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Winter Backpacking Gear List

The Tripyramids in Winter

Winter Backpacking Is Expensive

Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly testing and accumulating all of the gear necessary for winter backpacking and climbing, primarily in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which are less than a 3 hour drive from my home. This winter, I’ve been mainly doing day hikes and climbs under 3,500 ft. in height, but I’m about to go one my second overnight trip of the season, to summit two 4,000 footers, Mt. Hale and Zealand Mountain.

Building up a winter gear list is expensive, far more expensive that 3 season hiking, so it’s taken me a while to accumulate and pay for the required gear. After my January summit attempt on Mt. Washington, I’ve concentrated on dramatically reducing my base pack weight. On that trip, I carried a 60 lb pack using a lot of borrowed gear from our guide.  Since then, I’ve applied lightweight backpacking principles (and money) in developing a base (minus food/fuel) winter gear list that still maintains a healthy safety and comfort margin but comes in at slightly over 31 lbs.

Going Lightweight

This gear list is not designed for solo winter trips: that’s not a risk I’m prepared for the foreseeable future. However, I have not factored in gear sharing, which is typically practiced on multi-person trips, where it’s normal for people to share a tent or stoves and cooking gear. I snore and I value my life, so I don’t share a tent. In addition, this gear list is only designed for 1 night, 2 day trips at this stage in my winter backpacking/climbing evolution.

There are a few areas where I believe I can shave some more weight from this list, but I would value your feedback on alternatives that you think are low hanging fruit. I am, after all, still an educated novice on winter backpacking and camping. For example, I have a pretty heavy sleeping pad. I bet I can find a lighter alternative, but I’d also like something compressible or very low volume. I also have two pairs of goggles since I have problems with my glasses fogging up. So, have at it. I’m looking for some good suggestions, questions and critique.

Winter Gear List

Black Diamond First Light Tent211
6 x SMC Winter Tent Stakes6.6
Extra Guylines for winter conditions1.4
Sleep System
Western Mountaineering Puma -25 MF Sleeping Bag37
Sea-to-Summit Cordura Compression Sac3.5
Exped Down Mat 7 + Stuff Sack21.8
Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack (includes foam pad)40
BPL Mini Biner0.1
Skunklight Skylight Solar Powered LED0.7
Victorinox Classic Swiss Army Knife0.7
REI Keychain Thermometer0.3
Daytime Littles
Small Zippered Cordura Pouch0.1
Lip Balm0.2
Dermatone Tin0.7
Cat Crap Anti-Fogger0.3
Suunto A10 Compass0.9
Spare Camera Battery0.8
Nighttime Littles
Small Zippered Cordura Pouch0.1
Tiny Nalgene Medicines Bottle0.5
Photon Freedom Microlite LED with Lanyard0.3
Strapless Timex Watch with Alarm0.8
4 Silicone Earplugs0.5
Hydration system
3 Hunersdorf Expedition 1L water bottles13.2
3 Forty Below Deluxe 1L water bottle boots11.4
Mountain Hardware Phantom Jacket (800 down) + Stuff Sack13.8
Monthbell Thermawrap Pants + Stuff Sack12.7
Black Diamond Alti Glove10.4
Black Diamond Cornice Mittens8.5
Mountain Hardware Fleece Hat1.2
REI Expedition Wool Socks2.8
REI Liner Socks1
Patagonia Capilene 1 jersey6.3
Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe (70 cm)17.1
Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro Crampons29.6
Northern Lites Backcountry Snowshoe43
Voile Telepro Avalanche Shovel114
Buff Banadana1.2
MSR Simmerlite white gas stove8.5
MSR 20 oz. Fuel Bottle5.5
DIY Freezer Bag Cozy1.1
Lexan Spoon0.4
Snow Peak 600 Insulated Mug4.7
Evernew 1.3L Titanium Cooking Pot4.8
40′ Kelty Triptease1.9
MLD Spintex Stuff Sack0.5
BPL Mini Biner0.1
OP Sack Odor-proof Plastic Liner1.2
Murphy Kit
Winter first aid3.7
Gear repair4
2 Chemical Hand Warmers1.4
Purell Bottle1.4
TP and Wetones1
Princeton Auora 3-Led Headlamp + 3 Lithium batteries2.9
Scott Storm OTG Goggles4.5
Smith Knowledge OTG Goggles6.9
base – food/fuel subtotal31.02
Black Diamond Trail Hiking Poles12
Patagonia Capilene 1 long underwear5.9
Patagonia Capilene 1 jersey6.3
Under Armour long compression shorts5.1
REI Liner socks1
REI Expedition Wool socks2.8
Outdoor Research Celestial Gore-tex Jacket10.2
Outdoor Research Windstopper Fleece Gloves2.7
Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters9.3
Marmot Precip Rain Pants – Full zips12.7
Outdoor Research Balaclava2.3
Scarpa Omega Plastic Mountaineering Boots50.2
wearing – subtotal9.78

