We all know going for a day hike in the fall and winter is soooo much better than hiking in the spring and summer.
My absolute favorite season to hike is in the fall. The weather is cooler, there are less tourists, and the colors of the leaves are absolutely gorgeous.
Dressing for a day hike when it starts to get cold though can be a little tricky. It’s warm at the trailhead, but potentially snowing at the summit.
How are you supposed to dress?
If you dress too warm you’ll be drenched in cold sweat at the top, but if you don’t dress warm enough, you’ll be freezing the whole hike.
This is when layering is extra important.
There are 3 layers you need when dressing for outdoor activities in cold weather. Whether you’re hiking, running, skiing, etc. The base layer, the mid-layer, and the shell. In the fall, you generally only need to worry about the first two layers.
The base layer is moisture wicking. It’s purpose is to keep you dry.
The mid-layer is insulating. It’s purpose is to keep you warm.
The shell layer protects you from the elements, by blocking out the wind.
This guide will teach you how to layer properly, choose clothing that will provide optimal comfort on your hike, and and gives recommendations on my favorite gear.
In This Blog Post You Will Learn:
- Everything you need to wear on a day hike in the cold, broken down by layer
- Links to all of the gear I use and recommend
- Tips and tricks to stay warm and dry!
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What To Wear
Like I mentioned above, the base layer is meant to keep you dry. This is arguably the most important layer, because being wet can easily lead to a miserable day. In the fall, you want to make sure that all of the fabric in this layer is lightweight and moisture wicking. I prefer fleece for this layer, because it is warm, moisture wicking, and dries fast if it gets wet.
When it gets colder, I recommend switching to a wool-synthetic blend of fabric, like Merino wool. The wool keeps you warm, and the synthetic material keeps you more dry when doing activities in the snow such as skiing and snowboarding. For the majority of the fall though, wearing fleece should keep you plenty warm and dry.
Fleece Top: I have a few different fleece tops that I switch between. My favorite (and the one I’m wearing pictured above) is the Nike funnel neck sportswear fleece. It is lightweight, breathable, and keeps me dry when I’m hiking.
Fleece Leggings: The fleece leggings I wear most are by 90 degree, and I bought them on Amazon. They do a great job of keeping me warm and dry in the early fall, and then I switch to Merino wool leggings in the winter.
Related Post: Weekend Guide to Boulder Colorado
The mid-layer is meant to keep you warm. You want to make sure everything is mid to heavy weight, and provides quality insulation.
For your bottom half, fleece or wool should keep you plenty warm and dry in the fall, so we won’t need to worry about adding an extra layer for warmth here until the winter. If it’s windy or rainy, I’d recommend adding a shell layer.
Insulated jacket: In the fall I can usually get away with just wearing a Patagonia sweatshirt or something similar. As it gets colder or if you’re hiking at higher elevations, a down jacket is a great option as well. Down is great for hiking because it’s light and easily packable.
Warm socks: I usually hike in sandals (Birkenstocks or Chacos) in the summer, so whenever the weather switches to fall I get sad that I have to put real shoes on. It shouldn’t be too cold in the fall for a day hike to have to worry about your feet staying warm, but you definitely do want to make sure that they stay dry and protected against blisters.
Most socks for hiking are going to be made of Merino wool, which is the fabric I’d recommend. If you’re not willing to spend that kind of money on socks though (I totally understand), REI makes a similar fabric called Coolmax, which is a recycled material meant to keep your feet just as warm and dry.
Windbreaker: I’d always recommend bringing a windbreaker with you. Pack it even if you’re not sure you’ll need it, because mountain weather is highly unpredictable.
In the colder months you’re going to want to wear something over any down to block out any water, as down is less effective when damp. If you choose a jacket made of synthetic fabric it would generally hold up better to rain.
Optional: Hiking Pants
For an added layer to block out water, wind, or uv light you can wear hiking pants. This isn’t always necessary in the fall, but would certainly make hiking at higher altitudes much more comfortable. I don’t have these, because I choose to wear a pair of lighter Oakley light ski pants instead when hiking in the cold.
Hiking boots: The hiking boots that I use and love are the Columbia Newton Ridge Plus amped hiking boot. They maintained their water resistance through an 18 mile hike in the freezing rain and hail like it was nothing. That’s all I need to say for these.
Related Post: Hiking The Blue Lakes Trail in Telluride Colorado
Gloves: You can likely get away with just one layer of warm gloves in the fall and early winter. One thing you’ll want to make sure your gloves have is a e-tip. That way you can still access your electronics without taking off your gloves if you need to check the map or something. My all time favorite pair of gloves are the diamondback fleece gloves from Oakley. They kept my hands warm through 5 Chicago winters, and I bought a new pair when I moved to Colorado. Because I lost them in the move ):
Beanie or headband: You’ll want something to cover your ears. You can get away with headbands or ear muffs in the fall, but I’d transition into a beanie so you can keep your head warm once it gets colder.
Neck-gaiter or balaclava: While a scarf will keep you warm, it’s generally too bulky to take on a hike or just not made for physical activity. Don’t forget, we want everything that touches our body to keep us dry. In the fall you could use a balaclava and transition to a neck gaiter for the winter. I like to use my neck gaiter year round because I don’t like when my neck is cold. Just depends how much warmth you’re looking for!
Microspikes: Microspikes are an essential item to pack for your hike if there is going to be snow, which is likely at higher elevations. Spikes will allow you to break any ice, making it easier to hike in the snow. Make sure you only use them when you need them though, because rock can damage them!
Hand warmers: Hand warmers are an item you should carry and have in your pockets. You could get toe warmers too as it gets colder. I recommend buying a large value pack now and keeping it in your car. It’s an item most often forgotten, and hot hands will run you $10-20 a piece in mountain towns.
Related Post: 5 Best Hikes in Boulder Colorado
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