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How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable?
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Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 00:44:10 MST Print View

Lately, I've been thinking about winter backpacking.

The wise say, "pack it up for the season, and stick to something else."

Alas; I am not wise.

But even then, I still grumble when taking the backpack out with the snowshoes (and hopefully one day, skis), knowing that I'll have to camp on snow and freeze my tail off in the morning. This got me wondering what can be done to maximize the experience. I think the four most useful things I've heard so far are: 1) bring a warm enough sleeping bag, 2) warm bottles in the sleeping bag, 3) down booties, and 4) lots of hot drinks. This winter I'll be investing in a better stove and maybe some more down to make some of these a reality.

Beyond these four pearls I've received from others, what do you do to make winter backpacking more enjoyable? I'd especially love to hear your pro tips on how to get up, put on the icy boots, and be content in the morning.


Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 00:53:43 MST Print View

camp at lower elevations. hot water bottles in your shoes in the morning.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 02:01:07 MST Print View

Your four items are pretty important. For the sleeping bag, my rule of thumb is to have a down sleeping bag that is rated 10 degrees F better than what I think I will need. Then for a foam pad, I bring twice the thickness that I would use in summer.

Booties are OK, and if I expect to be standing around in camp much, then booties are more important. If we are moving every day, then there isn't that much standing around in camp, so I often skip the booties. However, the ski boots need to be warm enough to be tolerable in the morning. So, when camp is set up, and the sleeping bag is pulled out of its stuff sack, I turn the sack inside-out and then use that to store the ski boots inside my sleeping bag where it will be warm. Then in the morning, the boots come out, the sack is turned back outside-out, and the sleeping bag is stowed.

Lots of hot drinks are important. However, you don't want to be drinking hot drinks into the evening or else you will have to get up too many times during the night. Instead, drink the hot drinks soon after making camp and then again at breakfast time.

If I am sleeping inside a tent, then I dig a hole in the snow right outside the door. That way, I can sit in the doorway with my feet hanging down like a proper seat. The stove is used down in that hole.

If you really want to stay warm, then pack three people into a two person tent. Or, dig a snow cave. That assumes that you have a proper snow shovel.

The most important rule is this. If you can stay absolutely dry, it is easy to stay warm. As soon as you get wet and you can't dry out, that is the beginning of the end of staying comfortable.


rOg w
(rOg_w) - F

Locale: rogwilmers.wordpress
deleted on 11/15/2011 06:30:32 MST Print View


Edited by rOg_w on 05/28/2012 16:55:49 MDT.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
enjoyable winter backpacking on 11/15/2011 06:36:36 MST Print View

How to make winter camping more enjoyable:

Step 1. Marry someone fundamentally incompatible, preferably messy too.

Step 2. Have small kids

Step 3. Be dissatisfied with your job

Viola. Winter camping is now bliss.

Question: How do I make day to day life more enjoyable?

Seriously, though. For me it was coming up with a layering system I knew to be effective (warm and dry) in all circumstances I was likely to face. This to me was even more important than bag choice because it becomes part of the sleep system as well.

See winter layering threads for specific examples.

Gerry Volpe

Locale: Vermont
winter camping on 11/15/2011 07:33:36 MST Print View

IF you camp where there is abundant wood, don't mind putting time into collecting it, and can afford the $865 and 5lbs 12 oz a titanium goat vortex 6.5 and cylinder stove with Ti chimney could make winter camping luxurious. If split with another and only wood is used for snow melting and cooking you may even come out ahead on weight over a long trip.

Our 12 man Kifaru Tipi and stove at 25 lbs (old pre silnylon) is way to heavy for backpacking but was perfect for living in Northern NH through december while we built a house and for group winter base camping. Always cozy, rock solid in heavy wind, perfect for drying all your clothes each night. Almost like sleeping in a cabin except you still need a winter bag, your first ten minutes in the morning are a little chilly, and you have to almost constantly tend the fire as no lightweight stove holds coals very long.

I would love to one day get one of the light mid/stove combos like the Ti goat. I also remember an old MYOG post by a guy who had worked at kifaru. He made a ti wood stove and fit it into a Golite SL1? I want to say it came in under or around 3 lbs total.

The biggest improvement I want to make in my non wood fired camping is to get an inverted canister stove. I think it would be great to simply light my stove instead of futzing with my simmerlite. It is definately a nit-pick but when I am cold it seems like a real pain.

