The fall hiking gear essentials you need to stay warm, dry, and safe on the trails!
Fall is a beautiful time of year to hit the trail, but with shorter and cooler days, it’s more important than ever to be prepared with the right hiking gear. While you may already carry the ten essential systems, when the seasons change, you should re-assess what’s in your pack and do a little housekeeping: swap your down sweater for a warmer insulated jacket; toss some gloves, a toque, handwarmers, and microspikes in your backpack; replenish your first aid kit; get out the waterproof hiking boots (I wear mine year-round); and recharge/change the batteries in your headlamp. And if you don’t already own technical base layers, get some! They add a lot of warmth for their weight. For more recommendations on what to wear and what to pack, see our fall hiking gear guide for women and men below.
Affiliate/Partnership Disclosures: I received free samples of some of these items, and may earn a small commission on certain items at no extra cost to you, but all words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting our small family business!
1. On Cloudrock Waterproof Hiking Boots
Waterproof hiking boots are a must for cold weather hiking so your feet don’t freeze! Midheight are also recommended to keep water, snow, scree and pine needles out; and provide ankle support (although for deep snow, you should wear gaiters).
Recently, I’ve been testing – and loving – the Cloudrock Waterproof Hiking Boots, made by On, a company “Born in the Swiss Alps.” On’s first speed hiking boots have the comfort and support of their award-winning running shoes, but are also waterproof and grippy (Missiongrip rubber helps you “own the downhill”). With their FlexLock lacing system, you can lace the bottom and top separately, or tighten them with one pull. The most noteworthy feature is the unique cloud sole that provides a “cushioned landing and firm takeoff” and is proven to reduce muscle fatigue and lower heart rates! Hiking in the Cloudrock Waterproof Hiking Boots really is like hiking on a cloud.
Available in Men’s and Women’s at On and Sporting Life.
2. Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket
Down jackets provide the most warmth for their weight, and since they’re highly compressible, they don’t take up much space in your backpack. This is why I carry a down jacket year round! Look for hydrophobic down with 650+ fill power. Jackets with higher fill power are lighter and more compressible.
With 750-fill power, hydrophobic down; a water-resistant and abrasion-resistant shell; adjustable helmet-compatible hood with stiff brim (so it won’t droop in your eyes); drawcord hem and elastic wrist cuffs to keep heat in, it’s easy to see why the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket is so popular. It’s also light (430 grams), slightly tapered at the waist, and has a chest pocket and two handwarmer pockets.
Available in Women’s and Men’s, in three colors, at MEC and Altitude Sports.
3. Helly Hansen LIFA® Merino Midweight Base Layers
Helly Hansen LIFA Merino Midweight Base Layers have been my go-to base layers for years. The outer layer is super-warm-for-its-weight and odor-resistant merino wool, while the inner layer is made of wicking LIFA® material to keep you dry and comfy. Even if you have super sensitive skin like I do, you won’t be itchy at all with the synthetic layer near your skin.
Available in an assortment of solid colors and prints, for men, women, and children at Helly Hansen, Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, and Sport Chek.
Buying Tip: If you tend to run hot, choose lightweight LIFA® Merino base layers or a half-zip top.
4. Helly Hansen Verglas 3-Layer Shell Jacket
A breathable, windproof/waterproof jacket allows you to manage your temperature. You know the days when you’re working hard and the wind kicks up, making you too warm for your puffy jacket and too cool without? Simply pop on your shell jacket and open the pit zips to vent excess heat (vents are a must on shell jackets). This way, you avoid being overly hot or cold. It’s dangerous to get too hot in cold weather as you’ll get sweaty and then your damp clothes will make you colder.
I love the Helly Hansen Verglas 3-layer shell jacket! It is breathable, waterproof (PFC-free water repellent treatment) and windproof, and has important features such as pit zips (zippered vents under the arms), adjustable helmet-compatible hood , waist drawcord to keep drafts out, and adjustable wrist cuffs. I bring this jacket with me year round for rain and wind protection. See my detailed review here: Stay warm and dry on the trails with the Helly Hansen Verglas 3L Shell Jacket.
