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Winter Backpacking and Mountaineering Instruction

Appalachian Mountain Club, Winter Hiking Program
Appalachian Mountain Club, Winter Hiking Program

I used to dread winter because it meant that I couldn’t go backpacking for 5 months of the year. Then I took some classes in winter backpacking and mountaineering and now I go on trips year round. In fact, winter has become my favorite season for backpacking and I look forward to it each year.

In addition to spectacular scenery, there are no crowds and opportunities for inspirational campsites grow exponentially because much of the ground cover is buried under snow. Trust me. Stargazing from the top of a mountain in winter is unlike anything you’ll experience the rest of the year.

But before you run off into the winter moonscape, I strongly recommend that you get some training for winter camping and backpacking. While there is a lot of skill set carry-over of your 3 season skills to the 4th season, there are many safety and technical skills you need to learn about winter survival.

Seriously, this is not optional. You need to understand how to prevent or cope with hypothermia, frostbite, snow blindness, how to avoid avalanches zones, how to melt water, how to prepare a winter camp site, and depending where you hike, how to use snowshoes, crampons and an ice axe.

While the danger level of winter is very real, acquiring these skills will make you more confident and stronger 4 season backpacker. You can even go beyond them and learn ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and mountaineering techniques. Plus there’s lot’s more gear!

If you live in the New England Area, here are some winter backpacking and mountaineering classes I recommend you check out. Learning the proper techniques for winter survival and enjoyment takes years of practice, so if self-propelled winter camping and sports appeal to you, you best get started learning now.

New England Hiking Club Courses



  1. Someday soon… I can't wait to get back into winter backpacking.

    But that reminds me of one question. Phil, have you tried vapor barrier clothing or sleeping bag liners? I don't know anyone who has, but some of the folks on Backpackinglight swear by them for winter use.

  2. I've tried a little of both. I used to have a Western Mountaineering sleeping bag liner but found it uncomfortable to sleep with because I sweat so much. I creates this humid micro-climate. Where I mainly use VBL principles in my shell layer. There's a good explanation of this in Mark Twight's Book Extreme Alpinism,

  3. I enjoyed the Boston AMC winter hiking series. I liked being able to see first hand what clothing and gear other people were using. I got to meet the author of a hiking blog that I routinely read so that was very cool.

    I did not drink the "double plastics" kool-aid but I learned and understand their reasons for pushing that policy.

    Guthook – I use a vapor barrier system between the poly liner sock and the wool outer sock with my winter boots. I take a set of the liners for each day of my backpack. I let me feet breath in camp by switching to a fresh pair of loose socks and booties.

    I doubt I will ever implement this with my sleeping system. I am not out enough nights in a row to be overly concerned with the loss of insulation due to moisture in my sleep system. I don't think I would get a good night's sleep using a vapor barrier system.

  4. Adirondack Mountain Club also runs winter mountaineering classes out of Lake Placid, NY:

  5. Wintercamping is cool!

    Last oktober was my first night out in real snowy weather. Now i sleep outside almost every day. The winter has slowly arrived here where I live, and even though there is more clothes, bigger sleepingbag and so on, the world is just som much more beautiful with lots of snow:)

    I use an exped downmat dlx7, and usually a thin mat underneath to cover for humidity.

    Exped expedition sleeping bag.

    Makes a night out in -10C as pleasant as it shoul be!

    Great site!

  6. I've always wanted to go to the ADK course. Hear it's superb. Sorry for the omission.

  7. Good way to start: spend a winter night at an AT shelter. It will tell you if your gear holds up, but you ain't at the far side of the universe if something goes wrong. Just make sure you collect ample firewood before dark for the shelter fireplace, and you'll be fine. Once thru that, spend a night next to a shelter but in the tent. Winter camping is wonderful, but it does take a little getting used to, and a little fine-tuning of gear. Stuff that works great the other three seasons can surprise you big time when frozen into a solid clump.

  8. Winter's coming, winter's coming!! Can't wait! Got all my climbs planned, just need some cooperative weather :-)

    Guthook – like Tom, I use VBL in my boots in winter. Trench foot is a concern, so you have to assiduously clean and dry your feet each night – I carry a small bottle of anti-fungicide just in case anything breaks out. I take a VBL liner for my sleeping bag, but only use it if it gets *really* cold (it doubles as an emergency biv sack, and if you climb into it then it makes for some really hairy glissading). I only used it once last winter – Fuji, minus 39 degrees C. That was a chilly night.

  9. Very good to know about the VBL. I had figured I might try out the socks at some point, but I sweat a ton, even in winter, so I figure if I were to try VBL I'd have to do some serious testing before taking it out on overnights. I would like to do extended (weeklong or more) trips, though. I guess I'll start with shorter ones anyway.

  10. I use the plastic bags that the morning paper comes in as VBL. They don't last but are free

  11. Thanks for posting these. I've been considering the EMS courses in No. Conway, just haven't committed yet. Also, sometimes EMS 20% off sales include their courses.

  12. The classes come with a 20% all gear coupon. Maybe you have these confused?

  13. I wasn't aware that the classes came with a 20% gear coupon but yes, I may have misunderstood what I saw on during a recent promotion.

    Per EMS customer service, the climbing school does offer its own promotions. Sorry for the mixup.

  14. I’m good with most elements of winter camping but want specific instruction and practice with ice axe ( self- arrest). Please advise?

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