicking or pull moisture away from your skin.
Common base layer materials are polyester/synthetics, wool or silk. Information on these fabrics can be found below under Appropriate Materials.
Base layers also 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.
Mid-layers are meant to serve as your insulator on your snowshoeing outing. Common fabrics for insulators include synthetics, wool, fleece, and down.
As noted above, depending on the temperature and weather conditions, your mid-layer could also be your outer layer. For example, on a warmer, dry day, a polyester jacket could keep you warm and dry on your outing and no outer layer would be required.
Alternatively, if the weather is much colder or it’s actively snowing, that same polyester jacket would not provide the warmth nor the insulation in wet conditions. Thus, you could wear that polyester jacket as a mid-layer, but would also want to wear an outer-layer on top of it to match the conditions.
- Fleece or polyester pants
- A wool sweater or fleece jacket (if zippered can let you regulate body heat)
- Inner shell down jacket
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 is waterproof and able to fend off the wind, like a windbreaker or hard shell jacket, to keep you warm and dry.
- Waterproof and breathable pants
- Waterproof and breathable insulated parka or outer shell jacket, such as a windbreaker
Read Next: Winter Wrap Up: The Gear That Got Me Through
Material is often one of the most forgotten about considerations when figuring out what to wear on your snowshoeing adventures. The best materials for winter outdoor activities are wool, synthetic materials (polyester, nylon, blend), and silk. All of these materials keep sweat away from the body and keep you warm in cold weather, while still being breathable.
One material that 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.
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. 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 an ideal choice for base layers or mid layers in longer, more intense snowshoe treks or for snowshoers who naturally sweat more when exercising.
If using wool, just remember that it requires additional care when washing. Some individuals may also find wool to be itchy. Wool may be more expensive than some 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. They keep moisture away from the body through moisture-wicking, which helps moisture 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.
Synthetic blends are a great choice for more recreational snowshoe outings or for those who do not sweat heavily.
Silk is an incredibly lightweight and soft material, even more so than synthetics or wool. It also has moisture-wicking properties, which keeps 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 to wear 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 often compared to wool. Both are very breathable fabrics. Also, fleece is less expensive than wool, more lightweight than wool, and without the 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.
Those who snowshoe occasionally, have sensitivities to wool, or go on casual cold-weather treks may find fleece to be a warm and affordable option.
Down & PrimaLoft
Down and synthetic down (PrimaLoft) and are often the material in 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
Whether you’re running, climbing, backpacking or walking, always try to match your snowshoeing style. Just like with your snowshoeing clothing, footwear also requires a bit of special attention.
Since boots are obviously the best choice, you need boots that are both waterproof and insulated, with leather or rubber uppers and thick soles. Waterproof leather hiking boots will do great as well.
You need synthetic or wool socks with wicking liners as this will help promote dry and warm feet, which is incredibly important for snowshoeing.
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 snowshoe clothing layers, a hat and gloves are a must. This is also where synthetics or wool do the best work. A balaclava, headband or an 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.
When it comes to accessories, it all depends on what you intend to do. Typically sunscreen, sunglasses, nutrition, and hydration are the top four things to think about.
Having a small day pack with snacks and water is highly recommended, as snowshoeing burns a lot of calories per hour.
Also, a first aid kit, lighter or matches, as well as a multi-tool for repairs, might just come in handy in case of an emergency. Now that you know what to wear and take with you, it’s time to get started. When it comes to snowshoeing, it’s always better to come prepared.
Read More: Basic Safety On The Trail
Originally published March 27, 2019. Updated by Susan Wowk on Jan 10, 2020, to include information on clothing fabrics and example layers