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Winter Backpacking Above-Treeline Gear List

Appalachia Trail Head - Packed and Ready to Go
Appalachia Trail Head – Packed and Ready to Go – Yorghos, Philip, Fred, and Alex

Last weekend I went on a difficult 2 night backpacking trip that involved a 19 mile traverse of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, including 15 miles of fully-exposed, above-treeline hiking. We had great weather, but you never know what is going to happen in the vicinity of Mt Washington (the halfway point of our route), which has some of the highest winds and worst winter weather in the United States.

As usual, I showed up with the smallest, and probably the lightest backpack, in the group of hikers I went with. That’s me with the small red and black pack above, second from the left. Despite, its size I was still carrying 44 pounds of gear, fuel, food, and water at the start of our backpack, but only about 15 pounds more (50% more) than I carry on a typical 4,000 footer day hike in winter. Still – you better believe I could feel the difference!

A number of you have asked me to post my gear list for that backpacking trip, so here it is. If you ever plan on any winter backpacking in the White Mountains, this list should give you a good framework for the kind and types of gear you want to bring, particularly if you head up above-treeline on an overnight trip.

I will do a blow-by-blow on how this gear performed next week, but I have been using all of it for a long time so there weren’t any surprises, and I’m rather picky when it comes to my personal favorites. There is one exception to this – the MSR Reactor Stove, which I’ll go into more detail next week. Don’t takes that stove on trips where you’ll face temperatures less than 20 degrees (F): use a liquid fuel stove instead.

Shelter and Sleep System ounces
Black Diamond Firstlight Tent 46.3
4 x MSR Blizzard Stakes + Cordage 3.9
6 x Plastic Shopping Bags 1.8
Western Mountaineering -25 Puma Sleeping Bag 56.6
Sea-to-Summit eVent Compression Sack 4.9
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season Sleeping Pad 14.1
Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sleeping Pad 8.1
Patagona Capilene 1 Bottoms 5.9
REI Medium Weight Wool Hiking Socks 2.7
Packing
Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack 58
Trash Compactor Bag 2.4
2 x MLD Accessory Hip Belt Pockets 2
Crampon Bag 2
3 x Forty Below Water Bottle Insulators 12
3 x Hunersdorf Wide Mouth Water Bottles 13.5
16 oz Nalgene Wide Mouth Bottle (Gorp) w/ biner 3.9
Emergency Whistle 0.1
Gloves
Outdoor Research Cornice Mitts w/ Primaloft Liners 8.6
Dachstein Boiled Wool Mittens 7.8
Outdoor Research Alti Gloves with Primaloft Liners 10.6
Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves 2.8
EMS Windstopper Fleece Gloves 2.7
Extra Clothing – Carried
Marmot Precip Full Zip Wind/Rain Pants 14.2
Montbell Thermawrap Insulated Pants 12.4
Montbell Tachyon Windshirt 2.6
Montbell Thermawrap Insulated Jacket 11.7
Golite Roan Plateau 800 Down Parka 17.6
Outdoor Research Foray Jacket (XL) 17.1
Hats and Face Protection
Serius Balaclava w/ Face Mask 2
Ski Goggles 6.1
Mountain Hardware Fleece Beanie 1.4
Mountan Hardware Windstopper Hat 1.4
Chili OTG Glacier Glasses 1.7
Stove/Kitchen
MSR Reactor Stove and Pot 17.1
Outdoor Research Long Handled Plastic Spoon 0.8
GSI Plastic Cup 2.2
Light My Fire – Fire Steel 1
Food Bag 2
MYOG Reflectix Cozy 2.3
Lighting
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp w/battery 7
Energizer Headlmap w/batteries 2.6
Traction
MSR Evo Ascent 22″ Snowshoes 64
CAMP Nanotech XLC Crampons 16.9
CAMP Corsa Ice Axe 10.2
Misc
Suunto M3 Compass 1.6
Mini Thermometer 0.2
Swiss Army Knife 0.7
Mini Inca Pen 0.5
Camera Filters, Spare Battery, etc. 3.2
Camera – Panasonic Lumix 5 with UV Filter 10.5
Extra AA and AAA Lithium Batteries 3.4
Gear Repair and Personal First Aid Kit 4.8
Lip Sunscreen and Dermatone Sun Block 1.1
SPOT II GPS Satellite Messenger Beacon 4.1
AMC Presidential Range Map 0.7
Carried Gear 32.2 -pounds
Consumables
3 x 1 L Water 96
Assorted Food 70
2 x MSR Isobutane Canisters 24.2
Variable Weight 11.9 -pounds
Clothing and Gear Worn
Scarpa Omega Mountaineering Boots 65
Mountain Hardwear Ascent Stretch Gaiters 8.2
REI Synthetic Liner Socks 1.1
Stephenson Warmlite Vapor Barrier Socks 3
REI Medium Wool Hiking Sock 2.7
Helly Hansen Odin Guide Light Pants (Softshell) 17.9
Helly Hansen DRY Stripe Crew (LIFA) 6.1
Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullover 11.8
Under Armour Heat Gear Boxer Shorts 3.5
Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles 17.7
Worn Weight 8.6 -pounds
Total “Skin Out” Weight 52.7 -pounds

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21 comments

  1. Although I have done several day hikes in the winter, I am always interested in being safe and prepared. What gear in your list would you carry for just day hiking in winter conditions?

