Winter doesn’t have to be the end of the backpacking season. With a bit of planning and gear meant for cooler weather, the snowy mountains can be a great place to snowshoe, ski, and camp.
Winter camping is colder and wetter than it’s summer equivalent. Because of this, the gear you take will be thicker. Count on carrying a heavier pack and paying more attention to staying warm and dry. For more tips before head out on your first trip, head here.
Here are a few of the best pieces of winter camping gear that will keep you comfortable and having a great time.
Tents are your escape from winter weather. It needs to be strong and dry. When the wind starts to howl and it’s raining sideways or dumping snow, the tent should be a safe place to wait it out.
The Moki three-person tent from Nemo is an excellent place to spend a night in the snow. The award-winning tent got an update in 2018 and is even stronger and easier to set up.
The main tent is large enough to sleep three people (or two with space for a lot of gear). The Moki is a single layer of waterproof breathable OSMO fabric — thin but strong. The poles attach and cross at beefy clips on the outside creating a frame that can easily hold snow. Vents in the main part of the tent and the vestibule entrance keep the condensation down.
Some of the vents and other panels zip open when it’s too warm. Almost half the tent can open up into mesh, preventing the single-wall tent sauna and making the Moki a true four-season tent for any time of the year.
When the temperature drops, there’s nothing worse than shivering all night. A lightweight sleeping bag that will keep you warm is essential for a good trip. Wearing extra clothes, adding a hot water bottle, or putting a thicker liner inside the sleeping bag will add some extra warmth but can only go so far. The Nitro 0-Degree sleeping bag from Sierra Designs is a far better option than hypothermia.
The Nitro bag is rated down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for cold sleepers and 2 degrees Fahrenheit for warm sleepers. You’ll be toasty in this bag, and if it gets too warm, then you can just stick your feet out the Self Sealing foot vent. The PFC-free, 800-fill, water-resistant Dridown will expand more than most down, packing down better and drying faster. All this comes without breaking the bank either considering how comparable bags are hundreds of dollars more.
Nothing on the market today beats the warmth-to-weight ratio of the NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad from Therm-a-Rest. Instead of heavy down or synthetic insulation, the XTherm uses a series of triangular pockets covered with heat-reflective material. The pockets keep warm air near your body while the emergency blanket-like material reflects heat back to you.
With next to nothing inside, the XTherm roles up to the size of a water bottle and weighs only 15 ounces. The horizontal tubing reduces bouncing and no-slip fabric keeps you on the pad. It’s 20 inches wide, but if you need something larger, opt for the 25-inch large version or the rectangular NeoAir XTherm Max.
Usually, there’s a choice between warm and lightweight. Now you can just use an XTherm sleeping pad year round.
Backpacking stoves tend to come in either liquid fuel or canister form. Iso-butane canisters are easy to use but don’t work well in the cold. Liquid fuel can work at any temperature but requires some delicate priming procedures to start. MSR has found the best of both worlds with the WindPro II.
The WindPro II is a canister stove that works well in the cold. Flipping the canister upside down essentially switches the stove to liquid fuel, vastly improving cold-weather and top-end performance. If you need simmer control or super-efficient fuel usage, flip it right side up. With the fuel canister out of the way, a windshield can be used around the stove increasing its effectiveness in bad weather even further. Just turn it on and cook. Or melt your snow for water, at least.
Down and synthetic puffy jackets, through wear and washing, can get cold spots. The insulation starts out where it should be, either sewn in place or contained inside baffles in the jacket. Sewing the insulation in place pulls out outer and inner layers together, reducing loft and introducing cold spots. Even with baffles, the insulation can move to one side or leak out holes. The Syrround Down Hoody Jacket from Spyder uses a woven baffle to keep the down in place and fluffy loft throughout — no more AWOL insulation and cold spots.
The Syrround jackets come in four versions for any conditions. If this is going to be an insulation piece under a shell, go with no hood. The Hybrid version has stretch fleece panels under the arms for more flexibility and is a touch cooler. Go full hood, non-hybrid for the most warmth. On the way to the hill, you can pack up the Syrround Hoody in its own pocket.
All this gear isn’t going to carry itself, especially in winter when there’s even more to carry. You can never go wrong with a solid backpack like the Aether 70 AG from Osprey. The long-lasting 70-liter backpack can go on world treks, weekends to the cabin, or winter camping in the mountains. The size gives you a little bit of extra room for the bulky winter gear.
The back panel on the Aether 70 AG is made up of a continuous mesh sheet that wraps around the top into the shoulder straps around the sides into the hip belt. This makes it feel like the pack is floating on your back, rather than slamming against it.
Tons of straps and attachment points let you carry everything else you need. The removable top lid has multiple pockets itself and turns into a small day pack for day hikes from basecamp. A small “FlapJacket” lid with no pockets can be used in place for the lid pack for a slightly smaller, lighter pack. The Aether has a large opening on top, a J-shaped zipper in the middle, and another entrance into the sleeping bag compartment on the bottom. It’s also available in 60-, 70- and85-literr sizes.
If you’ve ever experienced a posthole – one leg falling into the snow up to your knee or even hip – then you know how much easier walking on snowshoes can be. Crescent Moon have a radical new design that are easier than ever to slip on and get hiking (or running).
Instead of a hard metal and plastic setup, the Eva foam snowshoe from Crescent Moon is just two layers of foam with a hook and loop binding on top. The binding is fast and easy to get in and out of. The top layer of foam is squishy for more comfort walking whereas the bottom is hard with big tire-like lugs and metal spikes for traction. The whole thing has a curved shape to roll you forward with each step. If you don’t need them for a rocky section, they are lightweight and lay flat to strap to your back.