photo of two winter hikers surrounded by snowcapped mountains

Winter Hiking Checklist – 20 Essentials

Welcome to ThinkVail – we hope you find this winter hiking checklist helpful.

Winter hiking is synonymous with Colorado.  Whether hiking to ski untracked powder, trekking in a National Park for stunning snow-capped views,  an overnight trip to a remote yurt or cabin with family and friends or a demanding multi-day hike on the 10th Mountain Division Vail to Aspen, hut-to-hut trail system, there are a lot of winter hiking options here but what do you need for an adventure like this?

Winter hikes can be awesome, but you must be prepared as conditions can change on a dime. Here is a list of 20 essential items that you need for a successful winter hike that will help keep you safe, warm, dry and having fun!

See also: 10th Mountain Division Huts in Colorado

20 Essentials -Winter Hiking Checklist

Insulated Hiking Boots Click to buy Sorel winter hiking boots

I love winter hiking boots from Sorel, they are always warm, comfortable, waterproof and are a great boot for walking around in the snow. These men’s boots will not disappoint and are up for any challenge that winter throws at them. Sorels are known worldwide for their functionality and expert craftsmanship. You won’t be sorry buying these boots.

  • Sorel combines felt, wool, premium leather, and flawless construction for a great boot.
  • Sorel’s cold weather footwear is ideal for any active winter sport where maximum protection is required
  • 100% seam-sealed, waterproof suede leather and rubber sole
  • Removable eva footbed
  • Aggressive tread provides good traction

Click to view Women’s Hiking Boots

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Merino Wool Socks Click to buy Merino Wool Hiking Socks

Life is better with Merino Wool socks. People love merino wool it actually insulates better as it gets wet. This is great for socks since feet tend to get sweaty and that gets absorbed into the wool fibers to help them insulate. Merino wool is warm, comfortable and less prone to causing blisters.

  • Cushioning along the bottom of the foot provides the perfect support
  • Made of fine gauge Merino wool, it is naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial
  • Made in Vermont, USA
  • Unconditionally guaranteed for life

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Gaiters Click to buy Gaiters

Gaiters close the gap between your snow pants and your boots and are a great way to keep out snow, pebbles, sand and anything else that can make its way inside your boot and make your feet sore or uncomfortable. For winter hiking choose a knee-high gator to make sure it keeps out deep snow.

  • These gaiters are designed to be lighter and pack easily
  • Made of waterproof/breathable Cordura fabric
  • Reinforced Boot Lace Hook. This hooks into your boot or shoelaces to hold the bottom of the gaiter in place
  • Webbing/Cam Buckle Top Closure and Instep strap

Click to see Mens Gaiters

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Fleece or Wool Hat Click to buy Turtle Fur Beanie

You will need a good fleece or wool hat, you just do. Something that is warm and feels good, Turtle Fur beanies are a great choice.

  • Soft and warm multi-season fleece
  • Water-resistant
  • UPF 50+ sun protective fabric
  • Mid-weight fleece – 100% Polyester, double-layered at ears for extra warmth.
  • One Size fits most adults. Also, fits Juniors and Teens
  • Comes in tons of great colors!

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Waterproof Shell Mitts or Gloves, with Insulated Linerslick to buy Burton Womens Mittens

You will need either waterproof mittens or gloves with a removable liner so you can take them out of the mittens and dry them out at the end of your hike. It is always easy for snow and moisture to get into your gloves so they need to be easy to dry out. My hands are ALWAYS cold so I always opt for mittens but if you run hotter, gloves will work great too.

  • Two mittens in one. Wear just the removable liner, just the insulated shell, or combine the two for the perfect mitt for cold weather conditions.
  • Waterproof
  • Thermacore insulation and fleece insure your hands are warm and if that’s not enough there is a pocket for a chemical hand warmer!
  • Screen Grab feature of the inner liner allows you to text, check GPS or change your music with total touchscreen control
  • 1-year warranty

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Waterproof and Windproof Ski Jacket with Hood Click to buy waterproof ski jacket for women

You will definitely need a warm, waterproof, windproof ski jacket with a hood. I like a removable liner that can be removed and dried or if you get to hot on a sunny hike you can remove the liner to cool down and store in your pack. A removable hood is also a goof idea to give you versatility but you will want a hood if the conditions get bad.

  • 3-in-1 ski jacket for all weather conditions. Where just the shell for if you need waterproof, windproof feature but no additional warmth, wear the removable fleece liner jacket if its a nice day and you need a little extra warmth, wear them together when you need it all!
  • Liner and outer shell zip together to make one jacket
  • Removable hood
  • Easy access chest pockets
  • The waterproof rating of the outer shell is 10,000mm. So its great in snowy and light rain conditions, not so great for very heavy rain.
  • 6-month guarantee

Click to view Men’s ski jacket with hood

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Waterproof and Windproof Snow Pants Click to buy Arcterix Mens Ski Pants

Waterproof, windproof snow pants on a winter hike are a must. I prefer lightly insulated pants but if you are usually warm, thn just a shell is fine, for me, I like extra warmth whenever I can get it. They should have an elastic bottom or Velcro or both to cinch the pant leg around your boot to keep snow out.

