Hiking pants for very cold temps
March 21, 2013 6:53 PM   Subscribe

What pants do people wear for very cold (0 °F / -18 °C, and colder) weather hiking? Just rain shell pants and wool long underwear? Surely there are insulated pants suitable for hiking?

I tried some insulated snowboarding pants (North Face Freedom) but they were too baggy for walking. I would like to know what pants you recommend for hiking in very cold temperatures, insulated or not.
posted by mnemonic to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's never a single a pair - you want layers that can be peeled off when needed. Layers using man-made materials provide the best form of insulation, and needed flexibility.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:59 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

No matter how cold it is outside, you'll warm up quick once you start moving. As Kruger says - layers are the key.

Polypro underwear that you can easily shed when it warms up, an outer rain/wind shell, and regular old hiking shorts are all you need.

Remember that the key to heating isn't to heat the extremities, but to keep the core warm, so that warm blood gets pumped around, so a good fleece vest or pullover (and a hat) are going to keep your legs warmer than some fancy pants (no pun intended) expensive pants that are hard to shed once you warm up.

ETA: obviously this doesn't apply to eg Everest conditions, but rather strolling through the Gilas in Winter kind of conditions.
posted by colin_l at 7:06 PM on March 21, 2013

The shell and some warm tights should probably cover you to 0 if you're on the move. For that range and below... there's plenty of warm hiking pants but I would look to some down pants; I like Montbell.

Definitely wouldn't try to make miles in snowboarding pants!
posted by ftm at 7:06 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look at the REI website or a store if there is one near you for some good suggestions. I suggest some long underwear, covered by a pair of Scholler Dryskin pants. (We call these "magic pants" because they are warm, breathable, durable, and shed snow.) Fleece running tights are also a good option that you can layer.

Gaiters help keep your feet warm.

As others have said you do get warm when you're moving so you'll wear less than you think.
posted by medusa at 7:18 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is not a ready-made, store-bought solution, but having done some sub-zero hiking and field work, I suggest starting with a pair of tighty whiteys, cotton long johns, denim pants and then thick cotton, slightly oversized, coveralls.

Also check here for extreme cold weather gear.
posted by snsranch at 7:20 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mountain Equipment Co-op has this page on how to layer your clothing. They also have well-priced, good quality clothes and equipment.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:25 PM on March 21, 2013

I fid I can get away with just a single layer of Sporthill's 3SP line of cross-country ski pants for moderately active stuff down to about 10 degrees. If I'm skate skiing or hiking somewhere hilly I never add another layer even if it's around zero. If I'm doing something a little less heat-generating I add a thin long john below 10 degrees. They're pretty magical. Windproof down to 35 mph, no joke! They attract pet hair like nothing else, though.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:25 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

(they fit snugly enough that you can carry a shell in your pack and throw it on over them when you stop and you're sweaty so you don't freeze standing around, too.)
posted by charmedimsure at 7:27 PM on March 21, 2013

Posted prematurely...there are military guidelines and surplus gear available to the public for extreme cold weather conditions.

I can't remember what they're called but at some point I had some quilted cotton outer pants for extremely cold weather. I'd just google up military extreme weather gear.
posted by snsranch at 7:28 PM on March 21, 2013

Here's the cold weather gear.
posted by snsranch at 7:34 PM on March 21, 2013

Layering of pants is definitely important but beyond that if your fashion sense can stand it I have actually found that a kilt on top of a couple layers of legwear seems to make the greatest difference. Even one of fairly light and thin fabric has made me feel substantially better-insulated on cold days; the effect seems to derive from how it traps the air. On a couple of occasions when facing both extreme cold and blustery wind I've simply wrapped a blanket around my waist and secured it with a belt.
posted by XMLicious at 7:48 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ha, charmedimsure, I was just coming in to say, essentially, "Sporthill, but my God, the dog hair." I literally have never had another garment that attracted dog hair even half as much. They should make lint rollers out of that fabric.
posted by HotToddy at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another useful article of clothing in cold weather, btw, is a long, loosely-knitted scarf that you can wrap tightly over your face whilst still being able to breathe easily.
posted by XMLicious at 7:51 PM on March 21, 2013

Best answer: If you're active in the cold, it's somewhat worse to be overdressed than under---sweat compromises garments, particularly under-layers to the point where over dressing can make you colder. In my experience, you want to be slightly uncomfortable standing still.

For -18 C, I'd do a polypropylene wicking mid-weight layer with an uninsulated shell covering. Below -20 to -25, I'd add a pair of fleece pants as an intermediate layer. But I'm a big guy who runs hot---you may want the pants at that temperature.

Pants, ime, aren't a major source of discomfort though. Good head/neck, core and feet coverage are all more important.
posted by bonehead at 7:54 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

No cotton! If it gets wet, you're screwed.

Shell + regular hiking pants + polypro long underwear ought to be okay as long as you keep moving. If you're going to be less active, maybe use thick wool pants instead. I like the REI hiking pants that can zip off at the knee to become shorts or just open a crack for ventilation.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:57 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Polypropylene long underwear and nylon REI-style hiking pants on top. That's worked for me dozens of times in the cold. Just don't wear cotton. Both of them will dry easily. When it gets warm, just change out of the polypros.
posted by SpicyMustard at 7:57 PM on March 21, 2013

Silk is an excellent choice for the first layer.
posted by yclipse at 8:01 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I go with a heavy wool base layer, standard nylon hiking pants, and then I also carry rain pants which I can add on top if I need a better windbreak layer, another insulating layer, or a waterproof layer.

