Do you like hiking in winter? Would you like it if you had the right clothes? Like suitable pants for winter hiking? You know, the ones that actually keep you warm and dry, but still you won’t feel you have so many clothes on that you can barely move. Because overdressing makes your winter hiking trip just as unenjoyable as underdressing. (Yes, I learned this the hard way.)
The appropriate winter hiking gear, including a good pair of hiking boots, waterproof hiking pants and jacket, protects you on those cold days so that you can focus on enjoying the beauty of winter. But what kind of pants do you need for cold weather hiking: snow pants, softshell pants, rain pants or traditional hiking pants? We provide information about different pairs of winter hiking pants for both men and women in this post, showing you their best features and the conditions that they fit the most.
So, who’s up for a snowy wonderland adventure? (Sorry, snow is not included in any of the deals.)
Our recommendations are based on our own experiences and customer ratings and reviews.
How to layer winter hiking pants?
First of all, let’s talk about layering. Of course, this is what you do in winter: base layer, insulation layer and finally the shell. Only it doesn’t work well for your legs and butt, because they’re in motion, and you’ll get easily overheated in so many layers. You’re better with two pairs: a next-to-skin base layer and an outer layer.
Running tights, hiking leggings or long underwear can function as a base layer, while the outer layer should be chosen to fit the weather: insulated pants for extreme cold weather, hardshell pants with full-side zips for wet and windy weather or a pair of sturdy, breathable softshell hiking pants for milder days. If the weather is dry and moderately cold, even a base layer can be sufficient, combined with gaiters if you hike in the snow.
And what about the layer under your base layer? Avoid cotton underwear. It absorbs moisture and holds it against your skin for hours, making your butt freeze the moment you stop moving. Wicking underwear made of nylon and/or spandex is much better (like this one – for women, for men – which dries in a few hours).
Things to consider before purchase
Will you hike in any kind of weather, or only on dry days? In deep snow? On steep, slippery terrain? In extremely cold weather?
Will you do relatively easy winter walks or strenuous hikes? The more intense your activity is, the lighter your layers should be so that you don’t sweat.
Do you need insulation? Insulated hiking pants are great for extremely cold temperatures or low-level physical activities like leisure walks or winter camping. They can be too hot for higher level activities though, wind- and water-resistant shell pants are often better, and they’re easier to layer, too. If you get too warm, you simply take them off.
Since layering is so important in cold weather, your outer shell should have enough room to dress under comfortably. Side zippers are also a plus, because who wants to take off their shoes in the snow to take a layer off?
This lightweight, water- and windproof shell is an essential for hiking in poor weather all year. It’s somewhat breathable, but it can easily get warm during mid- or high-level activities. This means that it provides some warmth even without insulation which makes it a great outer layer for moderately cold, wet winter days – and it’s also a great emergency rain pant for year-round use.
It folds up easily and takes up very little space if not needed. And thanks to the full-width side zipper, you can pull them on without taking your shoes off when needed – and when they’re needed, you wouldn’t want to take your shoes off, anyway, so full-width zippers are a must!
|water- and windproof||no insulation|
|full-length side zippers||no belt loop, you can fasten the pant on the waist with velcro at either side|
|great “emergency layer” any time of the year|
A Swedish company should know how to produce good quality winter wear, right? Well, Fjällräven Keb Trouser is a versatile pants for the outdoors, especially for the colder months. Its fabric is thick and durable, but it doesn’t feel heavy or restrictive, rather stretchy and comfortable, because it’s made of two different materials. The knees, butt and front of legs have G-1000 ECO fabric panels to provide more mobility, and the knees, rear and pockets areas are reinforced to be even more durable.
The fabric is water-resistant, and the G-1000 ECO can be treated with Greenland Wax to make it waterproof. However, bear in mind that the wax makes it much less breathable. For high-level activities or milder weather there are ventilation zippers from hips to knees. It has two leg pockets (one with a zip, one with pocket cover flap) and two high hand pockets that hold their content when sitting down.
The ends of each leg have an adjustable cuff, so you can fasten them around the top of your boot to keep snow (or mud) out. (No gaiters needed!) The boot hook attaches the leg to your boot laces for even more protection.
It’s great for hiking in chilly weather, and when it gets real cold, you can wear it with a lightweight base layer. Wax it if you use it in cold, wet weather, but don’t use wax for temperate conditions when you need breathability more than protection from the elements.
Reviewers were impressed how comfortable and well-constructed this pair of hiking pants is.
|water- and wind-resistant||no back pockets|
|flexible and strong construction|
|versatile usage (hiking, climbing, snowshoeing, skiing)|
The 3 layered GORE-TEX Black Diamond Sharp End Pants with additional DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish provide excellent weather protection and quite good breathability. GORE-TEX fabric is known for being both waterproof and breathable which is a rare and very desirable attribute in outdoors clothing. Though originally designed for skiing, this pair of warm hiking pants is also a great choice for mountaineering, especially when the weather is extremely cold, windy or wet.
Full-length side zippers make the temperature control even better, a removable waist belt helps versatile usage, and it’s made of highly durable fabric that can stand years of intense use. It has two thigh zipper pockets. The downside? It comes with a hefty price. But it brings quality and features you’ll greatly appreciate if you regularly do sport activities in the colder months. However, note that this is not an emergency layer that you always carry in your backpack – there are more lightweight and cheaper options for that.
|supreme weather protection (water- and windproof)||expensive|
|full-length side zippers|
Looking for an affordable pair of winter pants that can be used for a variety of outdoor activities? Columbia Bugaboo IV might be what you need. They’re waterproof, have sealed seams, some insulation and built-in gaiters. They’ll keep you warm, maybe even a bit too toasty sometimes, as their breathability is not the best, and they don’t have side zippers to help ventilation either.
