When the temperature dips below freezing, most of us hang up our backpacking gear and turn to more comfy pursuits, like Netflix marathons. Jack Schroeder, an A.T. thru-hiker and life-long backpacker sees the cold weather as an invitation for adventure. “Winter is my favorite time to go backpacking,” he says. “The views are often better, hiking in the snow is a blast, and I just like the cold air.”
Schroeder teaches winter backpacking courses through Diamond Brand in Asheville. “People tell me about the coldest night they ever spent in the woods and how miserable it was. But if you have the right gear, you can stay warm and avoid shivering through the night.”
Schroeder’s tip for staying warm on extra cold nights: “Heat water and fill your water bladder with it. Get in your sleeping bag and hug the water.”
Here, Schroeder talks about the winter backpacking gear that has kept him warm, even when temperatures hit zero in the backcountry.
This is my layering system that works for sleeping, hiking and just hanging out. I start with Ice Breaker Oasis long sleeve top and leggings, made from Merino wool ($90). The mid-layer is Patagonia’s R1 Fleece, full zip ($159), and on top of that I put the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. It’s the lightest weight full featured jacket I’ve found, with 800-fill down that’s only seven ounces and really packable. They’ve treated the down with DWR coating to help it shed water. It works. ($350)
Keen Saltzman ($130)
Even in the winter, I like to keep it fast and light with a low-cut hiking boot. But waterproof upper is key. I used this boot on my thru-hike, and hiked over 2,200 miles without a blister.
You want a good bag and a good pad. Those are the two keys to staying warm at night. Not all bags perform the same, even if they have the same rating. This is a 20-degree bag, the highest quality of bag on the market, and it’s under two pounds. If you’re not worried about weight, go down to the 10-degree down bag.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite ($129)
A lot of people think they can get away with a cheap pad, but 60 percent of body heat escapes through the ground. This pad is really warm and weighs only 12 ounces for the full length.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX-2 ($399)
It’s a two-person, double wall tent. You don’t need a true four-season single wall tent in the South. I’ve been through the worst weather in this tent and still came out dry. It even holds up well under snow pack. And it fits two people and their packs really well.
Built for rugged, aggressive hikes, the Capra climbs like a mountain goat thanks to its grippy tread and lightweight, agile construction. The 4.5-mm lugs and Vibram Arctic Grip provide outstanding traction on snow and ice, and the breathable, waterproof construction keeps toes toasty without overheating.
Secur Products 5005 Waterproof Bluetooth Flashlight ($99)
This LED flashlight, USB charger, and Bluetooth speaker is contained in one rugged waterproof device, powered by a lithium-ion battery that plays 28 hours of music and keeps the long nights of winter brightly illuminated.
These dual-layer, carbon-infused fleece gloves retain 20% more heat and are touch-screen compatible. The gloves are flexible yet provide a secure grip. Perfect for trail running, the Mission gloves provide excellent warmth while still remaining lightweight, flexible, and pliant.
Solar charging isn’t always possible. Hand crank this case for five minutes, and you have an hour of normal use.
Osprey SKARAB 24 ($100)
A classic day pack, the Skarab is lightweight, versatile, and voluminous. The harness and hipbelt spread the load evenly, and front access panel means you never have to dig for anything buried at the bottom.