Backpacking in cold weather might be a stretch for many folks. But just because the air is a little frigid doesn’t mean you have to take time off from backpacking. You can still go on backpacking trips as long as you know the risks and know how to mitigate them safely.
Here’s our advice on how to backpack in cold weather:
You might think that the tighter your clothing is, the warmer you’ll be, but that isn’t necessarily true. If your clothes or even your shoes are too tight, they will cause improper circulation. That increases your chance of frostbite. So although you want to make sure you have extra layers for warmth, you want your clothing to fit comfortably. And make sure your clothes are designed for exercising in cold weather! You don’t want cotton underlayers that will stay cold and damp. Opt for moisture-wicking fabric instead.
Pack the Right Cold Weather Backpacking Gear
After choosing the proper clothing, you’ll need to ensure you have the right accessories with you. Accessories can include a winter hat, a headlamp for when the sun goes down, and a pair of goggles or sunglasses. The eye protection will keep you safe from the sun and the wind that tends to be more extreme in the winter months.
Don't Forget Sun Protection
Even though it’s cold outside, you still need to slap on the SPF. The sun’s rays are still damaging, whether it’s 80 degrees or 30 degrees. If there’s snow on the ground where you’re hiking, the light can reflect back to you, putting you at greater risk. You will likely have less skin exposed to the elements, but it’s crucial that what is exposed is protected.
Pack a Backup Heat Source
If you’re bringing a stove on your trip, it’s essential to prepare for the worst case scenario. Stoves can break down or prove difficult to start, so always have a back-up plan. The simple approach is to carry matches in a waterproof bag so that you could make a fire if needed.
Water and backpacking in cold weather
It’s important to stay hydrated at all times and water management is key to a successful trip. Carrying water is good but can only last so long due to the weight the water containers add to your pack. You should know where sources of water, such as springs or creeks, are before you set out. Also, carrying a water filter is the key to avoiding sickness from contaminated water.
Keeping water warm in colder temperatures can be a challenge. You can keep a well-sealed container in your sleeping bag with you overnight to keep the ice at bay. Also, having a reliable stove will heat up the water when you need to.
Protect Your Electronic Devices
Cold temperatures can kill batteries quickly. To avoid this, keep electronics and battery-powered devices close to your body as much as you can. You can also put these items in a pocket close to your body. The body heat will help keep them warm and prolong battery life.
Change Clothes Before Bed
If you’ll be sleeping during your backpacking trip, you may be tempted just to sleep wearing whatever clothing you made your trek in. But don’t! If there’s too much sweat and dirt in your sleeping bag, you will be decreasing its ability to insulate you. So instead, make sure you’ve changed into clean clothing, including fresh socks and underwear.
When you follow these tips, you’ll stay warm even on your coldest backpacking trips. It will take a little extra effort, but it will be worth it!