What Do I Need For A Winter Hill Walk?
Bright cloudless skies, the crunching of snow underfoot and seeing your breath appear before you, are a few of the elements that make a hill walk over winter so special. As idyllic as this setting sounds, bad weather can quickly move in creating a scenario where your only goal is to safely navigate off the hill.
These varying conditions mean you're going to want to strike a balance between warmth/protection, freedom of movement and breathability; but most importantly you want to be prepared for any eventuality.
This kit list will set you in good stead for a winter walk. However, it is not all-encompassing and should be adapted to your needs. If you want any more advice or have any questions, please feel free to drop into one of our stores for a chat or speak to one of the outdoor experts in customer service.
Layering For Success
Utilising a layering system allows you to quickly and easily adapt to varying weather conditions and terrain while remaining dry and comfortable. For this system to work the baselayer, midlayer and outer must all be breathable.
The three layers trap air between them insulating your body. As you work harder on steep terrain they remove moisture and excess heat through the fibres, all while an outer shell protects you from wind and rain
These low-profile pants provide warmth and comfort, sitting under your outer pants. They are made from synthetic or natural (wool) fabrics that trap air between the fibres while wicking away moisture to keep you dry and warm. For a winter walk you want to choose a pair that have a high weight/gm (200 or above) for warmth.
Merino wool is a great insulating fabric as it is effective at wicking and efficient at warmth; it's also naturally odour free so you can get away with wearing the same pair for longer.
Base layer tops work the same way as baselayer pants, trapping air between the fibres while letting excess heat and moisture escape. A top with a high zip neck and sleeve thumb loops offers extra protection on colder days with ventilation on hotter ones.
A fleece jacket acts as the midlayer in your layering system with a focus on warmth. It holds a layer of air between it and your baselayer improving insulation. The jackets themselves are often made from a stretchy and relatively thin material for unrestricted movement and breathability.
Another benefit of this style of midlayer is that the low-profile hood can fit under a helmet improving warmth on those bitterly cold days.
A waterproof jacket acts as the outer shell of your layering system, protecting you from wind, rain and snow while remaining light and breathable. The beauty of a shell jacket is that you can pack down the jacket in to your rucksack then quickly and easily put it on if the weather gets worse.
Because this type of jacket is breathable you can continue to wear it on strenuous sections of a walk while remaining comfortable. In addition to the high levels of breathability you’ll find GORE-TEX and other membrane-based jackets have tough and durable outers that are resistant to tears and abrasions.
Waterproof pants sit over your base layer pants protecting you from rain and wind. A breathable pair that has articulated joints or loose fit is going to continue your layering system and not restrict your movement. Zips at the bottom of the trousers will help you get the pants over your boots and an elasticated waist help with comfort.
A thin yet warm beanie and neck scarf are going to protect your face from cold winds, especially in exposed areas of your walk. The soft fabrics sit comfortably next your face while easily fitting under a helmet, jacket and goggles. And when not in use they easily pack away into a jacket pocket.
A good glove should protect your hands from wind, water and snow while providing you with enough dexterity and grip to handle an ice axe and other equipment. A mountaineering glove delivers all of this utilising low-bulk high-warmth insulation, a water/wind proof membrane that is also breathable and reinforced palm and pre-curved fingers.
You are going to take a lot of steps on a winter walk so having warm & comfortable socks is a must. Socks that can wick away moisture are going to keep your feet dry, warm & prevent blisters. Any socks that have merino in them are going do this and have the added bonus of minimising odours.
Other features to look out for in a sock that will make your walk more comfortable are a flat seam toe box (avoids rubbing), cushioned high impact areas (heel and toes) and some elastane or support that holds the sock in position.
A pair of well-fiiting Hiking boots are paramount to a comfortable and safe winter hike. Hiking boots are classified into three categories: B1, B2 and B3.
B1 boots are the most flexible and generally comfortable for use in summer and winter across a variety of terrain. B2 boots have slightly stiffer soles and midsole along with indents at the front for B2 crampons. B3 boots are the stiffest boot you can get and offer more ankle support for technical winter walking and mountaineering.
