Mountain Trek’s Winter Health Retreat is a unique experience offered just once a year when guests get to don snowshoes, mitts and toques (Canadian speak for winter hat) and hike through a pristine, white environment.
One thing that guests always ask us about, though, is what kind of winter gear they need for snowshoeing in British Columbia. The first thing we recommend is to dress in layers. In other words, have a base later next to the skin, a secondary layer for warmth if you tend to get cold easier and an outer layer that’s water resistant.
Here we discuss the key pieces of clothing and other winter gear you need for walking or snowshoeing (or any other type of winter activity from tobogganing to snowball fighting)
Best: Thick merino wool socks are best for outdoor winter activities because merino doesn’t itch like other types of sheep wool, it breathes well, it stays warm even when wet and it tends not to smell.
Good: Polypropylene textiles or “polypro” are a man-made synthetic thermoplastic polymers. They may not sound comfortable but they’re constructed to be hydrophobic, which means they transport or “wick” moisture away from the skin. They are also very warm but a disadvantage is they tend to retain body odour.
Worst: Anything with cotton in it. Derived from a plant that’s sole purpose is to retain moisture, cotton is the worst fabric to wear in the winter because it keeps moisture close to the skin and leaves you clammy and cold.
Brands to consider: Darn Tough (which has a lifetime guarantee!), Bridgedale, Smartwool, Icebreaker
As with socks, the best long underwear is made with merino wool. Polypro or silk is second best and the worst is cotton. Brands to consider include Smartwool, Icebreaker and Patagonia.
T-shirt and Long Sleeve
Again, the best fabric to have next to your skin is merino wool, followed by polypro and silk. As for the worst, there’s a reason behind the mountain culture adage, “Cotton Kills.” Brands to consider include Smartwool, Icebreaker and Patagonia.
Most people do not require two layers of thick socks but some like to wear thin “liners” made of polypro that are worn next to the skin and underneath a thicker wool sock. These keep feet even warmer and also reduce friction, which causes blisters.
Pants and Shirt
Wear a thicker version of a base layer that will keep you warm at the start of your activity but you can remove when you heat up.
Best: Goose down jackets are the best because in most cases they’re warmer and lighter than polypro and they pack up to a smaller size when you want to stuff them away after you’ve warmed up. Ensure the jacket you purchase has a durable water repellent coating on it to ward off water. When down gets wet, it tends to clump and loses some of its insulation qualities.
Good: Polypro are the next best version of insulated jacket and they have the added bonus of not losing loft when they get wet.
Worst: As always – cotton.
Brands to consider: Patagonia and Outdoor Research tend to fit larger frames and have the added bonus of coming with lifetime guarantees. Arc’teryx and Prana are more form-fitted.
Jacket and Pants
Best: A water-repellent shell made of Gore-Tex or Event (or a similar technical fabric) with welded seams are the best winter garments for active people.
Good: There are different qualities of Gore-Tex (and related fabrics) and different kinds of seam sealing. Opt for the best if you want your garment to last a long time.
Worst: A heavy rubber like what you’d find in yellow rain slickers. These do not breathe and will trap all moisture and keep you feeling cold and clammy.
Brands to consider: Patagonia and Outdoor Research tend to fit larger frames and have the added bonus of coming with lifetime guarantees. Arc’teryx, North Face, Black Diamond, Prana and Westcomb are some other alternatives.
Best: A glove with a wool/polypro liner and a Gore-Tex (or similar technical fabric) outer shell are the best. They keep your hands warm but repel water.
Good: Leather and fur. They’ll breathe but they’ll eventually get wet.
Worst: Wool as an outer layer. These will get wet and snow will eventually clump to them.
For more about snowshoeing equipment, here’s a video of Kirkland discussing snowshoes, poles, gators and boots.