  • Waterproof, breathable fabric
  • ThermaTech Insulation lightweight warmth
  • Boot Gaiters with Grippers makes a seamless integration with boots to keep you warm and dry.
  • Boot Zippers make it easier to take pants on and off.
  • Cargo pockets and O-ring to hold whatever you need.
  • Reinforced seams will keep you drier longer
  • Adjustable waist
  • Available in loots of cool colors and patterns

Click to view womens waterproof ski pants

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Long Sleeve Underwear Click to buy womens lightweight thermal underwear

Winter hiking is all about layering. The ability to bundle up when conditions begin to turn colder is just as important as being able to easily take layers off when you become too warm so you don’t get hot and sweat. Once your clothing is wet due to melting snow or sweat it becomes much harder to stay comfortable.

Layering starts with a great, high quality moisture wicking, breathable pair of long underwear, tops and bottoms. You should be able to wear them on their own or comfortably under 2, 3 or 4 other layers. Choose lightweight if you internal temp runs warm, choose mid weight if you are prone to being colder.

  • Made with micro-fleece fabric to give the ultimate warmth and wicks moisture away
  • Four-way stretch makes this comfortable, flexible and will move with you.
  • Snug fit reduces heat loss.
  • Made of a polyester and spandex blend
  • Lightweight thermal underwear set
  • Comes in a variety of colors

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Fleece Pullover Click to buy Fleece Pullover

You will want a nice, cozy warm fleece pullover whether its for an under layer as you hike, or to keep you warm as you sleep, or something easy and comfortable to wear in a hut or yurt. It also works great as a pillow in a pinch.

  • Easy, relaxed fit for comfortable range of motion.
  • Zippered closure. Long sleeves with elastic cuffs
  • Warm, finely knit micro fleece material
  • Wicks moisture, breathable material
  • 100% polyester.

Click to see Womens Fleece Pullover

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Insulated Water Bottle Click to buy water bottle

Insulated water bottles work best in winter hiking as there is no tube that can be blocked by ice. Insulated water bottles will keep your water from icing up the way a normal, un-insulated bottle will. It can also keep your hot coffee, hotter on cold snowy mornings.

  • Made from high quality food grade 18/8 stainless steel
  • The open wide mouth allows the water to stream out while on the go
  • Leak proof, insulated, BPA and Phthalates free cap.
  • Available in a variety of sizes and colors

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35-45 Liter Backpack Click to buy 40 liter backpack

This is a good size for a day pack or when you will be hiking to a hut, cabin or yurt. Usually, these types of structures have a lot of equipment already stocked inside so you don’t need to pack it in with you. Look for a pack with side compression straps so you can tighten all your gear down and keep your pack at the right cent of gravity. The pack should have a shovel pocket or bungee for attaching avalanche shovel, snowshoes and micro spikes

  • Waterproof pack with a rain cover
  • Roomy, 40 liter backpack
  • Multi-compartments, pockets and straps
  • Strong, long-lasting performance with the lightest weight possible.
  • 100% guarantee

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Multi-Tool Click to buy MulitTool

Winter hiking and hut-to-hut trips are the perfect times to hone your Mcguyver skills. You never known what will go wrong or what you will need so its best to be prepared with a multi tool.

This one is perfect because it is very small so it doesn’t take up much space and is very lightweight so it won’t drag you down with extra weight.

  • Lots of functionality – spring-action scissors, knife, flat/Phillips screwdriver, medium screwdriver, extra-small screwdriver, bottle opener, nail cleaner, tweezers, nail file, and ruler.
  • Only weighs 1.8 ounces and is equipped with a key ring attachment
  • Made of Stainless Steel
  • 25-year limited warranty
  • Available in a variety of colors

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Headlamp with Extra Batteries Click to buy Foxelli Headlamp

You will need a headlamp for day hikes that go longer then expected or anticipated (which seems to happen a lot) or for nights at a 10th Mountain Division Hut or yurt. They are great when you need to go outside at night to get more wood, or snow to melt for drinking water or of course to use the outhouse. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries just in case.

  • Super bright LED technology with a 200 ft. beam
  • Wide variety of white & red light modes and an SOS and strobe mode.
  • 90° tiltable body makes this headlight brightest and versatile.
  • Waterproof
  • Up to 45 hours of run-time on batteries. 3 AAA ENERGIZER batteries included
  • 100% money back Guarantee
  • Available in 6 cool colors

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Sunglasses Click to buy polarized sunglasses

Sunglasses are necessary to protect your eyes. Without some kind of protection, snow blindness is a real concern during a winter hike. Bright sunshine reflecting off a huge white snowfield is ridiculous bright, like I can’t open my eyes and look so I am going to walk into a tree bright.

Invest in a good pair of glasses that are polarized and block UV rays. A pair of Croakies or a strap that will keep your glasses from becoming lost is also advisable.

  • 100% UV400 protection
  • Polarized
  • Extremely comfortable and flexible
  • Unbreakable! The frame material is very pliable, so far less likely to break or bend from impact.

