Pack It In: Essential Gear for Winter Camping

winter camping

It’s dark, a light blizzard whips about you.
Cold hits your face and feet simultaneously as snow tumbles into your untied boots.
You know you made the right choice … it had to be done.
Zip, whoosh, zip. Safety.

– A winter camping bathroom story

Winter camping is serious business. Imagine the above scenario minus the warm tent and proper gear to return to. This kind of situation could turn from uncomfortable to dangerous in just a few degrees. If you’re looking to head out on your first winter camping expedition, we recommend that you look past your summer camping gear to a more substantial packing list. To get you started, we’ve picked out our favorite winter camping gear to keep you warm and dry during your cold winter trips. Oh yeah, and remember to bring a friend — when push comes to shove, there’s nothing warmer than a good companion. If you go alone, check out our solo winter camping tips.


It’s important to note that your choice of backpack is totally dependent on what kind of adventure you plan to embark on. Hiking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing? One night or more? Minimalist? One thing you can count on is that winter camping requires more gear than warm weather adventures, so plan on carrying a bigger pack with at least 50L of packing space — consider 65L or more. Also, run through your gear and take note of any special considerations to keep in mind like extra loops, clips, etc.

Variant 52, Osprey backpack
Variant 52, Osprey/Facebook

To get you started on your research, check out the likes of of the Osprey Variant 52 or Deuter Aircontact 65 + 10. The Osprey leans towards the minimalist and is designed to both facilitate movement and  carry skis and ice tools — a good start for the backcountry skier looking for more agility and less bulk. The Deuter backpack offers more gear storage and is also designed to carry ice tools, which could be a good choice for the hiker or snowshoe adventurer. To be straight: Your best bet is to head to your local gear store and try out a few options.



Originally designed for serious alpine climbers, Mountain Hardwear’s Trango 3 has seen duty at basecamps all over the world in harsher conditions than you can imagine. You don’t have to be a glutton for punishment like Ueli Steck to appreciate the four-season features this tent packs in. Snow flaps seal out spindrift and cold air at the door and vestibule. Silicon impregnated nylon and polyurethane coating ensure waterproofing even if you have to set it up in wet, slushy snow. The best part? You can add in some gear loft organizers to keep you essentials within reach without having to delve into your pack every 10 minutes.

Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 Tent
Mountain Hardwear/Facebook


  • Guaranteed watertight construction with large dry entry vestibules
  • Fits three people
  • Two-door entry
  • Mountain Hardware has a customer service reputation
  • Weight: 11 lbs 4 oz
  • Price: $750

Sleeping Bag and Pad

To stay comfortable all night, it’s time to ditch that summer bag and move up to a backcountry bed. If you’re a serious backpacker, you’ve probably seen Nemo Equipment’s tents on the trail. From our research, it  looks as though they also have sleeping bags and pads worth considering. Rated to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, the Sonic Down sleeping bag can satisfy most winter camping expeditions. Impressively, the bag touts “Thermo gills,” which regulate body temperature without letting cold drafts in. With both warmth and comfort in mind, Nemo designed their bag with stretch construction at the knees to allow for any sleep style. To pair their sleeping bag with a pad, we looked at Nemo’s Tensor Field Insulated Ultralight pad. This pad offers 3 inches of cushioned loft, quiet insulation, and a competitive pack size/weight.

Tensor Field Insulated Ultralight pad



It’s very possible that your favorite backpacking stove will fail in serious cold temperatures or at high altitude. Take the uncertainty out of the equation with the versatile Biolite CampStove 2. Weighing in at just over 2 lb, including a USB charger, this guy might become a quick favorite for all seasons. Utilizing a small four-speed fan, the combustion stove can cook meals, boil water, and create electricity to charge your phone or gadgets — all without creating any smoke. Basically, the Biolite CampStove 2 can do just about everything … except go to the bathroom for you.

Biolite CampStove 2


  • Burns biomass — wood, sticks, twigs — without creating smoke
  • Converts heat into 5V of power through USB output
  • Boils 1L of water in 4.5 minutes
  • Weight: 2.06 lb
  • Price: $130


After a long day of cutting through the snow — when you’re cold and hungry — there is nothing better than a hot meal. You can’t be fiddling with your dinner in the cold for too long before the snow starts to wear your will power — and circulation to gloveless hands — down. Sure it would be great to whip up a backcountry feast from scratch, but some nights in the wilderness the convenience of pre-prepared meals are a necessity. Our friends at Good To Go have a varied menu of dehydrated, gourmet prepared camping meals that you can find find anywhere. We like the Thai Curry for winter nights — especially good at clearing your sinuses with a little extra Sriracha — but their ‘just like mom makes it’ Classic Marinara With Penne is that starch-filled meal everyone loves. All of their meals are hand made and dehydrated, and feature an ingredient list that you can actually pronounce.

good to go food
Good To-Go/Facebook Good To-Go/Facebook


To those heading out into the cold, we salute you. Make sure to prepare accordingly as winter can be a harsh mistress — as tough as she is beautiful. Our last piece of advice is to tie those boots before you head to the loo … you never know what might be waiting for you out there.

Article originally published by Austin Parker on January 8, 2015. Last update by Hendrik Broekelschen on February 6, 2018.


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