For fair weather adventurers, winter often spells the end of the hiking season. However, if you’re really dedicated to seeing the outdoors in all its glory — regardless of the seasonal weather — a little rain, sleet, and/or snow isn’t going to put a stop to your expeditions. In fact, you might find the trails are a bit more private and, therefore, more enjoyable in the colder months of the year.
But hiking in the winter is not without its downsides. Perhaps obviously, the biggest issue is the inclement weather and the dipping of the mercury. Thankfully, frozen chills and snowfall can also be managed by the right gear. And while hiking boots, so long as they’ve got a measure of water-resistance built-in, are pretty functional all year, the rest of your apparel might not be. If you really want to stay warm and dry, you’re going to need to beef up your wardrobe to suit. And a pair of winter hiking pants isn’t a bad place to start. We’ve rounded up our 12 favorites below — from the budget-friendly to the nigh-indestructible elite, you’ll find the perfect pair for you.
What To Look For In Winter Hiking Pants
Warm & Dry
While there’s no single right answer for the best pair of winter hiking pants — as everyone’s experiences, desires, budget, etc. are different — there are a few things you can look for to ensure you’re prepped for outdoor adventures in icy, frozen weather. We’ve outlined the big ones to watch for below.
Weatherproofing: Definitely the most important factor when searching for winter hiking pants, the ability to stave off moisture is imperative. Regardless of where you are adventuring, you should ensure that your bottoms have a high resistance to water penetration. Make sure to check for things like GORE-TEX membranes, DWR coatings, and more. If the pair you’re looking at are nothing more than water-resistant, you may wish to reconsider, as hoofing up a trail with wet garments is an excellent way to get hypothermia, frostbite, or worse.
Insulation: A lack of insulation is not as much a coffin nail as a lack of waterproofing for a pair of winter hiking pants, but it’s definitely something you should be aware of. This is because it will determine if and how you need to layer. Thinner pants are more manageable from a weight and range-of-motion standpoint, but they won’t keep you as warm, necessitating the addition of base layers. Similarly, you’ll want to keep your base layers lighter if your pants do have insulation to avoid overheating.
Comfort: The least important factor, but still worth considering, your personal comfort will dictate your ability to adventure. If the pants fit oddly, are too long, or are uncomfortable for any other reason, this could abbreviate your desire to wear them. Don’t expect your winter hiking pants to be as comfortable as sweatpants, but you also shouldn’t suffer for the sake of warmth and dryness.
Columbia Bugaboo II Pants
Founded way back in 1938, Columbia has been a top name in the outdoor industry for the better part of a century. So it should come as no surprise that their Bugaboo II Pants made our list here. These winter hiking bottoms are crafted from waterproof nylon, boast polyester 40g Microtemp insulation, have sealed seams to increase their weatherproofing even further, and their built-in gaiters are sure to help keep the snow and slush out of your boots.
Burton Cargo Snow Pants
For as long as they’ve been around, Burton has been at the forefront of the snowboarding industry. As it turns out, that expertise translates beautifully into winter hiking, as can be seen in their Cargo Snow Pants. Complete with fully-taped sealed seams, these pants are built from a waterproof two-layer Dryride polyester twill weave fabric, have an exclusive thermoregulating Living Lining that brilliantly balances warmth and comfort, and they boast mesh-lined vents so you can cool down when things get too warm.
Triple Aught Design Talon Guide Pant
Built specifically for exploring uncharted territory, TAD’s Talon Guide Pants are some of the most rugged waterproof expedition bottoms around. Not only are they built from rugged nylon with a DWR coating, but they have stretch-woven reinforcements, articulated knees and a gusseted crotch for unmatched freedom of movement, and they have ergonomic pockets that are flat when not in use but expand when you need to use them to store your carry gear. Perhaps best of all, they’re designed specifically to work outside of heavy boots or inside gaiters.
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Pants
While REI is a happy purveyor of 3rd-party outdoor gear, their in-house brand is absolutely nothing to scoff at, as evidenced by their XeroDry GTX Pants. Relatively minimalist in their styling, these winter hiking bottoms have a few superb hideaway details that help to elevate them. That includes a 2-layer GORE-TEX Paclite waterproof breathable laminate, a DWR finish for even more weatherproofing, articulated knees and crotch gussets for freedom of movement, ankle zips to make getting your boots on and off a breeze, and boot hooks to keep the pants in place when things get rocky. Best of all, however, they weigh just 10 ounces — making them one of the most lightweight options here.
