The We Are Explorers crew recently tackled a Blue Mountains hike on the coldest May day in 23 years just to test out Kathmandu’s latest winter gear. As the snow fell around us, we were so toasty, we weren’t even mad about it. 


We acknowledge the Dharug and Wiradjuri people, the Traditional Custodians of the Countries included in this article, who have occupied and cared for these lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.


When Kathmandu invited the We Are Explorers crew to tackle a two-day hike to put the brand’s latest winter gear to the test, we knew the Blue Mountains would be up to the task of seeing just how well it performed in the cold.

What we didn’t expect was that we’d be hiking through (some) snow and icy conditions on what we later found out was the coldest May Day in 23 years – safe to say we got out there, tested the gear, and tested it good.

You can win a bunch of the gear listed in this article – Enter Now!

A Quality Base Layer

Starting from the bottom up, the first lesson of winter hiking essentials is that we don’t talk about winter hiking essentials a quality base layer. We put both the standard polypropylene thermals and the KMDAction layers to the test, and honestly, if you leave home with only one thing from this list – highly inadvisable – it should be a good base layer. 

The standard 100% Merino Long Sleeve, was exactly what you’d expect of a basic thermal – lightweight yet incredibly warm and, being wool, incredibly breathable. The perfect multi-use layer that Editor Tim has been loving long after our campaign adventure.



Hitting somewhere between a base layer and undies, the KMDAction range offers moisture-wicking technology that’s perfect for long winter hikes where you’re somehow simultaneously slightly sweaty and slightly cold. Campaign Producer Sian said the KMDAction layers were the perfect base layer for action. Go figure.

‘The smurf suit (aka KMDAction set in Bluehaze) didn’t get sweaty at all while wearing them under gear, usually, I have to take my underlayers off once I get hiking but I barely noticed these. They felt like a second skin, perfect for an Aussie winter when you’re on the move to keep you warm and dry.’ 

While the KMDAction Leggings were definitely an under-layer, the top is thin enough for an under, but could easily act as an outer layer over the top of another thermal if required. Our favourite feature was the thumb holes for extra toasty travels – as the rest of the crews’ fingers started to go numb, the envy was hard to hide. 

The Mid Layer

Keeping warm in winter 101, is layering, and when you’re hiking it’s even more important. As the hike gets harder the layers come off, when the sun starts to go down, the layers go back on. So having a good combination of fabric weights and sleeve lengths is paramount. 

The SUN-Scout is lightweight and adaptable, offering long sleeves which fold up for warmer days. The fabric also provides UPF+50 protection and super handy snap buttons, so it’s a great allrounder for both warmer and cooler weather. 

The fancy fabric also features a plant-based peppermint oil for odour control, with an aim to save water by helping you wear it more frequently without the need to wash it. Did we notice Julia’s fresh peppermint scent? Well, honestly no, but we also didn’t notice any BO – so that’s probably a good sign right? 



Is there anything better than a quality flanno? I suspect 90% of Australians would say no. 

Somehow perfect for both chilly winter days, and a throw-over layer in warmer weather, a breathable cotton layer is a must-have multi-season piece. In colder weather the baselayer wicks away sweat and hugs the skin, while the midlayer adds warmth without being too tight – it’s also usually a bit tougher.

Our editor Tim was wearing the Carrillon HF Men’s Long Sleeve Shirt in Dark Quartz/Deep Lagoon Check and to quote him directly, ‘It’s a summer jacket and a winter shirt, I’m living my best flanno life and I’m never taking it off’.

 Did he actually say that… no, but he implied it with child-like glee. 


Something to Keep Cosy – Warmer Mid Layers

Overnight hikes call for as many lightweight and non-bulky options as possible. 

Did I pack two different varieties of milk because I’m a coffee fiend and knew no one wanted my almond milk? Yes. 

Did I cop a lot of flack? Also yes. 

Did both options make it past the car… no. 

The one bulky item that did make it past my tirelessly experienced Explorer colleagues was a toasty fleece for each of us, and having now lived through a -7 degree camping night, I can say I’d safely sacrifice my almond milk for a fleece time and time again. 

The Ridge 100 was the lighter of the two fleeces we tried and was incredibly warm considering how light and packable it was. It’s also made of 100% recycled fabric – when we read this, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but it’s just like any other fleece, just better for Mother Earth when it gets laid to rest one day. 



The seamless design and accessible front pocket made it uber practical and comfortable as a mid-layer. Sian loved the phone pocket, saying, ‘When I’m wearing a backpack or crouching down at the campsite I find it awkward having my phone in my pants pockets or jacket pockets, so it’s a great alternative.’