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  1. Great list however if I may submit some further recommendations.

    I missed the 10 essentials/survival kit, and since you are carrying a gore-tex jacket you might ditch the down jacket and opt for a lighter either wool sweater or a lighter down jacket to layer under your gore-tex. Several sources of flame (magnesium block, fire steel, lighters) you can never have too many!! A whistle, the down sleeping mat will more than likely give you more trouble than it is worth due to the warm air you will blow into it, will condense and lose volume as well as introducing moisture (breath) into the down and eventually start to smell. you could go for a 2nd 3/4 length foam pad or a 3/4 length inflatable.

    As for the plastic liner, trash compactor bags work awesome as well.You cold ditch the mug and pot and just stick with one. Consider including an avy beacon you have the probe but it will do you little good if you don't know where to start!

    If the camping is in the snow why not build a snow shelter and save the weight of the tent? You can easily construct a snow trench and stay much much warmer than any tent!

    Oh and a candle!

    Looks like a great start and the more you are out there the more you will figure out exactly what will work for you!

    I agree that you should not spend the crazy money asked by top notch specialized gear and search gear hardy towns near you and craigslist as well as the other gear shops that may have consignment areas.

    Cheers and Beers!

  2. Was wondering if you carried a platy in your pack in addition to the 3 water bottles? Can you get buy with only 3 liters of water? Also, how many layers do you actively hike in? I did 5 layers at wind chill at -10; to start, then took off one layer after I got going. I too am looking to shed a few pounds in my pack. BTW, my pack is a Golite Pinnacle 1.3 lbs and it worked great. Good post. :-)

  3. Scott – the platy freezes. I drink at least a quart before I leave in the morning and 3 quarters holds me until I can melt more snow. I wear 3-4 layers depending on altitude and weather conditions. I use a vapor barrier style layering system which helps me retain more water so I drink less.

  4. Yeti – I have been thinking about a snow trench and bivy with a tarp/hiking pole cover as an alternative to a tent, but I need to make more money first. I already own that tent.

    I need the down coat for summits and standing around in camp. I'm too cold with a fleece and they're too bulky. I only wear them at work.

    I'm already close to ditching the mug. Got lighters in my gear repair kit. Close to replacing the downmat – again constrained by $$. Any suggestions on a good inflatable?

  5. How much fuel then do you carry for a two night, if you have to melt snow? I've been lucky so far, haven't had to melt snow for water.

  6. Not totally sure. I'm field testing the stove for the first time this weekend. Taking 20 oz.

  7. Yeti beat me to most of the top recommendations. Ditching the tent and digging a snowcave is a good suggestion – just beware of the extra time & energy it takes at the end of the day. If you do take the tent, you might try replacing the pegs with plastic bags instead – fill them with snow, and use them as anchors.

    If you're going solo or in low avalanche-risk conditions, you might want to replace the full shovel with a SnowClaw.

    3/4 length thermarest prolite has always been fine for me, but then I sleep very warm.

  8. Chris – I was meaning to ask..do you ever use a bivy..and if you had a recommendation? I was thinking about a Integral Designs Bugaboo since it's big enough for a winter bag and made from event.

    I've already swapped the downmat out for a big agnes insulated – saved about 8 oz. But this is an area for more research.

  9. If you are camping in unbroken snow, then you need something to set your stove on to keep it from sinking into the snow. A flat piece of Styrofoam works well.

    There are commercial solutions too, like a MSR Trillium stove base. But why spend $25?

