What to Wear for Winter Walking

How to Keep Walking in the Cold

Layered for Winter Walking
Layered for Winter Walking. Jordan Siemens/Stone/Getty

Walking for fitness outside in cold weather can be more comfortable if you prepare with the right clothing and gear. But there is more of a trick to it than just putting on what you think will be the warmest clothing. You will be moving, producing body heat, and even sweating. You need to protect your skin from the cold and wet while still allowing enough breathability so you don't overheat and sweat doesn't make you clammy and chafed.

Layering Clothes for Winter Walking

Layering is a tried and true tactic for hikers and people who are active outdoors. Here are the basics:

  • Next to the skin: Your base layer should wick sweat away from your body to keep your skin dry. Cotton should not be used—save your cotton t-shirts for other purposes. Good long underwear pieces are appropriate. Choose those made from fabrics such as Thermion, polypropylene, Thermax, Thinsulate, or silk. Under Armour Base Layer Clothing: Buy from Amazon
  • Insulating layer: This layer will keep you warm, but you may not need it once you are warmed up. That's why it's smart to wear a vest or shirt as your insulating layer rather than wearing a jacket that is insulated. The insulating layer can be made of wool, polyester fleece, pile, or down. You can vary this by the temperature.  Microfleece Vests: Buy from Amazon
  • Outer layer: A windproof and water-resistant jacket will protect you from wind and light moisture. It should be worn loosely. If you expect rain, you should wear a waterproof, breathable jacket. Look for breathable jackets that will let your body moisture evaporate, but still keep out wind and rain.
  • Pants: If the weather is below freezing, you may want to wear long underwear bottoms or tights underneath another pair of pants. Cotton and denim should be avoided because if they get wet, the heavy wet fabric will stick to you and be very uncomfortable and could even lead to hypothermia. Choose walking/running pants or running tights made of synthetics that wick moisture and will keep you more comfortable in rain and snow.
  • A change of clothes: Bring along a set of warm and dry clothes to slip into immediately after walking. This will keep you from getting chilled by wet walking clothes.

Cold Weather Walking Accessories

Besides your three layers, you will want to bring along these cold-weather accessories:

  • Hat: A winter walking hat is essential to keep your body heat from escaping, as well as to shed rain. A polar fleece hat with ear covering is an ideal winter headgear when it is below freezing. 
  • Ear band: For those whose ears get cold, ear bands and other ear warmers are the answer.
  • Gloves or mittens: Mittens will keep your hands the warmest as the fingers work together to build up warmth. Look for windproof mittens: Buy from Amazon.com
  • Water bottle: You need water in winter as much as in summer, and drinking fountains may be turned off. Bring water along to stay hydrated and carry it in a single-bottle pack.
  • Scarf, neck gaiter, ski mask: Having a scarf or similar item along to wrap around your neck when the wind turns brutal can save your walking comfort. A versatile item to use that can be worn as a gaiter, hat, or face covering is a Buff: Buy from Amazon.com
  • Sunglasses: The glare from snow can be especially piercing and you need to protect your eyes from UV radiation.
  • Sunscreen and lip protector: The earth is closer to the sun in December through February. so you need to protect your skin. Lips and face can chap without protection.
  • Umbrella: Staying dry is critical to preventing 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.

Keeping Your Feet Happy and Good Footing

Cold and wet feet will make your walk miserable. Use tips to keep your feet warm:

  • Waterproof shoes or boots: If your walking route is wet or snowy, invest in a pair of waterproof walking or hiking shoes. Many shoe and boot companies have lightweight styles to keep you dry. Coating shoes with a water repellent fabric treatment is another option.
  • Socks: Switch to heavier socks or wear two pairs for more insulation. Test your socks with your chosen shoes to make sure there is still room for your toes to wiggle.
  • Traction: Don't wear slick-soled shoes if there will be wet or snowy pavement. For icy conditions, use snow and ice walking gear such as Stabilicers, YakTrax or Ice Walker slip-on cleats.
  • Walking Poles: In slippery conditions, using walking or trekking poles can add stability and safety.

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