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Winter Backpacking Gear List

Mt Washington from the summit of Mt Hale
Mt Washington from the summit of Mt Hale

I don’t believe in the idea of ultralight winter backpacking and I’d be hesitant to set an upper bound on what your winter gear weight should be, if only because people’s regional definition of winter differs so much. Regardless, I still try to reduce my gear weight in winter as much as possible, within certain financial constraints, because it lets me hike farther, climb faster, and enjoy myself more.

That said, here’s my Winter Backpacking Gear list. If you’re just getting into Winter Backpacking, I hope this list helps you understand what you need to bring on a winter overnight and gives you some ideas of possible things you might want to get.  Gear weight gets overlooked in the beginner mountaineering classes, but it’s something you should consider carefully when evaluating new gear or clothing purchases, because it can add up alarmingly quickly.

If you have any questions or remarks, please leave a comment below. I’m happy to answer any questions.

BackpackOunces
Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack (4,000 cubic inches)58.0
12″ Piece of a RidgeRest Solar, R-value = 2.8 (sitpad)2.5
Fox Plastic Whistle0.1
REI Mini Thermometer0.3
Victoronix Knife0.7
3 x Mountain Laurel Designs External Dyneema Pockets3.0
Hydration
3 x Hunersdorf Bottles (Wide Mouth)13.2
3 x 40 Below Neoprene Bottle Insulation “Booties”11.4
Extra Day Layers – Floating Lid, Top Pocket
Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt2.6
Outdoor Research WindPro Balaclava2.3
Black Diamond Windstopper Gloves2.5
Above Treeline Protection – Floating Lid, Bottom Pocket
Outdoor Research Cornice Mittens8.6
Serius Innovation Comboclava w/Facemask)1.9
Scott OTG Ski Goggles4.5
Extra Layers
MLD Cuben Stuff Sack0.5
Golite Roan 800 Plateau Down Jacket22.5
Montbell Thermawrap UL Insulated Pants12.7
Sleep System
Black Diamond Firstlight Tent – 2 Person43.0
Sea-to-Summit Ultrasil Compression Sack3.6
Western Mounatineering Puma -25 Degree Sleeping Bag55.0
Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Stuff Sack0.4
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Air Mattress19.0
Capilene 1 Long Sleeved Crew6.3
Capilene 1 Long Underwear Bottoms5.9
1 pr REI Sock Liners1.3
1 pr REI Wool Socks2.4
Traction and Tools
CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (70 cm)10.0
CAMP XLC Nanotech Crampons w/ MYOG ABS19.2
Gear Repair/First Aid Bag8.0
Kitchen
MSR Simmerlite White Gas Stove8.5
MSR Fuel Bottle – 22 oz4.9
Evernew Titanium 1.3 L Pot4.8
Gossamer Gear Caddy Cozie0.5
Caldera Cone Caddie3.0
Modified Trail Designs Windscreen1.8
REI Lexan Spork0.5
Mountain Laurel Designs Stuff Sack for Food1.0
Electronics and Navigation
Suunto A10 Compass0.9
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp3.1
Spot GPS Messenger II4.3
Camera Stuff
Panasonic Lumix LX3 with Lens Extender and UV Filter10.4
Polarizing Filter1.8
Spare Lithium Battery1.0
Total Ounces without Food, Fuel, Water (Carried)367.9
Total Pounds without Food, Fuel, Water (Carried)22.99
Wearing
Scarpa Omega Mountaineering Boots79.5
REI Sock Liner1.0
REI Wool Socks2.4
Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters9.5
Marmot Precip Full Zip Pants12.7
Capilene 1 Long Sleeved Crew6.3
REI Running Tights10.3
Under Armour HeatGear Boxers3.5
Patagonia R1 Pullover11.8
No Name Fleece Glove Liners1.4
Mountain Hardware Fleece hat0.8
Rab Momentum Jacket (Hard Shell)13.0
Pacer Poles with Snow Baskets (Aluminum)24.5
Chili OTG Sunglasses1.1
Total Ounces (Wearing)177.8
Total Pounds (Wearing)11.1
Optional
Voile Telepro Avalanche Shovel 30.0
Smith Knowledge OTG Goggles (backup pair)6.9
Kahtoola Microspikes12.7
MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes61.6
Plastic Garbage Bags for Snow Anchors, Cord2.5

