All You Need to Know About Winter Backpacking And Your Must Have Gear

Cold weather backpacking gear
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

Winter backpacking is what a lot of people now like to do. The cool atmosphere and the low freezing temperatures offer a new type of adventure for hikers, and more and more people are gearing up for these trips into the cold.

It is very important to be adequately prepared for every situation that these severe conditions bring about. Winter introduces a lot of beauty in its scenery but also in its solitude, you find a lot of challenges and even danger so you need to put a lot of thought into your winter backpacking gear list.

You need to equip yourself for the harshest conditions. It is important to be aware of the weather conditions and forecasts before leaving for your camping trip. Watch out for extremely low temperatures, storms, and heavy winds.

You can check with your local rangers and officials for more detailed reports. Also, know that these conditions can change rapidly over a short period of time so prepare for the worst even if the forecasts say it’s going to be a little better.

You also have to remain dry and warm. A lot of the problems that hikers and backpackers come across, such as hypothermia, are as a result of getting wet which results in reduction of body temperatures. It is very important to keep dry at all times.

To avoid getting wet, you need to select the kind of gear and clothing you bring along with you. Jeans for instance are not a good idea because they get easily soaked in snow and they retain the moisture and take forever to dry off. It is a lot more difficult to warm up after a chill than it is to just stay keep warm.

Winter backpacking facts

One way to avoid getting too cold is to layer your clothing. This helps trap the heat and keep your body warm. Wear layers of clothing that will keep enough heat within your body and you have to make sure that some of the items of clothing that will make up a layer are breathable.

Typically there should be up to 3 layers of clothing. The first layer should be a soft layer which includes lightweight items like your shirt, socks and pants.

The second layer should be a more insulated layer that does a lot more of the heat trapping. This layer of clothing can be made out of microfleece. The third layer is your weather proof and breathable layer. This layer should ideally be made of Gore-Tex material.

One important thing to note is you shouldn’t try to keep too much body heat because when your body gets too hot, sweating and perspiration results in moisture that will make your clothes moist; this can hasten hypothermia. You need to monitor your body warmth closely.

You also need to pack a winter tent when backpacking in winter conditions. There are a lot of tents available commercially that you can buy that offer a lot of features and qualities necessary for your trip.

It is also important to learn how to build a makeshift tent and shelter with sticks, dry leaves, little pieces of tree branches and various other plants that can keep you warm enough from the cold ground. In more severe conditions you can build a makeshift tent or something similar using snow blocks. These skills are necessary for survival in emergency situations.

Winter backpacking clothes

You also need to be equipped with a heating device that an keep both you and your food and drinks warm. A cooking stove is one such device, and should be included in your list of necessities.

Surviving or even thriving during your winter backpacking trips requires a variety of winter backpacking gear. Some of the most important ones will be highlighted and discussed in the rest of this article.

There are certain essentials which you absolutely must have when backpacking in winter. These things are crucial to your comfort and safety in winter. They will generally fall under any of the following categories:

  • Navigation
  • Illumination
  • First aid supplies
  • Fire
  • Emergency shelter
  • Insulation and clothing
  • Repair kit and tools

It is also important to take into account some important considerations when setting up camp in the snow. Ask yourself the following questions;

  • Are there natural windbreakers?
  • Is there water available close by?
  • Is the site susceptible to avalanches?
  • Are there landmarks to help you easily find your way?

Top Products for 2017

Black Diamond Firstlight 2 Person Tent

Black Diamond Firstlight 2 Person Tent

Description: If you are looking for the tent to own for years without fail to spend a considerable amounts of nights in, then go no further than the black diamond first light tent. The tent is built to last and it doesn’t leak even when there is a lot of forceful wind and rain. It is also designed to breathe adequately to minimize frost on very cold nights.

With this tent, there is enough room to house two people but if you choose to go solo, that leaves much space for you to sleep in any position you desire. It is very light and it can easily be set up in a couple of minutes even from the inside.

This helps when you want to put it up in the rain or when you are under attack from mosquitoes.

With its single walled breathable design you can sit comfortably in the tent while it rains continuously outside and not a single drop of water will get in if you can thoroughly seam seal it.


  • Nylon material
  • 82 x 48 x 42 inches
  • About 3.5 pounds

Special Features:

  • Space efficient design with Nano shield fabric
  • Mesh pockets
  • Single door entry and optional vestibule for packing gear
  • Mesh panels for ventilator at rear and door

Overall this tent does very well and it is the preferred choice for many campers as all of its qualities are evident. This tent is a very good example of a mountaineering tent with its easy and quick to set up features. Although a bit heavier than some other types, it offers better snow and wind protection. Note the following when setting up your tents;

If it is very windy, you should consider building a snow wall if you can. If it is not possible to do so, then you can dig up snow a couple of feet down for your tent and vestibule. This will help to reduce the impact of wind on your tent set up.

