The Best Sustainable Winter Hiking Gear of 2021

Keep on trekking, even through the snow.

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As the Scandinavians say, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." Learning how to prepare for the elements in advance is a key component of any outdoor activity. With the right gear, even intensely cold weather hiking can be comfortable.

Preparing for a winter excursion doesn't have to be a chore either. A well-planned winter hike can be an exciting and singular experience, giving you year-round access to places most people wouldn't dare visit when the weather turns.

Whether you're heading out on your first hike or bounding over the snow like you were born on the ice, our handy guide to the best sustainable winter hiking gear will keep you warm—this season and in the winters to come.

The Rundown
The Albula has all the features a winter hiker should expect from an insulated jacket, without any extraneous bells and whistles.
Made from recycled nylon, Patagonia's shell provides waterproofing and breathability in a three-layer design.
Usable as either a lightweight jacket or for layering, this North Face full zip fleece is made from recycled material.
Made from recycled polyester, these layers offer warmth and moisture-wicking capabilities.
Best Winter Hiking Boots:
Keen Targhee III Polar Boot at Basspro.com
The winter version of Keen's popular hiking boots are waterproof and rated to minus 25 F.
Top off your winter hiking outfit with this low-profile, sustainably-made beanie.
Each neck warmer is made of heavyweight acrylic fleece, which holds heat in between two layers of fabric.
With its ability to insulate even when wet, merino wool terry is the perfect fabric for gloves that will last you many winters.
This backpack has two roomy compartments and is constructed from REPREVE, a material made from recycled plastic water bottles.
These eco-friendly frames are made of 100 percent sustainably harvested bamboo.

Best Jacket: Mammut Albula IN Jacket

The Mammut Albula IN (for insulated) Jacket is one of the best arguments yet for ditching insulated down jackets for a synthetic alternative. The Albula uses Ecodown synthetic fibers that are recycled from plastic bottles. Ecodown retains much of down's famous warmth-to-weight ratio (the Albula weights barely over a pound) without risk of clumping or developing cold spots. It also retains most of its warming power when damp, unlike down.

Manufactured by the Swiss mountaineering and trekking outfitter Mammut, the Albula has all the features a winter hiker should expect from an insulated jacket, without any extraneous bells and whistles. It has two zippered pockets, plus an elasticized hem and cuffs. Its Durable Water Repellent coating provides some protection against wet weather too (and is free of PFCs, which never biodegrade, lingering in the environment and human body), though anyone expecting rainy conditions will likely want to pair the Albula with a waterproof shell.

The Mammut Albula IN Jacket is available either with or without an adjustable hood, and in five different colors.

Best Waterproof Shell: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket

Patagonia Women’s Torrentshell 3L Jacket

You’ll be hooked on this fully featured (and packable) rainproof shell made from EcoNyl, a recycled fabric made from nylon fishing nets and other postindustrial waste sources. It’s also Fair Trade certified sewn and Bluesign approved, pairing improved labor practices with a third-party verified supply chain optimized for eco-friendly materials and practices.

The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket combines waterproofing and breathability in a three-layer design. Its two zippered pockets are lined for warmth, and the neck is lined with microfleece to sit softly against your skin. The Torrentshell also has vented pit zips for when you work up a sweat on a hill climb, hook-and-loop cuff closures, and a drawcord hem. When the sun peeks out again, the Torrentshell 3L stuffs into its own pocket, making it easy to pack up or clip to the outside of your backpack with its carabiner loop.

The women's version of the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket comes in 13 different colors, and the men's version has nine choices.

Best Recycled Fleece: The North Face TKA Glacier Full Zip Jacket

Men’s TKA Glacier Full Zip Jacket

Usable as either a lightweight jacket or for layering, this North Face full zip fleece is made from 100% recycled content, making it a perfect sidekick for most cold weather adventures. North Face describes it as their "most sustainable product."

Made from 100-weight recycled fleece, The North Face TKA Glacier Jacket is more lightweight than 200- or 300-weight fleece, but that's part of the reason why it's such a popular pick with hikers, who need to shed or add layers as they warm up, or as weather conditions change from ridgelines to valleys.

The North Face TKA Glacier Full Zip Jacket has elastic cuffs and hem, with zippered hand pockets. The women's version of the North Face fleece jacket comes in five color options, with four choices available for the men's version. There's also a hooded version available.

Best Base Layers: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Zip-Neck

Patagonia Men's Capilene Midweight Zip-Neck Top

Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight layers are made from recycled polyester, which offers warmth and moisture-wicking capabilities similar to wool, but smooth enough to easily slip additional layers over top of it. Patagonia's base layers are designed to hold in warmth, but also feature durable odor control, should they work a little too well. Its recycled materials are sewn in Fair Trade Certified factories.

While we're highlighting the Zip-Neck, Patagonia's midweight Capilene Baselayers are also available in a crew neck and hoody versions. There are also bottoms, allowing you to assemble the head-to-toe baselayer that works best for you. The Capilene Midweight Zip-Neck is available in six colors.

