Backpacking, day hiking, and mountaineering in winter is great sport. I got completely hooked a few years ago and can’t wait for the winter hiking season to start up again. But winter gear is very expensive and you need to start saving now to build up your winter gear list. A lot of this gear will last for years and years, but the up front cost can be staggering if you are not prepared for it.
While some of your 3 season hiking gear is appropriate for 4 season use, there are some items that you need to acquire that are specifically for winter. These include an ice axe, crampons, snowshoes, a liquid fuel stove, a thick sleeping pad, a winter sleeping bag, and a winter tent. Depending where you hike, you may also need to buy mountaineering boots, a winter pack, an avalanche shovel, a windproof balaclava, 1 or 2 pairs of ski goggles, mountaineering gloves, high gaiters, and a high quality down parka.
When you can rent a lot of this gear from local outfitters and guide services, you’ll eventually want to own your own. If that’s the case, you can expect to spend over $2,500 to get completely outfitted.
|Liquid Fuel Stove||80|
|Winter Sleeping Pad||150|
|Winter Sleeping Bag||400|
|2 pr Goggles||120|
|2 pr Mountaineering Gloves||200|
Winter Essentials vs. Nice to Haves:
That’s a lot of money, so here are some suggestions to spread out your expenditures over a couple of years:
- While you can rent snowshoes , they’re worth owning if you plan on using them a lot. The MSR Lightning Ascents are excellent showshoes, particularly if you plan on hiking up steep slopes.
- You’re going to want to own your own pair of high gaiters if you own a pair of snowshoes. OR Crocodiles are what most people use.
- For traction on slippery ground, you definitely want to buy a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes.
- Depending on where you hike, you may also need crampons. If this is your first pair, I would suggest you buy strap-on crampons because they are compatible with regular leather boots and mountaineering boots. Black Diamond’s Contact Strap-on crampons are very popular and durable, but heavy. I prefer lighter weight aluminum ones made by CAMP such as the Universal XLC which are less durable, but require much less energy to hike with.
- I always hike with other people in winter which makes it possible to share their liquid fuel stove if you carry your own fuel.
- If you plan on camping in winter, the most important element of your sleep system is a warm sleeping pad. Whatever you pick, make sure that it is thick. You can have a super warm sleeping bag, but if you have a poorly insulated pad, you will be shivering all night. Many people carry two foam pads such as the Therm-a-Rest Zlite pad which is lightweight and can be easily attached to the outside of a backpack. Another option is to use an inflatable Therm-a-Rest All Season sleeping pad.
- If you are climbing mountains, you’re likely to carry an ice axe for safety reasons. While inexpensive, they are also rentable. The Black Diamond Raven and lighter weight Raven Pro are very good ice axes for beginners.
- Winter rated down sleeping bags are horribly expensive but they will last 10+ years. I own a goose down filled -25 F Puma from Western Mountaineering because it is super warm and highly compressible. While less expensive, synthetic sleeping bags are very bulky and require that you have a larger capacity backpack that weighs and costs more.
- Mountaineering boots are another expense that you can often defer because you can rent them at local outfitters. So-called plastic boots are only required for very high or cold mountains where you can’t afford to get wet feet. I own a pair of Scarpa Omega boots which are unusually lightweight for plastics, but can be overkill for winter day hikes.
- You need to carry a larger backpack in the 65-85 liter size range in winter, especially if you’re doing longer day trips or overnight camping. There are often rentable and you should try to defer this purchase until you know how much capacity you really need to hold all of your gear.
- Unless you are in avalanche territory, avalanche shovels these can be shared by a group. A ratio of 1 shovel for every 4 people works pretty well. These shovels can also be used to dig kitchens, wind walls, snow caves or slit trenches for emergency shelter.
- A windproof balaclava is a must-have in the winter and I usually wear an Outdoor Research Wind Pro Balaclava day and night.
- If you plan on climbing high peaks in winter, it’s very useful to bring 2 pairs of ski goggles along with you in case one pair fogs up and freezes. Any brand will do.
- I carry several pairs of fleece gloves and hats in varying thicknesses when I’m hiking in winter. EMS fleece gloves are always a real bargain.
- When you’re standing around camp or take a rest during the day, you need to put on a extra outer layer like a down parka to stay warm or you will chill rapidly. Down parkas with hoods are the best option because they compress very well and retain a lot of heat. I own an 800 down fill Golite Roan Plateau Parka which is exceptionally warm and inexpensive.
- You will eventually want a lightweight 4 season tent for winter camping like the Black Diamond Firstlight tent. But if you can find someone who already owns a 4 season tent and does not snore at night, share it with them. They can also be rented from most outfitters.
A Sample Winter Gear Budget
If you want to get into winter backpacking or day hiking, but don’t have the money to get fully outfitted, you can get by with renting gear or sharing it with your friends. For example, let’s say you wanted to ease into winter backpacking by trying out snowshoeing and a little winter camping. Here’s a budget that will let you gradually purchase what you need, while renting or sharing gear with your friends.
|Liquid Fuel Stove||80||Share|
|Winter Sleeping Pad||150||Rent|
|Winter Sleeping Bag||400||Rent|
|2 pr Goggles||120||Buy|
|2 pr Mountaineering Gloves||200||Buy|
This is just one strategy for gradually accumulating the gear you need for wintertime, but be forewarned. Winter backpacking is extremely addictive and satisfying, but it can wreak havoc on your budget if you try to buy everything you need in one season.
Originally written: 2009; Revised 2012.