What’s in My Pack for Winter Hiking
The hiking season doesn’t need to end if you have gear to keep you warm and safe when it’s cold and wet out. Here’s what I take in my backpack when hiking in the winter. A lot of these items are the same as what I take hiking in warmer months, but there are a few extras I take in colder conditions.
In colder months, I use a larger day pack than I do in the summer. Extra space is needed for carrying more clothing layers, plus it’s good to have room for a thermos or lightweight backpacking stove. There’s nothing like having hot soup, tea or hot cocoa on a frigid day hike. For me, a 36 liter pack is large enough to carry what I need. The Omen’s Osprey Sirrus 36 (or Men’s Stratos 36) pack has a zipper on the side for easy access to the main compartment, and a lid on top for stashing smaller items.
Instead of using a hydration bladder, I like to use a water bottle with a hose. Since the bottle doesn’t hold enough for a long day of hiking, I also take a water filter. If I’ll be in areas without access to water for filtering, I take an extra water bottle and leave the filter at home. To keep the hose from freezing on frigid days, blow air back into it after taking a sip. Or stash the hose inside your jacket, add an insulated cover to the hose, or eliminate the hose altogether and plan to make frequent stops to access a water bottle.
Regardless of the conditions, I always take the ten essentials for hiking. And in the winter, I take two headlamps in case one runs out of battery, which is also good for sunset hikes when you’ll be on the trail in the dark for longer periods.
While I always take a paper map on every hike, I use my smartphone for navigation using the Gaia app. In addition, I always have a personal locator device with me for contacting search and rescue in case of an emergency. Hopefully that won’t happen, and with a two-way communication device like the InReach, you can also text anyone to let them them know where you are, get help with your vehicle, or anything else that comes up.
I always take a rain jacket no matter what the forecast is – a rain jacket is an essential on every trip but especially in the winter in the Pacific Northwest. Not just for rain, having protection from the wind can help keep you much warmer. Just be sure to check for moisture building up inside due to exertion. Vent a rain jacket by unzipping underarm vents, the front zipper, or hand pockets. I also take rain pants when hiking in colder months for the same reasons. And both are great for hiking in the snow, keeping your insulated outwear dry.
In the winter, icy trails are more common. Falling on ice is no fun, as my shoulder can tell you from when I took a hard fall on solid ice one winter. Having a traction device to put over your hiking boots or shoes will prevent this from happening. The type of traction devices used for walking on city sidewalks (Yaktrax or similar) doesn’t provide grip for icy trails so I’d recommend keeping a pair of microspikes in your pack instead. I like the Katoola Microspikes since they fit well over my trail running shoes.
For sitting on breaks, a foam pad will not only protect your bum from sticks or rocks, it will also provide insulation. Look for a foam pad with silver coating on one side, which reflects body heat to keep you warm. I like the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat Pad.
Not shown in the photo: paper map, food, trekking poles, and an emergency shelter – either an emergency blanket or bivy, or an ultralight tarp with guylines and stakes.