I swear by Smartwool these days. I used to carry several changes of clothes because I knew that if I didn't I wouldn't be able to enjoy the top of the mountain, or any stopping point of the hike, because I'd start shivering in my own sweat as soon as I stopped moving. Wool has completely solved that problem for me.
posted by Balonious Assault at 8:13 PM on March 21, 2013

Wool is not great because it traps moisture and can then freeze.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 PM on March 21, 2013

Wool is not great because it traps moisture and can then freeze.

You might be thinking of cotton. Wool will retain some water, but not nearly as much as cotton (which can double its weight with water absorption), and can still keep you warm when wet. Synthetics may be a better choice, but wool (or silk) is still highly preferable over cotton.
posted by LionIndex at 8:41 PM on March 21, 2013

Wool isn't horrible, not like cotton, but give me a good pair of fleece pants for preference. They're much more hydrophobic and equal or better warmth for weight.
posted by bonehead at 8:45 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some terrible advice in this thread, stick to the recommendations that are more sports oriented is my advice. What works around town or close to the house is not necessarily a good idea in the backcountry.

For hiking at moderate pace I wear either softshell or fleece pants with long underwear and something to put on when you stop moving. I use REI Taku pants ($100) and polartec power stretch tights if it's windy or brushy or there's deep snow and lightweight long underwear and polartec fleece pants if it's not. I bring either an insulated skirt or insulated pants for stopping. Other good, reasonably priced pants that I know of are the Schoeller & Sporthill mentioned above, Mt Hardwear Winter Wander and Swiz, Salomon and Craft nordic ski pants and tights. I also have a couple short butt-warmer skirts from Sporthill for ambling speed.

Layering is great but you don't want more than 2 layers on your legs when you're trying to hike. Breathability is KEY in the cold so rain pants are not so good, softshell is much better. Wool is great but its expensive as hell, you can get fleece for way less these days, plus nice wool is heavy and I've yet to see wool pants with thigh vents which are key. Polypro is very warm (see sporthill pants) but requires cold water washes and air drying to last and it stinks. Walking in anything restrictive like a skirt in snow won't be fun and those insulated work coveralls are bad news bears if you're not within a very short walk of guaranteed heating because those puppies don't dry out without it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kilts are heavily pleated; the one I have is actually made for athletics and is secured with velcro and quite easy to move in. But yes, a skirt that restricted your movement would cause problems.
posted by XMLicious at 9:58 PM on March 21, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah, I haven't been down to single digit °F temps for extended periods but I've experienced a fair amount of cold outings living in Michigan for years. I swear by wool, especially merino. At the mountaineering museum in Nepal I saw a pair of ragg wool socks that made it up to Everest summit; they looked just like the pair I wore in college! I never wear cotton hiking, not even in hot temps where I prefer a wicking synthetic running shirt.

I have both midweight polypro and heavyweight merino long underwear, but I haven't tested the latter in the proposed temps so was unsure it would be sufficient. Thus far I've been wearing some basic rain shell pants for winter sports (hiking, skiing, snowshoeing) with the polypros and it's actually worked pretty well, plus gaiters sometimes. It's just that the pants have only one pocket and I was looking to upgrade. Just got my REI dividend, am considering the Arc'teryx Beta AR Pants.
posted by mnemonic at 10:01 PM on March 21, 2013

Those are excellent ski pants. Maybe a bit baggy for hiking.
posted by fshgrl at 10:16 PM on March 21, 2013

I've been cross country skiing for years in a pair of Sporthill pants. They have held up for 10 twars and a lot of kilometers. Depending on the temperature, I will layer with a base layer (not cotton).
posted by Area Man at 11:34 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Looks like you have the base layer down. I do a lot of winter hiking and some alpine routes and for me personally I found that my Patagonia Capilene long underwear are terrific, just find the right weight for how much heat you produce and the temp outside. Personally I need lighter than most people but it was trial and error.

My top layer is either the Patagoania Alpine Guide pant or Marmot Orion pant. Both super comfy and stretch when needed but importantly move the moisture out and keep the wind out. I use both of these pants and love them both, but maybe the Marmot just a little more.

I find this combo (lightweight long underwear + softshell) is perfect down to about 10F for me. I run warm. For colder temps I'd just have a heavier long underwear.

Just find a great softshell in your price range to match up with your long underwear and you'll be golden.
posted by firetruckred at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I should add I wouldn't necessarily go with the Arc'teryx pants you linked to. If you are really just hiking, then you aren't going to need or want the goretex and overly burly pant. You need wind resistance first and foremost to keep the chill out but I'd be going for a softshell. If I'm on the mountain for a few days I'm going to bring something like what you linked to in my bag as backup protection in case there is a nasty storm, but outside of that my daily wearer are going to be the soft shell pants I linked to before.
posted by firetruckred at 9:56 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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