A Guide To Layering Up For A Himalayan Winter Trek

Experiencing soft winter snow in the Himalayas is enthralling, no doubt. But winter in the Himalayas also means facing fiercely cold weather. The day time temperature will be around 8-13°C, whereas the temperature drops as low as -12°C at night. To be able to brave the winter cold and moreover, to enjoy it, you need to be well prepared. And for that, layering up is the mantra!

Having at least five warm layers is essential. Make that six if you are more prone to cold as I am. Here is what you need to carry for your winter trek to the Himalayas. The things I’ve put down below are in no particular order. Even the last point is as important and as mandatory as the first. 



Here are the essentials for layering up perfectly

1. Thermal wear

Choose a long-sleeved high neck top and full length fitting trousers. You will need one pair of thermal inners. While layering, this will be the layer closest to your skin. Follow this up with a tshirt and then the rest of the layers.

Tip: Do not wear your thermals while trekking. Save them for the evenings and the night. Don’t let them get wet with sweat. They won’t dry up. 

Pro Tip: Always have one warm layer handy while travelling to and from the base camp. You never know when it suddenly gets chilly.

2. Two snug woollen sweaters

You will need at least two woollen sweaters. Make sure the sweaters are light and compact. Don’t carry very bulky sweaters. They occupy too much space. You can try a few combinations and see what suits you best. If you have two fleece jackets, you can carry two fleece jackets and one woollen sweater. If you have no woollen sweaters, you can carry one Down Jacket as a replacement. 

Tip: I wouldn’t go for a Down Jacket because of the high cost. Two sweaters will do the job! 

3. One light weight fleece jacket

Fleece jackets are a blessing for trekkers. Your fleece jacket will fold up neatly in your backpack and occupy very little space. The best thing about fleece is that unlike wool, it is not itchy.  These incredibly lightweight jackets are inexpensive and warm. Carry one for your trek. 

Tip: While packing a fleece jacket, to keep it as compact as possible, use a quick ranger roll.

4. One Hollow Fill jacket

In the Himalayas, wind chill plays a huge role in making you feel much colder than it actually is. So you will need a wind proof Hollow Fill jacket. Since this will be your outermost warm layer, it needs to be water resistant as well. Ideally, one with an adjustable hood that covers your head neck and ears will do the job.

Tip: Ensure this layer fits you to the T. Many people tend to wear oversized jackets. That lets cold air enter the jacket, leaving the jacket quite ineffective.

how-to-layer-up-on-a-winter-trek-in-the-himalayas-indiahikesFor your lowers

1. Trek pants: Carry two trek pants. They must dry-quickly in case they get wet when you slide in snow! You could carry dry-fit pants for this. 

2. Tights/track pants: If you’re feeling cold while trekking, wear one pair of tights /  right-fit track pants inside  that can trap your body warmth.

Winter accessories

1. Balaclava

Remember that you lose almost 60 per cent of your body heat from your head. It is extremely important to keep your head and ears covered. Without this, all your five layers are pretty useless!

So once evening sets in, perhaps at around 4 pm, put on all your warm layers, especially your balaclava.

We have reversible fleece balaclavas on our online store. Place an order for them here

2. Waterproof Gloves

Carry synthetic gloves that are water-resistant. On your winter trek, you are likely to see snow. And when you see snow, you will surely want to touch it, maybe even start a snowball fight! So ensure your gloves are water-resistant. Don’t carry woollen gloves. Once they come in contact with water or snow, they are wet for the rest of the trek. 

3. Woollen socks

You will need a good pair of woollen socks while sleeping. It will keep your feet cosy inside the sleeping bag. If you can’t find woollen socks, you can go for thick, long (shin-length) cotton sports socks. 

4. Sunglasses

Sunglasses are mandatory on winter treks. Without them, your trek leader could even turn you around. There is usually a lot of snow on winter treks. So without sunglasses, snow blindness is a huge possibility.

5. Suncap

Winter sun is extremely harsh. In fact, it is worse than summer sun because in winter there is snow on the ground that reflects sunlight onto your face. So carrying a suncap is very important, especially one with a flap that covers your ears and neck as well. We have such caps custom-made for our trekkers. Order them here

With all these layers, you’re set to go on a winter trek. Remember, it is going to be cold right from the base camp. So keep your layers ready right when you reach the base camp!

Write to me in the comments below if you have any doubts about layering!

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31 thoughts on “A Guide To Layering Up For A Himalayan Winter Trek

  1. I think you need to clarify often interchangeable words like ‘thermal’ and ‘base layer’. While trekking in cold there is no harm in wearing moisture wicking body heat retaining base layers ( non cotton) . In fact, that is advisable. While in tent you can wear cotton made thermals as there is no chance of sweating

    1. Hi Purva, your best option is to get sunglasses that fit over your spectacles. Most trekkers do this. If not, you can use lenses if you’re comfortable with that and wear regular sunglasses. Third and more expensive option if you’re a regular trekker is to get sunglasses with power. But first, see if your trek has snow. If there is no snow, you don’t really need sunglasses. 🙂

    2. Hi,
      You can ask your optician to make powered sunglasses. Its not difficult now and not at all high on cost
      I have them from day one since i got on specs.

    1. Hi Divita,
      This not absolutely essential. The tights provide an additional layer to keep you warm. Even if you don’t wear tights while trekking, we recommend that you wear them when you’re at a campsite.

