Winter backpacking can challenge you in ways you never expected. But the payoff of a peaceful winter campout makes up for the extra time it takes to prepare–and follow–your complete winter backpacking checklist!
Read on to learn about what should be on your winter backpacking checklist to keep you safe (and sane).
Backpack and Gear
Choosing the right winter backpacking backpack is crucial for a successful winter backpacking trip. Look for one that’s lightweight, yet big enough to hold your cold-weather gear. It should be waterproof, too.
Pack Cover or Waterproof Liners
Gear Repair Essentials
Carrying gear repair supplies is essential for ensuring your safety and comfort during winter backpacking trips. Be sure to pack the following:
- Repair kit container: A waterproof and durable container or dry bag to keep your repair supplies dry and organized.
- Multi-tool or knife: A versatile tool that can handle a variety of tasks, including cutting cordage, patching gear, and performing quick fixes.
- Duct or Gear Aid Tape: A roll of high-quality, all-purpose duct tape is invaluable for making temporary repairs to gear like torn clothing, sleeping bags, or tents.
- Repair patches: Self-adhesive repair patches designed for repairing clothing, sleeping bags, or tents. Ensure they are appropriate for cold and wet conditions
- Seam sealer: Seam sealer is essential for repairing damaged tent seams or waterproof gear that may have been compromised.
- Nylon cordage or paracord: A length of cordage can be used for emergency repairs, lashing gear, or making improvised snowshoe bindings.
- Sewing kit: A small sewing kit with needles, thread, and safety pins can be used to mend torn clothing, gear, or backpack straps.
- Zipper repair kit: Zipper failures can be common in cold weather. A repair kit containing replacement zipper pulls and sliders can be handy.
- Zip ties: Zip ties are versatile for quick fixes and securing gear.
Shelter and Sleeping
Choosing the right shelter and sleeping gear for winter backpacking is crucial for staying warm, dry, and safe in cold and potentially harsh conditions.
A four-season or mountaineering tent is designed to withstand snow, wind, and cold temperatures. Look for a tent with strong pole construction, a robust rainfly, and adequate ventilation.
Consider a tent with a vestibule for gear storage and to keep the interior clean.
A tent footprint provides an extra layer of protection for your tent floor against moisture and abrasion. It can be especially useful in snowy conditions.
Tent Stakes and Guylines
Ensure you have enough sturdy tent stakes and guylines to secure your tent in windy and snowy conditions.
Tent Repair Kit
Carry a small repair kit with patches, seam sealer, and spare tent pole sections in case of damage.
Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag
Choose a sleeping bag rated for sub-zero temperatures to ensure warmth in frigid conditions. Down and synthetic insulation options are good choices.
An insulated sleeping pad is essential to provide insulation from the cold ground. Inflatable pads or closed-cell foam pads work well.
A small, lightweight camp pillow can greatly enhance your sleeping comfort. Some backpackers use extra clothing as a makeshift pillow.
Sleeping Bag Liner
A good sleeping bag liner can add extra warmth to your sleeping bag and keep it clean.
Carry emergency thermal blankets as backup insulation. They are lightweight and can be used inside your sleeping bag for added warmth.
Technically, a camp chair isn’t for shelter or sleeping, but it is an essential piece of gear to keep you off the ground around your campsite. If you have the space, it’s a good idea to bring one along.
Clothing and Layering
Base layers serve as your first line of defense against the cold by wicking moisture away from your skin and providing insulation.
Merino wool keeps you warm while wicking moisture away from your body. Synthetic base layers are often less expensive than merino wool and are also ideal for winter backpacking. They’re lightweight and quick-drying.
Add insulating layers like fleece or down to trap heat. Down is known for its exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio. It provides excellent insulation by trapping warm air. High-quality down is incredibly lightweight and compressible. Look for down insulation with a high fill power rating (800+ is excellent) for maximum warmth and loft.
Keep in mind that down loses its insulating properties when wet, so it’s crucial to keep it dry.
Synthetic insulations are designed to provide insulation even when wet. They’re more water-resistant than down. Synthetic insulating layers are a good choice when you expect wet conditions or when you’re active and may generate sweat.
An outer layer is super important in winter backpacking for several crucial reasons. It serves as your primary defense against the elements, helping you stay warm, dry, and protected in cold and potentially harsh conditions. Your outer layer helps trap warm air close to your body, preventing heat loss and keeping you comfortable in cold weather.
Your outer layer should also have windproof properties that help block the chilling effects of strong winds, and it should be waterproof to keep moisture from penetrating and reaching your inner layers. Waterproofing is essential for staying dry in wet snow or rain.
An ideal outer layer not only keeps external moisture out but also allows moisture vapor (sweat) from your body to escape. This breathability helps regulate your body temperature and keeps you from getting soaked from the inside.
Winter conditions can be tough on gear, with abrasive snow, rocks, and ice. An outer layer should be made from durable materials that can withstand the rigors of winter without easily tearing or wearing out.
