Quick Tips for Lightweight Winter Backpacking

winter backpackingJust 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.