Fjallraven Keb Trousers
Founded in the cold European north that is Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, Fjallraven is absolutely one of the brands you should be aware of if you’re interested in cold weather outdoor adventure. And, in regards to winter hiking pants, their Keb Trousers are absolutely superb. They’re built from a sturdy and comfortable combination of polyester, cotton, polyamide, and elastane with gussets where you need more range of motion and reinforcements at critical points. They also come with ample ventilation, generous pockets, and more. Take a gander and you might understand why these winter hiking pants have won awards.
Outdoor Research Blackpowder II Snow Pants
You might notice that Outdoor Research’s Blackpowder II Snow Pants were actually designed for skiing. And while you could certainly use them for that activity, they’re not limited to it exclusively. In fact, you might find that their water-resistant Pertex Shield fabric exterior, polyester and taffeta lining, 420-denier nylon scuff guards (to protect your ankles against rocks and debris), and their slim silhouette make them ideal for hiking, as well.
Marmot Refuge Snow Pants
With taped seams, a 2-layer Marmot MemBrain, and PrimaLoft Black Insulation Eco, Marmot’s Refuge Snow Pants are both tremendously waterproof and breathable — making them both protective and capable of keeping you bone dry even in the worst weather. Mate that to zippered leg vents, lower leg zippered hems, and internal gaiters and you might just realize that these are some of the best all-conditions winter hiking pants around.
686 Smarty 3-in-1 Cargo Snow Pants
686’s Smarty Snow Pants have something that no other pants on this list can boast: modularity. You see, these pants aren’t a single pair, but rather a 3-in-1 system that allows you to add or remove layers depending on the weather outside. If its a bit warmer, but there’s still a risk of rain, you can take the internal liner out. When it gets cold, you just put it back in. You can also wear the liner by itself, so you don’t get your car filthy on the drive home from the mountains. Of course, the external layer is also completely waterproof — thanks to a DWR coating and infiDRY 20k Duracore fabric. And there are plenty of pockets, ventilation, and more.
Mountain Hardwear Cloud Bank Snow Pants
Another pair of ski pants that are capable of doing double-duty as winter hiking pants, Mountain Hardwear’s Cloud Bank Snow Pants boast DWR-coated, lightweight, durable, seam-sealed GORE-TEX® 2-layer fabric to keep you dry no matter the weather outside. And while its sleek silhouette, weatherproofing, ample pocket storage, and ventilation make these excellent winter hiking pants, they also have an even better survival-focused addition. That is to say, they come with a built-in RECCO reflector that helps first responders and search-and-rescue teams find you in the case of an unfortunate accident. And that addition might just vault this option to the top of the must-buy list.
Helly Hansen Odin Skarstind Pant
For those who are unfamiliar, Helly Hansen specializes in some of the toughest and most durable weatherproof outerwear in the world. In fact, they make gear used by professional sailing teams — especially for races in rough seas. As it turns out, that concentration in warmth and weatherproofing makes their gear ideal for mountaineering, as well. And that’s why they pared it down into their Odin Skarstind Pant — which was designed specifically for winter hiking — complete with seamed seals, hardcore proprietary waterproof fabrics, articulated knees and a gusseted crotch, and so much more. They’re somewhat expensive, but they’ll never let you down.
Arc’teryx Cassiar Snow Pants
Nobody should be surprised to find a pair of Arc’teryx pants on this list, as they’re one of the top names in technical outdoor gear and wedge perfectly into our criteria. Their Cassiar Snow Pants are built from 4-way stretch GORE-TEX waterproof fabric, complete with an Arc’teryx Nu DWR coating. They also have micro seams to help save on weight, a survival-focused RECCO radar reflector built right in, PowderGuard vents to ensure breathability without letting in snow, reinforcement points to protect against rocks and debris, articulated knees and a gusseted crotch, and so much more. They’re an investment, to be sure, but not one that you’ll regret once you try out these bad boys.
Vollebak 100 Year Pants
It’s worth noting that Vollebak’s 100 Year Pants are not insulated for winter weather — meaning you’re definitely going to need a base layer to keep you warm when the mercury drops. Aside from that one drawback (and the obviously-high price), these are undoubtedly the toughest and most weatherproof pants on our list, bar none. In fact, they’re made from a fabric originally designed for the military that’s fire-retardant, windproof, water-repellent, breathable, and even soft and stretchy. Vollebak claims they’re even tough enough to withstand puncturing via crampons. Truly, these are winter hiking pants that were made to last through a century or more of hard use, which helps make up for their high cost.
The 10 Best Winter Hiking Destinations
Now that you’re all geared up for a cold-weather hike, it’s time to take that gear out and see how it holds up. And what better way to do it than by trekking to one of the best winter hiking locales? You’ll find the best of the best on our guide.
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