Your outer layer should also be versatile enough to adapt to changing weather conditions. It should be easy to put on and take off as needed. Look for an outer layer with lots of pockets for storing important items. Bright colors are also a good safety option for your outer layer.
In cold winter conditions, your hands are susceptible to frostbite, which can occur when the skin and underlying tissues freeze. Gloves provide insulation and warmth, helping prevent frostbite and keeping your hands comfortable. They also provide protection from harsh winds, and may allow you to maintain a better grip on your tools.
Hats and Balaclavas
Your head is one of the most heat-loss-prone areas of your body. In cold conditions, it’s essential to keep your head warm to prevent heat loss and maintain overall body warmth. At the same time, exposed skin on your face, ears, and neck is susceptible to frostbite in cold, windy conditions. Hats and balaclavas cover these areas, providing insulation and protection.
Hats and balaclavas can wick moisture away from your skin, preventing sweat buildup and keeping your head dry. Hats and balaclavas are versatile and can be worn in various styles to adapt to changing conditions–you can wear them under hoods, helmets, or as standalone headgear.
Neck Gaiters and Buffs
Neck gaiters and buffs are versatile and important accessories for winter backpacking, thanks to their ability to provide various functions and benefits in cold and snowy conditions. They can be worn around your neck to protect it from the cold and wind. You can also pull them up to cover your face, providing added insulation and shielding against frostbite in extreme cold or windy weather.
Neck gaiters and buffs are easy to put on and take off, making them convenient for quick adjustments to your comfort level and protection. They’re also lightweight and take up minimal space in your backpack!
Footwear and Care
Selecting the best footwear for winter backpacking is crucial for comfort, warmth, and safety in cold and potentially challenging conditions.
Insulated Winter Boots
The right footwear will keep your feet warm, dry, and provide adequate traction on snow and ice. Winter hiking boots, mountaineering boots, and snowshoe boots.
Winter hiking boots are designed specifically for cold conditions. They are insulated, waterproof, and offer good ankle support.
For more extreme winter conditions, such as ice climbing or high-altitude winter treks, mountaineering boots are a suitable choice. These boots are highly insulated, waterproof, and designed for use with crampons.
Snowshoe boots are designed to accommodate snowshoes, offering a wider and more flexible sole to prevent snowshoes from rubbing against your legs. They often have a taller height to provide additional warmth and snow protection.
Gaiters, Socks, and Care Essentials
What goes under your boots on a winter backpacking trip is also extremely important.
Gaiters are protective coverings worn over your boots and lower legs to keep snow and debris out of your boots.
Foot warmers are not essential for winter backpacking, but they can be a useful addition to your gear, especially in extremely cold conditions. Foot warmers are most beneficial when you anticipate extremely cold temperatures, have a low threshold for cold sensitivity, or plan to be out in the cold for long durations.
You should definitely have a blister treatment kit, which may include adhesive moleskin, blister pads, medical tape, and antiseptic wipes, on hand for winter backpacking.
Food and Cooking
Food and cooking gear are crucial supplies to ensure you have the energy and sustenance needed to stay warm and active in cold conditions.
Food and Storage
Pack high-energy foods, like nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and energy bars. Dehydrated meals are lightweight and easy to prepare, making them a convenient choice.
Pack food and cooking gear in an insulated bag or sack to keep items organized and prevent freezing.
Stove and Fuel
Choose a reliable backpacking stove suitable for cold weather, such as a liquid fuel or canister stove. Ensure you have enough fuel for the duration of your trip, plus a little extra in case of unexpected delays. Don’t forget a lighter or matches!
Cookware and Utensils
A lightweight pot or cookset with a lid is essential for cooking and melting snow for water. Look for pots with heat-exchanger fins to improve fuel efficiency. Bring a mess kit with personal utensils.
Navigation and Safety
Navigation tools and safety gear are paramount to having an enjoyable winter backpacking trip. Make sure to have the following (as appropriate for your particular trip):
- Paper map and compass
- GPS and emergency communication devices
- Avalanche safety gear
- Winter-specific first aid kit
- Fire-starting tools
- Snowshoes or crampons
- Ice axe and trekking poles
You’ll need to intentionally drink about 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking.
A water bladder that fits in your backpack is another good choice. Keeping it in between your body and your pack keeps the water inside from freezing.
Pack some water purification tablets in case you have to melt snow for drinking.
Winter Backpacking Checklist Recap
Winter backpacking is a unique way to enjoy nature in the off season. Follow this checklist to prepare for an epic adventure!
Read more great backpacking tips on our website!
- About the Author
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Ronda Lindsay is a professional writer and editor who has worked in government communications for nearly two decades.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, she fostered her love of nature and the outdoors by exploring the Pacific Northwest’s many natural playgrounds before moving to the Washington, DC, area to see what the eastern side of the country had to offer. She’s also spent plenty of time camping, hiking, and floating around central Texas, where she now lives.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda loves to learn and write about the latest trends in outdoor adventuring and share that information with Beyond the Tent readers.