Winter Backpacking: Items You Might Need for Your Winter Adventures

Winter backpacking
Written by Dennis Owens

Just like hiking during the warm months, winter backpacking is also something that can be done to pass time and usually you will find that this practice always has something a little bit special about it.

During the winter, the air always seems to be crisp and fresh and with only you and the nature surrounding you, it usually becomes a bit easy for you to hear the footfalls on the snow as you are walking. When backpacking during the cold months usually will enable you to experience the natural quietness and the stillness of these wintry months.

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This experience is usually worth it as you will get to enjoy the wintry landscape. However, you will be required to be more careful when it comes to planning for the cold weather conditions and the snow.

You need to be sure of your safety and comfort by doing some advance preparations. You will need to consider a lot of things when planning your trip regardless of the number of days you are going to spend away in the cold. There must be some pre-trip preparation ahead.

Must Have

One important thing that you should be putting in mind when backpacking for the winter months is that sometimes the weather can be volatile thus can change without you noticing.

You should always remember that not even the weather report person is always right when you listen to it. This makes it extremely important for you to prepare for any possible and dramatic changes when it comes to the weather, this will help you to avoid being caught unaware without anything to keep yourself warm.

Backpacking in winter

Obviously, you will be going for some outdoor adventures where the weather is frosty, cold or just chilly. This can make you lose your body heat fast. It is mostly said that up to 90 % of the heat from your body can be lost through your head and any other part of your body that will be exposed, including your feet.

This is the reason why it is very important for you to layer your clothes when going out for any adventure during the winter months.

Winter Backpacking Gear

When you are establishing the list for winter backpacking, you will be required to count both the extra clothing and the ones you will be wearing.

Well, it is always true that your backpack should be as light as possible but you just won’t do without some extra clothing. This is because you will need the extra clothing to replace the ones you were putting on before, after they get wet due to the quick dropping temperatures which can also lead to dangerous conditions.

Winter Backpacking Gear

You can choose to remain warm and stay safe thus avoiding hypothermia and frostbite by having some dry clothes to change into. The number of these extra clothes that you will need to bring with you usually depends on a lot of factors, including the time of the day you will take your trip, weather conditions, both the current and the projected. Some of the extra things you should bring with you include socks, pants, shirts and the undergarments.

Features of Your Clothing

When it comes to the clothes you will wear and the extra ones that you will need to carry with you when backpacking, they will have to have features that will enable you to endure the cold weather condition. This will enable you to stay dry and warm and also it’s a good addition to the clothes you already have on you. For these items to serve your needs very well, they will need to have some four main attributes:

Breathability: for you to be able to maintain your comfort to the maximum, you should not be having tight or restrictive garments. They should allow air flow thus preventing excessive perspiration. You should also know that investing in waterproof clothes will not provide you with the breathable attributes like the ones which are not waterproofed.

Waterproofing: this attribute will help you a lot when you find yourself in situations in which you get in contact with a lot of water. For instance when you get exposed to some slushy areas or just some snow which is heavy and wet. This clothing type will need some special care thus you will be required to follow special instructions when washing. Doing so will ensure that its waterproofing ability remains intact.

Wicking away dampness: the clothes you have must be able to keep any dampness or moisture away from your skin. When perspiration occurs, your clothes will tend to cling to you, hence it becomes damp from the excessive sweat. When you keep your skin dry, you are able to prevent the chills that will wet or damp your clothes.

Backpacking layers

Quick drying: in a situation where your clothes get wet, you want them to dry up fast. This is because it is always easy for you to catch the chills when your clothes get wet or damp. Having an extra attire will enable you to slip out of what you wearing and change into the dry clothes hence giving your clothes time to dry. It is always advisable that you try and avoid the clothes that are made out of cotton.

Layering attire

When preparing the list for the winter backpacking, you need to choose clothing that will serve you as one of the three layers that you need for your adventure. These layers of clothing include the base layer, middle layer and the outer layer.

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All of these layers will help in keeping you warm from the cold weather.

The table below shows the list of clothes that will fit into each of these layers of clothes that you need to have on your list.

Layer Description Clothing
Base For you to keep away perspiration from your skin and also keep warm and dry: accepted fabrics usually includes synthetic merino or wool. This layer of your clothing is for the management of moisture.

Doubling up this layer will mean adding another layer of warmth.

Underwear, briefs, undergarments, boxers

Thermals: all of which can be found in light, mid, and expedition weights



Middle This reason for this layer is to help in insulating the body and retaining the heat.

Acceptable fabrics include expedition, micro fleece and fleece weight attires for the snowy climes.

Goose Down Most ideal for dry and extremely cold weather conditions (for this material to keep its warming and insulation abilities it must remain dry)

Shirts- the suitable ones includes fleece tops for the middle layer of the clothing which is also available in light, mid and expedition weights.


Goose down coats

Shell This is a water resistant layer, sometimes it can become breathable but this ability is usually limited due to the waterproofing features of the cloth.

Waterproofed and breathable outwear shells can also be purchased only that this will cost relatively more than the basic outwear that is waterproofed too.

Recommended fabrics here include laminates together with the polyurethane coated materials.

Mountaineer jackets

Windproof jackets

Insulated shells


When you are out in the wet, snowy, damp, slushy or muddy areas, you will most probably need to have top quality boots on your feet. You should keep in your mind that, because your boots are waterproof, they will remain dry when fully submerged in the water in the right conditions or accidentally.