Available in Women’s and Men’s sizing at Helly Hansen. The Women’s Verglas 3-layer shell in Charcoal is on clearance at Sport Chek and Atmosphere at time of writing.
5. Fjallraven Keb Trousers
The Fjallraven Keb Trousers are my favorite hiking pants! Not only do they come in different lengths (30” & 32”), waist sizes (24”-37”), and styles (see below) so you can get the perfect fit, they have tons of thoughtful features. Keep snacks handy in the roomy pockets, stay cool with side vents, clip your pants to your boots to keep scree and debris out, adjust the width of the leg openings with snaps, and enjoy stretch in the right places for freedom of movement.
The Kebs Trousers are made with rugged G-1000 fabric on the knees, rear, and pockets; and breathable, stretchy fabric everywhere else. You can wax the G-1000 fabric to make it waterproof and windproof too! I love that the Greenland wax is just paraffin wax and beeswax (no fluorocarbons aka forever chemicals).
Women’s Keb Styles: Regular, Short, Curved, Gaiter, Eco-Shell, Touring
Men’s Keb Styles: Regular, Agile, Long, Gaiter, Eco-Shell, Touring
Available in several different colors at Fjallraven, MEC, Altitude Sports, and Sporting Life.
***Message me for an exclusive Play Outside discount valid on Fjallraven gear (excluding Kanken packs) at the Banff and Calgary Fjallraven stores! Limited time offer for Fall 2022.***
Buying Tip: Measure your waist and inseam before you order so you get the perfect size.
6. Kahtoola Microspikes
Good traction devices are worth their weight in gold on icy trails. They help prevent slips and falls (note: they are for hiking only; NOT mountaineering or ice climbing), and if you invest in high quality spikes, they will last for many years.
Look for a stretchy harness that fits over your boots (it’s important to check the size chart), and stainless steel teeth that won’t rust. I’ve tried many different types of traction devices, but Kahtoola Microspikes are still my favorites, followed closely by the Kahtoola K-10 Hiking Crampons for steeper terrain. For more information on other spikes and cleats, see our story The best traction devices for winter walking and hiking.
7. Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol Foam Pad
The ultralight Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Mat makes a comfy seat, diaper change pad, or emergency/camping mattress that shields you from the cold ground and reflects up to 20% of your heat back to you (when used silver side up). When you’re done with it, it quickly folds up accordion style (so you don’t have to roll it up) and can easily be secured to the outside of your backpack. This durable and affordable closed-cell foam pad weighs 410 g (14 oz) and has an R value of 2.6.
Buy the Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Mat at Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, Sport Chek, and Sporting Life.
8. Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters
Gaiters are a must-have for snowshoeing or winter hiking, and come in handy on muddy trails too. I got my first pair of award-winning Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters over a decade ago and they’re still in great shape, so I always recommend them to my hiking friends! Made with Goretex uppers and super strong 1000-denier Cordura® nylon, the Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters are abrasion-resistant, water-resistant, and made to last. A long strip of velcro makes putting them on and taking them off a breeze.
Available at MEC (women’s/men’s) and Altitude Sports (women’s/men’s).
Buying Tip: The size chart references shoe size, and it’s recommended you go down a size if you’re using these with light trail runners rather than winter boots or mountaineering boots. If you will be wearing gaiters over snow pants, look at the Outdoor Research Crocodile Wide Gaiters.
9. Kombi P3 Touch Screen Liner Gloves
Windproof liner gloves like the Kombi P3 Touch Screen Liner Gloves are awesome so you can wear them on their own or under mitts. These stretchy and affordable gloves wick moisture and dry quickly to keep your hands warm and dry.
Available in Men’s and Women’s sizes at MEC and Kombi.
10. Black Diamond Mercury Mitts
Mittens are a must-have for fall hiking in Alberta. Keep them in your backpack for when the weather turns, or the wind kicks up, or for emergencies (if you have to overnight it in the mountains, you’ll be happy to have mitts!). The popular Black Diamond Mercury Mitts feature a stretchy shell treated with a PFC-free water repellent finish, removable liner with 170 g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation with Cross Core on back of hand and 133 g PrimaLoft Gold on the front and soft fleece lining, rugged goat leather palm, and long gauntlets to keep cold and snow out and heat in. With a -31 to -12 C temperature rating, the Mercury Mitts are plenty warm for most people, but if you need extra warmth, you can pop hand warmers inside (scroll down for our top choice!).