Don’t set up your tent on loose snow as your body heat is likely to melt the snow. You should pack down the snow before you set up your tent.

Sea to Summit Compession Sacks

Sea to Summit Compession Sacks

Description: Sea to Summit Compession Sacks delivers on its name and it does exactly what it is supposed to do. You can take a huge heap of your personal effects such as clothing or other fluffy objects and cramp them down into about one-third of its original uncompressed size. This comes in very handy when you need to have all your stuff in one backpack.

They are also designed to be water resistant although a bit more expensive. Funny enough the only real concern with these compression sacks is that with you will probably end up packing way more than you should.


  • 5 x 14 inches, 6 litre to 2 litre extra small
  • 7 x 16 inches, 10 litre to 3.3 litre small
  • 8 x 8, 15 to 5 litre medium
  • 9 x 20, 20 to 6.5 litre large
  • 5 x 23, 30 to 10 litre extra large
  • Weighs 1.3 pounds

Special Features:

  • Heavy duty 210D PU coated nylon material
  • Nylon webbing pull handle
  • Extra-long straps
  • 4 straps for even compression

Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife

Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife

Description: Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife is very lightweight and you can carry it with you anywhere. Also very easy to use all of its features. Whether you want to quickly file down a broken nail, cut open a small item with its scissors or tweezing out a small splinter.

This is one of the smallest knives made by Victorinox and t comes with a key ring with which you can easily attach your keys. It is a very compact knife containing a total of 6 equally compact tools. Essentially this knife was designed to be carried about and to deal with small and lightweight applications.

It comes with features like a small blade, scissors, nail file with screw driver tip, toothpick, key ring and tweezers.


  • 58mm size
  • Length 2.3 x height 0.4 inches
  • Available in 7 colours

Special Features:

  • Stainless steel build
  • Built with precision thus highly versatile and compact
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Multipurpose with 7 functions

This pocket knife will come in handy in so many ways and it is very convenient to carry about.

Mammut Men’s Ajungilak Altitude Exp 3-Seams Zipper

Mammut Men's Ajungilak Altitude Exp 3-Seams Zipper

Description: Mammut Men’s Ajungilak Altitude Exp 3-Seams Zipper has been carefully designed to give you top quality protection in tough and severe conditions. Crafted with very high end materials with attention to every detail, this bag is the ideal choice for all your expedition at high altitudes.

With sleeping bags you need to be sure that it is rated at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the coldest temperatures anticipated. When you feel it is getting too warm in the bag, you can always vent the bag.

The Mammut bags are cold and winter rated bags supplied with a lot of is important to keep the bag as dry as possible so it doesn’t lose its insulating ability


  • Dark orange colour
  • 195L size

Ultralight Marsupial Pouch

Ultralight Marsupial Pouch

Description: For the more organised backpacker and hiker, Ultralight Marsupial Pouch offers you a way to effectively organised all of your gear. It is inexpensive and durable and made from high quality material. It is soft, flexible and easy to carry. It even clips unto the bag for easier access. Unfortunately though, the item is no longer made exactly as pictured but it still remains top quality.


4 x 5 inches

Suunto A-10 Field Compass

Suunto A-10 Field Compass

Description: Suunto A-10 Field Compass is the budget compass and it serves most of the purposes you require.

There are a lot more expensive compasses but it is not necessary to shell out all that extra cash when the Suunto compass can give you all you need. It is very durable, lightweight and it is very easy to read.


  • 3 x 3.3 x 7.2 inches
  • Weighs 0.02 pounds for shipping
  • 4 ounces

Special Features:

  • Made of durable, clear and scratch resistant acrylic
  • Ergonomic design. Fits in palm
  • Utilises two zone system for reliable readings in the northern hemisphere.

Mountain Hardwear Phantom Hooded Down Jacket-Men’s

Mountain Hardwear Phantom Hooded Down Jacket-Men's

Description: This high loft down jacket was constructed to provide all over warmth and it does very well by eliminating cold spots. Mountain Hardwear Phantom Hooded Down Jacket-Men’s is incredibly warm and it is incredibly packable as it can be compressed down small enough to fit into its own pocket. It is also designed with a shield down that is resistant to heat robbing moisture and it thus retains maximum loft.


  • 11 pounds
  • Made of 100 percent polyester
  • Body made of 200D ripstop nylon

Special Features:

  • Built to resist heat robbing moisture
  • Retains maximum loft even when wet.
  • Lightweight and compressible
  • Full, centre-front reverse zippers
  • Two large interior mesh drop pockets

Grabber Outdoors 7 Hours Hand Warmers

Grabber Outdoors 7 Hour Hand Warmers - 1 Box of 40 Pair

Description: With Grabber Outdoors 7 Hours Hand Warmers – 1 Box of 40 Pair, you get to move around with the power of heat in your hands. This box of 40 pairs will keep your hands and fingers hot and warm for up to 7 hours.

