Wearing the right clothing is key to any successful hike, and never more so when the temperatures dip below freezing. When the weather is cold, you want the right balance of clothing to keep you both warm and dry. Therefore, what should you wear when hiking in 30-degree weather?
Layering your clothing can be key to a comfortable hike in 30-degree weather. Wearing a base layer, an insulating middle layer and a waterproof outer layer helps keep your body warmer and drier in the cold. Insulated hiking boots, extra socks, a hat and gloves are also needed in 30-degree weather.
Choosing the right clothes for the conditions is crucial when hiking, as well as ensuring you have the correct gear and know how for hiking in freezing conditions. In this article we shall look at what you should wear in 30-degree weather, as well as providing tips when hiking in cold conditions.
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What Should You Wear When Hiking In 30-Degree Weather?
The key to choosing the right clothing when hiking in cold weather is to strike a balance between staying warm and staying dry. You want to ensure the body remains insulated, but you don’t want to get wet from the elements or through sweating. Once you become wet you will be more vulnerable to the cold.
Hiking in 30-degree weather without the right clothing can be potentially dangerous. However, with the right clothing and gear, hiking in near freezing conditions can still be very rewarding. One of the key factors to consider when the weather is particularly cold is layering your clothing. The general consensus is you want to be wearing at least three layers in 30-degree weather.
Winter Hiking Layers
Although some people cope better in colder weather than others, everyone should recognize that 30 degrees Fahrenheit is particularly cold and requires attention if considering a hike. Wearing the right clothes will make for a more comfortable and safer hike. This starts with the concept of layering.
It is always best to have more clothes than you think you may need in cold weather. When you layer up your clothing you can always remove a layer if you start to overheat and sweat on a more exerting part of a trail, such as an uphill section. The layer can easily be put back on once the body starts to cool again. Having spare clothing is useful in case an item of clothing becomes wet.
The base layer of your clothing is important in helping to keep you dry. Even in colder conditions you are likely to sweat to some extent while hiking, and the base layer will help wick sweat away and regulate your body temperature. Once your skin is damp you will feel the chill even more, and the result of this can range from being pretty uncomfortable through to outright dangerous.
The base layer will also help you stay dry if it rains or snows during the hike. Staying dry is crucial, and the best material for a base layer item of clothing is merino wool or a synthetic material such as polyester. One to avoid is cotton as it absorbs water and loses any insulating properties when wet, the polar opposite of what you need from a base layer.
A base layer for 30-degree weather should always be a long-sleeved garment and not a t-shirt. When hiking in freezing conditions it is important to cover all parts of the body to protect you from exposure to cold winds. You also don’t want to wear anything which is too tight and which threatens to affect your body’s blood circulation.
The thickness of your base layer will depend on on just how cold it is and personal preference, as everyone is different and we all cope with cold differently. Finding the right thickness of base layer may take a few trips, and therefore shorter hikes close to home may be best until you are experienced enough to gauge the best clothing and base layer for you.
The middle layer of the three is the insulating layer, and is important for keeping your body warm. The middle layer garment traps heat to keep you warm, while still being breathable in order to allow air to circulate and any moisture to be transferred to the outer layers.
Again, the type of middle layer worn may be determined by the cold and whether this is a dry cold or one which is quite damp. Synthetic down or fleece tend to be the materials of choice for the middle insulating layer. Down can lose its insulating properties when wet though, so may not be ideal when hiking in wet or humid climates, in which case a synthetic alternative can be the better choice.
The outer layer is required to protect the inner layers from whatever the weather intends to throw your way. This could be rain, snow and sleet or just the cold. Ideally, your outer layer needs to be waterproof and wind resistant, while still being relatively easy to pack away in to your backpack if you want to remove it when conditions allow.
Outer layers can vary from being lightweight through to containing heavy levels of insulation, such as in a ski jacket. While a heavily insulated outer layer may do the job if you are intending to stop and rest a lot, for most hikers a less insulated lighter rain jacket can work best, so long as you are wearing the appropriate layers of clothing underneath.
Ultimately, you want to wear an outer layer garment which protects you from the weather you are anticipating, as well as allowing you to comfortably hike at the pace and distance you plan.
Lower Body Layers
When considering how best to keep yourself warm and dry while hiking in 30-degree weather, you mustn’t concentrate solely on the upper half of the body. Insulating the lower half of your body is just as important when hiking in cold conditions.
A base layer made from merino wool or synthetic materials will help wick sweat and moisture away from the lower body to help keep you dry. On very cold days you may want to wear a second pair of pants over the base layer. These could be water and wind resistant soft shell pants or full blown rain pants, depending on the weather forecast for your hike.
Additional Clothing You Should Wear
We have covered the upper and lower body and how layering can be implemented to help you stay dry and warm when temperatures tumble to freezing or just below. However, all parts of the body need to be protected from the elements and any chill wind. The following are further items of clothing and accessories you should wear or take on a hike in cold conditions.