B1 and B2 boots will be the best options for most people who want to walk in summer and winter – providing enough support and without being too uncomfortable.
Different brands of boots will high varying volumes, widths and lengths so it is a good idea to try on several pairs and get a feel for what best fits. For more information about selecting the right hiking boots for you have a look at our walking footwear buying guide.
Crampons attach to the bottom of your walking boots and should be used when hiking on hard packed snowy or icy terrain. The spikes penetrate the snow giving you grip and support to safely progress.
They are classified as C1, C2 and C3. C1 is the most flexible and walking orientated pair, C2 is slightly stiffer and features more aggressive spikes for technical routes and C3 is the stiffest and should be used for ice climbing or technical mountaineering.
The crampon rating should match the rating of your boot (a C1 crampon with a B1 boot and so on). C1 or C2 crampons and B1 and B2 boots are most suitable for winter hill walking.
For more information about crampons have a look at our crampons buying guide.
Ski googles are not the first think you think of when you are planning for a winter hike but they are certainly useful in specific conditions. If it is snowy and windy the goggles protect your eyes, enhance your vision (rose or yellow lens) and help keep your face warm.
A winter backpack should be lightweight, durable and adaptable. It’s also important that it is comfortable for long days on the hill - offering support and venting for your back. Correct sizing and ensuring the straps are adjusted to your frame greatly influence the level of comfort; and are worth taking the time to do properly.
For more technical routes, ice axe and walking pole attachments are a useful features along with hydration bladder compatibility leaving your hands free.
For more information on sizing and much more take a look at our backpack buying guide.
A backpack cover shelters the contents of your pack from rain and snow. The cover itself hardly weighs anything and it's quick and easy to use.
Walking poles offer support on uneven terrain, ascents and descents, spreading the load through your whole body rather than just your legs. This extra support is especially useful in icy conditions providing you with four points of contact with the ground.
A straight shaft ice axe is an important tool on technical and steep, snowy and icy terrain. Not only will the axe help you on ascents it is also vital for controlled descents and emergency self-arrests.
You should seek training on how to properly use an ice axe as it is a sharp tool and needs to be used in the correct manner to be effective.
Everyone should carry a map and compass with them at all times and know how to use them. During winter conditions it is even more important to carry these tools because snowy conditions can hide paths, signs and landmarks.
Varying winter weather conditions can mean that you can soon become disorientated in the middle of snow storm and high winds. An emergency shelter protects you from the elements until the worst has cleared and gives you a chance to use your map and compass to get back on track.
It also play an important role if there is an injury; protecting the injured party from the elements until help can arrive.
Over winter, the amount of walkers decreases dramatically and mountain rescue may be a long time in reaching you with snowy conditions. A first aid kit provides you with all the essentials to treat a minor injury until you can get off the mountain or help can arrive. It also important to now how to adminisster the kit for the injury; a first aid course or essentials booklet would be useful.
Not only is a hot drink a nice reward for when you reach the summit it will help maintain your circulation and be comforting.
Because of the cold weather you may not feel like you are thirsty but staying hydrated during any form of exercise is important to keep your body functioning as it should. A lightweight and tough bottle will keep your drink secure and minimise your pack weight.
Most backpacks are not fully waterproof so a dry bag or a series of smaller dry bags are going to protect your electronics, spare layers and much more from getting wet.
A good system to try is to have one large bag (acting as a pack inner liner) and then a couple of smaller dry bags within that, grouping items together. Not only does it prevent everything from getting wet when you open your pack, it also helps with organisation.
A multi-tool is not essential but having it in your pack can prove invaluable for an emergency or gear fix. They are relatively lightweight and come with a host of features that can deal with most situations.
On winter walks it is important to keep your energy levels up and maintain your core temperature – it helps with concentration and agility; vital for technical sections. Snacks that have a high energy to weight ratio (peanuts, chocolate, dried fruit, oats) are best, taking up little space in your pack and providing lots of energy for their size.
They also play an important roll in emergencies, providing you with warmth, strength and a morale boost to endure prolonged exposure or injuries.
Winter Hill Walking