How to Dress for Cold Weather Walking

A brisk walk on a cold, crisp day, whether for fitness or for fun, can be exhilarating and refreshing. Or, it can be a direct route to frozen toes, hypothermia, or one of those to-the-bone chills that can take hours to thaw. If you wear the right stuff you can prevent these problems. As the old saying goes, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."


Layering for Cold Weather Walking

Two Couples Dressed for Cold Weather Walking

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Rule number one to dress for a cold weather walk is to put on layers that will wick away moisture, insulate your body from the cold, and keep out the wind and rain. You'll need three layers to do this:

  • Base Layer: Any clothing that touches your body directly should be made from a fabric such as polyester that will wick moisture away from your skin and prevent you from feeling clammy.
  • Insulating Layer: This layer might be a shirt or vest that you can take off easily if you get too hot (and slip back on if you get cold again). How warm the insulating layer should be will depend on the temperature. It can be made of polyester fleece, wool, or down.
  • Windproof and Water-Resistant Outer Layer: Top it all off with a jacket designed to keep out the elements. Look for breathable jackets and pants that will let your body moisture evaporate, but keep out wind and rain. A jacket with a hood provides extra protection.


Sport Bra and Accessories

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Briefs: Underneath it all, you should wear briefs made of synthetic fabric rather than cotton or a cotton blend. Nylon or polyester is better, as cotton will hold sweat and won't dry quickly.

Bra or shimmel: For women, a sports bra made of a wicking polyester or polypropylene fabric is a good choice. Avoid cotton or cotton blends that can cause uncomfortable chafing when they get wet with sweat. A shimmel is a sports top or bra that extends down over your lower torso, providing an extra layer of insulation for very cold days.

Undershirt: Men may want to wear a short or long-sleeved sweat-wicking undershirt. This should be of silk, polypropylene, or other wicking fabric.

Tights or base layer bottoms: For temperatures below freezing, especially when winds are high, you can keep your legs cozy by wearing a pair of tights or base layer bottoms under your pants. Silk or polypropylene long john bottoms, or even winter-weight pantyhose, work as well. Tights or pantyhose can also help prevent chafing of the thighs and calves.



Three Young Walking Women / yobro10

When walking in the cold, your shirt should be made of a wicking fabric rather than cotton or a cotton blend. Cotton holds in sweat and can leave you cold and clammy.

A wicking fabric shirt will take the moisture away from your skin while providing a base layer.

As it happens, many marathons and half marathons give finishers the perfect shirt to wear for winter walking—a technical wicking fabric long-sleeved shirt.



Columbia Women's Aruba Convertible Pant, Fossil

 Image via Amazon

Your cold-weather walking pants also should be made of wicking polyester fabric. Running tights or looser-fit running pants are ideal. For convenience, look for styles with zip pockets and an elastic waistband. On wet or snowy days it's especially important to not wear cotton or denim. If you venture out in jeans and they get wet, you're setting yourself up for hypothermia.

If you expect to be walking on rainy days, you may want to invest in a pair of waterproof rain pants. These can be expensive, but can also provide a great deal of comfort. They'll also keep the wind out and some have an inner fleece layer for very cold climates or skiing, which can come in handy in temperatures below freezing.


Insulating Layer

Down vest

Gpointstudio / Getty Images

An insulating layer of polyester microfleece, quilted down, or polyester fill, or a wool vest or wool shirt will help keep out the chill on walks below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you hate feeling bulky, microfleece is thin enough to fit under a regular waterproof jacket. Polyester microfleece also will dry quickly if it gets wet. Look for a style that's somewhat fitted so that it layers neatly under a jacket. Including an insulating layer is better than simply wearing an extra-heavy jacket because you have the option of taking off this layer if you heat up, yet still having the protection of the outer layer.


Outer Layer Jacket

Young black female in hiking jacket
Colin Hawkins / Getty Images

A windproof, water-resistant jacket is essential for cold weather walking. If you're planning to walk in the rain or snow, a waterproof version is best. If you live in a dry climate, you may prefer a soft shell jacket. Many outdoors manufacturers offer soft, windproof, water-resistant jackets suitable for walking, hiking, and skiing.

