Preparing for Winter Backpacking: Packing Essentials and Tips

Winter Backpacking

Planning a winter backpacking lite adventure? Many people love the risk and awe of backpacking through woodlands during the winter months. The beauty rivals any other time of the year but the challenges of winter hiking, camping or backpacking are extreme. While you must be prepared for them, it is possible to backpack safely in the winter months.

Be Prepared with Equipment and Clothing

Any winter backpacking trip must be done with concern for your body's ability to stay warm. Even with extreme care and limited food, you will need make retaining body heat a priority. Since the weight of each item is essential in lite backpacking, keep in mind less is more. Tailor your equipment around the length of your stay.


Clothing must be loose fitting to allow for proper circulation. Waterproof gloves are necessary and scarves should be worn to cover the face. Keep your head covered with a ski mask. A parka or overcoat is also important and should be large enough to cover your body and legs without limiting ventilation. It's imperative to keep moisture away from your body.

Sleepwear is also important. You shouldn't sleep in the same clothing you wore all day since they will be damp which could lead to frostbite. Socks should be changed, wear several.

Your footwear should be carefully selected. You should always wear layers of socks: a layer of nylon or silk followed by heavy wood socks is important. Change them whenever they get wet. Rubber overboots are also important and allow you to keep your feet comfortable but watertight. Don't choose tight leather boots for winter backpacking: they will decrease your circulation causing you to lose body heat faster.


Winter Hiking Gear

When winter backpacking lite, always keep in mind the importance of having the right equipment. Your most important piece will be numerous lighweight fire starters. They are essential to survival in the cold temperatures. Be sure they stay dry.

A sleeping bag and tent are also important, especially for overnight trips. Even with lite camping, during the winter months you will need to keep your body from lying on the ground for extended periods of time. A sleeping mat is extra protection to consider.

When considering other types of equipment for winter backpacking, keep it simple and essential. Cooking gear and food should be designed for hearty, one pot meals. Water is necessary, so consider packing one of the new water bottles designed to sterilize stream water or even the snow through sunlight.

All equipment you would take during a standard warmer weather lite backpacking trip should be included. Don't cut back on essentials, but pack well.

Winter Backpacking Lite Tips

These backpacking tips for the winter months are essential. Lite trips are often even better when you are well prepared.

  • Reduce your mileage goals by at least 50 percent of what you would attempt during warmer weather. You will be much slower and there will be fewer daylight hours so time is limited. Plus, everything you have to do will take longer to do in the winter.
  • Avoid cotton clothing, it will cause frostbite and hypothermia. Instead, choose synthetic materials able to keep your body dry, or use wool.
  • Use dummy cords to attach your gloves to your clothing so you don't lose them when the wind blows.
  • Even if you are planning on a day's walk, take enough supplies to last for several days in the cold. Otherwise, you are risking your survival should a snowstorm show up or you get lost.
  • Use a wool sock or insulated bottle cover to keep your water from freezing. Keep hydrated even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • When melting snow for water, place a small amount of water into the pot before getting started to avoid destroying the pot before the snow melts.
  • If it's windy, dig a campsite on snow, a whole one to two inches deep to place your tent to reduce the amount of wind that hits the tent. Pack down snow whenever setting up your tent so your body doesn't melt the snow into a deformity which is uncomfortable to sleep on.
  • Adjust your clothing layers during the day to prevent the heat from building up, causing you to sweat.
  • Open up your boots as wide as possible after taking them off for the day. In the morning, this will minimize the pain of putting on frozen boots.
  • Don't breathe inside your sleeping bag during the night. The moisture will cause a loss of insulating ability in the sleeping bag.

Keeping it lite during backpacking adventures in winter months. You don't need a lot of extra equipment to stay safe during cold weather. Rather, make sure you have the right equipment and use it properly.

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Preparing for Winter Backpacking: Packing Essentials and Tips