Whether you like it or not, winter is here. I know most people dread this time of year for backpacking and it’s for the obvious reason…it’s freaking cold! Personally, the winter season is my favorite. The lack of crowds is the main reason I love instead of loath the winter. Often times, winter can guarantee you absolute solitude like no other season can. The stipulations and permits that are normally required for national parks are typically nonexistent during this time of year. So the big question is, how do you prepare yourself for winter backpacking and camping? Here are 5 of Backpacking Culture’s recommendations:
1. Over prepare
This is no undestatement. You have to plan a lot more for winter camping. Not taking extra precautions during this season could end in disaster. Pack your gear, plan ahead, and do a test run (somewhere less precarious…like in a neighborhood park or your backyard) before you enter into the backcountry. A test run ahead of time will allow you to figure out if you have enough clothing and equipment to survive a night in the wilderness.
2. Focus on layers
Layering your clothing is extremely essential. Sweat can kill you! Instead of taking one heavy jacket, take three or four layers of clothing that you can take on and off throughout the day as the conditions change. This will help you manage sweat. If you build up too much sweat during the day in a heavy down jacket, that sweat will freeze in the evening, making the down jacket useless. Example for your upper body: I will wear a long sleeve base layer shirt. Long thermal underwear is perfect for a base layer. My next piece will be a thin fleece followed by a thin down jacket. My fourth and final layer would be a waterproof jacket. All four layers together are perfect in the evening. During the day when I am moving around, I tend to layer down to the fleece. Like was stated before…practice. Don’t just show up at 10,000 feet at -10 degrees and think you are going to figure it out. Try it out and find what you are comfortable with.
3. Plan your water
Winter = frozen water. Have a plan for how you are going to get your water. If you plan on melting snow or ice make sure you bring a lot of extra fuel for your stove. If you have a choice between melting snow and ice, choose ice. Ice is more dense than snow. It will take more snow and more fuel to get the same amount of water if you were to melt only ice. On a three day outing, I will take an extra 8 ounces of fuel just for ice melting. If you plan on melting only snow, bring more!
4. Improve your sleeping arrangements
Check the weather conditions and look at the lows for each night. Bring a sleeping bag that is rated around 10-15 degrees below the lowest temperature. Generally speaking, I will take a 15 degree bag with a solid bag liner that can reach down another 10 or so degrees (I don’t often believe these bag liner ratings so get the biggest number you can find like a Sea-to-Summit Reactor Extreme bag liner). If it is really cold, I will still take a 15 degree bag (for weight saving purposes) and plan on sleeping in my clothes. The best thing you could do to prevent getting cold while sleeping in the winter is to invest in a winter rated sleeping pad. Another option is just to add a second one. I will bring my normal blow-up sleeping pad and add a foam roll-up style pad for the base.
*Tip – Just before going to bed, heat up a liter of water and put it in a Nalgene bottle. Take the bottle and place it in your sleeping bag about 15 minutes before you get in it. This will make it much more enjoyable getting into your bag.
5. Winterize your gear
Just because your gear says its waterproof doesn’t mean it is ready for winter. There are tons of tricks and tips on the internet that will help you clean and mend just about every piece of gear you own. Taking the time now to research and prepare your gear will pay dividends in the field. This year, I plan on adding Fiebing Company’s Snow Proof Shoe Dressing to my Gore-Tex leather boots. This will help the leather repel some of the water before it soaks into your boots. Check your waterproof jacket and pants. Sprinkle some water on the exterior, does it bead and roll off? If it does, you are good-to-go. If it just sits there, go to your manufacturer’s website and check the tag on your garment to find the best way to repair your jacket’s water-shedding properties.
One last thing…don’t go alone. This time of year can be very dangerous, make sure you and your hiking partner plan accordingly and are well prepared. In addition, part of good planning involves telling others where you will be traveling. This should never be overlooked! Have fun out there and be sure to share with us on Instagram!
(This was a short list of considerations for winter backpacking, make sure you plan, plan, plan before you go!)