winter backpacking

Top Winter Backpacking Tips

Backpacking in winter is a unique experience, and there’s nothing quite like being up close and personal with the snow. Also, it’s quiet, with only a few people around, ideal if you’re looking for some solitude. To get the most out of it however, you should prepare and bring the right gear.

The Essentials

Make sure that you bring the following:

• Hydration (extra water)
• Nutrition (extra food)
• Repair kit
• Fire
• First aid kit
• Flashlight
• Insulation
• Navigation (map, GPS)
• Mobile phone

In addition you may want to bring a hat, gloves and gaiters, as they’re very useful in deep snow. Finally, pack along a pair of goggles to protect your eyes.

About the Backpack

Get a high volume pack for the gear you’ll be carrying. The rule is to pack light but make sure you’re equipped to deal with the winter environment. As a guideline, a 2 to 4 day trip requires at least a 65 litre (3,967 cu in) pack, or you can go for an 80 litre (4,882 cu in) pack instead. Make sure that the backpack has lash points if you’re going to bring along snowshoes or skis.

The Sleeping Bag

Bring along a sleeping bag that’s rated at least -12 C lower than the lowest temperature you’re going to encounter, and don’t worry if the sleeping bag is too warm because they can be vented. The good news is that the majority of winter sleeping bags provide plenty of insulation, and in terms of the warmth to weight ratio, down is the best. However, you need to be certain that the bag is kept dry or that it’s waterproof.


The rule of thumb when it comes to winter backpacking is to keep warm and dry, and your clothes have to be breathable, waterproof, wicks perspiration and dries quickly. As for the layers, there are three basic types:

The base layer is the one that makes contact with your skin i.e. underwear. Avoid cotton and go for merino wool or synthetic because they evaporate sweat clearly. As mentioned, the clothing must be quick to dry, and if you’re camping in the snow, at least two base layers is recommended.

The middle layer is your insulation, and it’s designed to keep body heat. If you’re camping in snow, micro fleece shirts, jacket, pants or a goose down jacket will suffice. As for the third layer or shell, it must be waterproof, breathable and windproof as well. If the weather is hard, you’ll need top of the line protection such as Gore-Tex or other laminates.

You also need to get a good pair of boots, but make sure that it’s for winter and not just regular hiking. To ensure you receive full protection and insulation, look for boots that are specifically designed for mountaineering or winter hiking. If you’re going to ski or snowboard, you’ll need special types of boots.

Finally, don’t forget to get a backpacker travel insurance. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or not, it’s important that you have backpacker travel insurance so if anything unexpected happens, you’ll be covered and ready.