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Winter camping on 11/15/2011 07:50:40 MST Print View


You've started on the right track. Two gear recommendations and a camping principle to supplement the good advice above. A down sleeping pad is a must for me in winter, adds 10-15 F degrees to my sleeping bag. Pricey but well worth it (in any season). And dedicated sleep socks really help me. I use BPL's possum down socks just for sleeping, storing them in my sleeping bag when things are packed up.

The principle is simple: safety first, even if it means several extra pounds of food or gear. I apply this principle differently than in other seasons because the consequences of not enough insulation or shelter in winter are so much graver than in other seasons. It's one thing to be miserable, another to risk losing a digit or two - or worse. Plan with care, don't fret an extra ounce or two.


Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 08:58:43 MST Print View

Make the trip and sights worth suffering through the long winter night. I have some winterized backpacking gear, but currently most of my snow trips are usually dayhikes to burn off holiday pounds, ending up in front of a fireplace in Albuquerque, maybe Flagstaff. Just something about being on the snow during the long winter nights solo makes a microbrewery seem so much more inviting. Of course snow backpacking with a couple college coeds (no one expected snow btw) was even better than that so I guess it depends on the company...

All while mostly sunny Tucson, AZ and southern California call through the harsh winters. Maybe split weekends?

Edited by hknewman on 11/15/2011 10:16:15 MST.

Tommy Franzen
(Tomlike) - F

Locale: Pacific Wonderland
agree on 11/15/2011 09:07:37 MST Print View

Chris I'm in the same boat as you. It's difficult to just put away all the backpacking gear until Spring. As mentioned above, you really do have to want to be out there, in the cold. However, snowy landscapes are so darn quiet and beautiful, you don't have to travel far to have a great time. From my limited winter camping experiences, I'd echo others in that proper gear is crucial. For me, down booties, a stove that can adequately melt snow in cold temps, a Ridgerest or something similar to sit on in camp (in addition to an insulated pad), and a few extra ounces of whiskey are necessary for winter camping. I'm in Oregon as well, if you're looking for someone to head out on some trips with I'm planning on doing so after the holidays.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 09:08:43 MST Print View

copious amounts of extracirriculars

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Pee bottle on 11/15/2011 09:44:38 MST Print View

"Lots of hot drinks are important. However, you don't want to be drinking hot drinks into the evening or else you will have to get up too many times during the night. Instead, drink the hot drinks soon after making camp and then again at breakfast time."

Ah, that's where the beauty of having a pee bottle (e.g., Gatorade 32 oz) comes in. Bonus points if you're in a snow shelter and you can dump the contents of the pee bottle in a sump. Just be careful not to spill the contents in your sleeping bag or overflow your pee bottle if you're feeling like a race horse.

Also, it's best to stay properly hydrated when out in the cold--especially during the night. It helps to circulate blood to the extremities so you'll feel warm and be less susceptable to cold injury.

+1 on staying dry.

Edited by NightMarcher on 11/15/2011 09:49:32 MST.

Richard Fischel
Re: Pee bottle on 11/15/2011 10:46:32 MST Print View

yes - pee bottle may be the most important thing to have along when winter camping. i go for the 32 0z soft-sided nalgene. i find it easier to use than a regular bottle and i wont mix it up with a water bottle if i need a sip in the middle of the night.

nalgene soft sided cantene

a cup of something warm before i go down for the night really helps me go to sleep feeling warm.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
extra on 11/15/2011 11:10:59 MST Print View

extra insulation in yr bag to keep you warm
extra padding at night
extra clothing to stay warm in camp
extra fuel to make those hawt nalgenes
extra food for more calories

notice a lot of extra? ... not exactly UL ;)

Carter Young
(kidcobalt) - M

Locale: Western Montana
Some Winter Tips on 11/15/2011 12:39:49 MST Print View

When I was young in the early 1970s, we would routinely backpack in the Sierra Nevada in the winter, sometimes spending the night as high as 13,000 feet, and sometimes without taking any sort of shelter at all--spent the night at 9,000 feet on Olancha Peak in a clearing in the brush.

Temperatures rarely went below 10F at night, and so we used the same closed cell foam pads we did in the summer--3/8 inch thick ensolite.

This was before battery-powered headlamps were available, so we always carried a Gaz lantern to use at night. The lantern was especially useful for thawing out our single leather boots in the morning--light the lantern, flick back the top cover, and insert shaft of boot over globe.