Get the Black Diamond Mercury Mitts for women and men at MEC, Altitude Sports, and Atmosphere.
11. Aurora Heat Hand Warmers
Aurora Heat Hand Warmers, made of ultra-soft sheared beaver fur, add extra warmth to your mittens or pockets and can be reused over and over again. I can’t get over how soft and plush they are, and am super excited to finally have warm hands this fall and winter! Aurora Heat Hand Warmers are made in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories (Thebacha, Denendeh) by a certified Aboriginal family business and are backed by a 1-year warranty.
These amazing reusable hand warmers are available in:
- Two colors: Natural Brown (shown above) or Luxurious Black
- Two sizes: Small is 3 X 4 inches. Fits gloves and small mittens. / Large is 3.5 X 5 inches. Fits medium to large mittens.
- Two thicknesses: Regular or Slim. To get the maximum benefit, I recommend getting the Regular thickness, however Slim hand warmers are suitable for less extreme weather (or hockey arenas) or slimmer-fitting mittens.
Get your hand warmers, thumb warmers, foot warmers, wrist warmers, ankle warmers, body warmers, comforters, and even cell phone warmers now from Aurora Heat. You can save 10% off your first order with my special code: PLAYOUTSIDE10.
“$1 from every product purchased is contributed to on-the-Land initiatives for Indigenous youth, educators and knowledge holders.” $5,500 has been donated so far!
Enter our Aurora Heat Hand & Thumb Warmers Giveaway here (contest closes November 17, 2022 11:59 pm MST)!!
12. Biolite Rechargeable 330 Headlamp
The top-rated Biolite Rechargeable 330 Headlamp is bright (330 lumens total: up to 230 lumens in spotlight mode, 100 lumens in floodlight mode), lightweight (69 grams), waterproof, rechargeable, and less prone to bouncing with the battery pack at the back of your head. With red light, and dimmable floodlight and spotlight modes, you can adjust the lighting to your needs. The headband is also more comfortable than many headlights on the market.
Available at MEC, Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, and Amazon.
13. Black Diamond Alpine FLZ Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Alpine FLZ Trekking Poles are super compact (3 sizes: 95cm-110cm, 105cm-125cm, and 120cm-140cm) packing down to 34/37/40 cm long depending on which size you choose. The 7075 Aluminum shafts are durable and fairly lightweight (540/575/610 g), and the natural cork handles are super comfortable. Trekking baskets and snow baskets are included, so you can use these poles year round.
Buy the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ Trekking Poles at MEC and Altitude Sports.
14. Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Bottle 591ml
Pack your favorite hot beverage in a Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Bottle, and you can enjoy it piping hot on the trail, even hours after you’ve left the house. Double-walled 18/8 food-grade stainless steel keeps hot drinks hot up to 12 hours, and cold drinks cold up to 24 hours. The bottle and lid parts can go in the dishwasher for easy cleaning, and if you prefer a sippy lid, choose the Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Flex Sip Bottle.
Find Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Bottles in a rainbow of colors from 355 mL to 1.2 L at MEC, Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, Sport Chek, Sporting Life, and Amazon.
15. Smartwool Patch Beanie (unisex)
The Smartwool Patch Beanie (unisex) is a double-layer toque made of merino wool (55%) and recycled polyester (45%), so it’s soft, warm, and breathable. With no pompom in the way, you can pull up your hood in extreme weather.
Available in 5 different colors at MEC, Altitude Sports, and Amazon.
16. Emergency Shelter: Rab Siltarp 2
When you need to wait out a storm, it’s best to be prepared with a tarp! But not just any tarp, a durable and packable one like the Rab Siltarp 2. At 440g, and only 25cm x 16cm when stuffed in its stuff sack, the Siltarp 2 can provide a 2.4m x 3m shelter for 2-3 people. We use ours backcountry camping so we aren’t confined to the tent when it rains, but it’s nice to have in the daypack just in case. Solo and 3-person Siltarps are also available.
