Anyone who has ever worked outside in the winter or gone skiing, snowboarding, winter camping, ice climbing or mountaineering understands to their core the value of first-class cold weather gear. It’s not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity. Failing to adequately address the demands of cold weather is a recipe for disaster so here are the 15 best pieces of extreme weather gear for your consideration.
The Best Extreme Cold Weather Gear
The Columbia Steens Mountain Fleece Jacket will never be mistaken for ski gear, but with some warm thermals underneath and a wool scarf you’re ready to face just about anything the average winter day has in store.
Breathes easy and dries quickly
Generous side pockets
- Weight1.05 pounds
A good outer layer on less extreme days
Side pockets are toasty warm
Quality control is sometimes suspect
The balaclava is a winter clothes staple and the N-Ferno Thermal Fleece Hinged Balaclava takes the form to a whole new level of functionality. The unique hinged design allows the wearer to deploy it in a variety of ways to best suit conditions.
Wind protectant panels
- Weight2.88 ounces
Total coverage for face, head and neck
A range of deployment options
Wind resistant panels protect vulnerable areas
Wearing sunglasses can be a challenge
Duofold’s Mid-Weight Wicking Thermal Pant for men is an essential bottom layer that allows you to enjoy comfort and total freedom of movement regardless of the temperature. The dual layer design traps air around your lowers, while the rib-knit cuffs prevent cold air intrusion.
60% cotton 40% polyester
Chaff-free flatlock seams
Chill-blocking rib cuffs
Convenient front fly
- Weight11.4 ounce
High-quality fabric, layers well
True to size fitting
A mild tendency to sag
Make no mistake these are genuine military issue winter clothes designed to keep soldiers in the game under the most trying conditions imaginable. They’re a breathable, durable garment wrapped in a wind resistant shell with reinforced knees and full-length side zippers. They’re also highly water resistant.
Primaloft high loft insulation
Nylon reinforced knees
Water resistant shell
- Weight4 pounds
Keeps you warm during extreme cold snaps
The full length side zipper makes for easy access
Intended to be worn as an outer layer
With all due respect the military isn’t known for their fashion sense
This awesome Carhartt Super Cold Weather Crewneck is fashioned from 100% ring-spun cotton and makes a good second layer to wear over your thermal underwear. Being cotton it’s not outstanding winter apparel by itself but when you pair it with other layers it really shines.
Generous drop tail
Odor fighting treatment
- Weight1 pounds
A great looking pullover you’ll wear by itself
Keeps you dry and odor free
Will need layering help on really cold days
The Chateau Slim Fit Coyote Fur Trim Jacket is cold weather gear with a decidedly highbrow edge to it. It’s beautifully tailored, comfortable, has an array of pockets inside and out and the goose down will keep you snug down to -15°F; a feat even some mountaineering jackets can’t match.
85% polyester, 15% cotton
Hood trim is genuine coyote fur
Warm down to -15°F
32 ½ inches in length
- BrandCANADA GOOSE
Extremely warm for an everyday coat
First rate tailoring and materials
Fits true to size
You’re going to pay for the quality
Terramar Thermasilk Glove Liners are sleek, effective hand socks that slip into your existing gloves and turn them into hot pockets. They can be worn with your current work gloves or as a stand-alone winter clothes item. Either way they’re lightweight, affordable cold weather therapy.
100% filament silk liners
- Weight0.8 ounces
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Inexpensive and effective
Will slip under most gloves
Easy to lose track of
Carhartt produces high-quality lifestyle products for discerning consumers. Their Men’s Waterproof Insulated Glove is a good example of what they do right. There’s a 100% polyester shell, a lining that makes short work of moisture, a durable polyurethane-reinforced palm and a waterproof insert.
Polyester shell and lining
FastDry® moisture wicking technology
- Weight7.2 ounces
Do a good job of wicking away moisture
Excellent for hiking
You’ll need a liner on really cold days
There’s no substitute for a good pair of thermal socks and Arctic Extreme makes some of the best. Their 93% acrylic, 6% polyester, 1% spandex blend stretches when you do, doesn’t irritate and keeps your piggies warm as toast. Essential winter apparel for activities like skating and skiing.
93% acrylic 6% polyester 1% spandex
Soft brushed lining
Less irritating than wool
- BrandArctic Extreme
Thick and comfortable
Won’t irritate your skin
Keep your feet nice and dry
Good for casual wear not for winter camping
Kamik’s Greenbay Cold-Weather Boot has a built in 600 denier waterproof gator, rubber outsoles and a removable liner that excels at moisture wicking. The boot is rated to -40°F which is about as cold as it ever gets in the lower 48 and tips the scales at a remarkably svelte 31 ounces.
600 denier waterproof Nylon
Hook/loop midfoot strap
Synthetic rubber sole
Thermal guard liner rated to -40°F
- Weight1 pounds
Lightweight and extremely warm
Thermal Guard liner is easily removed
Drawstring at crest of gator
Remains a bit stiff even after repeated use
If you’re hiking and camping in the winter nothing short of genuine goose down will do for your warm sleeping bag. The Hyke and Byke Goose Down Sleeping Bag is filled with genuine goose down, has a 20D ripstop nylon shell, compresses down to a miniscule 10 x 7 inches and weighs less than 3 pounds.
