Winter Backpacking

For many, the onset of winter signals the end of camping and backpacking. Sleeping bags are stored in stuff sacks, tents are packed away and sleeping pads are rolled up in anticipation of the spring thaw. But you know what? Winter camping can be absolutely amazing with freshly fallen snow and the utter solitude that comes with a deserted mountainside. Sure, it takes a little more prep work but the gains are absolutely rewarding. Here are a few tips that will help you get started on your winter adventures!

Make Sure You Have Enough Fuel

There is nothing quite like a hot bowl of soup or a mug of hot cocoa to warm your insides and keep your spirits high. Fuel is also necessary to melt drinking water so be sure you have plenty on hand. Nothing signals the end of a backpacking trip like an empty fuel canister!

Winter Camping Photo by Will Rochfort

Stay Hydrated

Drinking water is obvious during summer excursions and honestly, it's almost second nature for most outdoor enthusiasts. However, pounding chilly liquids tends to bump to the back burner during the winter even though it's equally as important. Your body's metabolism will keep you toasty as long as you continue to nourish it with good ol' H20!

Don't forget that it will take extra work in the winter to get to your drinking water. Sub-zero temps will likely freeze your water bottles, so take extra steps to prevent that from happening. Turn your Nalgene upside down and you will keep the water from freezing to the mouthpiece. You can also insulate your Nalgene with a coozie or a thick sock. I tend to prefer the sock because you can use it as an extra layer when you go to bed!

One more tip? Pack a few paper coffee filters. They make great strainers by keeping large debris out of your drinking water and they essentially weigh nothing. Double win.

Winter Hiking Photo by Will Rochfort

Sleep Warm

It's easier to stay warm when you are snowshoeing through the woods or digging out a snow platform for your tent. Once you climb into your sleeping bag and stop moving, your body's temperature will drop, regardless of how warm your bag is. To prevent the nighttime shivers, take a Nalgene full of hot water to bed with you and place it in the toe box of your sleeping bag. I used this trick while backpacking north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska and when combined with my sleeping bag and bag liner, I was forced to unzip my bag to cool down!

Perhaps your Nalgene leaks or you accidentally left it at home? Of course, this is a total bummer for many reasons, but here is another trick that will help keep you warm all night. Remember to pack an emergency solar blanket on all of your trips. In addition to potentially saving your life one day, the blanket acts as an excellent insulator. Line the inside of your bag with the solar blanket and crawl in. The reflectivity will bounce your body heat back at you, keeping you toasty throughout the night. Bonus tip: Spend the extra cash on a fancy solar blanket that is softer and less crinkly than the cheaper 99 cent versions. Not only will it last longer, but you will save your tentmates the frustration of listening to you crackle in your sleeping bag as you roll around all night.

Winter Backpacking Photo by Will Rochfort

Swear Off Cotton

Seriously, don't even think about it! Cotton base layers will absorb all of your sweat and you will be stuck wearing a cold, wet shirt next to your skin. Nothing spells trouble like icy fabric on a chilly day! Invest in good base layers made of merino wool or synthetic materials; they will keep your core warm while wicking away any moisture.


Team Sierra

Check out Heather's recent Winter Backpacking trip: Winter Camping in the Snowys
posted by
Heather Balogh
Blogger at Just a Colorado Gal
Heather is a Colorado gal who believes adventure is part of her soul. She seeks adrenaline whenever possible, and can be found peak bagging high altitude summits, backpacking into off-the-grid locales with her pup, skiing powder stashes so deep the snow stings her face, or exploring new cultures in developing countries. (Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.) Will Rochfort is a Colorado-based writer and photographer who just happens to be married to A Colorado Gal, Heather Balogh. He is a contributing editor for Backpacker Magazine. See more of his work on Instagram.
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