Winter Layering with Arm Warmers


Arm warmers are usually sold as cycling gear, but many winter hikers also use them for insulation because they’re easy to take off when you warm up or put back on when you get cold. Frequent stopping, unpacking, and repacking isn’t good form when you’re hiking with others because no one wants to stand around freezing their ass off while you get organized. It’s far better to have clothing layers that you can take off, adjust, or put on quickly, while you’re on the move.

Arm warmers are a great winter layering solution because they’re compact and easy to put on or stash in an accessible pocket while you’re wearing your pack. Lots of thin layers are often better for winter hiking than heavier ones because they let you fine-tune your comfort level throughout the course of a hike.

For example, I’m a fairly warm hiker, even in winter. If the ambient temperature is above 25 degrees, I’ll strip down to a short sleeve base layer during a sustained climb. Unfortunately, this can lead to cold arms when I transition to a colder area such as a windy ridge, exposed outcropping or simply higher elevation. If I stopped to put on a layer each time this occurred, I would be spending unnecessary time making an adjustment that I might want to reverse around the next bend. But you don’t want to let the skin on your arms get too cold since it can result in vasoconstriction, causing your body to reduce blood flow to your extremities, and contributing to a cooling core.

If you’re like me and you run hot when you winter hike, arm warmers might provide you with just the right amount of extra insulation to ward off a chill after a steep climb. Fit is important, which is why I’d recommend going to a bike store and trying on a couple of different pairs, rather than playing shopping roulette on Amazon. Arm warmers often run small, so trying them out in person is often more expedient.

I use Specialized Therminal 2.0 Arm Warmers because I like the way they grip my upper arms
I use Specialized Therminal 2.0 Arm Warmers because I like the way they grip my upper arms.

I currently wear Specialized Therminal 2.0 Arm Warmers which have a brushed fleece interior that insulates while effectively managing moisture. The upper arm cuff has a silicone print to maintain a secure yet comfortable fit. They offer just the amount of warmth that I’m looking for. The inside is slightly fleecy and comfortable. The outer surface is smooth so snow easily brushes off and it’s easy to slip additional clothing layers over them. I’ve also used Smartwool Arm Warmers in the past but they were to tight on my upper arms.

If you are one of those people who tend to sweat even at low temperatures, I highly recommend giving arm warmers at try. They’re surprisingly effective and a great winter layering option.

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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