Heavy duty YKK Zipper
400T ripstop nylon shell
90/10 premium goose down fill
Available in various lengths
- BrandHyke & Byke
Extremely light and easy to carry
Stuffs down to a microscopic 10 x 7 inches
Company donates 10% of profits
Some of the stitching is suspect
The primary purpose of the Swiss Safe Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket is to help you stay warm. But it also has a dozen other uses including portable shelter, trail marker, rain poncho, ground cover, wind block, emergency shade and more.
Retains up to 90% of body heat
Can be used as rain protection
Pack of 4
Money back guarantee
- BrandSwiss Safe
- Weight9.9 ounces
Fulfills an array of emergency needs
Provides complete coverage
Light as a feather
Fabric is not exactly robust
Hiking requires far more water than if you’re sedentary and the amount grows exponentially on hot days. This also true for cold days. Water is needed for any activity where your body temperature can vary. What you need is a way to bring the water with you other than plastic bottles. That’s where hydropacks come in. The FREEMOVE Hydration Water Pocket facilitates survival by accommodating any sized bladder up to 2L.
Water resistant shell
Compatible with most backpacks
Strong top handle
- Weight0.6 ounces
Lightweight insulation prevents freezing
Fits any hydration pack up to 2 liters
Can be used to transport food stuffs
Limited usefulness in brutal cold
The Oakley Flight Deck XM Snow Goggles are simple in design and construction. Their Prizm lenses effectively eliminate glare and relieve stress on your eyes caused by reflected sunlight. They also have an anti-fog coating and are compatible with most prescription eyewear.
Ridge lock lenses
F3 anti-fog coating
Will slip over most contemporary glasses
- Weight8.8 ounces
Will prevent snow blindness
Great for skiing or snowboarding
Fully adjustable for a perfect fit
Pretty easy to scratch
The difference between comfortable feet and cold feet is often just a matter of details like having your boots laced properly or making sure you wear ABUSA insoles. ABUSA Insoles are 100% wool fleece, ergonomically designed for maximum comfort and wick away moisture like nobody’s business.
Superior warmth and comfort
100% Australian lambswool
Great for UGG boots
- Weight3.36 ounces
Easy to use, easy to enjoy
Increases warmth of your footwear
True to size fitting
Can’t trim them without ruining them
Extreme Cold Weather Gear Buyer’s Guide
Features to Look For/Things to Keep in Mind When Selecting Extreme Cold Weather Gear:
- The Activity - Making sure you purchase winter clothes that are compatible with your activity is crucial. For instance, there are plenty of cold weather boots out there but if you’re going winter mountaineering you’re going to need a very specific type of crampon-compatible boot.
- Type of Protection - Winter gear should offer robust protection from extreme cold. But there are other types of protection as well like protection from reflected sunlight that could cause snow blindness and from biting north wind that could cause hypothermia.
- Materials - When it comes to extreme cold weather gear you’re dealing with materials that seldom see the light of day during the summer months. That includes lambswool, goose down and Thinsulate as well as polyester, polypropylene, nylon, spandex, and GORE-TEX.
- Durability - Winter wear tends to be subjected to enormous stresses and so the quality of the stitching involved will go a long way toward determining the durability of the garment, shoes, gloves or other items.
- Comfort - When it comes to extreme cold weather gear comfort is a function of effective layering. It all starts with the right base layer and then builds from there. You’ll want each layer to be as light as possible and fairly easy to remove and stow should you begin to overheat.
- Weight - If you don’t choose your cold weather gear wisely the weight of all your layers is going to feel like an anchor. Effective lightweight winter gear is going to cost you more but in the long run, it’s well worth it.
- Breathability - Effective cold weather gear traps a lot of heat and moisture and if your layering system is not composed of breathable materials that warm, moist stew is going to fester and create noxious odors while undermining comfort.
Cold Weather Gear FAQ
Q: Importance of Layering - Why dress in layers?
A: Layering allows you to effectively regulate your comfort level by adding and removing items to fit changing conditions. Those who don’t dress in layers typically either wind up overheating or freezing. In most cases, you’ll want a 3 layer system which, at its simplest, is composed of a base layer of thermal underwear, a middle layer such as a sweater and an outer layer typically composed of a well-insulated jacket or coat that also serves as a windbreak or rain shell.
Q: Can too many layers make you colder?
A: While more layers of winter clothes won’t necessarily make you colder by themselves they could result in a situation where you have difficulty regulating your temperature. Also, too many warm clothes can hinder mobility which could endanger you in situations that require technical climbing.
Q: How do you raise your body temperature?
A: Nothing warms you up like moving and few things are more dangerous during really cold weather than standing or sitting still. Even if you dress in layers of polypropylene, wool and down if you sit still your heat will slowly be siphoned off, and then you’re in big trouble.
Q: What are the symptoms of low body temperature?
A: Low body temperature or ‘hypothermia’ is a life-threatening condition which typically occurs when someone has been exposed to serious cold for a prolonged period of time. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, confusion, inability to make a decision, shallow breathing, slurred speech, stumbling, weak pulse and unconsciousness (in severe cases).