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Goggles are a great item on a winter hike.  If hiking to fresh powder to do turns you will need goggles to keep the big snow out of your face as you hit your lines.

If you are trekking and the conditions turn windy and snowy, goggles give you visibility you wouldn’t normally have to see the trail. If the temperature drops its also a good way to keep your face warm, especially with goggles that offer good face coverage.

These goggles are really unique, they offer transition lenses so the tint of the goggle’s lens will change depending on the amount of light that is available so no needing to change out lenses on the fly.  With these goggles you won’t need to carry additional lenses and you will ALWAYS have the right lens for the light conditions

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Sun Bum Sunscreen Click to buy SPF 50 sunscreen

You are absolutely going to need sunscreen especially if you are in the mountains of Colorado. The sun is sooooo intense up here at elevation and then when it is combined with the reflective quality of bright, white snow it only takes a very short time to get a sunburn.

And not just a little, light burn but a sunburn that will turn your skin a bright, fiery red and peel for days and make your friends cringe when they see you.

Be safe, wear a high SPF protection lie 30 or 50, and reapply it ALOT and enjoy winter hiking in the sunny, snowy mountains.

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First Aid Kit Click to buy First Aid Kit

You must, must, must have a First Aid Kit with you when you hike, accidents happen in a second. It doesn’t need to be fancy but it must have the basics. Prepackaged kits are great because everything you need will be in there and all you need to do is replenish it as items are used.

  • This First Aid Kit only weighs one pound.
  • FSA approved medical kit
  • The MOLLE compatible straps work on a backpack or a belt for easy carrying
  • The bag is water-resistant
  • Each inner sleeve is labeled according to its function so items are easy to find in nerve racking situations.
  • The kit comes with 8 different bandages, a tourniquet, emergency blanket, CPR mask, 6″ shears, wipes, sting relief, antiseptic wipes, Q-tips and lots more!

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Balaclava Click to buy Balaclava

When the temperatures dive and the snow is coming in sideways and you are only halfway through a demanding winter hike, it is time to break out the balaclava, and when you do, you are going to be SO happy you brought it. Plus it can do double duty as a neck gator, beanie or face mask.

  • Windproof
  • Waterproof
  • Soft and thick fleece liner to keep your head and neck warm
  • Unique mesh material lets you breathe easier through the front of the face mask.

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Blister Prevention and Relief Click to buy Foot Glide Blister Prevention

Nothing is worse then being on a hike with blisters so be preventative and also carry something that can help you along the way if you start getting blisters, moleskin, Endo blister pads and even band aids can all help.

If you do get a blister keep it clean and covered and use an anti-infection ointment.

I have not tried this Foot Glide yet but it looks awesome and is getting lots of good reviews so it could be a game changer, but make sure you have an alternative method until you known it works for you.

  • Apply before you put on shoes, to help prevent blisters and raw skin caused by rubbing
  • Made with allergen free, plant-derived ingredients. Vegan approved, never tested on animals. Child safe

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Compass Click to buy Compass

If you know how to use a compass properly, then this is a very essential item for outdoor adventuring, especially on long overnight Hut-to-Hut trips where you will be covering lots of miles and long distances. Also good in mountainous terrain where it is easy to get turned around.

A map of the area and a description of your route is also valuable. In addition, leave your itinerary with someone back at home so they know when to expect you and where to start looking for you if you don’t come back.

  • Floating compass dial with 360 degree scale.
  • Aluminum alloy housing
  • Lightweight, professional-grade lensatic compass
  • Folded size of 75 x 57 x 30mm
  • Keep compass away from strong magnets or magnetic fields as this will affect its performance.

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Check out this video of really cool places to take a winter hike in Colorado -if you are prepared!

Comments photo of two winter hikers surrounded by snowcapped mountains

What did you think of the Winter Hiking Checklist?  What is your favorite essential for winter hiking? Is there anything that you feel is essential for winter hiking that was not on this list?  Please tell us your winter hiking experiences, the good and the bad we would love to hear all about them.

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    • ThinkVail

      You will love the OutdoorMaster Women’s 3-in-1 Ski Jacket, it’s a great choice.  To maintain and wash your jacket just separate the fleece liner from the outer shell. You can throw the fleece liner into the washing machine on cool on a delicate setting with like colors.  Do not put the shell in the washing machine as that can degrade the waterproof coating.  To clean the outer shell just use a damp rag with water, for more stubborn spots use a mild detergent with water to spot clean.. 

  • Daniel Gonzales

    Thanks for this amazing checklist for winter hiking!  It’s been a long while since I have been on a long winter snowshoe hike and I am planning to go with friends in mid March for a big hike.  The last time I was out on in the snow like this I was not as prepared as I should have been. So this list has come in handy to help me plan.
    The gaiters are a necessity as last hike I only had snow pants and snow was always getting into my boots and it made the whole hike frustrating and harder then it should have been. I am also interested in the Balaclava, for when the conditions really get rough and March in Colorado can be really unpredictable. I will also look into the Leatherman multi-tool and headlamp.

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