Backpack

I’ve looked into replacing my winter backpack this year because it’s an obvious place to save weight, but I haven’t found a lighter weight alternative pack that works as well of the Cold Cold World Chaos. It’s made by a small cottage manufacturer located in Jackson, New Hampshire, at the base of Mt Washington.

The Chaos has a number of distinctive characteristics which I’ve described in other posts, including the fact that it is a frameless winter pack. There is an internal pocket on the inside of the pack that is used to hold a foam pad, which I’ve worn out with use and replaced with a 12 x 20″ piece of a cut down Therma-a-Rest Ridgerest Solar sleeping pad. I use this foam pad to sit on when I’m cooking and as an “oh shit” torso pad if my insulated air mattress fails.

Hydration

I use wide mouth bottles in winter because they don’t freeze up as quickly when stored upside down in an insulated liner. Instead of Nalgene bottles, I use the Hunersdorf Bottles sold by my friend Joel Attaway at 40 below, a mountaineering gear company that focuses on insulated footware  and accessories for extreme alpine climates. Hunersdorf Bottles are recommended by Everest Guides, they’re about 50% lighter than Nalgenes, and are great for carrying boiling hot water. They also cost $9.95 each (same as a Nalgene) and don’t crack because they’re made out of a softer plastic.

If you decide to buy them, I suggest you also get the insulated bottle holders, calls Booties that Joel sells.  They were just featured in the Appalachian Mountains Club’s monthly magazine and when I did weight comparisons a few years ago, I recall them being lighter weight than the insulated water bottle holders you can buy at REI. They’re also held closed by a velcro closure instead of a zipper, so you don’t need to take off your mittens to open them for a drink. That’s useful when you can’t take off your gloves.

Sleep System

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season sleeping pad is new this year and only weighs 19 ounces, which is really nice. I’ve slept on it a few cold nights so far and it will be my sleeping pad for the winter. It has an R value of 4.9 and is much lighter than my old Exped 7 Downmat, which was also very warm. It’s also NOT filled with down, making it possible to inflate by mouth and doesn’t require an external pump.

I tried replacing my Black Diamond Firstlight Tent last year with an ultralight pyramid tarp, but backed away from the substitution because a freestanding tent is so much faster to pitch on snow. Function trumped weight, in this instance.

Traction and Tools

The CAMP XLC Nanotech Crampons are new this year and are a made out of aluminum with steel front points. I’m not exactly how well they’ll stand up to the mixed ice and rock climbing we have, but they’re easily sharpened and massively lighter weight than my old steel Black Diamond Sabertooth crampons, which I’ve kept for ice climbing. I’ve made a pair of ABS plates for the Nanotechs out of milk bottle plastic and cable ties, which I’ll review once I get to take the CAMPs on some real snow and ice.

Kitchen

I figured out a way to replace my Snowpeak double-walled titanium cup by using half a Trail Designs Caddie instead, together with a Gossamer Gear Caddie Insulator I picked up when I visited their company headquarters last year. I don’t think it’s available for sale, but was an R&D project they had sitting around. It’s a piece of silnylon with cloth batting inside that fits over the TD Caddie and keeps liquids warm. I also use the TD Caddie to store my gas bottle (just in case it leaks) and sharp edged wind screen (and keep it away from my sleeping pad.)

Appendix: Defining My Winter

It’s very difficult to understand or critique a gear list unless you understand the conditions it is designed to address. Here’s a description of the winter conditions where I hike and backpack.

