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.
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 who 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Not a pull-on. You need to be able to add it while standing up and wearing snowshoes.
- Windproof material, otherwise it’s not going to help you out in windy conditions at all.
- Lightweight for obvious reasons.
Some Insulated Skirts for Winter Hiking
- Smartwool Smartloft Zip Skirt: zipper
- Smartwool Smartloft Pull-on Skirt: pull-on
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Skirt: full zip 2-way zipper, zips up from the bottom, pocket
- Mountain Hardwear Trekkin Insulated Skirt: pull-on
- Craft Core Nordic Insulated Skirt: zipper
- Rab Cirrus Insulated Skirt: zipper
- Jack Wolfskin Iceguard Skirt: zipper, two hand pockets
Last Updated November 2023
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