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. I must say that I’m happy to be coming back in 2023 when technology has made literally everything insanely good.
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.
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.
This time around I went with Icebreaker for my base layer. This is the first time I’ve tried Icebreaker, but overall I was warm and dry, which is the main goal. Otherwise, they began to pill within the first few washes, making them look more worn than they actually are. While they functioned perfectly, I couldn’t help but be annoyed about this.
Icebreaker – Women’s 260 Tech Merino Baselayer Leggings
These leggings are sufficiently warm and comfortable leggings in that they keep you warm without ever making you hot. They’re perfect for winter clothing and cold weather activities like snowshoeing, skiing, and hiking.
The leggings are made of a soft and breathable 100% merino wool fabric, which is naturally odor-resistant and moisture-wicking. The leggings have a brushed elastic waistband for comfort and a gusseted construction for unrestricted movement. They also have flatlock seams to prevent chafing.
While eating lunch in below freezing temp, I felt mostly cozy and dry the entire time. When lugging myself uphill and producing lots of heat, I was able to easily cool down once I opened the vents on my bib.
The merino wool fabric kept me warm and dry, while the brushed elastic waistband and gusseted construction made the leggings feel like a second skin. I also appreciated the flatlock seams, which prevented any chafing or irritation.
Icebreaker – Women’s 260 Tech Long Sleeve Crewe Merino Baselayer Top
I had the exact same experience as with the pants: warm when I needed to be but easy to cool down. This top is perfect for cold weather activities like snowshoeing, skiing, and hiking. It’s warm, comfortable, and looks great too! I wore it a lot while out and about in Portland too.
The top is made of a soft and breathable 100% merino wool fabric, which is naturally odor-resistant and moisture-wicking. The top has a slim fit and a dropped tail for added coverage. It also has offset shoulder seams to prevent any chafing or irritation from backpack straps.
While snowshoeing, I felt warm and dry the entire time (even when I was sweating). The merino wool fabric kept me cozy and dry, while the slim fit and dropped tail provided extra coverage and protection from the cold. I also appreciated the offset shoulder seams, which prevented any chafing or irritation from my backpack straps.
For my middle layer, I wore my Patagonia 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.
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.
I liked these a lot more than I thought I would. The mittens were perfect in ways I didn’t even imagine! They kept my hands so toasty that I used them to regulate my overall temperature. These warm mitts are perfect for cold weather activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and mountaineering. They’re super warm, waterproof, and made to last.
The mitts have a long gauntlet cuff that provides extra coverage and seals out snow and wind. They also have a 3D patterned fit for optimal dexterity and a Kevlar stitching that enhances durability in high-wear areas. The outer shell is made of a durable and waterproof GORE-TEX fabric, while the interior features a removable liner made of PrimaLoft Gold insulation and a high-loft fleece lining. It’s like a cozy hug for your hands!
During my snowshoeing trip, my hands were warm and dry the whole time. The mitts kept the snow and wind out, and the fleece lining kept my hands cozy. I also appreciated the 3D patterned fit, which allowed me to move my fingers freely and easily grip my poles.
In terms of durability, the Black Diamond Women’s Mercury Mitts are made to last. The Kevlar stitching is a nice touch, and the mitts held up well during my trip. I was worried they would be a bit bulky, which can make it difficult to use small zippers or adjust buckles on other winter gear for women sometimes. But they were actually super easy to slip on and off when I needed to and found them much more convenient than the other types of gloves. When I got too hot, I’d clip them onto my jacket. I was a huge fan of these mitts.
This soft shell jacket is seriously soft. I know that winter gear is supposed to help you stay warm but this jacket also just feels so freakin’ nice to the touch. Like the mitts, I liked this jacket way more than I expected to. This jacket is perfect for cold weather activities like mountaineering, skiing, and snowshoeing. It keeps the heat in, is waterproof, and won’t weigh you down.
The Rab Women’s Khroma Kinetic Jacket is made of a waterproof, light and breathable Pertex Shield Pro fabric, while the interior is insulated with Polartec Alpha Direct synthetic insulation.
The jacket has a helmet-compatible hood, adjustable cuffs and hem, and a two-way front zipper for easy ventilation. It also has a variety of pockets for storing essentials, including a large chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack for the jacket.
During my snowshoeing trip, the Rab Women’s Khroma Kinetic Jacket kept me warm and dry the entire time. The Polartec Alpha Direct synthetic insulation provided excellent warmth, while the Pertex Shield Pro fabric kept the snow and wind out. The jacket’s breathable design also kept me comfortable and prevented me from overheating during periods of intense activity.
One downside, the jacket is a bit on the expensive side, so it may not be the best clothing option for those on a budget.
Rab – Women’s Khroma Kinetic Bib
This bib is perfect for cold winter weather activities like skiing, snowshoeing, and mountaineering. It’s warm, protective, and looks great too!
Just like the jacket, the Rab Women’s Khroma Kinetic Bib is made of a waterproof and breathable Pertex Shield Pro fabric, while the interior is insulated with Polartec Alpha Direct synthetic insulation. The bib has adjustable shoulder straps and a zippered front for easy on/off. It also has a variety of pockets, including a chest pocket and two thigh pockets, for storing essentials.
The Khroma Kinetic Bib kept me warm and dry the entire time I was on the mountain. The Pertex Shield Pro fabric kept the snow and wind out and the bib’s breathable design also kept me comfortable and prevented me from overheating during periods of intense activity.
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).
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.
- 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.
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!