I spend my winters in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, hiking, climbing, and clawing my way up the 4,000 footers – including the dozen or so that are 4000 to 6288 feet high. The weather ranges from fair to outrageously bad. We consider winds of 25 mph to be a bluebird day; 50 mph is far more the norm, and it’s not unusual to have 80+ mph days (40 mph is hurricane force.) Frostbite is a very real concern and every bit of exposed flesh must be covered above treeline if there is wind.

The Whites have a combination mountain/maritime climate, not to dissimilar from the Cairngorms in Scotland in terms of elevation and climate. We don’t see a ton of snow, but when we get storms they’re the winter equivalent of hurricanes (called Nor’easters) that dump several feet. Most of the snow is blown off the higher summits, but the snow is generally deep below treeline. Most of the hiking is done on trails, which may or may not be broken out. Climbing the higher peaks requires 4,000 feet of elevation gain in one day with elevation gains of 1,000 feet per mile. You don’t need to carry an ice axe unless you need one, but hiking poles are essential. I almost always carry crampons, but not snowshoes if I know a trail has been broken out. Hikers share a lot of information up here, so we know what trails are broken out and which aren’t.

Temperatures range from 20 degrees to -20 degrees. The days are short so we often get up before dawn to eat in order to maximize our daylight for hiking. Snow must be melted for drinking water unless you are lucky to find a flowing source. Overnight trips usually require a minimum of 4 people, so gear like shovels and shelters can be shared.

I often do day hikes with one other strong winter hiker and almost never go hiking alone. The only difference between my day hiking list and my overnight list is that I carry a lighter sleeping bag and a bivy sack instead of a tent.

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26 comments

  1. Philip, thank you for an excellent post and list. Some products which I have not come across before. I like to be comfortable and safe myself during winter, so weights do go up quite a bit.

    Winter in England still seems a long way off. It has been so mild of late and we have only had one frost this autumn so far at home. Temperatures at night have often been 10C (50F). Having said that it was a bit like that this time last year and then we suddenly had heavy falls of snow and the lowest temperatures ( -19C or -2.2F) that I have seen in thirty years. So maybe there is hope yet for plenty of snow – shoeing !!

  2. I'm going to have to look over this a lot more once I get back to my computer… Very glad you put this up, since I'm really hoping to revamp my winter gear list this season.

    A quick note– the neoair all season had my eye as well, but I just noticed on thermarest's site a product that isn't out just yet. Lighter and better insulated than the original neo air… I might have to hold my breath and wait for these, and pair them with a ccf pad for 4-season versatility. There's just too much new gear out there to test!

  3. That's a good list – may have to check out a few of these items as I do the annual "replace this and that with better, lighter stuff".

  4. Guthook – the Therm-a-Rest All Season has been in retailers for a few weeks. I bought mine online, the first day it became available. Perhaps, you are thinking of the X-Lite pad which will only be available next year. That is a lighter weight version of the NeoAir (Classic) and weighs 12 ounces in a 20×72 size regular.

  5. Yeah, that's the one– the x-lite. I thought I saw somewhere it was going to be released in January, but that may have been just rumor. In any case, I don't need to be in a hurry to buy expensive new gear.

    I'm glad you posted this, though. I've got a lot to think about with my winter gear list. Sleeping bag, pad, cook system, puffy jacket, crampons… It's going to be a multi-season process, probably.

