May 31, 2020
Ideas for a surefire winter hike clothes pack list.

Winter hiking is seriously rewarding.

Especially for those who love adventure and the wilder elements.

The trails are less populated. The fresh, crisp air in the mountains is invigorating and motivates activity. The days are shorter. And nights are way more cosy beside a fire with friends.

Winter, in contrast to summer, makes you feel more alive. Your skin tingles in the early morning. Your breath condenses on the air as you step from your tent in the Cederberg or cabin in the Drakensberg. By midday you are in t-shirts and basking in glorious South African sunshine (trail dependent of course).

Some might say winter is possibly our best hiking season. No ticks. Probably no snakes. All you have to be up for is the occasional day or night of rain, if you are in the Cape, or a sub-zero morning on the Highveld. And remember there is good gear out there to deal with both.

The extreme elements of winter make us appreciate nature more fully. Places come alive in unexpected ways in different seasons, shying away because of poor weather, we simply deny ourselves some great adventures.

Here is a list to make your winter trails warm when it’s cold, safe when it’s wet and prepared when the adventure unfolds.

Kit-up from Boots to Beanies

Footwear and Socks with possible heavy rain in some regions, like the Cape and Garden Route, or super cold conditions in places like the Highveld or Karoo, good boots are the right place to start.

Boots should be well-insulated and waterproof, or simply mountaineering boots.

When it comes to socks, go for wool (it wicks moisture effectively). Two pairs of socks work for some, but can reduce breathability. 

TIP: if going the route of two socks, make sure your boot size is about a half to one-size bigger than usual to accommodate the socks.

Gaiters are recommend in rainy regions, they will keep your boots drier and more importantly your socks.

Image by: Nick Dall

Clothing and Layering

I can say it a hundred times. Layering, layering, layering. It is the secret to comfortable hiking and especially in winter. When choosing fabrics, stick to the recommended rule for staying dry and warm — no cotton ever! This goes for that very first layer of underwear too.

  • Base Layer There are some great merino wool base-layer and underwear products out there. Yes they are generally on the pricey side, but they deliver and are a worthwhile investment. They wick moisture away from where you don’t want it — against your skin, while keeping you warm.
  • Mid Layer When it comes to your mid-weight layer, focus on insulating properties. Pullovers, fleece jackets and other items are best for this. This layer should be easily removable. I favour a light weight full-zip thin fleece, which allows me to easily open it and remove any built up moisture from sweating while heading up a steep mountain pass. If the day involves a lot of climbing, like one might expect on the Rim of Africa Traverse, and when the air is on the rather cool side, then I use this fleece as my base layer. A sleeve-less down jacket vest is excellent for keeping core body temperature when hiking in the cold. It also keeps your arms free for movement.
  • Outer Layer (or Shell) This layer is all about protecting you from the elements. So windproof and water-resistant / waterproof is essential. Preferably breathable too. They don’t need much insulation, that is the job of the mid-layer and base-layers. You will want jackets with sizeable pockets to easily stash gloves and beanies, etc. 
  • TIP: Hardshell pants that have a zip along the sides allow for easy ventilation and makes it easier to get them on or off when you heat up.
  • Extremities A good beanie and waterproof / water-resistant gloves finish off your clothing list for winter.

Time to brace the elements and enjoy winter as much a summer in the outdoors. An adventurous attitude and the right gear, makes for extra memories in our favourite places.

Stay safe, stay warm, stay dry, stay amped!

By: Galeo Saintz - Conservation adventurer and global trails ambassador. Founding Chair of THE WORLD TRAILS NETWORK in Switzerland. Founder of the HI-TEC GARDEN ROUTE WALKING FESTIVAL, and instrumental foundering member of THE EDEN TO ADDO - Great Corridor Hike and THE RIM OF AFRICA- Cape Mountain Traverse.

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