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The Best Pacific Northwest Winter Gear
Posted On January 8, 2018
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If you want to get outside more during the winter months, you’ll need the right gear to stay dry, warm and comfortable. The best Pacific Northwest winter gear is critical in our climate and doesn’t need to be too expensive to get the job done.
Finding the winter gear that works best can be challenging, due to our rainy and muddy winters, alternating wet, foggy and sunny springs, dry warm summers and random autumns. Here we’ll cover a basic set of outerwear for hikes and walks in and near Seattle and the Pacific Northwest that also work for snowshoeing and cross country skiing (which are also wet activities around here) in the sno parks and National parks in the Cascade and Olympic mountains. I’ll share some general principles and some specific products that I can’t live without during the rainy months.
The Best Rain Jacket for outdoor activities in Seattle
The most important piece of Pacific Northwest winter gear is an excellent rain jacket! In my opinion, the overall best option is a non insulated gore-tex jacket with armpit zippers priced around $200. This is the rain jacket I currently own and love! This one from REI is very similar and also excellent. There are certainly rain jackets that are far more expensive, and I’ll freely admit I’ve never owned one that expensive, but I spend a lot of time in the rain and have been very happy with this type of jacket.
I have wasted some time and money on cheaper rain jackets, or ones that have insulation or do not have armpit zippers and I’ve found that isn’t worth it either! Non insulated and armpit zippers are important because often you get very warm doing exercise in our weather, since it’s not actually that cold.
Particularly if hiking uphill or snowshoeing you want to avoid getting too sweaty inside the jacket (which makes it clammy and cold once you stop moving), so having an insulated layer that you can remove (such as a fleece jacket or down puffy jacket) over a relatively thin base layer that you can keep on under the jacket (the inside of the jacket will become damp with the moisture from your body, so without a thin, long sleeved layer it can be very uncomfortable).
Armpit zippers, also called pitzips, are zippers under the armpit of the jacket that you can unzip if you’re exercising to let out some of the moisture from your body and improve ventilation (and you can close them when you stop moving to preserve warmth). Watch out for ultra-light jackets. These often have terrible durability (a season or less) due to light construction and a lack of internal lining, and are designed for occasional use in a light rain, not daily wear. I would also recommend getting one size larger than you normally wear, this is a personal preference but it allows room for bulky insulating layers in cold weather.
Currently I have the Marmot Minimalist and I love it (pictured above). It meets all these criteria, and I have it in bright red for extra cheer on gray days. I especially recommend this jacket for women (get the women’s one) as it is hip length and doesn’t ride up, and it’s got plenty of room for curvy women like me!
I also have a yellow rubber rain jacket for more serious rain when I’m not moving around as much (such as sailing in the photo at the top of the post), but while this is truly waterproof in a way that no recreational jacket will ever be, it’s just too hot and clammy if you’re walking or doing any kind of consistent movement. I also have a lighter jacket for running, but it’s not really waterproof and not appropriate for being in a lot of rain for a long time.
The Best Pacific Northwest Winter Boots
Another important part of your Pacific Northwest winter gear is your footwear! Many people have their favorite hiking boots. I have hiking boots and wear them sometimes However, I have a lot of trouble with blisters on my heels, and I do better wearing other shoes. Over the years, I’ve come up with two great solutions for rainy day walks and hikes.
The first solution is rubber boots! Yes, rubber boots, like for fishing. I have these super cute Salmon Sisters Octopus Xtratuf boots, but the boots would be just as functional without the fun design (but it’s so fun!). If you think that rubber boots are not comfortable to walk in, I suggest you get some xtratufs and think again. I routinely walk many miles in these and they are incredibly comfortable, don’t slip around, and are completely waterproof. My husband has hiked hundreds miles continuously in them in the Alaska tundra as a field archaeologist and swears by them too.
For waterproof hiking shoes I recommend this pair at REI and this pair on Amazon. Many people prefer the ankle support of hiking boots and if that’s you, I recommend waterproof hiking boots. When I do wear hiking boots, this is the pair I wear. They’re expensive, but last forever and are as comfortable as they can be (for boots). For a lighter waterproof hiking boot at a lower price, try these Merrell ones that are extremely popular!
If you’re going to spend a lot of time in the snow (especially in Central and Eastern Washington, Oregon and British Columbia) then you might consider getting some snowboots. These snowboots are amazing, warm and comfortable and highly recommended. Most of the time in Western Washington, Oregon and British Columbia rubber boots are better since it’s so wet.
What should I wear on my head?
A hat to wear under the hood of the rainjacket (or instead of it if you don’t like hoods) is a great idea and I small but super helpful piece of Pacific Northwest winter gear. I recommend a wool or fleece hat which will still keep you warm if it gets wet. I have many hats that I wear all the time, but recently I’ve fallen in love with this smartwool headband :
I love it because it keeps my ears warm but my head doesn’t get too hot (which it almost always does if I’m hiking, snowshoeing or skiing). Highly recommended!
If you are really not a fan of hoods, consider getting a rain hat instead. When I worked in tourism in Southeast Alaska, we were issued this rain hat and it’s fantastic at keeping rain away from your face without having to wear a hood!
What about rain gear for my legs?
I am not a fan of rain pants, like not at all. They are hot, clammy, bulky, get in the way and are either tight and uncomfortable around the hips or huge and hardly stay on. I do have them and I do wear them sometimes and the best ones I’ve found are these REI ones. I usually don’t wear them hiking but I do if I know I’m going to be sitting or standing around in the rain.
My go to winter hiking pants are these leggings from Amazon. They are incredible. They are comfortable, relatively warm and go perfectly under rain pants or snow pants if it’s cold or wet enough for those. They stay in place and have an awesome pocket! Long underwear is also a good option underneath rain pants or snow pants. I use both the leggings and long underwear. Generally I use the leggings if I’m going to be wearing them only, and the long underwear to layer since it’s a bit thinner. I also really love these soft shell REI pants, which come in regular, tall, petite and plus sizes (up to 22).
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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