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.
|Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack (4,000 cubic inches)
|12″ Piece of a RidgeRest Solar, R-value = 2.8 (sitpad)
|Fox Plastic Whistle
|REI Mini Thermometer
|3 x Mountain Laurel Designs External Dyneema Pockets
|3 x Hunersdorf Bottles (Wide Mouth)
|3 x 40 Below Neoprene Bottle Insulation “Booties”
|Extra Day Layers – Floating Lid, Top Pocket
|Montbell Tachyon Wind Shirt
|Outdoor Research WindPro Balaclava
|Black Diamond Windstopper Gloves
|Above Treeline Protection – Floating Lid, Bottom Pocket
|Outdoor Research Cornice Mittens
|Serius Innovation Comboclava w/Facemask)
|Scott OTG Ski Goggles
|MLD Cuben Stuff Sack
|Golite Roan 800 Plateau Down Jacket
|Montbell Thermawrap UL Insulated Pants
|Black Diamond Firstlight Tent – 2 Person
|Sea-to-Summit Ultrasil Compression Sack
|Western Mounatineering Puma -25 Degree Sleeping Bag
|Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Stuff Sack
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Air Mattress
|Capilene 1 Long Sleeved Crew
|Capilene 1 Long Underwear Bottoms
|1 pr REI Sock Liners
|1 pr REI Wool Socks
|Traction and Tools
|CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (70 cm)
|CAMP XLC Nanotech Crampons w/ MYOG ABS
|Gear Repair/First Aid Bag
|MSR Simmerlite White Gas Stove
|MSR Fuel Bottle – 22 oz
|Evernew Titanium 1.3 L Pot
|Gossamer Gear Caddy Cozie
|Caldera Cone Caddie
|Modified Trail Designs Windscreen
|REI Lexan Spork
|Mountain Laurel Designs Stuff Sack for Food
|Electronics and Navigation
|Suunto A10 Compass
|Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
|Spot GPS Messenger II
|Panasonic Lumix LX3 with Lens Extender and UV Filter
|Spare Lithium Battery
|Total Ounces without Food, Fuel, Water (Carried)
|Total Pounds without Food, Fuel, Water (Carried)
|Scarpa Omega Mountaineering Boots
|REI Sock Liner
|REI Wool Socks
|Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters
|Marmot Precip Full Zip Pants
|Capilene 1 Long Sleeved Crew
|REI Running Tights
|Under Armour HeatGear Boxers
|Patagonia R1 Pullover
|No Name Fleece Glove Liners
|Mountain Hardware Fleece hat
|Rab Momentum Jacket (Hard Shell)
|Pacer Poles with Snow Baskets (Aluminum)
|Chili OTG Sunglasses
|Total Ounces (Wearing)
|Total Pounds (Wearing)
|Voile Telepro Avalanche Shovel
|Smith Knowledge OTG Goggles (backup pair)
|MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes
|Plastic Garbage Bags for Snow Anchors, Cord
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.
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.
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.
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.