Merrell polarand

In such situations, your boots might or will freeze and if this finds you with nothing else to wear, your feet will also freeze. You can usually swap out the wet socks you have on your feet with other dry ones as you try to get your boots dried up with fire or even in the sun.

Polarand 8 waterproof winter boots for women

These boots have a good solid and high ankle design. They are usually waterproof and have high cut silhouette which brings out a visual appeal. Other additional features of these boots include:

  • Leather construction
  • Rubber sole that provides solid support during the hikes
  • M-select dry waterproof technology
  • Nylon sole which is grade 3, this makes the boots last longer
  • Compatible with snowshoe straps
  • Their midsole is usually made of EVA foam
  • Insulating ability for the additional level of warmth at your toe cap

Polarand 8 waterproof winter boots for men

These boots also do have the same leather construction but with a synthetic mix. The sole is also made of the synthetic materials. The boots have a circumference that is adjustable and a removable insole. Other features includes:

  • Durable rubber sole
  • 5 mm thick waterproof leather materials
  • M-select treated for odor control
  • A heel cushioned with air for absorbing shock and also for additional stability
  • Active heat features which contribute to a warmer inside

The outer coat

The outer coat or the shell is basically something that helps retain the body heat while also protecting you from other elements

Coat Description Ideal use
Insulated outer Shell coats The outer shell coat has an insulated layer made of fleece or other material. Best for wet or cold outdoor conditions.

Not the best coat though in every situation where layering is recommended

Soft shell coats A coat made of fabric that can breathe, many of which have fabric panels to offer more comfort to the person wearing it during any vigorous activities. This is best for cold and mild weather conditions.
Water resistant and Non-breathable waterproof coat The shell is usually made of polyurethane which has a nylon coating.

The coat is usually waterproof.

Best used during the rainy days or when the person putting it on is engaged in a light activity. They are considered best choice for an outdoor sportsman.
Breathable waterproof coat This coat has laminated membranes that always protects the exterior of the coat from wind and water. This coat is relatively expensive compared to the others since it usually helps in many weather conditions

Desirable Accessories

Both the boots and the coats are with no doubt important pieces of clothing that you don’t want to miss when backpacking for the winter months. A few accessories can also help you while in the snowy climbs. Some items that you might like to include:

Hats: putting on a hat is very important as it helps in maintaining your body warmth. As we had said before, much heat can escape through the head thus having a hat can really help you with this. You can also use a baklava to keep your face warm and free from the cold. Take a closer look on our review of the best winter hiking hats to keep your head toasty and warm.

Gloves, mittens and hand coverings: compared to mittens, Gloves are said to be better when it comes to providing good hand control and the ability to give you a good grip with ease. It is also possible to put on gloves under the mittens. These are usually great items to carry with you since they act as a fast way of warming yourself up during the cold winter season. Find out how to choose the top winter backpacking gloves. Read our article review on this important clothing gear.

Unisex gaiters: these are a perfect addition for both women and men as they help your feet to maintain the heat thus keeping warm and dry even when in deep snow. Your clothing can also be protected from things like the mud, sand, rain and wind.

Goggles: these will help in protecting your eyes from the debris and wind.

Socks: having extra socks will help you keep dry and warm since you will be having options to choose from when the ones you are having after they get all wet or damp. See our list of the best and warmest winter socks to keep you warm.

Fundamental Equipment

The list of fundamental equipment is just a mix of both modern and classic system listing of important items for your outdoor adventures.

Winter backpacking navigation

The following are a few things you will need to know.

  • Navigation: you should have the topographical maps of the area you are going to thus invest in a compass will be a great idea. A physical compass would still be a plus even if you have a digital compass on your phone, especially since your phone can go off or have no charge. It is also recommended to tell a friend your route, give him a map of your location and let him know the meanings of traveling and what your plans are. This can be used by the search party to know where to start from in case anything happens to you.
  • Insulation: this means that you will need proper clothing for body insulation. This can be done by putting on layers just as mentioned before. Make sure you have insulated boots, warm clothes and put them on in layers. This will help you maintain your body temperature.
  • Sun protection: this is usually imperative mostly when in the snow. The sun will always reflect off of the snow hence you are more likely to experience sunburns. Additionally, we all know that UV light is always dangerous to the skin and the eyes. This will leave you with no option but to get yourself chapstick sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 – 30 and reapply it at the intervals of 2 hours.
  • Illumination: you might also need to have things like the batteries and flashlights as they can serve you well mostly when you are planning to leave before dawn, get lost or return at dusk.
  • First aid supplies: things like antiseptics and bandages can help a lot and if in any chance you have medications that you need to take, then you should pack them in your first aid kit.


When you explore the wilderness, maybe go for hiking just after a fresh snowfall, you will be able to capture some of the unforgettable and best memories. But before setting off for your adventure, you need to take the list of your winter backpacking gear and make sure you have everything you will need during your trip.

You should use this as your checklist thus counter checking each and every item carefully.

Outdoor winter backpacking

After you are done, you should not be in a hurry to dispose of your list, you can keep it and use it again maybe for your future adventures where you will be required to backpack and prepare adequately. It would be a nice idea if you could laminate your list and preserve it.

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With this already in place, you can now go ahead and enjoy your trip while exploring the wilderness covered with snow. Backpacking and preparing adequately will always enable you to get ready for whatever is coming since you will have everything you need to tackle the situation. This will make your trip secure, safe and enjoyable and with a lot of beautiful memories to capture.

For more safety winter camping tips, check out our must-read piece on this topic for more information.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.