Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should be carrying an absurd amount of weight when you go backpacking. But choosing what to bring and what to leave behind can be tricky, especially when you want to be well-prepared without hurting your back from the extra weight.
Pack Layers to Stay Warm Instead of Bulky Single Items
Not only are bulky sweaters and jackets heavy and hard to carry, but they might actually not be the best option to stay warm during winter adventures. “To help minimize the extra clothes bulk I use a two-pronged approach: dress in layers for the activity, carry extra layers for camp, and have enough extra space in my pack to store shed layers easily,” says Whitney LaRuffa, sales and marketing director for Six Moon Designs and an avid hiker and backpacker. “I start by dressing in a layer of merino wool long underwear, then a synthetic vest or parka and finish it off with a layer of hard shell Gortex outer layers.”
Wearing at least some of those layers on the walk means you won’t have to pack them and carry them along instead. Plus, layers are the best way to fight the wind chill factor, which can have dramatic effects on your comfort when outside in the snow. “Even on a day when the sun is shining you think you would be comfortable especially while moving, but high winds can cut through any warmth you are generating,” according to LaRuffa. So wear warm layers and bring a few extra ones (go for sweat-resistant materials and water repellent materials) in case it gets colder or you get wet.
Think “Shelter” Without Too Many Extras
Being protected at night is paramount for warmth and survival, especially in strong winds, but that often means bringing special equipment that can weigh you down considerably. “If you want to go as light as possible, build a snow cave and use a bivy sack for an extra layer to trap heat and protect from wind,” says LaRuffa.
While a tent might be a more popular choice for most (and there are numerous lightweight four-season tents on the market), LaRuffa points out that because of the way they are designed and constructed—usually double wall—winter tents tend to be pretty heavy. “Look for a classic dome shape which helps shed snow along with a single wall design to save weight,” says LaRuffa. “The most important things to look for in a winter tent is shape: domes and hoop style tents have better snow shedding, and anything under three pounds for a four-season tent is about as light as you can get.”
Don’t Leave Your Stove Behind
Because stoves are probably the heaviest thing you’ll carry during a backpacking trip, you might be tempted to leave them behind—but obviously that would be a very big mistake in winter. “A stove is necessary to melt snow for water, and having a good reliable stove that sips on white gas is crucial, since white gas is not affected by cold, unlike today’s canister stoves,” says LaRuffa. “Either way, I generally carry extra fuel for safety purposes. This is one area where I don’t worry if I am carrying extra weight, because I know I could blow through a liter of fuel in a few days if melting snow is required for me to stay hydrated.”
To make sure you’re not carrying more gas than you need, check the weather forecast. If you don’t expect snow, you could cut down on the amount considerably. Don’t forget to shop around too: chances are you don’t need more than one burner or a high-end stove that might look nicer but weighs more. Stick to the basics to save on weight.