  6. Good list…I agree with you – lightweight and winter are hard to achieve given the extra gear/clothes you need. Although our NY winters aren't nearly as bad as up in New England area. I too just got the Thermarest all-season and used it this past weekend. And I have to say – I really felt the warmth! And another bonus…cuts down on the bulky closed cell foam pad you would normally have to lug around. Thanks for the great post!
    Maria

  7. Your list sounds good to me. Personally I'd make a couple of variations such as including more Goose Down than Fleece and a Wool Sweater which will keep me warm even when wet. I would also add a couple of chemical Heat Packs, they weigh ounces but when needed are life savers as well as a couple fo MIlitary Fire Gel Packs which also weigh in ounces and are great for Starting a campfire should it be needed and are more reliable than some of the other commerically or homemade products out there..What I found to be more important than Windproof gloves, are Water proof gloves, or insulated gloves I have sprayed with a canned Silicone product. I also do not see "Sunglasses" though you do have Googles listed

    I have to laugh for I remember all my Winter Trips as a kid in Up State New York and we didn't carry half this stuff and I wonder how I survived all those cold nights…Mmmm, memories coming on….later….

  8. eddie – I've tired using the chemical heat packs and found that they make my sleeping bag so hot that I sweat, which I find undesirable. As for sunglasses, I use the Chili OTG (over the glasses) kind. I can't find them for sale anymore, so I must have lucked out when I bought them for $10 at REI.

    One thing I will be messing around with this winter are wearing Nitrile gloves under my fleece gloves, vapor barrier style, because I wet them out so fast. I suspect this will work reasonably well.

  9. I'd be interested in hearing about your experience with the Nitrile gloves..I just bought a box to use while painting my front porch and unlike the other brands I have been able to reuse the same pair 4 times now and I do not recall a major sweat problem like the others…Keep us updated…

  10. I just put some nitrile gloves in my gear. I'm interested in seeing how that works also.

  11. Great list. Nice to see everything together in one place. As a Vermonter, I I've managed to accumulate a good chunk of this gear, except for the more specialized stuff like crampons, ice axe, 4 season tent, etc. Another exception is a winter sleeping bag. Knowing my 3 season 20 degree bag would not cut it, I was looking at zero degree down bags. Then after visiting the EMS climbing school and AMC group winter outing websites, I realized a zero bag would also be insufficient. The -20 to -40 down bags however,….cost a small fortune. So, I have been looking at the synthetics instead. I've narrowed it down either the North Face Dark Star, or the Mountain Hardware Lamina -30. Both are sub six pound bags. The MH Lamina looks like the better deal. Can anyone offer any suggestions or insights on these choices?

  12. Mike – how much more money will you have to spend on a higher volume backpack to fit all of your gear if you get a synthetic bag instead of a more compressible down one? How much more will that backpack weigh (than a smaller one). Just be aware that a big sleeping bag has some "baggage".

    Might I suggest that you rent a winter sleeping bag instead of buying one, given that they are so expensive. This will also give you the chance to see if you really like camping in very cold weather and whether you really need a -20 bag. Unless, you're going to Alaska, you certainly don't need a -40 one.

  13. Did you ever look into those Serius Xtreme waterproof gloves? They're my go-to for ice climbing and winter alpine (along with a big pair of BD mitts for when things get gnarly).

  14. Chris – I completely forgot about them – thanks for the reminder! I knew there was something I was supposed to do! :-)

  15. @Earlylite. Yes, I did consider I may not enjoy winter camping…after all it's only been about 30 years since I last tried it. And I am unsure where to rent a winter bag in Vermont. EMS or GearX in Burlington perhaps. While the price for a zero degree down winter bag is acceptable..that next 20 degrees doubles the price and then some. Interestingly it does not double the fill weight. Perhaps it's the limited production which drives the costs up. Anyway,

    It's true, the sub-zero synthetic bags are pretty heavy and voluminous. Fortunately, if I go with the 6 pound watermelon, my backpack is equally voluminous @ 65-85 liters. I picked it up new with tags for 50 bucks on Craigslist this summer. Here's a link: http://www.sierratradingpost.com/torrid-ii-pack-b… It's relatively lightweight given the size.

