Winter Backpacking: Top Tips That Can Help You When Camping Outdoors

Winter backpacks
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

If you love the snow then camping outdoors in the winter time is for you. Although being out in the cold might be a challenging task for you; yet, your love for the outdoors outshines any obstacles that might loom in your way of winter backpacking!

See also: Best Solar Backpack: For Charging Your Devices On-the-Go

Being prepared to sleep outside in the cold requires proper preparation on your part and therefore you should take your winter backpacking tips seriously. Here are some backpacking tips that can help you both prepare for your adventure and help to keep you safe on your campsite.

What Is a Backpack?

A backpack is a simple cloth or leather bag with straps on each side so you can slip your hands through them to keep the bag securely on your back.

Choose the best winter backpacks

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They are usually preferred above handbags by women because they can carry heavier loads in them. Mostly students, hikers and campers are using them today.

Advantages of Using A Backpack

  • It is comfortable to carry. Depending of course on the items packed inside your backpack, it is usually comfortable to carry around on your person. A good backpack does not make you feel a strain on your body and neither does it make your body tilt to one side when you are carrying it. However, for safety measures choose to not overload your bag so that your body will not have to suffer the consequences later.
  • Keeps you organized away from home. Today’s backpacks are made with various compartments so that you can stay organized while outdoor camping in the winter cold or otherwise. The different compartments can store water bottles, MP3 player, cell phone, subway tokens and your passport in case you are travelling overseas in winter. This makes all your basic items are in easy reach just in case you may need them if an emergency should arise.
  • Provides ease of movement. Your partner backpack is easy to carry around on your back and you do not need to drag it around with you like what you would do with a large suitcase. In addition, if you should need to get through a crowd of people fast, you can be sure that your backpack will not slow you down unlike other luggage carriers would.
  • It is easily stored away. Your backpack is so designed that you can easily store it overhead in planes, trains or busses. If you should face a problem with tight storage space, your backpack has a soft side that makes it conforms to most available space. For the bag to take up less space, you can just pull the compression straps that are on most of them so they become smaller in size.
  • It protects your valuable items from the elements. The manufacturer designed your travel backpack with waterproof and water resistant materials that are ideal to keep your valuables safe out of harm’s way. This makes it easier for you to travel in winter season knowing that your valuable items are safe from getting damaged or worst, even destroyed.
  • You have fewer luggage to manage. Backpacking gives you the advantage that other luggage carriers do not gives you. The design is so simple that it can easily be slung on to your back. Unlike a large suitcase that you have to wheel around and carry almost everywhere you go when you are traveling, your pack can save you plenty of time.
    The longer your winter travels last, is the more difficulty you will have moving around your luggage. Therefore, choose to take with you instead an ideal backpack to give you that edge in your winter travels or outside camping.

For a comparison on internal vs external backpacks that you can use, see our earlier article.

Some Tips on How to Use Your Backpack

Your backpack should be working for you at all times when you do winter traveling or camping and not working against you.

Backpacks for winter

Following the right procedures to use your pack can save you money from accidental damages caused by wrong use. Therefore, follow the below tips on how to use your knapsack so that you will not regret anything in the end.

  • Check out the construction. Backpacks carry two padded shoulder straps that help to keep the bag securely to your back. If the straps are not present then you are not getting the right McCoy. The straps should be wide enough so that they can adjust to fit your shoulders well enough. For a more secure bag on your back to carry your stuffs during winter, purchase a rucksack with a waist belt attached to it so that the weight can be distributed more easily.
  • Carry it the right way. Carrying your bag on your back the right way is essential if you want it to last long as well as if you do not want it to strain your body. When using your pack, make sure the straps are adjusted properly on your back. It should be close to your back and not hanging off too far. Make sure the straps are not too long so that the back does not hit against your lower back or butt.
  • Use both straps at the shoulders. If you develop a habit of using only one shoulder strap when you go winter hiking or camping then you are asking for trouble. After a while, you will start to experience shoulder or back pain. You should use both straps and they should be securely placed over your shoulders.
  • Stand or walk straight up. When you go out in the winter with your backpack strapped on your back, if you walk leaning forward it is because too many heavy items are packed into it. Lose some of the items or carry them in your hand so that you do not have to carry such a heavy load on your back and hurt yourself.

