Your Essential Gear Checklist for Winter Day Hikes

Summer’s over, so it must be time to hang up the hiking gear, right?

Wrong! If you love to hike, don’t let the change of seasons stop you from enjoying the outdoors.

Winter hiking gives you the chance to get out of the house. It allows you to see some beautiful scenery and wildlife from a whole different perspective. And you won’t face crowds during the winter.

Day hiking in the winter is a great experience for an outdoors enthusiast. But you need the right gear to make sure your hike is pleasant and safe.

Continue reading for a list of essential gear you’ll need for winter day hiking.


Winter Day Hike Footwear

If your feet aren’t comfortable, you won’t have a good time. And you’re less likely to hike again. 

What’s the key to comfortable hiking footwear? Make sure you’ve got the right size and the right boot for the occasion.

For a winter hike, you need footwear that is specially designed for cold weather wear. Preferably insulated and waterproof. And the more rugged the terrain, the more heavy-duty boot you’ll need to keep your feet safe.

If you’re planning to go through snow, get a boot that’s taller and made to wear in the snow. If your trip is in a mild climate, then you can get away with a lighter shoe. There are tons of options for hiking footwear.

And for the love of hiking, make sure your boots fit! You want a snug boot but you also want plenty of room in the toe.

When in doubt, go larger. There’s nothing worse than cramped toes. It’s uncomfortable and causes bigger problems like cracked nails and blisters.

In addition to a high-quality hiking boot, you need thick socks. And always bring an extra pair of socks with you in case yours get wet.

Talk to one of the Gander Outdoors experts to find out what shoes and socks are right for your hiking adventure.

Body Gear

Dress in layers. You never know what the weather might throw at you.

Wear breathable fabric close to your body to avoid sweating. Get a jacket or coat that suits the temperatures you’ll hike in. If you’re planning to hike in subzero temps, make sure your coat is rated for those temps.

Consider wearing or bringing along a pair of long underwear in case the weather turns colder. Gloves are important to keep your fingers safe. Again, make sure that your gloves are rated for the temps you plan to hike through. The hands and feet are the most susceptible to frostbite so make sure they’re protected.

Head and Neck Gear

Always wear a hat. Heat escapes easily from your head so a warm stocking cap is a must in colder climates.

And consider a neck and face covering. Your face is susceptible to extreme wind and cold so you want to have the options to cover it if necessary.

Sun Protection

No matter where you hike, sun protection is a must. This even applies when you’re deep in the forest. Even though you’ve got trees for shade, the sun can still leave you with a nasty burn if you’re not prepared.

Bring along sunscreen and apply generously before you start. Always have sunglasses with you. This is especially important if you’re planning to hike in the snow. Snow blindness is a real problem and wearing sunglasses is a must to protect your eyes from damage.

You should have a stocking cap with you, but if you plan to hike out in the sun, bring along a hat with a brim. Something that goes all the way around your head and keeps your neck and ears safe.

Water Supplies

Although you’re only day hiking, you need to bring water and food to sustain you on your hike. This allows you to stay on the trail longer and keeps you nourished if you do get lost.

The amount of water you bring depends on where you’re hiking. If you’ll be near a freshwater source, invest in your own water purification system. There are options out there like filters for your bottle and purification tablets that take up very little space.

To store water, bring a water bag that fits in your backpack and has a spout so you can drink without stopping. And have a water bottle as well so you can fill up along the way.

If you won’t be near any potable water, you’ll need to bring it with you. But that also means more weight. So plan out your hike to make sure you don’t hike too long or risk getting lost with a finite amount of water.


You might be surprised at how much energy you burn when you hike. Store food in plastic bags to ensure you don’t attract bears. And bring food that packs plenty of calories in as little space as possible, like nuts and granola.

Safety Supplies

Navigation is important. Especially if you’re in the backwoods and if the weather is extreme. You need to know where you’re going and how long it’ll take to get back.

Always bring a map of the trails in the area. If you’re hiking in a national, state, or local park, the park office has them. It’s also a good idea to let the park ranger know where you’ll be and when you plan to be back.

Along with your map, pack a compass. You can use your cell phone in most areas, but you never want to rely on that alone.

Bring supplies to start a fire. Fire keeps you warm if you need to stay overnight for any reason. It’s also a good way to signal a ranger if you get lost.

A flashlight with working batteries is a must in case you’re out in the dark. Remember, days are shorter in the winter and difficult terrain might keep you out later than you expect.

First aid supplies are essential. You don’t have to get anything fancy. But a small first aid kit that’s made for camping is a great investment.

Other Miscellaneous Supplies

Carry your supplies in a good backpack with a waist strap. It’s an easy way to hold your supplies without causing strain on your body. Hiking backpacks are made light and allow maximum storage.

Bring a bag for garbage. This isn’t a necessity, but it’s a big help. Especially because you don’t want to litter while you’re on the trail.

A small blanket or scarf comes in handy if you do need some extra cold protection. And if you’re planning a long day trip, it’s not a bad idea to bring a small pup tent or tarp. These items keep you warm if you have an unexpected overnight stay or if the weather turns on you.

Another optional but useful item is a walking stick or trekking poles. They’ll make it a more comfortable walk.

A knife or multi-use tool is a must-have item for hiking. You never know when you might need it.

Ready to Start Winter Day Hiking?

Day hiking is a wonderful way to get exercise and see the outdoors during the winter. But you need the right gear to ensure a safe and fun hike.

Make sure you’ve got boots that fit and are right for the temperature and terrain. Dress in layers and cover your head, neck, and hands to protect from cold. Make sure your gear is appropriate for the temps you plan to hike in.

Protect yourself against the sun with sunglasses and a hat. And bring food and water supplies to keep you hydrated and nourished during the hike. Make sure you’ve got a map and compass handy. And always consider safety first with a flashlight, matches, and a first aid kit.

Visit our camping page for all the gear you might need!

Your essential gear checklist for winter day hikes

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