All you have to do is take the gloves out of the box, slap them on and wait a few minutes for the process to start. No need to shake or kneed.


  • Measures 2 x 3.5 inches
  • Product weighs 6 pounds
  • Product is 9.5 x 9 x 7 inches

Special Features:

  • The grabber warmers are non-toxic
  • Odourless heat sources with natural ingredients
  • Heat source instantly air activated
  • No shaking necessary as grabber warmers are pre-mixed

LRI FMW Photon Freedom Led Keychain Microlight

LRI FMW Photon Freedom Led Keychain Microlight

Description: The freedom micro keychain is an advanced product from the leaders in the industry, Micro Light Technology. Manufactured in the United States, they feature the brightest LEDs in the world with advanced circuitry.

The photon micro-lights are approximately the size and weight as a US quarter and they are available in a variety of coloured LEDs including ultraviolet and infrared.


  • 6 ounces
  • 5 x 0.5 x 1 inches
  • LED bulbs
  • Battery powered
  • Special features
  • Adjustable brightness
  • Different safety modes
  • Replaceable battery
  • 24K gold plated contacts

Black Diamond Snaggletooth Pro Compessors

Black Diamond Snaggletooth Pro Compessors

Description: This snuggletooth is the brain-child of Black diamond athlete ad metal worker Whit Margo. It is designed as a horizontal monopoint equipped for the big alpine routes.

Black Diamond Snaggletooth Pro Compessors provides all the stability and bite you will need on both steep ice and low angle neve. Its stainless steel construction features a strong and lightweight build with a rocker in front to accommodate modern mountain boots.


  • Product dimensions of 15 x 5 x 5 inches
  • Polished colour
  • Weighs 890 grams per pair

Special features:

  • Unique horizontal monopoint
  • Lightweight stainless steel construction
  • Precision fit
  • Front and rear dual density ABS


As you are well aware of by now, winter is harsh and you have shorter spans of daylight to work with so after you must have painstakingly selected and packed all of your gear and made all the necessary preparations, you must be wary of all of the dangers and be prepared to deal with them accordingly. One of the things you should be most careful about is hypothermia.

Ideally you shouldn’t go out camping solo, you should go with a buddy or two. Never go alone. This way you can keep a close watch on one another and help each other out. Whenever you notice any kind of lethargy and a change in speech pattern of your partner or camping buddy, this is a sign of hypothermia and you need to react fast to deal with the situation.

Winter backpacking gear list

You also want to get as much information as possible on the areas or routes you intend to trail. These days there are reviews online on some specific routes that backpackers have traversed before and the information they post can be very helpful.

You also want to camp in areas that are easily accessible by emergency services in terms of terrain and distance from the nearest stops. You should also leave behind a complete route plan of the areas you will be camping and going through  so as to let others know exactly where to come looking for you.

You can’t go wrong if you follow all the tips and equip yourself with this gear mentioned above. What’s more is you don’t have to spend all of your savings to get them. Many of these products can fit into anyone’s budget, allowing you to get the most value from your purchase.

Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Mike Walker

    I personally choose the black Diamond Firstlight 2 Person Tent. It does not leak and never has even when gail force winds are driving the rain. It also breaths enough to minimize inside frost on cold nights much better than I expected it would. All this being said, I love the tent. It is my go-to tent for every time I want to go outdoors. There is no other tent I have seen that is even close.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Hi Mike! I couldn’t agree with you more. This tent is amazing and a favorite of our group. It offers unparalleled protection from the elements – and as campers, we need that. There’s ample room inside and that’s also important for me since I’m quite a big guy. I have mine for ages and its still in great condition. I believe that durability counts a lot when choosing what tent to buy. The Diamond Firstlight 2 Person Tent is a keeper!

  • Jim Clark

    Anyone needs the Ultralight Marsupial Pouch, for sure. Perfect sizes. “Ultralight” is an exact description. I would prefer something a little heavier but they do the trick. The clip is a nice feature. Very, very effective and ultralight way to organize stuff in your bag. Try it, you won’t regret it.

  • Mark Foster

    Thanks again Jim for your valuable insight. I’m sure a lot of people wanted to know the experiences of campers who are really using these products and how effective they are. We need to continuously offer insights so more people will choose the right gear for their camping trips.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Thanks again Jim for your valuable insight. I’m sure a lot of people wanted to know the experiences of campers who are really using these products and how effective they are. We need to continuously offer insights so more people will choose the right gear for their camping trips.