A good quality pair of waterproof hiking boots are essential for hiking in 30-degree weather. They need to be waterproof to prevent the feet from getting wet from underfoot conditions and any damp grass or foliage you encounter. They will also help keep your feet dry from snow, sleet and rain, or any snow settled on the trail.
Wearing inappropriate footwear which is not waterproof or at least water resistant can soon see your feet getting wet and becoming cold. Feet that become colder as the hike progresses is a recipe for potential disaster. At the very least it makes for a particularly unpleasant hiking experience.
Hiking boots also have good traction, crucial on colder days where ice may have formed or when the trail is wet and slippery. Wearing hiking boots which are at least ankle high helps keep the feet warmer as well as adding extra protection and warmth around the ankle joint. On very cold days you may consider insulated hiking boots too.
Even with a good pair of hiking boots you still need a good pair of hiking socks. Most hikers will opt for thick merino wool hiking socks to help keep the feet insulated and warm. However, those who sweat more through the soles of their feet, or those with insulated boots may prefer socks with a medium level of thickness instead.
While waterproof boots will help keep out external moisture, any rain or snow if heavy enough or deep enough can still occasionally penetrate through to your socks. You socks can also become damp through sweat as you hike. In either case you should always carry extra socks so you can change out of damp socks to help keep your feet dry and therefore warmer.
Once feet start to get cold it is hard to reverse and has the potential to lead to frostbite. Some hikers will wear two pairs of socks to try and alleviate moisture build-up from sweat. A thinner sock sits snugly on the foot, although not too tight, and this sock wicks away the moisture from the foot to the thicker outer sock. By keeping the foot drier you will keep it warmer.
If you are anything like me the fingers are the first area where you start to feel the cold. Covering the hands and protecting them from chill winds is vital for a successful hike in 30-degree weather. Hiking gloves designed for winter often have the same layered approach as that used to keep the body insulated and warm.
These gloves are layered to insulate the hands, trapping the heat from the hands in the gloves. They contain a thin lining to wick away any moisture from the skin, while having a waterproof but breathable outer layer.
The thickness of the gloves you wear may be a personal preference based on previous experience. Some hikers will layer their own gloves too, wearing a thin fleece liner glove with a thicker, waterproof glove on top. Whichever gloves you wear, the aim is the same, to reduce their susceptibility to the cold and reduce the risk of the dangers of frostbite.
While research has shown we don’t actually lose 70% of our body heat through our head as previously believed, your head still needs to be covered when hiking in freezing conditions. Wearing a hat will still keep you more insulated and keep your body temperature up.
There is a large market for outdoor hats, with woolen hats and beanies some of the preferred options for winter hikers. However, when it is 30 degrees you should also look for a hat which can cover the ears too. Covering all parts of the body is an important part of dressing correctly to meet the cold conditions.
Although you may be wearing a jacket which zips right up to the neck, a scarf can provide additional insulation properties and helps reduce the chance of leaking body heat through the top of your jacket.
However, not everyone is a fan of wearing a scarf when hiking. If this is the case, then a neck warmer of buff may be the preferred option. Once again, whichever garment you prefer, it is important you wear one of them when the temperatures start to drop and a chill wind is blowing. Anything that helps retain body heat and adds insulation to your thermal clothing is a good thing.
It can be easier to forget to protect the eyes when hiking in winter, a consideration which is normally automatic when the sun is belting down in the summer months. The sun can still be strong in winter months and sunglasses will help protect you from the glare caused by the sun. Snow reflecting the sun can send UV rays directly in to the eyes.
Not only do sunglasses protect you from glare, they also help protect your eyes from the effects of a cold wind. Such a wind can soon dry your eyes, with your body reacting by producing more tears to compensate for the lack of moisture.
What You Should Wear For A 40-Degree Hike
The temperature may have gone up 10 degrees, but it is still not much above freezing and therefore conditions remain chilly. Layering is still the best approach to clothing, although you may tweak the type of upper body garment you wear to account for the slightly warmer conditions and the heat the body may generate while hiking.
In 40-degree weather, some hikers may feel more comfortable with a short sleeved base layer top, whereas in 30-degree weather all tops should be long-sleeved. The base layer will still fit snugly against the body and be made from moisture wicking materials. A thick sweater, hoodie or even a thicker shirt will usually suffice for the middle insulating layer.
A light to medium jacket can be worn as the outer layer, one which is wind and water resistant. You may find the temperatures climb a bit higher than anticipated as the day develops and layering always gives you the chance to remove layers if you start to overheat. However, the basics remain in that the purpose of the clothing is to keep you both warm and dry.
Hats, gloves and scarves should also be worn, at least at the start of the hike until the body has warmed further. Most people will tend to wear gloves and a hat throughout a hike in 40-degree weather, with the scarf more likely worn if there is a particularly chill wind.
Personal preference and experience may dictate what you wear, but it is better to wear an item and take it off when you have become warm, rather then wait until you feel cold before putting one on.
