Be well-clad for walking in winter wonderlands
Truly, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. Here’s what you need
Winter can be one of the nicest times of year to get out hiking. Photograph: Getty Images
Many people think that cooler temperatures and shorter days are a natural pairing with Netflix marathons. But, in fact winter can be one of the nicest times of year to get out hiking. It might sound like a cliché but truly, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.
The base layer
When it comes to dressing for a day outdoors, think of an onion. It’s all about wearing thin layers so you can easily moderate your temperature for changing weather conditions.
The layer next to the skin is the most important. Having tested a wide range of breathable baselayers, there’s no substitute for merino wool. This natural fabric is cosy and breathable, and, most importantly, it doesn’t get cold when wet. It’s also naturally anti-bacterial so resists odours – even if you wear it for days in a row.
Smartwool and Icebreaker offer the widest ranges of merino baselayers. Our favourite is Smartwool’s Microweight 150 Crew (€65.99). It’s not cheap but you will have it for years. These brands also do leggings for really cold weather.
Fleece or mid-layer
Next, it’s onto the mid-layer. Again, you should opt for something relatively light. Collared mid-layers with a half zip are brilliant as they offer extra neck protection when temperatures drop and additional ventilation when you get too warm.
Columbia does a great mid-weight layer (€59.99). It’s warm, comfortable and durable to boot. Irish company Portwest has a good range of really reasonable lightweight fleeces (from €20) and they make good mid-layers too.
Your final layer should consist of a quality waterproof shell. Gore-Tex membrane used to be the gold standard when it came to waterproofing and breathability, but these days many outdoor brands use alternatives or have developed proprietary breathable and waterproof technologies, often reducing costs.
One favourite is Rab’s Firewall jacket (€260). Lightweight and highly waterproof, it uses Pertex Shield for protection and it comes with underarm zips that run all the way down the inner arms for ventilation.
Columbia also offers an excellent range of waterproof jackets at reasonable prices. Our favourite is the Columbia Outdry Ex Gold waterproof shell. At just €150, it definitely out-performs its relatively modest price tag.
And if budgets are tight, check out the Portwest range. They may not offer as many bells and whistles, but these waterproof jackets (from €75-€150) make sense for less extreme weather.
Waterproof trousers are also very important. They not only keep you dry but will keep wind chill at bay. Sprayway offers entry-level waterproof trousers from €55 while Berghaus’s Paclite Gore-Tex trousers (€160) offer a higher lever of waterproofing and breathability.
A waterproof hiking boot or trail running shoe is also a must for wet, winter outings. Traditionalists will recommend you go for boots to protect your ankles if you’re hiking on uneven ground. However, for those with good ankles travelling on less challenging terrain, trail shoes are becoming more popular. Good ones will offer excellent grip and stability. Footwear is incredibly specific to each individual, however, so it’s best to seek expert advice and fitting. Basecamp, Wild Side Sports, Great Outdoors and Cotswold Outdoor all have experts on hand to help you.
We’re fans of Salewa’s comfortable and versatile Mountain Trainer Mid Gore-Tex Boots (€220) and Meindl’s Bhutan boots are perfect for those who love a traditional leather boot. We’re also regular wearers of Columbia’s waterproof Conspiracy IV Outdry trail shoes (€100).
If your hikes take you across boggy ground or long wet grass, gaiters like Rab’s Hispars (€49.95) are a godsend. And don’t forget good socks. SealSkinz makes a great array of waterproof and thermal socks (from €12) and Smartwool’s Merino Hike Light Crews (€20.99) are long-lasting favourites.
No matter how optimistic the forecast, it’s always sensible to pack extra layers. Offering supreme warmth-to-weight ratio, you won’t even notice a light down jacket in your pack, but boy will you be grateful for it on top of windswept hill.
Patagonia’s Down Sweater (€230) and Rab’s Microlite (€230) are perennial favourites. Both use ethical down. Cheaper alternatives are available from Decathlon.ie. Or a jacket with an alternative insulation may prove as warm but cheaper. Salewa’s Fanes jacket (€200) uses wool while Columbia’s Powder Lite jacket (€100) uses synthetic down
Other gear worth throwing into your pack includes spare gloves, a warm hat, a neck protector, a foil blanket, plenty of water, some snacks, a charged mobile phone and a head torch.
As for your backpack, opt for either a fully waterproof one or a non-waterproof pack with either a dry bag inside or a rain cover. Mountain Hardwear has a great range of fully waterproof packs as does SealLine. The latter also does dry bags and waterproof phone cases. Lowe Alpine makes a wide range of excellent packs, some of which come with integrated rain covers. Lowe Alpine’s Strike (€79.95) is a perfect daypack and features a hydration pouch and plenty of pockets. It even has an SOS guide sewn into it should things really go sideways.
Roisin Finlay and Heather Snelgar edit Outsider, Ireland’s outdoor and adventure magazine, www.outsider.ie
More winter must-haves
Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap, €35
This fully waterproof hat is fleece-lined and has adjustable earflaps and a peak.
SealSkinz Ultra Grip Gloves, €45
These Merino-wool lined waterproof gloves are cosy, breathable and touch-screen compatible.
Contigo Thermal Bottle 1.2L, €49.99
This bottle claims to keep water hot for up to 30 hours, meaning a guaranteed hot drink.
Petzl Tikkina, €24.99
Head torches are so versatile. Invaluable in the hills when darkness sets in, they can also be used on the bike or for DIY around the house!
Garmin eTrex 30x, €255
The Garmin eTrex 30 GPS Hand Held Unit is the perfect tool for exploring. With a rugged and waterproof case, there is no adventure too challenging.
All of gear featured in this article is available from the following retailers: Great Outdoors, Dublin 2 (www.greatoutdoors.ie); Basecamp, Dublin 2 (www.basecamp.ie); Wild Side Sports, Bandon, Co Cork (www.wildsidesports.ie); Adventure.ie, Laragh, Co Wicklow (www.adventure.ie): Patagonia, Dublin 2; Cotswold Outdoor (www.cotswoldoutdoor.ie); Portwest, Killarney, Westport and Galway (www.theoutdoorshop.ie); CH Marine, Skibbereen, Cork and Newtownards (www.chmarine.com)