Winter Camping Gear 

This is my gear list for backcountry winter camping.  It is broken into three main categories:  Essentials, Should Haves, and Nice to Haves.  Keep in mind that this is my personal take on it.  Some of it goes against the mainstream dogma of generally accepted backcountry norms.  That said, I base my opinions from years of experience as an Infantryman in the U.S. Army and conducting dismounted; light infantry operations; which included "camping" and "hiking" through some of the harshest terrain and weather conditions for extended periods of time.  (see my notes below for an expanded details). 


Items in this list must be in your pack or on your person before stepping off.  These are non-negotiable and the lack of these is a deal breaker for any trip.  These are the bare essentials to keep you alive when conditions change for the worst.

  • Appropriate Clothing*
  • Winter / Mountaineering Boots
  • Rain Gear
  • Sleep System (bag, pad, bivy)*
  • Navigation Tools (map/compass minimum)
  • Headlamp w/ extra batteries
  • Food / Water 
  • Lighter / Matches
  • Med Kit
  • Knife / Multitool
  • Water purification capability
  • Location Essential Gear (snow shoes, crampons, axe, etc.)
  • Toilet paper / plastic bags
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Cell Phone

Should Haves

When it comes to survival and/or making your backcountry camping trip enjoyable, these are the items you should have in your pack to make life easier.  While these don't have the same potential life and death consequences as the stuff on the Essentials List, they are things that should be in your pack to further stack the odds in your favor.  Most of these are small/light enough to be brought and could be split up when going in a group. 

  • Stove / Fuel
  • Cook / Flatware
  • Poncho/Rain Fly
  • 550 Chord (rope)
  • 100mph Tape (duct tape)
  • Lip balm / Sunscreen
  • Audio Visual Signaling
  • GPS

Nice to Haves

Everything on this list is gravy.  Its stuff if you have it and are willing to carry it, then great - more power to you.  They are non-essentials but may impact the enjoyment of your trip.  The key with these items is to figure out whether the juice is worth the squeeze and to balance weight with comfort.

  • Camera Equipemnt
  • Battery charger
  • Trekking poles
  • Camp chair
  • Bungie chords
  • Carabiners
  • Book


This section provides additional notes and expanded information on some of the key items above.  Again, these are my opinions based on my years of experience going in the backcountry and conducting light infantry operations in austere conditions all over the world.


This will always be conditions based, but for winter camping a moisture-whisking, layered approach is essential.  This typically means wearing a thin base layer, insulation layer, and a shell layer with at least one back-up set of the thin and mid-weight insulation layers.  I typically break my insulation layers into two layers: a mid-weight polypro top / bottom and a down/polyfill jacket (and sometimes pants).   The shell layer (top and bottom) should be wind and waterproof and preferably breathable.  

Be prepared to mix or shed layers based on weather conditions and your level of physical output.  I will often shed my shell top and mid-weight fleece shirt and pants when I am on the move in to keep from overheating and sweating too much.  But I will immediately throw on a down jacket the second I stop to keep my perspiration from sucking the heat from my body.

Socks are light and critical to long distance trips.  Bring plenty and make sure they are made from a synethic wool.  (Love me some thin-to-medium weight Smartwool phD-style hiking socks).   


Sleep System

For any overnight trip a sleep system is a must.  I will sometimes bring a sleep system on day hikes in backcountry, mountainous environments because shit happens.  For winter conditions, I take a Gore-Tex bevy sack, inflatable ground pad, and zero degree bag.  If conditions are going to be extreme cold, I'll bring an extra ground pad and