Here is a list of random winter backpacking tips. Thanks to everyone from Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers (Meetup) for contributing!
- Put a hot water bottle into your sleeping bag
- Use a metallic car windshield sun screen as an insulating pad under your sleeping bag
- Use a homemade aluminum foil wind screen around your cooking stove
- Keep your clothing dry, this is an imperative!
- Keep your down dry at all costs! This includes your coat and sleeping bag
- Keep your socks dry
- Don’t put dry socks into wet boots, use a plastic bag such as a shopping bag, a bread loaf bag, or doggy poop bag to put over your dry socks.
- Use chemical hand warmers, especially in your sleeping bag (Bass Pro Shop)
- Layer up, thermals, shirts, sweaters, down jacket, wind/rain jacket on top
- Really thick thermal bottoms
- Stocking cap which will cover your entire face while sleeping
- Warm up fuel can under coat before using
- Keep water from freezing by covering with coat, etc. At night
- Turn water bottles upside down at night so freezing will be at the ‘bottom’ of the bottle not around the spout/opening
- Water bladder sips tubes will freeze
- Hot tea, hot wine, hot water….good for drinking and staying warm before going to bed
- Rain gear is a good wind break over your coats/pants to reduce ‘wind chill effect’ warm air removal
- Add +20 degrees to whatever your bag says is its winter rating for true comfort range. If the bag is supposed to be a “15F” bag, you’ll probably only be comfortable down to about 25F
- If your clothes are dry, it’s ok to wear in your bag at night.
- If you start getting cold in your bag, start putting on everything you own/brought with you.
- A trash bag used for backpack inner rain protection can be a very good – and warm- vapor barrier liner for inside your sleeping bag, can add about 10F warmth (downside it retains a bit of moisture and feel clammy)
- A gortex bivy sack over sleeping bag will add warmth
- Pumping up your heart rate (pushups, brisk walking, etc.) Just before getting into your bag will help to generate that initial heat to start warming the bag.
- If you toes start to get cold at first, when in your bag, make sure your core (chest area) and head are well covered, once your brain decides they are ‘good to go’ blood will be turned back on to your extremities and will warm up.
- Do not skimp on warm gloves and stocking hat.
- Coldest times will be just before you go to bed and getting up to get dressed and cook breakfast (mornings are usually the coldest times or just as cold)
- If your stove flame is ‘contained’ like a jet boil, heat up a hot drink under you vestibule when you get up to help stoke the internal furnace.
- Try to purchase an air mattress rated for winters. If you use your summer mattress, use something like a yoga pad to insulate between your bag and the mattress, not between the mattress and ground. You don’t want super cooled air in the mattress to transfer the heat from your bag. Remember, you are compressing the down underneath you, making it worthless as an insulator.
- Warmth is created by trapping dead air around your skin. You do this by insulating the areas around your body (layers, down), while preventing wind from chilling your outer surface (rain/wind jackets/pants)
- Put some water in your pot before going to sleep if it’s going to really freeze. Then you’ll have ice already in your pot, ready for the stove. This helps if your water bottles are frozen.
- Expect your water purifier to freeze, including filters and tubes. Keep it covered like your water bottles. Consider water purification tablets in winter (30 min wait time) https://www.rei.com/product/695229/katadyn-micropur-purification-tablets-package-of-30
- a ‘cozy’, ‘insulation pouch’ is a good idea for helping your meals cook after hot water is added.
Winter backpacking ideas
1. Bring those little glove/hand warmers and toss the down into your sleeping bag.
2. Don’t wear too many socks. It will actually cut off circulation and cause your feet to be colder.
3. Bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. They really aren’t that heavy and you’ll wish you had them!
4. Being in the cold burns calories.. eat snacks more often and stay hydrated.
5. Be extremely careful crossing snow bridges over streams… it could be your last!!! :0
6. Warm/hot water in a water bottle down in your sleeping bag makes for some toasty toes!
7. Don’t be too embarrassed to tell someone you are cold.. they may have some extra gear!
About #1, The good old fashion campfire is pretty much a thing of the past for many good reasons. But if you do have one, grab a half loaf of bread sized rock from the fire that is slightly too hot to touch and wrap it in clothing or whatever. Bring it in the bag with you. Most people like their feet on it. Depending on the type of stone and the time in the fire, it may provide warmth throughout most of the night.
- If i bring an extra fleece blanket, I use it outside of the bag.
- Test and know your stove in extreme cold temps
- My standard JetBoil is very inefficient below 20°. My Primus propane/butane stove takes 15 minutes to bring 1/2 litre of water to boil.
- I need to put my alcohol stove fuel in my pocket to warm it up, and I have to actually dip my match into the fuel to light it. I was able to use my alcohol stove efficiently in temps just above 0° but need to have a good windscreen.
- My MSR Dragonfly works well but I have to make sure I bring plenty of fuel and need to pump it more often in the cold.
- Camp fire seems to be the best for bringing water to a boil in under 5 minutes. Get a pot that is safe to use on a campfire (I use titanium).
- Bring or make a cozy for your pots, cups and dehydrated food. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RjviJ0AlVI
- Use a 1 person tent as your body heat will fill the smaller space and give a bit of “extra” warmth.
- Use 1-2 body size hand warmers in the foot of your sleeping bag.
- Exercise before climbing into your bag.
- Use a balaclava instead of a beanie, it won’t come off during the night.
- Bring a 3/4 length of 1/4″ ensolite to use under your ground pad.
- If you use a down quilt like I do a sewn foot box is best.
- Eat a high calorie meal that will keep pumping warmth through your body.
- If you wake up and need to pee get up and do so otherwise your body is burning heat trying to keep the urine at 98.6.
- Don’t overdress, you need some dead air space between your clothing and your body.
- If you wear gloves to bed choose mittens instead.
- As I mentioned above I use a 900 down fill quilt, the down under a sleeping bag compresses under your body weight and provides no warmth verses extra weight.
- Pack your sleeping bag loosely in your pack instead of in a stuff sack or compression sack.
- Use a contractor weight trash bag instead of a pack cover.
- Camp at a bit higher elevation as the cold air tends to settle.
- Camp away from creeks for the same reason.
Hot hands, which I rarely use for my hands! Throw one in the bottom of your bag when you set up, if it’s really cold throw one in each boot when you go to bed. And in the morning I like to put one in each back pocket to keep my butt warm.
Another tip which I learned from Shaun G is to turn your puffy into a foot warmer by zipping it up and turning it inside out. Put your feet into it in the bottom of your bag. Toasty!