Best Winter Hiking Boots: Keen Targhee III Polar Boot

Keen Targhee III Polar Boot

The Keen Targhee III Polar Boots are waterproof and rated to minus 25 F, so you'll be ready to tackle trails in most cold weather conditions. The Keen Targhee III Polar Boots also feature non-marking, multi-directional slugs on the soles of the boots, guarding you against slips on winter trails.

The winter version of Keen's popular line of hiking boots, Targhee boots are popular with hikers because of its roomy foot box that offers support without feeling pinched or constraining. Unlike more rigid, one-piece leather uppers, the Targhee's combination of leather and mesh makes for a lightweight boot that doesn't require a long break-in period. Combining the comfort of a hiking shoe with the ankle support of a mid-height boot, the Targhee III Polar Boots are too light-weight for mountaineering expeditions or heavy loads, but perfect for most other hiking conditions.

Known for using sustainable materials, Keen employs recycled PET insulation made from charcoal bamboo in these hiking boots. The boot's uppers are made from environmentally preferred premium leather from tanneries certified by the Leather Working Group, which was established in 2005 by a consortium of shoe brands to audit and improve environmental practices across the leather supply chain.

Best Hat: Turtle Fur Recycled Pelly Plush Beanie

Turtle Fur Recycled Pelly Beanie

Top off your winter hiking outfit with this low-profile, sustainably-made beanie. It’s composed of 92 percent recycled materials and lined with Sherpasoft fleece for extra warmth and comfort. The baby cable stitching and a ribbed hem add a little style.

The Turtle Fur Recycled Pelly Plush Beanie comes in four colors. One size fits most.

Best Neck Gaiter: Turtle Fur The Turtle's Neck Fleece Neck Warmer

Turtle Fur Fleece Neck Warmer

Invented by Vermont-based Turtle Fur in 1982, the fleece neck gaiter has become a quintessential winter accessory for cold-weather activities. Each neck warmer is made of heavyweight acrylic fleece, which holds heat in between two layers of fabric.

Designed to stay up on your face better than a scarf, The Turtle's Neck is perfect for more energetic activities, like hiking and skiing. It also will guard your face against sunburn (a serious risk in winter because of snow's high UV reflectivity), with an Ultraviolet Protective Factor (UPF) of 50, which means it only lets through about 2 percent of UV rays.

You can also be a part of keeping others warm. Since 2008, Turtle Fur has donated over 107,000 products to homeless shelters, family sanctuaries, rescue missions and food pantries in the United States and Canada through its Project Warmth initiative.

The Turtle's Neck comes in nine colors and is one size fits most.

Best Gloves: Icebreaker Unisex Merino Quantum Gloves

Icebreaker Unisex Merino Quantum Gloves

With its ability to insulate even when wet, merino wool terry is the perfect fabric for gloves that will last you many winters. Fleecy against your hands, these gloves are odor-resistant and breathable, to stop your skin from getting clammy. The Icebreaker Merino Quantum Gloves are primarily merino wool, with a little elastane added for an easy fit. They also include touchscreen fingertips, allowing you to capture a photograph without the faff of taking them off.

The natural fiber is recyclable, biodegradable and, of course, renewable, since it comes from sheep. Merino sheep provide a finer wool thread, which creates softer and less itchy wool fabrics. Icebreaker's merino gloves use wool sourced from 70 growers across New Zealand (Icebreaker even publishes a map of its source flocks). Each adheres to animal welfare and environmental standards, including free-roaming pastures and bans on controversial surgical practices like mulesing (which can make a flock easier to maintain, but scars the animals).

The Icebreaker Merino Quantum Gloves are available in five sizes, but only one color: black.

Best Backpack: EcoGear Pinnacle 60L Hiking Backpack

EcoGear Pinnacle 60L Hiking Backpack

The EcoGear Pinnacle 60 liter backpack has two roomy compartments and is constructed from REPREVE, a material made from recycled plastic water bottles. Its voluminous interior makes it well-suited for bulkier winter gear or multi-day trips. The Pinnacle features adjustable straps, hip and back padding, and two zippered hip pockets perfect for holding a camera or GPS. The dual stretch side pockets are make accessing your reusable water bottles a cinch. A rain cover is included to ensure that your packables stay dry on the trail.

Best Sunglasses: Swell Vision Classic Bamboo Polarized Sunglasses

Swell Vision Classic Bamboo Polarized Sunglasses

Swell Vision's eco-friendly frames are made of 100 percent sustainably harvested bamboo. The lenses are polarized polycarbonate offering a UV400 rating, which means it blocks out 99 to 100 percent of UV light (including both UVA and UVB rays). Incorporating a chunky, old-school aesthetic, the Swell Vision Classic Bamboo Polarized Sunglasses have visible wood grain. Plus, these bamboo sunglasses float, so when the winter hiking season is over you can take these shades whitewater rafting.

Best Thermos: Hydro Flask Standard Mouth Water Bottle

Hydro Flask

With double wall vacuum insulation, Hydro Flasks keep hot drinks hot for up to 12 hours and beverages cold for up to 24. Made from durable, food grade stainless steel that won't transfer flavors, the Hydro Flask is also free of BPAs and Phthalates.