  16. Have you looked at the Cabela's catalog/website for sub-zero bags? I regularly use their Alaskan Guide Mummy model, order code 440, each winter which weighs in at 6lbs 5 oz., and used it for two straight weeks last year in temperatures down to 5 below sleeping in the back of my tarp covered pickup truck while deer hunting. It was so warm at zero I had to vent it. They have a couple of other models as well…

    Many Backpackers ignore Cabela's because it is primarily a Hunting orientated Manly man versus Metro Man Company but you do find some Backpacking gear offered that has truly been tested, not just by some over paid Marketing Maggots making their living artificially praising the virtures of the the latest Backpacking gimmick. They also offer a nice 4 season two person tent with a packed weight of under 10 pounds…

  17. There is a lot of good lightweight gear in this list. It is always better to have light weight gear! The older I get, the better it is for me to reduce my gear weight. It is difficult to have a light tent in the winter, it usually is a 4 season tent. Fortunately I live in South Florida and winter is our hiking season with mild temps. You really don't need a 4 season tent here so you can save a lot of weight.

  18. Interesting… I haven't looked at GearX for rentals, but they're a great store and I would assume they must do something like that. It would certainly be worth renting some stuff for a weekend trip to test out equipment before deciding that you would want to own winter gear. As for companies not testing their gear except by "over paid Marketing Maggots," I think you may have a slightly jaded view of most outdoor companies. I highly doubt that the marketing department of each company does the only testing for their equipment.

    The reason I overlook Cabela's isn't because it's overrun by Manly Men, but because of the numbers you mentioned. Phil's sleeping bag for -25 degrees weighs 55 oz, and two person tent 43 oz. The Cabela's sleeping bag you mentioned: 101 oz. Tent: 119 oz. Yes, Phil's cost more, but some people pay premium for high quality lightweight gear.

  19. Phillip,

    I just saw your winter backpacking list and did not see insulated booties.

    Did I miss them?

    I find them indispensable for any post-hiking activities.

    I also cover them with Tyvek booties to keep them dry and clean for use in my sleeping bag.

    Thanks,

    Marty Cooperman

    Cleveland, Ohio

  20. Well earlylite you know I'm bringing them in out of the woods..You got to wonder, lol's. ..Talking to some young lads back from Afghanstan, it seems the Military foam pad works as well as anything they had their parents ship over from the States.,When I brought up the subject of Sleeping bags they said they were issued many different kinds in a constant attempt to find something to keep them warm and the heavier bags worked versus the ligthweights they were given for patrol use. They usally wound up wearing all their ECWS clothes inside the lighter bags to keep warm but could strip to their Polypro with the heavier bags.Seems if the bags weren't in the 5 pound range they were cold in the dry air and the lightweight tents were miserable especially on a windy point. But I guess you'll soon find out what works for you. Another tip I was given was to tape two of the Military foam pads together which doubled the insulation from the ground.and was about 28 oz. total verus the weight of the expensive type pads mentioned earlier…..

  21. The Black Diamond Spot is listed at 54g w/ batteries on their website, but you have it at 3.1oz or 87.88g on your list? Is the actual weight that much over? :9

  22. Have you had any trouble with the humidity in your breath freezing inside the NeoAir All Season if you inflate by mouth? I know they include a pump sack for it due to this issue but wondered if you perhaps had a work around for this issue (either at home after the trip or during multi-day winter camping trips).

  23. Good list. Gloves for the White mountains are tough as they need to breath but also block moisture/wind. I have used Performance Bike lobster gloves several times as they are rugged and do a good job of blocking wind and rain.
    The other pair of gloves are from LL Bean and were specifically designed for Mount Washington. These gloves are a couple of years old but my fingers have never gotten cold. Unfortunately it appears as though LL Bean has dropped these gloves from their lineup.
    This year I decided to upgrade from my inexpensive insulated snow pants from Sierra Pacific that I end up taking off all the time as they simply get too hot. While searching for winter pants I have to say I am really surprised at how many winter pants have poor reviews and are available in limited sizes. I decided to go with the Mammut Traleika soft shell pants as they were available in various lengths and widths. The customer reviews on REI were very favorable, but we will see if they work or don’t :)

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