Insulated Skirts for Winter Hiking

Insulated Skirts for Winter Hiking

An insulated skirt? Could that possibly be an idea that has any merit at all? A few years back, I started to ask myself this question and I thought the answer would be “no”. I’d seen a couple of women on the trails wearing them, but I doubted it could add an interesting amount of warmth since a skirt is open at the bottom.

I try not to overdo the lower body base layers because I can get hot while ascending. Occasionally I have hikes where the cold wind is extreme enough to cut through my softshell winter hiking pants. Adding a base layer to your bottom half in conditions like that would be really difficult to do and result in a prolonged stop which could contribute to getting colder.

Adding full zip rain pants can help but there is the hassle of dealing with the long zippers which may require mittens off for an extended period, then re-doing your gaiters to protect the pants. A skirt that could be added quickly could have advantages over these solutions if it could actually add warmth.

A little online searching led me to skirts of decent quality that ran $100 or more. I was a more frugal gear junkie at the time and this seemed a bit much to spend on a piece of gear I was rather skeptical about.

Wanda Woman demonstrates her insulated skirt above treeline
Wanda Woman demonstrates her insulated skirt above treeline

Then one day I was sorting through my sleeping bag collection to cull out some old, unused bags and I found an old thrift store down vest in the bottom of one of the bins. I remembered that I had used it as a sleeping bag for my miniature Schnauzer back when we used to take the dog backpacking. I’m a little bit handy with MYOG (make your own gear), so with a small amount of effort, I figured I could cut it off and turn it into a skirt with an elastic waist. I hoped I could keep the stray feather situation under control once I cut into the vest. The project was made easier by the fact that the vest had snaps rather than a zipper. What a great way to try a concept!

The first time out for the skirt was a hike up New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain on a particularly cold and windy day. There was a stretch of trail that was quite exposed to the west wind, so I pulled the skirt out and quickly snapped it on. I was surprised at how much warmth it added. Granted, there was still some air movement, but I no longer felt like I was literally freezing my butt off. My companions were a little jealous. That $0 skirt became a mainstay in my winter pack any time I was expecting wind exposure. It had pockets, which at first seemed handy, but I ended up sewing them up because they collected snow.

I next decided to try a commercial skirt to see if there was anything better out there. I got a synthetic one that had a stretchy fleece side panel on one side which I thought would make high steps easier, but it was a failure. The fleece side was not windproof and was really drafty which made for a pretty cold experience heading up Mount Moosilauke with the wind blasting my exposed left side.

I decided to try a better synthetic option so I could count on more warmth on damp days. However, I wasn’t finding anything commercial that was reasonably priced, lightweight, long enough to be warm, and allowed for freedom of movement. I ended up flexing my MYOG muscle again and made one from a pattern I bought online and some materials from ripstopbytheroll.com. This skirt has been a pretty good addition to my hiking wardrobe.

Now I always bring one of these skirts if I think there is the potential for sustained exposure to cold wind. I know some of my friends still think it’s weird, but they don’t know what they are missing! If you happen to be a person that is not really the skirt type, it’s also possible to find full zip insulated shorts which are often marketed to downhill skiers.

What to look for

  1. The length should be long enough for good coverage, but not so long that it impedes climbing. Some of the miniskirts I see online look too short to be effective.
  2. Quick-release on the bottom in the form of Velcro, snaps, or a zipper that zips up from the bottom. You need this so that if you make big steps when needed, the bottom will release and you won’t be constrained or rip your skirt.
  3. Not a pull-on. You need to be able to add it while standing up and wearing snowshoes.
  4. Windproof material, otherwise it’s not going to help you out in windy conditions at all.
  5. Lightweight for obvious reasons.

Some options out there

About the author

Wanda Rice has been backpacking since the late 1980’s. She has climbed the New Hampshire 48, the New Hampshire 48 in winter, the New England 67, the New England Hundred Highest, and the Four-Season 48. Wanda also teaches for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Mountain Leadership School, the AMC New Hampshire Chapter Spring and Winter Schools as well as the AMC NH Winter Hiking Series. She leads day and overnight trips for AMC NH year-round and loves mentoring new leaders. She is a gear junkie, a self-proclaimed Queen of Gear Hacks, and loves sharing her tips and tricks with others. Wanda lives in southern NH and is looking forward to moving closer to the mountains in the next few years.

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17 comments

  1. Love this! Totally agree on the utility of the insulated skirt/kilt. I made one for my wife last Christmas from a diamond-pattern synthetic insulated snap-up jacket from the thrift store. I cut off the bottom right below the sleeves, then sewed webbing and ladderlocks onto either side (like how some RailRiders pants have for size adjusters). The snaps allow it to open up completely flat. She just snaps it around her and pulls on the side webbing to tighten it around her waist. Bonus: if you have cold feet at night, you can wrap this around your feet as a mini quilt!

  2. Lol i just got my teenager a long puffy skirt for walking to school! She loves it for the last few blocks of prairie wind, and not the hassle of snow pants.

  3. Ragged mountain seems to have a large selection of them including ones they make in shop.

  4. The MYOG option is intriguing. I’ve been wanting to try out an insulated skirt, but find a lot of the ones I see are a bit too mini. Would love something wide enough to not restrict movement but hit closer to knee length rather than hit at the upper thigh. I saw the above suggestions, but, what would be the best suggestion that might be a little on the longer side? The Skhoop one looks the closest to what I am looking for…but, so pricey

    • If you can sew from scratch, look for the pattern for the Snomotion skirt by Culler Creations.

    • I agree with all the comments about the very mini length of most of the skirts I have seen. Years ago I got a skirt with a fast drying denim looking outer layer and a thin polar fleece lining. I don’t hike much but wear it bicycling with my Terry Bicycling Cool Weather padded tights. I also wear it skating. I have looked at the quilted skirts on the market. Most are too short even for a petite woman like me. And most are too pricey. Will need to look at MYOG options.

  5. Has anyone tried one of those rain kilts. They are uninsulated of course, but I find that putting on my uninsulated rain jacket is a significant improvement in the wind.

  6. Best 3 season option would probably be long version (with wind protection) of 3f ul/ flames creed kilt (aliex) with velcro’ed synthetic insulation (MYOG).

  7. I’m a gear junkie. I never thought of an insulated skirt.
    Brilliant ! Ashamed of myself . Where’s the Singer ?

  8. Ragged Mountain Eqipment in Intervale NH has a good selection at reasonable prices
    https://raggedmountain.com/power-air-skirt/

  9. Er, I don’t need to get in touch with my feminine side THAT much. And besides I think it’s thermally inefficient.

    But eskimos wore insulated knee length “shorts” which protected their femoral arteries from heat loss.
    So how about an article on “INSULATED SHORTS”?

    i actually wear cut-off knee length heavy long johns over my base layer pants in extreme cols and it does help.

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