Get one now at Altitude Sports.
Shopping tip: You will also need some paracord, pegs, and/or trekking poles to build a tarp shelter.
17. InReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator
Navigate to your destination (and back!) and stay in touch with the InReach Mini 2, a compact, lightweight, waterproof GPS and satellite communicator. With excellent coverage (connects to Iridium’s network of 66 satellites), you can send an SOS or text message when you’re out of cell phone range. It’s great for peace of mind and could make the difference between life and death in an emergency.
A monthly subscription plan is required, and there is a learning curve (you’ll need to watch some YouTube videos to get set up and figure out how to use it), but hikers and search and rescue organizations agree that a 2-way communication device like the InReach Mini 2 is much more useful than a basic Personal Locator Beacon that sends an SOS with GPS coordinates and nothing more. The InReach Mini 2 a worthwhile investment for outdoor adventurers!
Get the InReach Mini 2 at MEC, Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, Sport Chek, and Amazon.
18. Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion Socks
Darn Tough socks are legendary. By using the perfect blend of merino wool, nylon, and spandex, these seamless wool socks are ultra comfortable and tough. So tough in fact, that they have a lifetime warranty! They’re a top pick of through-hikers because they last a long time and prevent blisters (bonus: wool is naturally anti-odor so you don’t have to wash them as often). While the whole lineup is pretty awesome, for cold weather hiking and snowshoeing, we recommend the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion Socks. They’re crew length and thicker for extra comfort and warmth.
When you purchase Darn Tough socks, you can feel good about your purchase because the company makes their socks in Vermont, USA and has donated over one million meals to the food bank. Their goal is to donate 500,000 meals per year! Feels good to support good companies – and your feet will feel good too.
Get Darn Tough socks at Altitude Sports and Amazon.
19. Smartwool Merino 250 Reversible Pattern Neck Gaiter
Have you ever noticed how much warmer you instantly feel when your neck is covered? I love keeping a neck gaiter in my pocket or backpack during the colder months, so I can keep cold drafts out of my jacket, or pull it up to cover my face when it’s windy. You can also use it as a hat if you forget to bring one.
The Smartwool Merino 250 Neck Gaiter is a good choice because it’s made of soft, ethically sourced merino wool, is double-layer for extra warmth, and stays in place well.
Buy it now at MEC, Altitude Sports, Sport Chek, and Atmosphere.
20. Osprey Tempest 30 L (Women’s) or Osprey Talon 33 L (Unisex) Backpack
I recommend a 30 L – 40 L backpack for hiking, so you can bring extra layers and emergency gear. (See our story The Ten Essential Systems for more info on what should always be in your backpack when you go hiking.) My summer backpack is the 33 L Osprey Talon and my winter backpack is a Lowe Alpine 33L pack that expands to 40L.
The Osprey Tempest 30 L (Women’s) Backpack and Osprey Talon 33 L (Unisex) Backpack share the following features: comfortable straps and hip belt, ventilated back, stow-on-the go trekking pole attachments, stretchy pockets so you can stash/retrieve gear on the go (nice to stash a toque and gloves in the big pocket), 3L hydration pack compartment (hydration pack not included), lightweight. Made with bluesign®-approved recycled 100Dx210D wave check high-tenacity nylon, and treated with PFC-free DWR.
What’s the difference between the unisex pack and women’s pack? The women’s pack has a women’s-specific design featuring “a shorter torso length, shoulder straps that are set closer together and a hipbelt shaped to fit curvier hips.” This said, the Osprey Talon in size small fits me well despite me being only 5’3″!
Size, Volume, and Weight
- The Osprey Tempest XS/S is 810g with a 28 L capacity; and the S/M is 860g with a 30 L capacity.
- The Osprey Talon S/M is 870g with a 30L capacity; and the M/L is 920g with a 33 L capacity.
Buy the Osprey Tempest at Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, or MEC | Buy the Osprey Talon at Altitude Sports, Atmosphere, or MEC
Have a fun and safe fall hiking season! Let us know how the gear works out for you.
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- Fall Hikes in Calgary, Banff, and Kananaskis