Proceeds from each purchase support the company’s Parks for All program, which grants money to non-profits focused on bridging the green space gap by building, maintaining, restoring, and providing better access to parks.

The 21 ounce Hydro Flask is available in 13 colors, or you can design your own on the Hydro Flask website.

Best Socks: Darn Tough Hiker Boot Midweight Hiking Sock

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Midweight Hiking Sock

If these Darn Tough hiking socks don't hold up the company will replace them, thanks to an unconditional lifetime guarantee. Made primarily from merino wool, which will stay warm even when wet, the Hiker Boot Midweight Hiking Socks are made specifically for hiking, with nylon and Lycra Spandex in the mix for stretch and structure. Naturally breathable and odor resistant, 100 percent of Darn Tough's merino wool is certified by the Responsible Wool Standard, which applies animal welfare and land management guidelines to wool producers.

What to Look for in Winter Hiking Gear

There are a lot of options when it comes to winter hiking gear. How do you choose what’s right for you? These tips can get you started.

Purchase gear in multiple fabric types.

Different fabrics have different advantages, so a breathable base layer made from recycled polyester can wick moisture away from your skin and into a more absorbent and moisture-tolerant wool outer layer. A combination of fabrics can separately guard against extra frigid temperatures, damp weather of sudden temperature shifts.

Buy clothing in different weights.

Layering is critical for cold-weather activities, but that doesn't mean you should exclusively focus on lightweight clothing options. Midweight fleeces and other well-insulated picks can keep you from over-bulking on extra cold days.

Pay attention to features.

If you're integrating winter clothing in with your existing hiking gear, it can be worth it to take the time to match your equipment with the features of your new jacket or fleece. While lots of pockets can be great it's even better to have the right pockets for the right items, so it can be worthwhile to measure in advance to ensure that items like your trusty GPS will fit.

FAQs

What emergency supplies should I pack for a winter hike?

Whether you’re heading out for a day hike or are planning a multi-day adventure, it’s wise to pack the ten survival essentials and check to make sure your gear is in good working condition before you get to the trailhead:

  • Navigation aid like a map, compass, or GPS device
  • Light, such as a headlamp (with extra batteries) or lantern
  • Sun protection, including sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen
  • First aid kit, including foot care, wound care, and insect repellent
  • A knife or multi-tool, plus a gear repair kit
  • Firestarter, such as matches, lighters, and/or a stove
  • A shelter, such as a lightweight bivy or tent
  • Extra food
  • Extra water
  • Extra clothes

How do you layer for a winter hike?

Mastering the art and science of layering will keep you comfortable while hiking. Layering is essential because it keeps you warm when you’re at rest without overheating you while you’re moving. Wearing the appropriate layers makes it easy to adjust your insulation depending on conditions. 

Some items to consider owning for outdoor layering include:

  • Top and bottom base layers
  • Wool socks
  • Softshell pants
  • Sweater and/or mid-weight jacket made of a material like wool or fleece
  • Waterproof shell
  • Down/synthetic puffy jacket
  • Balaclava
  • Waterproof mittens/glove shells
  • Liner gloves
  • Winter hat
  • Gaiters
  • Insulated winter hiking boots

Everyone has different needs, so it takes some trial and error to find the right gear, but here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

Start with a solid foundation by choosing a good base layer.

A base layer is just a fancy name for long underwear. These initial layers should fit close to your skin but not be tight. You don’t want to impede your movement or circulation. Choose a wicking material like wool or polyester (never cotton!), which keeps you dry and warm even if the fabric gets wet. 

Next, add an insulating layer(s).

Choose synthetics, down, or wool for this layer. Fleece is a perfect mid-layer because it’s breathable and, again, insulates you even if it gets wet. Fleece also dries quickly and has a high warmth-to-weight factor. Make sure this layer is a little larger than the layers it will fit over so that you have appropriate mobility. This layer will likely be the one you remove once you really start moving, so make sure it’s easy to remove (avoid pullovers!) and packable so you can easily stash it in your pack and find it if you cool down again.

Top it off with a weatherproof layer.

This is a crucial layer as it's needed to keep out water and wind, while still being breathable enough that your clothes are effectively pulling moisture off of your body. An excellent quality hardshell jacket can be pricey, but is often worth the expense as the one layer guaranteed to come up with you on every hike. Choosing one that has zippers in the armpit area can help provide extra ventilation.

Other jackets variations can also serve you well, including breathable shells, softshells, waterproof non-breathable shells, and insulated shells. All are suitable for different climates.

Don’t overlook your lower half.

It’s essential to wear a moisture-wicking base layer on your lower body too, so don't neglect your legs. A pair of weatherproof or weather-resistant pants can prevent snow from soaking through. Extra zippers can increase ventilation and help you get your pants on and off over your boots.

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Treehugger is committed to helping readers reduce the environmental impact of our day-to-day lives. Our testers have years of combined experience in outdoor activities.

Heidi Wachter has been writing about travel and adventure for over a decade. When she's not writing, you'll likely find her outdoors, even in the winter, so she knows how important the right gear can be for cold-weather hiking.