  2. Hi …I am going on trek to Dalhousie on 21st dec, 2017…..It has started snowing there. Forecast says daytime 9 ℃ and night -2℃ . I do not have a down jacket…Instead I am planning to use below layers : thermal + tshirt + 2 fleece jacket + sweater
    Is this advisable ? Or should I buy a down jacket to wear over my sweater ?

    1. Hi Shubha,
      The layers that you’ve mentioned will be fine. However, don’t even think of stepping there without a windcheater. It will be very windy there and this is a must to protect you from the cold wind.

  3. Hi – I use contact lenses regularly given my high myopia. How would you recommend I go about planning the use of contact lenses on himalayan treks (Eg – the chadar trek)? I have done a number of warm weather treks but plan to head to the Zanskar this year. I do not have the option of using sunglasses on top of my regular spectacles OR using photochromatic lenses (not available in my power) in my spectacles. I have read that as long as one sticks to the 3 points below, they will be fine,
    1. We keep our hands clean when we handle the lenses
    2. We keep the solution / lens case warm enough inside our bags
    3. We wear / remove the lenses inside our tents / in sleeping bags.

    Appreciate any pointers you can give. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Vidyut,
      The steps you have mentioned are absolutely fine for taking care on contact lenses on a winter trek. It’s important that they stay moist.
      In addition to this, I suggest you keep the contact lenses inside the sleeping bag while sleeping. Pack the lens case in way that it is closer to your body while trekking – this will keep it warm.
      I hope you’re able to wear sunglasses along with contact lenses. These will be absolutely essential on a snow trek.

  4. we are going utterakhand on 16/4/18 n want to do easy trek preferably snow during 19 n 21 short trek .pl guide us

  5. Hello
    Thanks for all the tips. I am going to India in July with a World Challenge team to trek along the Hampta Pass. During our preparation trek in the UK, I really felt the cold in my thermals and 3-4 seasons sleeping bag and got ill with a chest infection. I am now scared I am going to be really poorly when I go on the 8 day trek. Any advice for what to wear at night?

  6. Hi…Am going on Dayra Bugyal trek starting 15th May. Given its summer time, is layering still required? What all should I pack for the trek?

    1. Hi Shuchismita,
      You might not require multiple layers while trekking but layering will still be required in the evenings and at night. In fact, if it is not sunny, there will be a chill in the air even during the day. You can take the things mentioned in this link. Pack enough only for three layers, not five.

    2. Hi Shuchismita,
      You will require a single layer while trekking but layering will still be required in the evening and at night. In fact, if it is not sunny, there will be a chill in the air even during the day while you are trekking. Take the things mentioned in this link. Carry enough for three layers, not five.

  7. I am very comfortable with dry-fit (polyester) material, so i would prefer wearing good and comfortable cotton pants on the trek (brahmatal). I hope it will be fine.

    1. It’s better to have a poncho with you in case it rains or snows. The jacket will hold up the rain only for an hour or so. You could rent the poncho from us.

  8. Hi Swathi,

    I’m Miranda, a travel enthusiast. It’s just last year that I’ve started hiking. I’ve been following your blog for a while-very creative posts and tips you have here actually.

    Are you open for guest posting on your website for this year? I’d love to be part of it. I can offer you valuable content to your audience with contextually relevant suggestions.

    You can also suggest any other topics that you need so far. Let me know what you think, so we can discuss.

    Hoping to hear from you soon. Have a wonderful day ahead.

    Best regards,

  9. Hi, I am planning for a trek to Tunganath this On 14th Feb 19. What category sunglasses should I wear and do we require the glasses to cover the eyes from all sides. Also, is it appropriate to wear a thermal while trekking.

    1. Hi Jitesh, you get UV protection sunglasses at stores like Decathlon or even online. You can pick those up. You’ll see a few pictures of the kind of glasses here – https://www.indiahikes.com/sunglasses-spectacles-trekkers/. You don’t need anything out of the ordinary.

      As for thermals, avoid wearing them while trekking. Keep them dry and clean for the night. While trekking, you can wear a quick dry layer. It should wick moisture quickly.

      On another note, Tungnath-Chandrashila might have way too much snow in FEbruary and might be inaccessible. Just make a few calls to the Chopta region and find out if it is accessible before heading there.

  10. Hi guys, my friends are I are travelling to Spiti in winter (Feb end). Note that this is not a trek, it’s a travel trip. I’m extremely confused about the layering. Could you please help me with that? The weather forecast shows that the temperature ranges between -5 to -25 degrees. What should be my day layering and what should be my night layering?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Hello Samanvitha,

      Wow! Spiti in Feb sounds exciting!

      Here are our recommendations:

      You will need these for the coldest temperatures (remove or add as per the warmth throughout the day):
      Upper body (7 layers atleast):
      Full sleeves T-shirts – 2 or 3
      Full sleeves sweaters – 2
      One fleece jacket
      One heavy padded jacket

      Good woollen caps
      Neck warmer
      Padded gloves
      Woollen socks or 2 layers of Nylon socks
      Trekking shoes (because they have good insulation)

      Lower body:
      Track pant
      Trek pant

      Hope this helps!

      Have a nice time!

  11. Hi, I wear full frame specs for myopia with UV 400 protection lens from lenskart, will it enough for protection from snow blindness?

    1. Ketan,
      I would recommend a pair of tinted, UV-blocking sunglasses that curve and block light from entering from any angle. Prescription specs (like ones from lenskart) let in a significant amount of light from the sides, which may get uncomfortable after a while.