  10. Earlylite – I use the Integral Designs Salathe (also eVent) quite a lot. It's absolutely bomber, I'd trust it in anything. The Bugaboo is lighter, but it looks similarly well constructed.

  11. Hey Phil! wow 31 lbs is great for a winter pack. I was just up at Lonesome Lake -Kinsman Pond last weekend and struggling with a 48 lb monster pack. I like the Cold World pack – very light the Western Mountaineering bag also makes the difference. I need to get my winter pack lighter but as you say it's gonna be expensive. The good thing is now my 26 lb summer pack will feel like a feather. Happy hiking! -Joe

  12. The newer exped downmat has an integral pump that works well and circumvents the vapor-laden exhaling to inflate. I haven't used it in winter yet but it feels very warm laying on it.

    When home I cycle my big agnes mat several times with a vacuum to get out any moisture from blowing it up by mouth.

  13. The new exped downmat pump design looks really nice. Still constrained by $$, but one of these days. Mine is super warm – you'll love it for camping on snow. More than compensates for the fact that you are lying on half of your down bag.

  14. Good, the big agnes sleeve system isn't up to the hype with my 0F rated farrell getting unsleepable at +30F.

    My new -35F lamina with the downmat ought to fix that, especially since the last two spring equinox nights were +16F and +10F outside my tent in pennsylvania; I'm going to be needing my winter gear until summer apparently.

  15. Lostalot,

    I agree that the BA bags are rated very optimistically.

    I use a Big Agnes bag [Encampment 15degF syn] with their Insulated Aircore pad for 3 season use.

    I found the Insulated Aircore pad to be good to the published 15 deg F but the bag itself didn't not have enough insulation for me. And the semi-mummy cut means there is a lot of air space that needs warming up.

    Fortunately for me, the Encampment works great as an overbag for my son's down sleeping bag – the two bags with the BA pad and a Z-rest pad has worked down to 0 degrees without any addtional layers. That saved me from buying a true -20 deg F bag.


  16. I wasn't sure where to tack on this question. It is an organizational but psychological one. I'm great at making and refining lists and I start out systematically assembling my gear and checking it off. Then, without fail, the day of departure or the evening before, I am no longer systematic (nerves?) Several items seem to have not found places, portions of the list aren't fully x'ed. Do you experience this? Do you have a last minute routine? I have had some success circling items that need revisiting before departure. I have promised myself I will load the car the night before. Any insights or tips?

  17. While it is amazing how long it takes me to pack for a winter trip (sometimes days), I always finish the night before and I put my plastic boots, socks, gaiters, snow shoes, poles, ice axe, and road snacks in the car that evening. Before I leave in the morning, I boil 4 quarters of water (one for prehydration in the car), close up my pack, and drive off – often way before sunrise. I use an excel spreadsheet to stay organized and use a lot of stuff sacks.

  18. Warning this might be a thread drift…

    I recently read a reccomendation to stop somewhere shortly before the trailhead and put on your gaiters, boots, and any last minute prep.

    Then get back into your car and drive the rest of the way to the trailhead.

    The "pre-stop" minimizes the down-time between parking the car and starting to hike.

  19. Seems like a false optimization. Chances are it will be cold wherever you put your boots on. In any case, I can drive with my plastic boots on, but most people can't.

  20. It would let you start hiking and generating heat quicker so you don't waste time adding and shedding layers.

    I'm ususally shedding a jacket right at the start and freezing until I get moving and up to operating temp.

  21. Therma Rest Neo/Air Sleeping Mat only weighs in at 19 oz. and thats the large at 77" long by 25" wide and a R-Value 0f 2.5 inches thick . And I agree with a good wool 1/4 zip with thumbhole's in the sleeves under your outer shell , and pack a thinsulate wind stopper pull over for added warmth if needed .

  22. I’d add…. wrist warmers (think old wool socks w/ toe cut off and thumb hole.

    In Upper Michigan (think 300″ snow, 3x that of Buffalo, NY), I always just pulled a very long (7′ long, 2′ side) body sled w/ my bag, pad, and bivy always uncompressed & assembled. Certainly cut down effective weight carried.

    With a sled, a very cheap pad is Styrofoam or EPS foam. Mighty flat too — hard lumpy snow gets annoying after awhile.

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