The other trick that I rarely hear about is drinking warm, liquid Jello for breakfast.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 13:19:25 MST Print View

Hi Chris

> 1) bring a warm enough sleeping bag
Yes, but two people together helps enormously: you warm each other up. Built-in hot water bottle :-) That's why I always travel with my wife.

2) warm bottles in the sleeping bag
Never done it, as I find a live person is even better. A bottle gets cold about 3 am.

3) down booties
Yeah, well, doesn't hurt. Mind you, I don't have any. I just use fleece socks. What is significantly more important is good warm head covering. That is crucial.

4) lots of hot drinks.
Well, make that lots of warm high-calorie food. You will need the fuel.

> a better stove
A reliable, powerful, fast and easy to use stove. This can be critical at the end of a bad day. Me, I would only consider a remote canister stove. Alky is too slow, and white gas is a bit dangerous inside a tent vestibule.

You missed out two of the most important items:
* a good double-wall 4-season tent. Yes, some people manage with a tarp of some sort, but that takes a lot of experience and can be risky at the start.
* a good high R-value mat. No use having a good down quilt if the ground is freezing you.


Edited by rcaffin on 11/15/2011 23:03:56 MST.

Christopher Chupka

Locale: NTX
Must be able to: on 11/15/2011 14:04:40 MST Print View

Warm pad, a cold back at 0 degrees is a miserable experience.

Pee bottle, sucks to spend 10 minutes getting dressed, and if it's boring and cold enough you can watch your urine freeze in the bottle.

Make sure you have somewhere set up, vestibule or whatever, where you can cook and heat water/melt ice no matter the weather.

Layers, layers, layers. Don't be afraid to be a little cold at times to avoid sweating.

At least 2 sets of liner socks and gloves, maybe 3 sets of socks.

John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Long nights and short days on 11/15/2011 14:34:39 MST Print View

I used to worry about boredom winter camping but find as I have gotten older camp chores typically take up more than enough of my time. I also enjoy the long bag time and a good book or music.

With that in mind, a bomber tent, very comfy bag, pad, and pillow are a must for me. I use a pulk in winter so the extra bulk and weight isn't bad at all.

Winter also means food in the tent and I bring more treats than the other three seasons. If you aren't moving every day a tarp over a pit makes a great kitchen and place to hang out.

I take some foam Mukluks (sp) if I think I will be in camp alot. They are quite light but very bulky and don't pack well, but in a pulk they are no problem.

One last comment is to go with good company. A winter trip is not the best place to try out a new partner. I really enjoy the long conversations had on winter trips.

Having said all this, I am hoping to get my teenage son out on a few winter snowshoe trips and lately we don't generally agree on much so it will be interesting to say the least. My plan is to wear him out so he doesn't notice the down time.

Richard Fischel
*A winter trip is not the best place to try out a new partner* on 11/15/2011 15:04:11 MST Print View

great point - i got pinned down for almost two full days by a sever winter storm that trapped me with a guy with whom i was just casual friends. His alpine/winter camping experience was limited. He did not handle being stuck in the tent and the loss of control very well. It took him around six hours to realize there was nothing he could do about the situation and that while we were extremely inconvenienced and would not be able to summit, it was unlikely we were gonna die. What's funny is he was insulted when he wasn't asked to go on our next trip.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: *A winter trip is not the best place to try out a new partner* on 11/15/2011 16:01:24 MST Print View

I can't argue with Richard's subject line, but ...

His alpine/winter camping experience was limited. ... What's funny is he was insulted when he wasn't asked to go on our next trip.

There ARE folks I know well enough to be convinced that it isn't in their nature to handle tough going well and I wouldn't take them where there isn't an easy out. But don't ya gotta wonder how the majority of folks get experience? Sometimes a good heart-to-heart chat can go along way to teach people. Also, often when that fails it does succeed in convincing the other guy that I'm not someone they'd want to camp with again ... problem solved:-)

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: How do you make winter backpacking more enjoyable? on 11/15/2011 16:50:37 MST Print View

I have never been winter camping because I can't see it being enjoyable for me.
- I have very high respect for the cold and it frankly scares me a little.
- It gets dark at like 4:30, what am I suppose to do from 4:30 until 10-11 ? I cant imagine sitting in a tent for anything other than sleeping.
- The gear is expensive and there is a lot of it
- driving to the trail head in the snow on the highway for a few hours is not appealing.
I do like the woods after a fresh snow but prefer to day hike and go back to a warm house after with warm food.