Backpacking in the Winter is unlike any other season of the year, for obvious reasons. My last backpacking trip (January) temps got down into the teens at night. Is that by definition Winter? I guess the answer would be what region are you backpacking in?. The Southeast (where I am) is obviously much different than Northeast. Is packing for a 15 degree night in the Southeast the same as packing for a 15 degree night in the Northeast? No
Backpacking for Winter requires careful thought and planning. Weather and elevation are going to play key factors in how you pack for your trip. In the Southeast for example, backpackers can expect temps to rebound during the day. Low of 15, high of 50. In the Southeast you are probably NOT going to run into 2 feet of snow. So how do you pack for a cold night and warm days?
I was quite warm under a tarp recently when the temps got down to 15 degrees at night. I had 3 layers and a 15 degree Marmot Adventurer sleeping bag with a 2mm ground cloth and a Long Thermarest underneath. However, during the day when temps reached a balmy 45 degrees, I had only 2 layers and never over heated.
My total pack weight was 28 pounds for two cold nights and 3 days in the 40’s. Having said that, I mixed Winter gear with Fall gear. In other words, I didn’t take snowshoes, snow stakes, a white gas stove, nor winter down snow pants. Here is my clothing pack list:
Long sleeve base layer REI Midweight Polartec® Power Dry® Zip-T
Mid layer Delta AR Zip Men’s
Nail Driver Soft Shell Pants (these are excellent for cold nights and warm days) You will NOT need long johns with these.
First Ascent Downlight Jacket for camp. (I sleep in this and adds an extra R Value to my sleeping Bag. It’s also extremely packable)
Smart Wool Winter Socks
NorthFace Tent Bootie
Mountain Hardwear Balaclav
Wool Hat, and gloves.
One added piece of gear I brought but didn’t use, but I think is necessary is my Marmot Greenland Baffled Jacket. I bring this for two reasons. One, it makes a great pillow, and two, weather can change quickly in the mountains, so I bring an 800 fill jacket for the “just in case” scenario.
And NEVER forget your Hardshell or Rain Jacket. I bring a Marmot Precip Jacket. It’s especially useful when stopping for lunch on a windy balmy 50 degree day.
This gear list would obviously change in high altitude conditions when snow and high winds would be prevalent. For AT Thru Hikers, who start in January this could work for you.