    • It depends on the conditions, but pretty much the same gear, but less food and stove fuel, fewer gloves, a bivy bag instead of a tent, probably no ice axe, I often don’t wear plastic boots on routes that are below treeline, I’d leave behind the second sleeping pad,and I’d drop the extra lighter insulated jacket, no tent stakes. Sometimes we also get to leave the snowshoes behind too.

      If that still seems heavy, it’s because I have had some sketchy experiences without it, and because my day hikes tend to be 10 plus miles in length and last all day. I have also stopped hiking alone in winter in the whites.

      I believe you need to be ready for an unexpected night out in the whites, any time of year, or at least a hike that lasts 36 hours.

  2. A point I would make regarding Jeff’s question is that when I do a long solo winter day hike, I always make sure I’m carrying what I would need in the event I had to spend an unplanned night out.

  3. Nice list. I would be interested in hearing what “other” gear you decided not to carry and reasoning why. Also, was there any items that the group shared like the stove and fuel? Any redundancy of group equipment in case of failure?

    Lastly, there is no mention of a map or GPS. Granted the participants might have prior experience and knowledge of the trail system but for the benefit of others who may reference your list I highly recommend carrying a topo and learning essential navigation skills. You never know when you may have to bail on a planned route. Actually part of your preplan should include optional routes in case of a sudden weather change or emergency.

    Muck

    PS-No TP? Dang, you guys are hard core!

    • Great points. I did forget the TP and zinc oxide – count that as another 4 oz under ‘consumables’.

      There is a map and compass listed. I don’t use a GPS although some of my companions brought theirs. We did have predefined bail out routes and car spots all planned: for full details see.
      http://sectionhiker.com/collaborative-backpacking-trip-planning-tools/

      We also had two types of fuel and two stove types (with three stoves between us) (Reactor+iso butane and Whisperlite+white gas) spread across the group along with extra fuel. I brought the Reactor as a personal experiment.

      As for what I didn’t bring. I don’t actually own a lot of other gear that I could bring. I’ve been honing this gear list for a few years. No rope or harness – not needed for the route. Didn’t bring a bivy bag instead of a tent, because I like more comfort and there’s only a 1 pound penalty. Didn’t share my tent, because it doesn’t have enough space for 2 or gear storage.

  4. Hi Phillip,

    Thanks for publishing this list, sounds like you had a great time.

    I am just wondering what length are the pads you are using as they seem fairly light.

    I would love to use something like a BD First light but would be have heard it can leak in heavy rain. I also find it interesting you pack a synthetic and down jacket, I have been doing that for years in winter and find the combo works well even though it adds a bit of weight.

    Cheers,

    Stephen

    • Stephen – the zlite is cut down to fit as the frame of my backpack, so it’s about 3/4 length and the All season is a regular Neoair with an r value of 4.9.

      I mainly use the BD first light in winter when rain is not an issue, although I have had it out in numerous car camping trips in pouring rain without a leak ever. Of course, I did seam seal it when I got it years ago.

  5. Hey, why he wrote as five pairs of gloves, all you use it for this holiday? I read your system to use gloves but I do not understand why so many kinds of wearing gloves. I usually only wear one pair of Nike gloves polar and I admit that I sometimes cold when wet and cold weather. This winter has ended but remained spring storms and other winter I hope to prepare a mits insulation in windy and wet weather.

  6. Hey Phil,

    Thanks for the list. Interesting that you brought 22″ snowshoes but with the lack of powder I’m sure they were fine. Do you throw tails on for other hikes sometimes or have you always used 22″ snowshoes? I’d probably put you in 25″ ones, despite the original cost. You’ll probably post a report on the Reactor for snowmelting, but I’m curious about a prelim report, if possible. How did it compare to the Whisperlite in terms of snowmelting on your trip? Did the windscreen used for each stove provide the same amount of coverage?

    I must’ve missed the High and Low temps in the TR and here, but I just can’t believe that you needed all those upper layers on such a nice weekend. Do you think you packed to much down?

    Thanks for the info Phil, this is great stuff and the pics look phenomenal. Hope we can go hiking again soon.

    • Hey Ben,

      I down-sized to the 22″ evo ascents this winter mainly for bushwhacking, but they are fine in all conditions for the whites. I never use the tails. The prelim on the Reaxtor is actually a fail. I should have brought my whisperlite.

      It was damn cold after the sun went down. Probably below zero with the wind chill – standing around melting water. You know the drill. I used every one of those layers and was glad I had them.

  7. Just Your Average Hiker

    Great list, thanks for sharing. I think I may have found my next pack as well… the Chaos looks brilliant!

  8. I am on the market for a new winter Pack/load hauler at the moment, I must check out the Chaos.

    • It’s not huge, but has awesome external attachments, floating lid, crampon pocket and daisy chains. I own a lot of down, so I can get a lot of stuff into it. :-)

  9. Sounds good, the price is very reasonable.

  10. Noticed your list included a Z lite pad, but you can’t see it on the outside of your pack from this angle. Do you fit it inside the pack somehow, or is it on the other side of your pack? I also use the Z lite in winter as a fail-safe but hate strapping it to the outside of my pack all the time, looking for alternative carrying options for it.

  11. Thank you for your time and sharing this

  12. No hardshell jacket or pants?

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