Research the Area You Are Planning to Set Up Camp

For your own safety, you should first do a research on the area where you are setting up your camp so that everything you need you can pack in your backpack before leaving home. To carry out your research, you can ask any locals living in the area or do a search using Google search engine.

Check the area you will camp

Things you should consider researching are:

  • How far away is civilization from the chosen campsite: unless you are an expert camper, it is best to stay as close to civilization as possible in case you should get into any form of trouble when doing bush camping or staying in the wild, especially during winter. Take for example, you might fall and break a leg and need proper medical attention immediately.
    It would be a great feeling knowing that a hospital is close at hand if such an emergency should occur. However, you can also pack some bandages and anti-biotic in your backpack to ensure that if help does not reach you in time you can dress your own wound in the meantime.
  • Previous campers’ experience: getting feedback from other campers who have taken the same route before you did is wise. This will help to prepare you for any sudden problems that might come up. For example, the spot you choose to set up camp might be prone to snow slide and you may be unaware of this. Previous campers can point this out to you and they may even be able to tell you at what time of the year the area can experience an avalanche.
    In addition, they can advice you of what to pack in your bag that will be beneficial to you in the cold just in case you are an adventurous camper and choose to settle near or in a snow slide area. Other things they can tell you about are if there are any dangerous wild animals frequenting the area, where to find small food animals to hunt in case you run out of food and so on.
  • Road conditions: is the road you will be traveling to your campsite safe?

Knowing beforehand if the road to your camp destination is safe is can save you plenty stress. Traveling an unsafe road while heading to your camp destination can result in you or your loved ones getting killed, especially if you have to travel at night.

This is where you travel map comes in handy. Therefore, you should remember to put your map in your friendly backpack.

What to Carry in Your Backpack

When going camping during the winter, you need to prepare wisely. Since you will not have a cozy roof over your head like when you are at home, you should prepare yourself for life outdoor. Therefore, making a winter backpacking checklist is necessary so that you will not leave anything behind accidentally.

Lightweight snow camping

Your checklist should include the following items as well to go in your backpack:

  • Emergency cash: when winter camping, make sure to carry some cash either in your pocket or in your backpack for emergency just in case you end up having to spend extra money you were not prepared to spend. Take for example, you may need some additional provision and another camper close by may be able to sell you the things you need. In addition, something you did not plan for might happen like someone from your team might breaking a leg and you have to find the money to pay for emergency medical assistance at a medical facility close by.
  • Emergency food and clothing: instead of just carry the expected amount of food to serve you during your stay out in the cold bushes, you should consider carrying additional supplies in your backpack just in case. Who knows what might happen? Simple things like a small animal might visit your campsite when you are asleep and steal your food, thus, making it impossible for the little you have left or none at all to serve during the duration of your stay.
    The extra food you carry in your backpack will come in very handy at such a time. Extra clothing should also be carried in your pack as well just in case you overstay your time. In addition, who knows? The time might get so cold that you have to put on extra clothing on top of the ones you are wearing to keep warm. The extra clothing you bring along will act as insurance for any unplanned event such as small animals shredding your unworn clothes to pieces and so on.
  • Extra water: you should carry more than enough water in your bag on your back to drink while you are out there away from civilization. Take nothing for granted when it comes to your health. Dehydration can lead to other problems in the body and create health issues you would rather stay far from. Drinking stream water should not be an option because such water is usually unhealthy to drink and if you do, in the end you might encounter sickness in your body as a result. Therefore, play it safe and bring along plenty drinking water in your backpack.
  • First aid kit: while out winter camping, you or a team member can meet in an accident and needs simple medical attention, thus, this is where your handy first aid supplies kit comes in that you have stored away in your backpack. Make sure to never leave this valuable item behind so that you can always attend to wounds received on the trail or at camp.
  • Navigation compass and map: you need to pack your navigation compass and map in your backpack so that you can find your way around. You might go for a hike and get lost or you may go hunting and the same thing happens. Your compass and map can point you to the way back to camp. Just make sure you know how to use them. If you are unsure how to use a compass and map, have a look at the tutorial video below.

