Snowshoeing—What to Wear

You’re strapping on your new pair of snowshoes, ready to spend a few hours in the backwoods. What should you wear? Knowing you will be working up a sweat,do you dress light? Not so fast—after all, it’s winter outside. When snowshoeing, versatile clothing is key. You need to be comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Here are a few things to keep in mind when dressing for a snowshoe trek.

Think Ventilation

Winter means cold, and that means dressing warmly. But once you get into the rhythm of snowshoeing, blazing a path through deep snow, continuously lifting that extra weight strapped to your feet, you’re going to work up a sweat. That’s where the ability to ventilate comes in.

Underarm Zipper Vents

Affectionately knows as “pit zips,” these jacket vents can be opened up as you’re on the go, letting you cool down without having to peel off layers.

Front Zippers

For maximum ventilation, be sure to wear tops that can be zipped fully, or at least partially open. Choose a full-zip fleece over a pullover sweater. Pick base layers that zip at least partially down instead of traditional T-shirts.

The Importance of Layering

Instead of snowshoeing in a huge, furnace-hot (maybe an exaggeration) parka, opt for dressing in lighter layers. Layers trap heat more effectively, and they let you add or remove a top as needed.

Base Layer

Pick a thin, lightweight top to wear. Don’t worry about insulation here; that’s what the other layers are for. You want a shirt that picks any perspiration or moisture off your skin (wicking) and moves it to the next layer. Keeping your skin dry in winter helps prevent excessive cooling once you stop moving. Synthetic fabrics such as Techwick work well. Also consider merino wool,which is surprisingly soft and a natural temperature regulator.


Also called the insulation layer, this piece is the one that keeps you warm. The most common midlayer is a full-zip fleece, though if you’re wearing a noninsulated outer shell, you might get away with a light goose down or PrimaLoft jacket underneath. It all depends on how cold it is outside and how hard you’re going to be snowshoeing.

Shell Layer

The outer shell keeps you dry when it’s snowing. A waterproof, breathable jacket using something such as System Three or Gore-Tex works best, but a water-resistant jacket might suffice as well. Remember: if you’re snowshoeing, it’s probably too cold to rain, and snowflakes don’t penetrate fabric like raindrops do. In fact, some fitness enthusiasts who get their workout on their snowshoes will opt for a light, water-resistant soft shell jacket that provides plenty of stretch.

Pack Extra Clothing

You’re snowshoeing in the backwoods in winter, so just to be safe, carry an extra insulating fleece in a daypack. Better yet, bring an extra down jacket or sweater. They usually pack down to a small bundle and will stuff easily into a corner of your backpack.


Unlike your torso, your legs don’t need as much insulation. Either wear a pair of heavy tights if the weather is fair, or layer an outer weather-resistant shell pant over a thin pair of leggings in colder conditions.

Snowshoe Footwear

Do you need specially designed boots to go snowshoeing? No, just normal boots that will keep you dry and warm. The best options are waterproof, insulated hiking boots. They keep you warm, yet they aren’t too heavy. Insulated Sorel or Kamik boots, though heavier, will also do the job.


Like all your other clothing, choose your hat based on the weather report. If it’s warm and pleasant out, a headband might suffice instead of a hat. Conversely, if the weather is nasty, wear a balaclava or a hat and face mask.


Waterproof insulated gloves are a must. More than any other piece of clothing, your gloves are likely to get wet. Maybe it’s because you throw too many snowballs. Who knows? But choose gloves made with System Three, Gore-Tex, or some other waterproof, breathable technology.

Ankle Gaiters

Gaiters are often overlooked. Wrapping around the ankle and over the top of your boots, gaiters prevent snow from falling down inside your socks and help keep your legs just that little bit warmer. Gaiters also protect your pants from the crampons on your snowshoes if you have a clumsy moment.

Summing It All Up

When snowshoeing, wear versatile clothing that allows you to adapt to changing temperatures, as well as stop-and-go activity. Pack an extra top, as well as an extra hat, gloves, and socks if you’re spending all day in the backcountry. And most important—have fun!