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Suit Up: Essential Winter Backpacking Gear for Your Next Trip

Winter backpacking can be rewarding, providing an up-close look at an austere time in nature. But enjoying winter in the outdoors requires close attention to winter backpacking gear.

Choosing winter backpacking gear is as much about safety as it is about comfort. The right gear will keep you protected from cold temperatures, wintry precipitation, and other hazards. Read on for guidance on choosing essential winter backpacking gear.

Suit Up: Essential Winter Backpacking Gear for Your Next Trip 1

Clothing for Winter Backpacking

Layering your clothing is the key to comfort and safety for winter backpacking. Layering keeps warmth trapped inside the spaces between your clothes, keeping you warm and helping to keep you dry.

For proper layering, start with a light, long-sleeve shirt as your base layer. Next, choose a wool, polyester, or wool/polyester blend shirt or sweatshirt. As a third layer, you’ll want a hooded jacket. For extreme cold, use an outer shell covering the other three layers.

To keep your legs warm and comfortable while backpacking in winter, start with lightweight polyester long underwear pants. Top them with a pair of synthetic fabric hiking pants, and if you need it, add rain pants as a top layer.

Read on for specific recommendations on layering for winter backpacking for both men and women.

Base Layer

If you’re serious about comfort for winter backpacking — and you should be — an outstanding men’s base layer is the Thermajohn Long Johns set of thermal underwear.

Thermajohn Long Johns Thermal Underwear for Men Fleece Lined Base Layer Set for Cold Weather (X-Large, Black)

Lined with ultra-soft fleece, the ThermaJohn set is also moisture-wicking, to keep you comfortable during miles of backpacking in the cold. Available in the full range of sizes, the best news about the Thermajohn set is that it is machine washable for easy care.

There is also an excellent choice in thermal underwear for women involved in winter backpacking. The NOOYME Thermal Underwear set is fleece-lined, and includes a bamboo charcoal fiber element for efficient moisture-wicking.

NOOYME Thermal Underwear for Women Long Johns for Women, Base Layer Women Cold Weather Black-grey

Another element of the specially engineered NOOYME set is the sweat tube guides on the back and chest of the upper garment. The guides promote rapid sweat dissipation for the wearer’s continued comfort.


The Under Armour Fleece T-Shirt is an excellent midlayer clothing choice for winter backpacking gear. The fleece element of this Under Armour shirt is both light and breathable, and it also stretches for comfort.

Under Armour mens Armour Fleece 1/2 Zip Shirt, Blue Note/Black, Large US

The Under Armour fleece is a two-layer shirt, with an inner layer that helps to trap heat as a great addition to an overall layering strategy. Also adding to the ease of layering with the Under Armour shirt is its half-length zipper.

Under Armour also offers the Tech Twist pullover as an excellent midlayer choice for women. The Tech Twist is an extremely soft garment of 100% polyester, designed for wicking sweat and drying quickly for backpacking comfort.

Under Armour Women's Tech Twist ½ Zip Long-Sleeve Pullover , Black (001)/Metallic Silver , Small

The Tech Twist comes in a fuller cut than many other midlayer garments, for ease of movement among layered clothing.

Hooded Jacket

For the suggested hooded jacket component of layered clothing for winter backpacking gear, the Amazon Essentials hooded puffer jacket is a great, and budget-friendly, choice. The jacket is nylon with polyester fill.

Amazon Essentials Men's Lightweight Water-Resistant Packable Hooded Puffer Jacket, Black, Medium

The Amazon Essentials hooded jacket is also water-resistant. And for long-term comfortable wear, it is cut full through the chest with a taper at the waist.

A great hooded jacket choice for women’s winter backpacking gear is the Little Donkey Andy lightweight jacket. Both water-repellent and breathable, the Little Donkey Andy jacket also includes a windproof layer.

Little Donkey Andy Women's Lightweight Hooded Softshell Jacket for Running Travel Hiking, Windproof, Water Repellent Watermelon Size S

Rounding out the excellent set of features of the Little Donkey Andy jacket are the elastic cuffs and hems that keep the wearer sealed from the cold. And finally, two zip-up pockets provide both protection and easy access to items you may need quickly on the trail.