You won’t be reaching for your shorts yet as 40-degree weather is still cold. However, if you layer up on leggings in 30-degree weather, you may only need the one pair when the weather is 10 degrees warmer. A good pair of hiking pants appropriate for the weather forecast should suffice, but if there is a chill wind you may still prefer to wear thin leggings as a base layer over the legs.
A good pair of hiking boots remains essential, boots which are water resistant and have good traction. Even when the temperature has sneaked back above freezing, you may still encounter frozen patches of ground where the sun has yet to penetrate.
Hiking boots will keep your feet insulated while the weather remains chilly, although if you wear boots with additional insulation for exceptionally cold weather you may want to revert back to your regular hiking boots for 40-degree weather. Carrying spare socks is still important to replace any socks which become wet to help prevent your feet from getting cold.
Tips For Hiking In Cold Weather
Hiking in cold weather can be invigorating and reward you with stunning winter scenery. However, without the proper preparation winter hiking can become uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. The following are 8 tips for hiking in cold weather.
1. Stay Dry
Once your clothing is wet it becomes very difficult to stay warm in cold conditions. Layering clothes helps you stay warm, but this can make you sweat when hiking. A base layer which wicks sweat away and helps keep you dry is therefore key. Make sure you carry extra pairs of socks so you can change and air out socks which become wet.
Once you become cold when hiking in close to freezing temperatures it can be hard to warm up again. Hypothermia may result, which can be signified by shivering, numb fingers and toes, dizziness, loss of balance and slurred speech.
2. Pack Suitable Food And Water
You are less likely to sit down and enjoy a meal when it is cold, so food and snacks you can eat quickly or on the go can be useful. Instant foods and soups can be a good solution, while you will want to snack frequently to keep energy levels up in the cold. Opt for foods such as nuts, chocolate, cheese and soft granola bars which won’t freeze, rather than energy bars which can become hard when cold.
You also do not want your water to freeze, so you may want to take an insulated water bottle when cold. Be aware of any tubing you drink through which could also freeze and prevent you from drinking the water. A thermos of tea, coffee or cocoa can also be very welcome when hiking in cold weather.
3. Emergency Supplies
You may want to pack light, but you should always leave space for emergency supplies when hiking in 30-degree weather or below. One of the essential emergency supplies is a first aid kit, one which will last the duration of the hike. Further supplies you should take are an emergency blanket, a headlamp or flashlight, a fire starter kit and a whistle.
Being prepared in an emergency can make all the difference for a successful outcome, so if you intend to hike in cold conditions you should learn how to build a shelter and how to start a fire.
4. Stick To Well Known Trails
When the weather starts to dip below freezing and there is snow or ice on the ground is not the time to explore new trails. Look to stick to trails you know, trails where you are aware of any hazards which may have been hidden by a layer of snow.
Avoid trail hazards such as stream crossings and narrow trails which fall sharply away. The cold weather can supply enough of an additional challenge, particularly to less experienced hikers, so do not set yourself a hike which could prove too challenging.
5. Start Earlier
Try to start your hike earlier than you may normally. Winter days have fewer hours of sunlight, so by starting earlier you can build in a little leeway to ensure you finish before the light fades. This also means being a little more conservative with the miles you plan to hike.
As the light fades the temperatures will drop further, increasing the risk of cold related problems such as frostbite and hypothermia if you have misjudged your hike. Make sure you are aware of the time of the sunset, but take emergency supplies such as a headlamp just in case.
6. Take Shorter Breaks
A large part of the appeal of summer hiking is taking time out to enjoy the views as you rest or eat some food. You can still enjoy the winter scenery, but you want to take shorter breaks when the weather is a very chilly 30 degrees. If you stop and remain still for too long you could lose body heat.
Have your snacks and drinks close to hand and easily accessible so you don’t have to stop every time you want a bite to eat or a sip of your drink.
7. Pack Hand Warmers
Your fingers can be particularly vulnerable to a cold, biting wind. Gloves are crucial when hiking in cold weather, but even then some people may still find their fingers going numb. Hand warmers slipped inside the gloves can be very beneficial in warding off cold fingers.
Hand warmers are not expensive and take up hardly any room in a backpack. Not only are they useful in keeping fingers warm, you could also slip them in to your boots to help keep your feet and toes warm. Hand warmers can last for many hours, and even if you do not find you need them, for anyone who struggles with the cold they offer great peace of mind to have them with you.
8. Trial Your Clothing First
It is not always easy to know whether you are clothed properly for the temperature. This can be particularly so when it is very cold, as you want to ensure you have the necessary clothing to stay warm and insulated.
If in doubt you can stand outside for fifteen minutes or so prior to your hike. If you remain warm and toastie the chances are good you will remain so when hiking. It is always best to overdress when cold, removing layers if you start to overheat to prevent excessive sweating, moisture which could make you cold on a chilly day if not wicked away from the body.
Selecting the right clothing and equipment provides for a more comfortable and safer hike in 30-degree weather. By layering your clothing you can keep your body warm and dry. Preparation is important, sticking to trails you know and carrying emergency supplies in case you get lost or have an accident. Always carry extra pairs of socks as the feet can sweat more when wearing hiking boots.