Winter Backpacking Tips

Winter backpacking gives you adventurous year-round access to the outdoors with fewer people, no bugs, a snow-covered landscape and bragging rights. Whether you’re looking for tranquility and getting closer to nature or going with a group of friends ready to laugh and howl at the moon. Either way, winter backpacking is an outdoor adventure that you’ll never forget.

With the right gear and preparedness, it can be like staying in a winter lodge, but you have it all to yourself. And it doesn’t have to be that different from summer backpacking, but there are some fundamental differences and tips to keep in mind.

Being prepared and having the right equipment is the most important, especially for cold weather. Making sure you have the right clothing and equipment like a 4-season tent, sleeping bag and pad will keep you warm, comfortable and make your trip awesome.

If you’re new to winter backpacking and this is starting to sound like a lot to invest in, no problem. This is why I started TruNorthwest Exchange in the first place, to give you a way to get outside in comfort, with the best gear out there, but without having to invest in owning it and lugging it around.

1. How to dress for winter backpacking

Dressing for winter conditions is all about having the right clothing from head to toe so you stay warm, dry and cozy. The good news is, there are some easy ways to do this and you might already have some of these pieces in your closet.

Base layers are your first layer of warmth. Merino Wool and synthetics like polypro are the best for insulation, breathability and moisture wicking, so you stay warm, dry and comfortable. But please whatever you do, NO COTTON! Cotton holds on to moisture and will only make you colder.

For your mid layers, go puffy. Down is a fantastic insulator that’s easy to pack and keeps you toasty warm.

For your outer layers, make sure to have waterproof jacket and pants, so you and your layers stay dry inside if it’s raining or snowing. You’ll also want waterproof footwear that’s warm, dry and broken in. And don’t forget your wool socks, remember, just no cotton.

Last, but not least, bring a thick beanie, gloves and/or mittens. Mittens because they trap the heat and keep your hands warmer, and gloves for dexterity.

2. What sleeping gear to take for winter backpacking

Down is the best insulator for your sleeping bag and will keep you the warmest. It’s also lightweight and packable. Look for temperature ratings on your sleeping bag to give you a great idea of how warm it’s designed to keep you in certain temps.

An air mattress with some padding in it will help trap heat and keep you the warmest. If it’s just straight up air inside, you’ll be freezing cold, because that air you’re sleeping on is the same temp as the air outside, burr.

Make sure your tent is winter ready. This means it’s a sturdy 4-season tent that can withstand wind and snowfall. This isn’t your ultralight summer tent.

And of course, you have to carry all of this, so don’t forgot a large volume backpack for all your gear.

3. What to eat winter backpacking

Food prep for winter camping can be easy with freeze-dried food and pre-prepped snacks. Or, if you’re more of the gourmand, then bring something to prepare yourself.

If you’re going freeze-dried, there’s a wide variety of flavors, diet requirements and companies offering anything from pastas, to gluten free, vegetarian, and even delicious deserts. And all they require to prepare is boiling some water.

If you would rather make your own meals, try and keep them simple and quick so you have more time to play in the snow.

Make snacks easy. Nuts, cheese, chocolate, snack bars, jerky etc. High calorie and fat are recommended.

Along with hardy and easy to prep food, you’ll need a stove that works well in cold to freezing temps. Not all backpacking stoves are alike, and some will work better in colder conditions. Also, make sure it can withstand wind and doesn’t blow out. If not, build a wall around it to keep it protected.

Last, but not least, drink water. Drink it like it’s going out of style. Bring an insulated water bottle so your water doesn’t freeze, and you can always boil more at camp.

And if you’re like me, you better have a full flask of whiskey, or whatever your alcohol of choice is for laughing around camp.

4. How to be prepared and safe for winter backpacking

There are some fundamental rules when winter backpacking.

  • Check the weather and conditions before you go
  • Let someone know where you’re going, when you’re leaving, and when you’ll be back
  • Take the correct gear that will keep you warm, dry and protected from the elements. If in doubt, take more than you think you’ll need
  • Buddy up. It’s always best to go with someone for safety, company, and to have a whisky drinking buddy
  • First aid kit with non-expired supplies, lighter, whistle, duct tape, knife, map & compass.
  • Avalanche safety equipment that you know how to use if you’re going into the backcountry and there’s even the slightest risk of avalanches
  • Drink water and eat often
  • Pack out everything you packed in!

5. Have fun!

Most importantly, have fun! Whether you’re looking for tranquility and getting closer to nature or going with a group of friends ready to laugh and have fun. Either way, winter backpacking is a rad and unforgettable experience! 

And at TruNorthwest Exchange we rent the winter camping equipment you need. Just check us out online to reserve the gear you want. You can rent complete packages or go a la carte. And did I mention that we can ship gear to you? Or, if you’re staying in Bend and we can deliver it right to where you’re staying.

So, make some new memories this winter, try and new adventure and have a blast winter camping. With the right gear and easy delivery, TruNorthwest Exchange is ready to help.