10 Tips for surviving a winter backpacking trip.

Categories:Camping Advice | Gear | Hiking Advice | Hiking Tech | Tips Tricks DIY


As a warning these are simply tips.  The author of this site is not responsible any damage, personal injuries or death as a result of the use of any advice, gear or techniques discussed on this blog. All outdoor activities are carried out at your own risk.

1. Always take toilet paper with you.
If you are one who like to pack only baby wipes with you to clean once completing natures calling you might want to reconsider during winter trips. Baby wipes will freeze, and once thawed they will most definitely wake you up in the morning.  I once had to hold my pack of baby wipes in my armpits to thaw them out in order to wipe.  True story. This is why I recommend always taking toilet paper and baby wipes to use just in case your wipes get frozen.

2. Take water into your tent at night.
Some say that you take your water in with you at night. Some people will even sleep with it in their sleeping bags.  This is all fun and games until you forget to tightly close your hydration bladder and it leaks everywhere.  There is always one person in every group that this has happened too. Thankfully it was not me.  I typically will place my water bladder or bottle up near my head as that is the safest place for items in my tent as I tent do roll and shift a lot in my sleet.  If you are using a hydration system that has hoses also take those in with you. Having frozen hoses is also no fun.

3. Take your water filters into your tent at night.
Many of the filters on the market today if frozen can cause harm to the filter. A frozen filter is not what causes problems but instead it is what happens when it thaws. It can seize up or crack  creating the potential for you to become sick after drinking contaminated water. If you use a chemical treatment make sure that freezing does not harm its effectiveness.

4. Pick up fuel canister immediately after turning off.
When you are in near freezing or below freezing temps fuel canisters can become frozen to the ground or objects after use.  These fuel cans  are used by many light weight backpacking stoves and contain isopro gas cool down instantly after use. When in cold temps they cool down so much that any air or moisture that might be trapped under the can will create a seal against the object it is sitting on. I have seen them get stuck to the ground, wood tables, and metal objects.  To fix the problem simply remove your pot of boiling water and sit it down. Pick up the stove and fuel canister before turning it off. Turn off the stove and hold for 30 seconds or so. The canister will quickly accumulate to the outside temps.

5. Start Moving it will warm you up.
We wake up all warm in our sleeping bags and dread having to get up and out. Just remind yourself that the more you move the more you will warm up. You might be silly dancing around waiting for your water to boil in the morning but you are creating body heat.  Do several pushups, run in place, or even do a little dance. All will get your blood pumping and your body warming up.

6. Eat a cold breakfast and stop to have a warm snack down the trail.
Many backpackers will have some type of cold breakfast such as a energy bar or a pop tart. They will then hike long enough to warm up some let the water thaw out and then stop  on the trail for a warm beverage and warm food.  This can get you out of camp and onto the trail quicker since there is no time needed to prep food and boil water.  This is not a strategy for everyone. Some folks simply do not like to stop and cook once they have started.

7. Use your body heat to thaw out water or keep items warm.
Similar to taking your water into the tent simply place any item you need to keep warm or thaw out inside your inner most layer against your skin. It is going to be super cold at first but as you continue to move whatever you are warming up will gradually thaw or stay warm. Keep in mind however that you need to make sure that your core is warm because if it is not this could push you into hypothermia if you are not careful.

8. Electronics can freeze keep them warm.
Batteries and your electronic devices can freeze and exposure to the cold can cause them to stop working. A large percentage of the time the devices stop working  due to the energy being sucked out by the cold.  Keep your electronics especially ones you may need to reply on in an emergency such as phones, GPS devices, or locator beacons in pockets closest to your body. Make sure to put them in waterproof bags to ensure your sweat does not hurt them. Also keeping them with you at night in your tent or even inside your sleeping bag is also a good idea.

9. Layers are you friend.
Layering your clothing  is a must for cold weather activities especially backpacking and hiking.   Each persons natural thermostat is different so you will have to experiment with which layers work for you. The most common layering system is to use is broken down into 3 parts. A base layer, mid layer, and shell.  I typically will use the following:

Base layer:  merino wool or synthetic base layer pants and shirt.
Mid Layer:
A long sleeve hiking shirt and hiking pants
Mid Layer:
A light weight down jacket or fleece.
hard shell / rain coat to shield from wind and moisture.

10. Keep yourself hydrated and full of energy.
No matter the time of year or the temperature you need to keep yourself hydrated and your gas tank full of much needed calories. Many people think that because it is cold you will not sweat or become dehydrated but it is very easy to become dehydrated during the winter months. You will need to also stock up on those much needed calories during your meals and snacks because your body is working overtime to keep your body warm and your blood pumping.

Do you have any winter backpacking and hiking tips?  How do you keep yourself and your gear warm during the cold months?

Adam Nutting relishes being an avid backpacker, hiker, and all-around adventure junkie. While he currently spends his time hiking in the backcountry of southern Arizona, he grew up in Missouri, where he was naturally inclined to spend as much time as he could outdoors. Adam’s passion for the outdoors grew as he climbed the ranks of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

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