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 plummeting mercury in your thermometer. Thankfully, frozen chills and snowfall can also be managed with 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
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. Below, we’ve outlined the big ones to watch for.
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 ratio. Make sure to check for things like GORE-TEX membranes, DWR coatings, and more. If the pair you’re looking at has nothing more than water resistance, 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 quite the coffin nail as lack of waterproofing is 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, in order to avoid overheating, you’ll want to keep your base layers lighter if your pants do have insulation.
Comfort: The least important factor, but still worth considering, is your personal comfort, which will dictate your ability to adventure farther. 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.
REI Co-op Activator 3.0
REI has no shortage of fantastic winter hiking pants, but the Activator 3.0 is among its most impressive, let alone at a $100 price point. Windproof up to 35mph and water-resistant, these trousers may be better suited for milder winter excursions, but their thoughtful construction ensures you’ll never want to take them off. Built with a blend of nylon and polyester, the Activator sports three zippered pockets in front and two in back with hook and loop closures. For maximum comfort, the articulated knees and updated waistband give you more mileage, while the cinched cuffs help keep out winds and trail souvenirs.
Columbia Bugaboo IV
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 its Bugaboo IV made our list here. While these are made for skiing, the updated versions of the brand’s flagship pants bump the Microtemp insulation from 40g to 60g. Crafted from waterproof nylon, the trousers also 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.
Patagonia Altvia Alpine Pants
patagonia has a lot of winter hiking options, but the Altvia Alpines balance durability, comfort, and warmth the best — and at a fair price. Despite being made for climbing, these are still hiking pants through and through, with articulated construction, water-resistant finishing, plenty of pockets to stash your gear safely, and a resilient shell made from a blend of recycled polyester and spandex with nylon paneling for reinforcement. The climbing-focused foundation allows for better mobility when hiking as well, enhanced even more by an adjustable waist strap meant to be comfortable underneath a backpack harness.
Outdoor Research Cirque II
Although they’re made for alpine treks, OR’s Cirque II pants don’t just keep you warm in the wintertime but also cool you down when it’s hot, thanks to the ActiveTemp thermoregulating tech that adjusts to your body’s temperature. The breathable nylon-polyester soft-shell fabric is super durable and abrasion-resistant with scuff guards for backup, while the pants themselves are constructed to mirror your every move so you’ll barely notice they’re on you. Additionally, the cuffs zip up for when you need to cross low-level bodies of water.
Arc’teryx Gamma LT
Give yourself total versatility in the outdoors with Arc’teryx’s Gamma LT, which has your back (or your legs) whether you’re backpacking or climbing. Built with Fortius DW 2.0 nylon fabric, the shell is wind-resistant, lightly insulated, and DWR-finished for water resistance as well. One of the most revered hiking pants no matter what time of year, the Gamma LT pants offer a four-way stretch, articulated patterning, drawstring cuffs, and a comfortable waistband that also handles hip harnesses with ease.
Norrøna falketind flex1 Pants
Another solid product from a fantastic alpine gear brand, Norrøna’s falketind flex1 is lighter than most mountaineering pants but performs even better. Breathable enough for warmer conditions, these bottoms are still perfect for cold weather, built with proprietary mid-weight flex1 fabric that blends polyamide, polyester, and elastane with DWR treatment for water resistance. Norrøna also understands that just because you’re trekking in cold weather doesn’t mean you won’t be generating tons of heat. And so, these pants are constructed to be super breathable as well.
Fjällräven Keb Trousers
Founded in the cold European north that is Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, Fjällräven 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, its 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 award-winning winter hiking pants are still one of the most popular after all these years.
Mountain Hardwear Cloud Bank GORE-TEX Insulated Pant
Another pair of ski pants that are capable of doing double-duty as winter hiking pants, Mountain Hardwear’s Cloud Bank boasts DWR-coated, lightweight, durable, seam-sealed GORE-TEX 2-layer fabric to keep you dry no matter the weather outside. And while the sleek silhouette, weatherproofing, ample pocket storage, and ventilation make these excellent winter hiking pants, they’re also one of the few with body-mapped insulation for optimized warmth where it’s needed most. For instance, 40g of synthetic insulation is applied at the rear, while 60g is placed at the knees.
Helly Hansen Odin 9 Worlds Infinity Shell Pants
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. Whether you’re hiking, backcountry skiing, or mountaineering, these Odin 9 Worlds Infinity Shell Pants benefit from the brand’s proprietary LIFA INFINITY PRO tech that precludes chemicals for unbelievable waterproof breathability. Survival-forward as well, the bottoms 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.
Adidas Terrex 3Layer GORE-TEX Snow Pants
Three layers of GORE-TEX back up the 100% recycled nylon shell of these bib pants from adidas’ outdoor sublabel. The Terrex 3Layer is more style-forward than many others in this guide, but it also has premium utilitarian offerings such as its soft webbing suspenders, belted waist, built-in gaiters that fit over any snow boots, and plenty of protective pockets. On more treacherous journeys, the pre-shaped knees will give you mobility and you can also tailor the snow pants to your liking with the hook and loop adjustable waist.
Vollebak Titan Pants
Leave it to Vollebak to create the world’s most cold-resistant pair of trousers. From its eponymous suit, the Titan Pants are named after Mars’ moon, which is also the only discovered location to have water besides Earth. Tested in liquid nitrogen chambers as low as -100ºC, these puffer pants are built with a triple-layered polyamide shell that’s lined with the strongest parachute ever made, which was used to land the Perseverance Rover on Mars. Other NASA tech includes five pull cords that can be deployed in a blizzard and glove-friendly magnetic front zippers that attach without a hassle.
The Best Winter Hiking Boots
Love trekking through the wilderness no matter how cold it gets? So do we. To keep your lower digits warm, check out our guide to the best winter hiking boots to buy.