Outer Shell

If there’s one rule for an outer shell as a top layer of winter backpacking clothing, it’s that it needs to be waterproof. For men, the OTU lightweight hooded jacket meets that requirement.

OTU Men's Lightweight Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket Outdoor Raincoat Shell Jacket for Hiking Travel Black M

Because it is constructed with polyester, the OTU jacket is a lightweight addition to winter backpacking gear. In addition, it includes a mesh lining specifically designed to wick any moisture away from the body.

For women, the Diamond Candy rain jacket makes an outstanding outer shell. Constructed of polyester, the Diamond Candy outer shell is lightweight, and also offers excellent breathability.

Diamond Candy Women's Waterproof Rain Jacket with Hood Lightweight Windbreaker Raincoat for Hiking, Travel and Running

When not needed, the Diamond Candy outer shell packs up tight, taking up little room in your backpack.

Winter Backpacking Gear for Sleeping

Sleeping Bag

Among the most important decisions you’ll make in winter backpacking gear is your sleeping bag. Augmenting your layered clothing to keep you warm, a sleeping bag also must be comfortable enough to ensure high-quality rest.

The TETON Sports LEEF Ultralight Mummy Sleeping Bag meets that objective, and does so at a reasonable price. At a weight of less than five pounds, the TETON Sports sleeping bag is an ideal backpacking option.

TETON Sports Leef Mummy Sleeping Bag - Lightweight Sleeping Bag for Backpacking, Camping, and Hiking - Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag - Camping Accessory with Drawstring Compression Sack - Long 0℉, Black

The TETON bag, down-filled and nylon-covered, has a temperature rating of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping in mind that temperature ratings are estimates that don’t consider all circumstances, the TETON bag surely will keep you warm at very low temperatures.

Sleeping Bag Liner

If you’re serious about having all of the winter backpacking gear needed for comfort in the cold, you need to consider purchasing a sleeping bag liner. It’s true that a liner can provide as much as 15 degrees of extra heat, but there’s also another reason for adding it to your gear.

Because it lines the interior of your sleeping bag, your liner will keep grime and body oils from attaching to your sleeping bag. As a result, your sleeping bag will last longer, and its performance won’t be compromised over time.

Sea to Summit Reactor Insulated Sleeping Bag Liner, Extreme (83 x 35)

There are two styles of sleeping bag liners. Mummy-style liners fit mummy-style sleeping bags, while rectangular liners fit rectangular sleeping bags.

For mummy liners, the Sea to Summit Sleeping Bag Liner is an excellent option, filled with synthetic Thermolite® insulation under a nylon cover.

For rectangular liners, Tough Outdoors offers a great option with polyester fill material.

Sleeping Mat

For winter backpacking, a sleeping mat performs two functions. It elevates you from uneven ground, and provides insulation from that ground. The best sleeping mats do those things without adding a lot of weight to your pack.

Gear Doctors Ultralight 17oz Camping Sleeping pad ApolloAir - Compact, Warm 5.2 R-Value 4 Season Air Mattress, Perfect for Backpacking, Hiking - Lightweight Inflatable & Compact Sleep Pad

At slightly over 1 pound, the self-inflating Gear Doctors ultralight sleeping mat offers great value. Featuring a special fabric coating, the Gear Doctors mat provides an R-value of 5.2, more than enough insulating power to keep you warm.

Winter Backpacking Shelter Choices

As with other decisions on winter backpacking gear, your choice of shelter will balance weight against features, performance, and price. Read on for a look at a great choice for a backpacking tent. You’ll also see a recommendation for a minimalist shelter option, the bivy sack.


For a top-quality winter backpacking tent that won’t break the bank, the GEERTOP two-person ultralight backpacking tent is an excellent choice.

GEERTOP 2 Person Camping Tent Lightweight 4 Season Waterproof Double Layer All Weather Outdoor Survival Gear for Backpacking Hiking Travel - Easy Set Up

At a weight of less than six pounds, the polyester-constructed GEERTOP tent provides ample room for two people, or generous space for a single hiker. Held up with aluminum poles, the GEERTOP offers great stability in inclement weather.

Finally, the GEERTOP includes two doors for more than ample ventilation. And, there are plenty of storage options to keep gear handy and off the tent floor.

