Winter Hiking Gear List: 8 Things to Pack for a Winter Hike in the Smoky Mountains

January 25, 2024

Winter is a great time of year to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The mountain landscape transforms into a breathtaking winter wonderland, and you’ll likely encounter fewer crowds on the trails in winter. Though the weather tends to be fairly moderate during winter, the Smoky Mountains do still experience freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. That’s why it’s important to know how to dress and what to bring on your winter hike. Here’s a winter hiking gear list of items you should make sure you bring with you for a safe and successful winter hike in the Smokies.

1. Sturdy Hiking Boots

shoes for hiking in snowThe Smoky Mountains can experience freezing temperatures that can lead to snow and ice in the winter season. Ice and snow can be slippery, so it’s very important to wear sturdy hiking boots on your winter hike. Your shoes need to have good traction and ankle support to avoid slipping on slick surfaces and to prevent twisting your ankle on uneven ground. Make sure your hiking boots are waterproof in case you need to walk through snow or across a mountain stream. Having cold, wet feet can make you feel miserable for the rest of your hike.

2. Clothing Layers

As you reach higher elevations in the Smoky Mountains, the temperatures get lower and can be 10 to 20 degrees colder than the lower elevations. That’s why it’s important to dress in warm layers for your winter hike. You will likely feel chilly when you start your hike, so you’ll need multiple layers to keep warm. As you get moving, the exertion will warm you up, so you can shed a layer or two as you go to avoid overheating. If your hike takes you up to higher elevations, you may feel cold again and need to put these layers back on. You should avoid wearing warm clothing that you can’t take off because overheating and sweating in cold temperatures can be dangerous.

3. Wool Socks

man putting on wool socks before going on a winter hikeWool socks are necessary when you’re going on a winter hike. Wool is an excellent insulating material, which means it can keep your feet warm even in cold conditions. This material is moisture-wicking as well and will help keep your feet dry. Wear a pair of long, thick wool socks to protect your feet, but make sure they are not so bulky that they make your hiking boots fit too tightly. It’s a great idea to bring a second pair of wool socks with you on your hike just in case you step in water or deep snow that soaks your socks.

4. Warm Hat

To protect your head from the cold, you should wear a warm hat on your winter hike. A wool or fleece hat can prevent you from losing body heat from your head and will keep your ears warm. A winter headband can also provide some protection for your ears against the cold temperatures. If it’s really cold, you may want to bring a neck gaiter or balaclava to shield your face from the cold, especially if it’s windy or snowing.

5. Headlamp

woman turning on headlamp as it gets dark during a winter hikeWinter means shorter days and earlier sunsets. Because there are fewer hours of daylight, you will have less time to finish your hike before it gets dark. You should start your winter hike early in the day so you can be finished well before the sun goes down. However, winter weather conditions can make your hike take longer than expected, so you should bring a headlamp or flashlight as a precaution. You don’t want to be stuck completing your hike in the dark.

6. Crampons

Ice and snow are commonly found on Smoky Mountain hiking trails in winter, especially the higher up you go in the mountains. You should pack crampons to bring on your winter hike in case you come across slippery surfaces on the trail such as densely packed snow or ice. Crampons are basically ice spikes that you can attach to your hiking boots to give them a better grip on slick surfaces. This can help prevent you from slipping and getting hurt during your hike.

7. Lots of Water

young woman drinking water on hiking trailIf it’s cold outside, you probably won’t feel as thirsty as you would if it was hot. Because you aren’t sweating, you may not feel as much of a need to drink water during your winter hike. However, it is still very important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. When you hike in winter, your body loses water through perspiration and respiration as you breathe out. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, you need to drink water throughout your winter hike to avoid the dangers of dehydration.

8. Sunscreen and Sunglasses

Most people are very careful to wear sunscreen and sunglasses in the summer, but these are often disregarded in winter. Even though it’s cold outside, the sun can still be shining. That means your exposed skin can get sunburned on your winter hike. If there’s snow on the ground, it can reflect more sun onto your skin and into your eyes from different directions. That’s why it’s also important to wear sunglasses when hiking in winter to protect your eyes.

More Winter Hiking Tips

This winter hiking gear list can help you make sure you are prepared for your winter hike in the Smoky Mountains. In addition to knowing what to bring on your hike, you also need to know how to stay safe on your excursion. Check out this list of winter hiking tips you should know before you go.