winter gear for women
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Winter gear for women: my exact winter outfit for snowshoeing

(Updated February 2024)

I’ve recently come back to the United States after living in Australia and then Mexico for the last four years. I came back when cold weather was in full swing and, in fact, some of the gnarliest cold weather the western US has seen in a long while.

As a nomad, I don’t tend to have much and I especially don’t tend to have cold weather gear.

So I needed something for colder weather and I needed it all to be lightweight.

I’m sharing with you the cold weather gear I landed upon and my experience with each. Here’s the insanely good cold weather gear for women this year.

**It’s important to note that the winter weather I experience was not extreme. I was between 20 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, which was relatively comfortable.

Cold weather gear basics

Just to make sure that we’re on the same page about things, let’s go through the basics of cold weather gear. This usually includes three layers: the base layer, middle layer, and outer layer. Layering is the absolute key to keeping warm and so getting this right can make or break your outdoor winter adventure. I follow the same principles for my winter hiking gear too.

Base layer

Base layers are what you wear underneath your bulkier items. They help your immediate body stay warm and regulate temperature, which is the key to staying warm in cold temperatures. Merino Wool is the best material for base layers because they do exactly that. I generally recommend finding a few quality sets for your winter clothes if you plan to be in cold weather for an entire winter.

While eating lunch in below freezing temp, I felt mostly cozy and dry the entire time wearing this set above. When lugging myself uphill and producing lots of heat, I was able to easily cool down once I opened the vents on my bib.

Middle layer

For my middle layer, I wore my fleece and my lightweight feather down jacket by Patagonia. I’ve been living in warm, tropical places the last 10 years so I was very scared of the cold weather… I would say I overdid it 😂

No worries, I just took off my layers as needed. I didn’t put them back on until we reached the summit and stopped for lunch.

I highly recommend getting yourself a few items for your middle layers. Something that is quick drying and appropriate for your climate. It’s better to over prepare with your cold weather gear than to under prepare.

Outer layer

The outer layer is typically a soft shell that protects you from the elements, like rain, snow, wind, or whatever other elements come with a cold climate. While outer layers don’t provide additional warmth through bulk, they do help you feel warmer by trapping your heat on the inside and keep the cold weather on the outside.

black diamond mitts in winter conditions

I really like my outer shell by Rab. It’s high quality and feels durable against branches and poles. It has zippers everywhere, some for pockets and others for ventilation. I really appreciate this because it’s a hassle tacking a jacket off when I start to heat up. It doesn’t provide any insulation though so it’s important to wear appropriate base and mid layers with it.

I like this winter glove combo, especially on really cold days. The wool gloves provide and extra layer and the mitts slip right over them. These mitts keep my hands warm so I rarely need to slip my wool gloves on with them. But when the temperatures drop to single digits, I really appreciate doubling up.

I also wore the Khroma Kinetic Bib by Rab. It is made of the same materials as the jacket, so it’s smooth and durable. I quite liked wearing it over all of my layers, it felt soft and flexible while protecting me from knee-deep snow. It’s got two massive zippers on the side for ventilation, which were easy to open when I needed to dump heat quickly (like when we were going uphill). 

snowshoeing in leavenworth

If you’re not into the bib, then the pants are a great option. I don’t normally go with bibs (I hate having to undress and redress myself when I need to use the toilet) but wanted to try some this time around.

A few observations

I’m the queen of packing light and getting only what you absolutely need, winter activities included. So sometimes I’m a little underpacked, like this weekend snowshoeing through the Cascades in Washington. Here are a few things I noticed with this cold weather gear setup:

  • I wished I had something to keep my neck warm. Even with my mid layers and jacket zipped up, I still felt the chill that comes with an exposed neck in cold weather. (Update January 2024; I now use these: Solid Tube Facemask and EXski Winter Neck Gaiter Warmer )
  • It was pretty easy to keep my feet warm. I didn’t get any special socks; I just used some thicker socks I already had. I had winter boots that kept my feet warm, so my socks didn’t require much insulation. However, in extra cold conditions like sub zero temperatures, you will need warmer socks. I recommend going with wool socks, in that case.
  • I highly recommend getting insulated waterproof boots, like these Keen Waterproof Snow Boots. These kept me warm, were super soft on the inside, and comfortable even with the excessive movement.
  • I removed my mid layers early on in our trek and wore just my base layer and soft shell. It was easy to regulate my temperature by adding and removing my hat and mitts, as well as opening and closing my vets.

Closing thoughts

I honestly just loved my get up. It helped me stay warm without sacrificing my mobility. It was lightweight enough to pack and travel and had the perfect amount of pockets and vents. I was able to regulate my temperature easily and feel warm (but not boiling) the whole time. Given enough layers, this setup is perfect for even the coldest days. 10/10 recommend!

Traveling during the winter, especially if you’re like me and not used to living in cold weather, means you have to be prepared. Make a list of all the things you need for a winter road trip and then get out there and enjoy the winter wonderland!

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