But they’re comfortable and don’t restrict your movements. They give you room to dress under (though a simple base layer is likely enough), and they have zippered hand pockets. Some reviewers complained about not being able to find the right fit and also about seams that were not durable enough.
|very warm (Omni-Heat technology) and comfortable||not breathable enough|
|great for general snowy activities|
This pair of waterproof and insulated pants is typically used for skiing and might be too much for intense hikes. However, if you rather just do leisurely snow walks and need pants for skiing, too, this could be the perfect choice.
It has synthetic 85g insulation and durable coating to protect you from wind, water and snow. The fit is roomy enough so that you’re able to put layers under it, and reinforced ankles improve durability. Reviewers like features like adjustable waist design, zippered pockets and built-in gaiters, and what most of them complain about is finding the correct size.
|very warm||breathability is not so good, best for low-level activities|
|great for general snowy activities|
As AR indicates, this pair of GORE-TEX PRO pants is designed for “all-around mountain performance”. As we expect from GORE-TEX, it’s water- and windproof, and also offers good breathability which makes it an ideal choice for any serious winter activity. 3/4 side zips help with easy ventilation and layering – but why replace the full-length side zip?
Though it’s suitable for hiking in the heavy rain or snow for several days, the question is only: who wants to do that? It’s a rugged, protective pair of pants, but also heavy and expensive, and it might be more than you actually need.
It’s made of durable, quality material, but what several reviewers complained about is size. Shorter people (below 5’6″) struggle to find a good fit.
So what’s the verdict? If you’re looking for sturdy hiking pants with the best weather protection ever – and your budget allows -, you’ll make good use of the Arc’Teryx Beta AR in years to come.
|excellent weather protection (water- and windproof, integrated gaiter)||expensive|
|short people (below 5’6″) can’t find a good fit|
The Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II is specifically made for backcountry skiing. It’s an activity that involves a lot of time moving uphill at a slow, steady pace, so comfort and breathability are two important features that this pair of pants excels in. And this makes it a good fit for winter hiking, too, which is a similar activity.
What does it compromise on? Warmth and weather-resistance. As a softshell material it’s much more comfortable than hardshells, but it’s not waterproof, only water-resistant. Its waterproof low leg area improves this a bit, adding protection where you’ll be most exposed to snow, but the real strength of the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II is breathability. In addition to the breathable fabric, there are two long outer vents that open with a zipper from knee to waist. It has no insulation though, so it’s not the best for low-level activities that involve lots of standing or sitting (like resort skiing or winter camping).
You can find lighter softshell pants, but they’re less durable and warm. It’s easy to pull this on a basic underlayer, the fit is slim, but not too tight. In addition, it has four zippered pockets that are all large enough to be of actual use.
Reviewers love the comfort Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II pants provide, but some of them find the gator cuffs too narrow to fit over ski boots or find the velcro waist adjusters a bit bulky. It’s great for most activities in mid-winter conditions, like backcountry skiing, show hiking, snow running or climbing.
|very comfortable||gator cuffs too narrow|
|breathable||bulky velcro waist adjusters|
|water-resistant, low leg area is even waterproof|
|four functional pockets|
The best hiking pants for everyday use: Prana Stretch Zion Pant (men) & Prana Halle Pant (women)
Looking for hiking pants that don’t look like hiking pants, and you can wear them around town or also when traveling? These models from Prana are for you then. They’re traditional hiking pants, not fully waterproof like other rain or snow hiking pants in this list, but they have a DWR coating to protect you from light rain or snow. They’re quick drying and stretchy enough for dynamic movements.
Their adjustable waist allows you to dress under them, so you can use them all year with the correct layering – except on days with heavy rain or snow, or when it’s extremely cold or hot.
|not a technical look, stylish for everyday use||pockets are too small, hence not useful|
|quick drying, stretchy fabric|
|water-resistant (DWR finish)|
|adjustable waist (with drawstring)|
Other winter clothing essentials
Best thermal underwear set: Thermajohn Men’s Long Johns & Thermajane Women’s Long Johns
Simple and useful, for the times when you need a base layer to put under your cold weather hiking pants. This poly-spandex thermal underwear set is moisture-wicking, breathable, close-fitting and stretchy. They’re comfortable to wear under any suitable outer layer to keep you warm.
The downside? Layering. You can’t just take your outer layer off – or it would be very strange. That’s the reason I personally prefer wearing hiking leggings as a base layer. But there are situations when you can be pretty sure you’ll need both layers, and these sets are loved by many.
Thermal wool socks (unisex)
You have the pants, but what about the socks? You can never go wrong with wool when it comes to hiking. These socks are made of 80% merino wool, they’re comfy, moisture-wicking, warm and breathable. Oh, and wool is also odor-resistant. This pack contains unisex pairs, and they got great ratings for warmth, comfort and durability.
Relatively soft and fitting for most casual winter activities, Carhartt WB Gloves are a great choice if you don’t want to spend a lot on gloves, but want proper protection and warmth. They have a waterproof membrane and reinforced palm to make them more durable. They’re a bit bulky and stiffer than their more expensive competitors, but they do their job.
Neck gaiter for menc women
This polyester neck gaiter is protective and versatile. It can be used as a neck gaiter, head wrap, face scarf, balaclava, face mask, beanie, sweatband or bandana. It’s stretchy and a one size fits all, a practical addition to your winter wardrobe.
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