Other details to look for in a walking jacket include:

  • Two-way zipper so you can easily loosen the jacket around your hips
  • A comfortable hood for rain or wind protection
  • Convenient pockets, preferably zippered
  • Armpit zippers to allow for breathability
  • A cut that will fit over your fanny pack or backpack to keep them dry.

Staying dry is critical to prevent getting cold. While a waterproof jacket is your first line of defense, an umbrella will also help, especially in a downpour. Buy a very lightweight, folding umbrella to carry along just in case it is needed.



SmartWool Light Hiking Sock
Courtesy of Amazon

There was a time when the "recipe" for hiking socks was to combine a liner made from wicking polypropylene liner with a wool sock to go over it. Now you can find socks that combine both features in one sock or you can choose non-itchy wool socks that are machine washable. The most important thing to keep in mind is the bulk of your walking socks. You don't want to wear a pair that's so thick they crowd your toes together inside of your shoes. 



New Balance 910v2 Trail Shoes
Courtesy of

You'll need to keep your feet warm and dry when you're walking in the cold. One option is a flexible athletic shoe that has a water-resistant and wind-resistant upper. Another option is a light hiking boot or trail running shoe that's waterproof. Many shoe and boot companies have lightweight styles to keep you dry. Coating your shoes with a water repellent fabric treatment is another option.

Choose walking shoes with a flexible sole. If you can't bend or twist the shoe with your hands, your feet will be fighting it with each step.

When waking for fitness, choose a waterproof athletic shoe or trail running shoe.

If you are walking your dog or strolling at a slower pace, you may go with a Wellington-style rain boot, duck-style rain shoe, or snow boot. However, be aware that these are usually styles that are either inflexible or don't provide needed support. They are best for walking shorter distances at a slower pace.


Traction and Safety Devices


Sure Foot Corporation

For walking on ice or snow, you may need to add a traction device to your footwear, such as slip-on cleats, or choose shoes with cleats built-in to help you get a grip on slippery surfaces.

Ski poles or trekking poles can provide extra stability. If you want to have some fun in the snow, consider investing snowshoes. The ones available now are small, light, and don't require training to use.


On Your Head

Woman wearing hat and gloves in cold weather.

Anna Omelchenko / Shutterstock

Covering your head will help keep your whole body warm. Some features to look for in a winter walking hat include ear flaps and a bill to shade your face on sunny days. Your walking hat should be waterproof.

Besides covering your head, you'll want to keep the rest of your body from the neck up warm and cozy. Some options to try: 

  • Balaclava: This is a hood that goes over your head and neck, leaving only your face exposed. Often you can pull it up over your mouth or nose as needed.
  • Neck gaiter or scarf: A neck gaiter is a sleeve that goes around your neck to keep your neck warm. You may prefer a traditional scarf to use for this purpose.
  • Buff: This is a tube-shaped piece of fabric that can be worn as a balaclava, a neck gaiter, or a hat.
  • Ear band: For those whose ears get cold, ear bands and other ear warmers are the answer.

Don't forget sunglasses and sunscreen. Sunscreen is especially needed in winter as the sun's radiation is more intense, and less expected, especially when reflected off of snow. Protect your mouth from the sun and from chapping by using a lip balm with sunscreen. 




Mykhailo Lukashuk / Blend Images / Getty Images

Fingers (as well as toes and nose) are especially vulnerable to frostbite. Mittens are much better than gloves for keeping your hands toasty. In severe cold, wear windproof fleece mittens. One problem with mittens is that you can't operate your mobile phone while wearing them. There are many gloves that have electronics-friendly fingers so you can do so. Look for those that have an overmitten that can help keep your hands warmer when you aren't using your phone.

Besides gloves, consider carrying single-use handwarmer packets. These can really save you if your hands get too cold.


Water Bottle

Aluminum Water Bottle

Vstock LLC / Tetra images / Getty Images

You need water in winter as much as in summer, and drinking fountains may be turned off for the winter. Bring water along to stay hydrated. If you usually carry your water bottle in your hand, you'll discover that makes for cold hands in the winter. Instead, carry it in a single-bottle pack or small backpack. Or, you might buy a hydration pack for longer walks.

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