At a little over 500g, the Co-Z High Pile Women’s Pullover was well worth the weight in the extremely chilly circumstances. With an oversized fit, kangaroo pocket, and handy adjustable hem (to keep you extra cosy) the design has a decisively vintage 90s vibe, which took me right back to Heart Break High. Oh, and it’s made from 17 recycled plastic water bottles, win. 


A Jacket That’s Lightweight, Warm, and Packable – Your Insulating Layer

A unicorn you say?

We tried out Kathmandu’s Heli R in both the synthetic and down varieties to see how the new jacket stacked up against the cold, and how the down and synthetic materials performed against each other. 

The cloud-free sunny day stretched out in front of us, wrongly hinting at a weekend of easy hikes and unseasonable autumn warmth. The crew of five (all donning a new Heli R) met in front of the Grumpy Baker in Bilpin and first impressions of the synthetic and down versions were evident. 

While they’re both incredibly lightweight options, we noticed that the down version seemed to offer slightly more padding, but in actuality, both versions weigh roughly the same and pack down easily. 

Weighing in at 300g (25% lighter than its predecessor) the Heli R was a great puffer option and combining it with fleece and windshell rain jacket kept us toasty on the ridgelines. Trying out both the down and synthetic options, the team agreed that the down was very slightly warmer, but the synthetic was tougher and machine washable – both valuable qualities. Coming in at similar prices and weights, we found it came down to individual preference – as someone who sneezes at the mention of duck pancakes, I chose the synthetic version. 

Features we loved:

  • The down version offered an inside pocket – for keeping all the important items dry and safe inside. 
  • Packable – the jacket was so packable, we snuggled it into its little case and clipped it onto the outside of our packs. 

Sian also put the Epiq jacket to the test – at 500g it was sufficiently heavier and warmer than the Heli R, but it wasn’t ideal for activities like hiking. Once we got back to the campsite, it was pretty clear that the Epiq was doing its job – in Sian’s words, she was ‘soooo toasty’.

You can win a bunch of the gear listed in this article, including a Heli R jacket – Enter Now!

A Rain (and Sleet) Jacket – The Outer Layer

With no rain predicted for our weekend away, we didn’t expect to be able to put a rain jacket to the test. Luckily(?) we had a sprinkling of sleety snow and icy wind, and it turned out to be an absolute must for unpredictable weather. Better still, it was so lightweight, we scarcely noticed it in our packs. 

We tested out the Trailhead Women’s Rain Jacket and the crew absolutely rated its solid shell, and thickness – light enough to layer but not so flimsy we felt it’d be useless in a downpour. Also, a hood (in rain, snow, or wind) is an absolute must. 



You lose 50% of your heat through your head and your feet*, so, a beanie in winter is non-negotiable. Put your hat-hair fears aside, and get yourself a decent head warmer. 

*According to mums everywhere, scientific proof is limited but it absolutely does keep your ears toasty warm. 


A Gear-Carrier

Ok, so you’re not going to get very far with all this gear without a decent pack to hold it all. 

With a few bulky layers like the fleece, as well as essentials like cooking equipment, tents, and food, we tried out both the 38L (1.16kg) and the 48L Valorous Pack (1.58kg). The packs are both ergonomically designed, with a belt that cups your hips for ultimate comfort, plus they’re lightweight and made from recycled and breathable fabric. 

Favourite features? Easily accessible pockets, hydration bladder sleeve, and multiple options to extend or compress, making it versatile for whatever length trip you’re embarking on. 


Based in Adelaide, Sydney, the Sunshine Coast, Mullumbimby, and Darwin, the We Are Explorers crew are spread far and wide and rarely get to enjoy an in-person catch-up. So, being tasked to spend a weekend doing what we do best, with colleagues we’re lucky enough to call mates, was… let’s be honest… a stretch to call ‘work’. Getting the chance to put Kathmandu to the test to see just how warm they could keep us was a challenge we were stoked to tackle. 


Kathmandu, Blue Mountains, Evan Andrews Photography


Not only was the gear warm, it was practical, and offered a lot of eco-friendly qualities. As a fellow B-Corp company, the We Are Explorers crew were stoked to rep a brand that’s practical, environmentally friendly, and looks the part. 

On a weekend of weather that pushed the boundaries for some of these lightweight options, we were glad to have a range of layers from thermals right through to rain jackets – we were toasty warm and can safely say the gear understood the assignment.


Note: Ok, so I realise we haven’t mentioned pants, but some form of bottom layer is highly advisable – please, for the love of safety, warmth, and your fellow hikers, throw on some pants, and thermals if it’s really cold.