Winter Backpacking – You Must Experience It

Winter Backpacking in snow


Backpacking is a very popular summer sport.  Many backpack to enjoy the views and warm weather.  There is an entirely different experience awaiting you in the woods in the winter. You can experience snow, cold winds and spectacular views with the leaves off the trees.

Winter backpacking requires preparation because of the temperature extremes.  It requires careful planning and awareness of weather conditions.  The Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared applies in the winter unlike any other time.

You can find plenty of resources to help you develop a winter backpacking check list.  Make sure that it includes the ten essentials.  With experience, you will adjust the list to suit your needs and the varying needs of the weather.

Winter Backpacking Planning

The first thing you must do is plan your trip.  Things to take into account are the terrain, weather and the length of your hike.  The mountains are spectacular in the winter and also present the greatest variability in the weather.  If you are going to traverse difficult terrain, then trekking poles are a must.

Cold temperatures require more gear and as a result, you may want to decrease your distance per day.  Winter gear weight can add up quickly.  You should consider carrying more food since you will burn more calories staying warm. Hydration becomes increasingly important in winter as dehydration can lead to hypothermia.

You will want gear that insulates you from the cold ground.  Sleeping pads and sleeping bags must be rated for the weather you will encounter.  There is no more miserable thing than trying to sleep when you are cold.

Winter Backpacking Gear

Your gear list should be carefully considered to insulate you from the winter weather.  Make sure that you plan so that you dress in layers.  Layers will allow you to easily adjust for climate and activity level.  Make sure your outer layer is waterproof and that you bring a warm hat as a great deal of heat is lost thought the head.

I always bring a lightweight camping chair to keep me off the cold ground when cooking or relaxing.  I also bring a lightweight backpacking stove.  These two items are more geared for comfort, but I always find the weight worth it due to the pleasure a hot chocolate and dry, comfortable seat bring after a long hike.

Sleeping gear is also of great importance.  You need an insulated sleeping mat to keep you away from the cold ground and a sleeping bag rated for the temperature you plan to sleep in.  There are few things worth than getting no sleep before a long day because you were cold.  There will always be a tradeoff between comfort and weight, experience will you find the right one for you.

Winter Weather Considerations

Winter weather can be dangerous.  Snowstorms, high winds and frigid temperatures are a hallmark of winter weather.  When winter backpacking, you must be ready for the worst weather possible, since a lack of preparedness can be deadly.  As the Donners found out in 1846, weather can be unpredictable, even in late fall and early spring.

You should consult several weather sources when planning for your trip.  If you are headed to the mountains, familiarize yourself with local weather patterns. Speak to experienced winter backpackers to get their knowledge of what you may expect.  Insure you use the worst case weather to plan.

Weather you need to be prepared for includes snow; you may want to bring crampons to help with traction on ice.  You will need to be prepared for cold rain as well, so pack to keep you and your gear warm and dry.  Lastly, make sure your shelter, whether tent or camping hammock will keep you warm and dry in bad conditions.


When you are headed out for a winter backpacking trip, you need high quality, durable gear.  Your experience will guide you in finding an acceptable tradeoff between weight and comfort.  Remember to research weather carefully and to be prepared for conditions worse than forecasted.  You will come to enjoy the solitude and beauty of nature in winter.