Bivy Sack

Often seen as a piece of emergency gear, a bivy sack can also serve as a shelter option for winter backpacking. It’s certainly reasonable to consider a bivy sack for backpacking adventures lasting only a couple of days.

Essentially a covered sleeping bag, a bivy sack provides warmth and shielding from the elements for nighttime on the trail. Among the choices for winter backpacking gear, the Outdoor Research Helium Bivy is an amazing option.

Outdoor Research Helium Bivy – Ultralight Hiking Bivy Tent

Constructed of nylon, with a mesh screen for breathability, the Outdoor Research bivy will keep you toasty warm. And it won’t be a burden to carry, weighing just 8 ounces and collapsing into a package just slightly longer than one foot.

Winter Backpacking Gear for Fire-Starting


The most straightforward choice for fire-starting in winter backpacking gear is matches. And the best choice within that category is the UCO Stormproof Match Kit. The kit can include as many as 40 waterproof matches inside a waterproof case that also floats.

UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case, 25 Stormproof Matches and 3 Strikers - Orange

Weighing just a few ounces, and taking up just a couple of square inches of space, the UCO kit is a natural choice for backpacking.

Other features of the kit include the fact that if a match gets wet, it can simply be wiped dry and used. The kit has multiple strikers, each of which can be dried for use in the event they get wet. Matches will remain usable for years as long as they’re stored in a dry place between backpacking trips.


Carrying a cigarette lighter may be the easiest choice as a fire-starter for winter backpacking gear. And if you’re going this route, you should rely on the old standard, the BIC Mini Lighter.

BIC Mini Lighter, Classic Collection, Assorted Unique Lighter Colors, 8 Count Pack of Lighters

Available in packs of multiple lighters at very low cost, the BIC Mini Lighter gives you security with a reliable source of ignition for fires. You’ll be able to rely on each Bic Mini Lighter for hundreds of lights, more than enough for all but the most extended backpacking trips.

Ferro Rods

If you’d rather not rely on matches or lighters as part of your winter backpacking gear for starting fires, a ferro rod makes an excellent choice. Ferro rods are made of a combination of metals that produce a shower of sparks when hit by a steel striker.

Light my Fire Flint Fire Starter Ferro Rod Survival Tool Army — Fire Steel Bushcraft Gear — Flint and Steel Magnesium Fire Starter Kit — 3/8” 2-in-1 Fire Starters for Campfires — 12,000 Strikes

An exceptional choice among the ferro rods on the market today is the Light My Fire kit, which boasts 12,000 strikes before needing replacement. The kit includes a ferro rod and striker, kept together by a nylon cord.

Weighing well under a quarter-pound, and with a rod of less than 4 inches, the Light My Fire kit is a no-brainer for backpacking.

Choosing a Winter Backpack

Perhaps no other piece of winter backpacking gear comes with as many choices as the backpack itself. But one thing that should demand your attention as you select a winter backpack is its size.

As a rule, you’ll need a backpack with at least a 70-liter capacity to handle the bulky clothing demanded for safe and comfortable winter backpacking. As such, the 85-liter model of the Kelty Coyote backpack will be a great choice for your winter backpacking gear.

Kelty Coyote 60-105 Liter Internal Frame Backpack - Hiking, Backpacking, Travel, Hydration Compatible, Fully Adjustable (105L / Lyons Blue)

At a weight of less than five pounds, the Kelty Coyote backpack will allow you to carry between 40 pounds and 65 pounds of gear. Also featuring an abundance of outside pockets, the Kelty Coyote provides quick access to gear, a great help in cold weather.

Plus, for comfort, the Kelty Coyote offers an adjustable torso fit. With that feature, you can adjust the fit of the backpack according to the number of layers of clothing you’re wearing.

Wrapping up Essentials for Winter Backpacking

Now that you’ve learned about things you should consider indispensable for cold-weather backpacking, it’s time for you to gear up and get out there. With the right winter backpacking gear, you can enjoy the uncrowded outdoors, as other people are content to stay inside.

If you’d like to learn more, Beyond The Tent offers help with everything from how to pack your backpack to assembling a backpacking first aid kit. Have fun on your next walk in the woods!