Clothes You Can Bring in Your Backpack to Help in the Cold Weather

While winter camping, you should do everything in your power to stay dry and warm. Therefore, the clothes you wear on your body are important. Clothes that you should carry in your backpack are those that are able to dry quickly, breathable, waterproof and can insulate easily.

Clothes for winter backpacking

Carry about three basic layers of clothing in your backpack to ensure you will stay warm while you are braving the cold weather.

  • Layer 1 clothing: your under wears. Your first layer of clothing that you should pack in your backpack consists of your underwear, which is very important because this is the layer of clothing that is closest to your skin. You can take along under wears that are made from synthetic and wool materials because these go well with your skin. In addition, they dry quicker than most other materials in case they should get wet in the snow.
  • Layer 2 clothing: your shirts, pants, jackets. Your layer two clothing is your middle layer and consist of your shirts, pants and jackets, which are known also as your insulating layer because they help you retain heat in your body. For winter, it is better for you to wear micro-fleece, weight-fleece or goose down jacket to help keep the cold at bay so do not leave home without your layer two clothing in your backpack.
  • Layer 3 clothing: your outer layer. Your level three clothing to pack inside your backpack should be your outer layer clothes, which consist of waterproof and/or breathable clothing. You can wear laminate clothes like eVent, Gore-Tex and REI Elements so you will get premium protection when you face the cold.
  • Hats. Since you will be out camping in the winter, you should pack in your backpack one or two hats so that your head will not become too cold when you are outside in the snow. In fact, if your head is uncovered, you stand a good chance of losing body heat that escapes through the top of your head. You can buy hats that are made from Gore WindStopper fabric. Take a look at our top winter hats to give you more options.
  • Gloves and mittens. To keep your fingers warm while outdoor in the snow, especially during the cold nights, you should make sure to pack some gloves and mittens in your bag. If you should try to brave the winter by staying long outdoors without any protection on your hands, there is a good chance that you can get frost bite and lose a few of your fingers. Play it safe by packing a few gloves and mittens in your trusty backpack. For tips on how to choose the best backpacking gloves, see our must-read piece on this topic.
  • Socks. In winter season, socks is a must wear if you want to help protect your feet from the cold. If the time is really very cold, it is better to wear two merino wool or synthetic socks on your feet. In addition, remember to pack extra socks in your knapsack. Just in case some get wet you can still have others to wear.
  • Gaiters. While camping outdoor, you have to keep water and snow out of your boots and this is where your gaiters come into play. They are especially necessary for deep snow camping and when you put them on they can give a little warmth to your feet. When shopping for gaiters, make sure to buy ones that are most suitable for winter use. Therefore, always leave space in your backpack for your gaiters.
  • Glasses and goggles. Never leave home for winter camping without making sure that you have your glasses and goggles packed away inside your backpack. They are strong protection tools against wind and sun. See our top of the line snowmobile goggles to give you  more choices on this gear.
  • Boots. Depending on how large your backpack is and how many things you pack into it, you might be able to squeeze an extra pair of boots in it. Still, depending on how long you will be camping out in the snow, an extra pair of boots can serve you well just in case the one you are wearing should get damaged or torn.  A torn boot will not be able to keep out water or snow. Therefore, if your backpack has additional space, make sure to pack an extra pair of boots so you do not hurt your legs in the cold.
  • Lighting and batteries. In your backpack, make sure to leave space for your flashlight and batteries.

Without them, you might find it a big problem to navigate your way around in the snow when it gets dark. To be extra sure, you should carry extras and be certain your batteries are charged and ready to go, especially if an emergency should arise in the dark of the night.

Having a backpack as your friend while traveling or camping out during winter season is a sure way to go.

Successful winter camping

All your necessary traveling items are covered and you do not have to worry about lifting as well as dragging around heavy loads. Your winters outdoors will be more enjoyable and you can have all your stuff in one place. So what’s your favorite thing to pack in your winter backpacking gear?


Bradley Page

Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!