11 Essential Winter Gear Items
The exact equipment you need varies depending on what you are planning to do, but there are a few essential items that almost everyone should have.
1. Warm, Breathable Socks
Cold temperatures won't stop your body from sweating while doing physical activities outdoors. Walking around in wet clothing when it is cold out can be miserable, so you must wear breathable fabrics that allow your sweat to evaporate rather than soak into your clothes. Breathability is particularly important for the clothes that come in direct contact with your skin.
Choose a pair of socks that are middle to thick-weight, depending on how cold your feet typically get. Wool or synthetic materials are the best choices. Wool socks are durable and have excellent moisture-wicking capabilities, but can be itchy. Synthetic materials are good choices for high-intensity activities, such as trail running.
2. Moisture-Wicking Base Layers
The rest of the winter gear that touches your skin needs to also wick away moisture. Long underwear, also called long johns, flannels or thermal underwear, or leggings work well for your lower body. Cover your upper body with a long-sleeved top with either a crew or quarter-zip neck. As with socks, wool or synthetic fabrics are the best choices.
3. Comfortable Mid-Layers
The goal with the middle layers of your clothing is to add warmth without adding a lot of bulk. Fleece options work well because they are soft, comfortable and light, but also warm.
4. Tough, Weatherproof Top Layers
Your top layer should be waterproof to protect you against rain or melting snow. A raincoat and rainpants can work well for climates where the winters tend to be wet. For outdoor activities in the cold and snow, your outer layer needs an insulated shell that is filled with down or synthetic fill. Ski jackets and snow pants fall into this category. Some puffer coats may work as an outer layer, but only if they are waterproof.
5. Insulated, Water-Resistant Footwear
A good pair of weather-resistant shoes or boots are another winter gear essential. Your footwear should be insulated for extra warmth and water-resistant to keep your feet dry. It also needs to be comfortable for whatever activity you plan to engage in. When you try on a new pair, wear the socks you will normally wear with the footwear so you can get the right fit.
6. A Hat
You don't lose half your body's heat through your head like you might have heard from your parents or your elementary school teacher. However, any part of the body that is exposed to the cold will result in lost body heat, so covering your head is a good idea. Wearing a head covering that also protects your ears can save you from frostbite in some conditions. Beanies make a great choice because they can easily be snugged down over the ears on cold or windy days. Headbands that cover the ears and mountaineering caps can also work.
7. Gloves or Mittens
Your hands are another body part that is vulnerable to frostbite. Your best choice for gloves or mittens is a pair that includes liner gloves for wear in less harsh conditions and a waterproof, insulated down layer to wear over the top when needed. You can find stylish or sport-specific options to fit your intended use.
8. Scarf, Neck Gaiter or Buff
Scarves, neck gaiters or buffs keep body heat from escaping through the gap between your collar and the rest of your winter gear. You can also pull these clothing items up over your mouth and nose if your face is getting cold or frostbite is a concern.
9. Polarized Sunglasses
Sunglasses can make it easier for you to see and protect your eyes from ultraviolet light. They also help block the wind. Sunglasses are particularly important when there is snow on the ground because the sun glare from snow can make it extra difficult to see. A pair of snug-fitting goggles may be a good choice for very windy conditions or when participating in sports where snow or other debris could impact the eyes.
10. Skincare Products
Wind and dry winter conditions can lead to chapped, windburned or cracked skin. You can also get sunburned in the wintertime, particularly when there is sunlight being reflected off the snow. This makes skin protection another essential winter gear item. Apply lip balms with UV protection to your lips. Use lotions and sunscreen on any exposed skin. Be sure to reapply as needed.
11. Day Pack
One of the benefits of dressing in layers is that you can take some of the layers off if you get too warm. However, if you are in the middle of a winter hike or other activity, you need to have something to do with them. A day pack provides you with a place to store your layers while you aren't wearing them. It's also a handy item to have for days when it may be warm when you set out but you may need to add more layers when the weather cools. There are many types of daypacks out there. Choose the one that best fits your intended activity and the amount of gear you need to carry.