When figuring out what pants to wear for a cold-weather hiking adventure, you should keep in mind the main goals of winter hiking gear. These goals are to keep you dry, maintain warmth, and keep you comfortable on the go.
While it’s easy enough to assess that you’ll be needing a wicking base layer and waterproof outer shell, finding out what kind of pants can power your legs across a trail may require a bit more thinking.
What Not to Pick
First, you must stay away from pairs that are too bulky or heavy since they can slow you down considerably. These pants could pose a lot of trouble, especially when you’re climbing up a steep trail.
Second, never choose just one pair since that won’t give you sufficient protection. At the very least, you should have two layers, namely the base and outer layer, when hiking in temperature below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The inner layer should have excellent wicking properties, while the outer shell should be water-resistant.
Lastly, if you expect to do some off-trail hiking, never choose pants that are lacking in durability. A pair that’s a bit too delicate or flimsy may not end up surviving the activity.
The Ideal Pair of Winter Hiking Pants
In your efforts to have comfortable hiking clothes, you must focus on finding a pair of hiking pants that offer lightness, comfort, and warmth. Also, consider bringing a pair of softshell, water-resistant pants in your pack in case you get a winter rain surprise.
The below sections will cover essential layering techniques for winter and some of the best styles of cold-weather hiking pants today’s market offers.
How to Layer Your Pants for a Winter Hike
As far as pants layering is concerned, you need to remember that it’s not just keeping warm that’s important but also keeping dry. You must also factor in snow, rain, and your own sweat into the equation. Lastly, there is no such thing as too many layers because you can always remove them when the situation calls for it.
Here’s how layering works:
- First Layer: This is the base layer that sits right next to your skin. When choosing a pair of pants for this particular layer, make sure it has excellent wicking properties and keeps moisture from settling on your skin.
- Second Layer: The layer positioned right above the first should be mid-weight and have insulating qualities. A good pair for this specific layer should be made of fleece, or at the very least, composed of a fabric that has a “puffy” quality.
- Third Layer: This layer is known as the weatherproof shell and protects the rest of your garment layers from the elements. It should be soft, light, and not too heavy, but also be durable at the same time.
Depending on how cold it is, you can have a fourth layer on standby inside your backpack or worn over the third layer as you begin your hike. You can add or remove layers as the weather changes.
The Right Fit
In order to get the layering right, you must choose layers that fit you perfectly. That means, first, your base layer should be exactly your size and should fit you naturally. Your middle layer should be slightly bigger to take into account the size of the first layer. Finally, your outer layer should be even larger because it needs to cover the two layers underneath.
How each layer fits you will affect the overall fit of your winter pants. Thus, make sure there’s a bit of leeway when it comes to space for you to move comfortably in them.
Winter Hiking Pants Options
Depending on what other activities you plan on doing during your hike, you can choose from either of these pants options: cross-country skiing pants, snowshoeing pants, or insulated hiking pants.
To be honest, if you’re going on a cold-weather hike, whichever of these pairs of pants you choose won’t make much difference. The first two options may have a tighter fit and are better-designed for the activities they’re named after, but they make excellent purely-hiking pants. The latter, of course, with its looser fitting and rugged style is best suited for cold-weather hiking and can maintain comfort regardless of the length of your trail.
The Winter Hiking Pants for You
Once you are aware of the best options in the market, the next decision will come down to personal style and preference. When it comes to this, ask yourself what else you’re planning to do on your hike, how long you think your hike will be, and how cold you expect the temperature to get. You must also remember that your first layer should have great wicking properties, your middle layer should be insulating, and the outermost layer should be waterproof, light, and durable.