Winter camping brings a lot of challenges and your gear needs to meet these challenges. Forgetting something could, at best, mean a shortened trip. At worst, hypothermia and frostbite. This winter camping gear checklist contains all of the essentials you need to camp safely and comfortably in snowy, wintery conditions as well as some gear recommendations.
New to winter camping? Read these 28 expert winter camping tips.
- 4-season tent and footprint: Should have adequate ventilation and be able to withstand wind well. Ideally uses pole clips instead of pole sleeves.
- Staking supplies: If staking the tent into the ground, the stakes need to be made of a tough material so they won’t bend when driving into frozen ground. Use snow stakes for staking into deep snow. Alternatively, bring lightweight poly bags which can be filled with snow/rocks to anchor the tent.
- Winter sleeping bag: It should be rated at least 5 degrees F lower than the temperatures you expect to encounter. Remember to check the comfort rating and not the low rating which is often listed by manufacturers.
- Two sleeping pads: For winter camping, use a closed cell foam sleeping pad with a self-inflating pad on top of it. Ideally the closed-cell foam has a reflective side for bouncing body heat back towards your body. The combined R-value should be at least 5. An R-value of 5 is even better, especially if you aren’t clearing the snow under your tent (you could sink into the snow and cause your ten to collapse!).
- Brush/towel for condensation: Ice crystals may form on the inside of your tent. Use the brush to wipe them away before they melt and drench you. Or carry a spare small towel for wiping away condensation. You still need to vent your tent.
A true 4-season tent will have a pole construction capable of handling heavy winds and snow. It’s also well worth it to pay extra for a vestibule because it gives you somewhere to keep your gear instead of the crowded tent. The Big Agnes Battle Mountain tent checks all of the right boxes, plus has nice extra features like being able to turn the vestibule into a shelter with your trekking poles. I also like that it uses clips instead of sleeves so is a lot easier to set up with gloves on. Get it here.
*If you want a winter camping tent on a budget, check out REI Outlet. You can find lots of gear at huge discounts.
Stakes: Vargo Titanium Tent Stakes
If you are going to stake your tent into the frozen hard ground, you’ll want sturdy stakes like these by Vargo. They have an orange head so they are easier to find in snow. At just 8grams each (1/3 oz), they are lighter than others of similar toughness.
Alternatively, if you will be staking in deep, packed snow, use MSR ToughStake Snow/Sand stakes (REI). They are a bit pricy and heavy at 1.5oz each, but do the job well.
Sleeping Pads: Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite + Prolite Apex
This is by far one of the most important pieces of winter camping gear — arguably more important than a warm sleeping bag since the body loses so much heat to the ground. Plus your body will sink into the snow (causing the tent to collapse) if you don’t have enough insulation under your body during winter camping.
Use the reflective closed-cell foam pad on the bottom and the self-inflating pad on top. The bottom pad helps reflect heat towards you. The top pad has an R-value of 4 and is a comfy two inches thick. The combined setup weighs is 2lbs 2oz. Get the RidgeRest SOLite here and Prolite Apex here (REI)
*Tip: Get an extra Reflective RidgeRest and cut it into a few butt pads for sitting on.
General Camp Gear
- Dry bags or plastic bags: You might need several of these to separate wet gear from dry gear.
- Headlamp: This is so damn important you might even want to bring a spare if weight isn’t a huge issue.
- Lantern/lamp: Remember it gets dark early in winter! You’ll want lots of light to keep the nights from getting boring and depressing.
- Spare batteries: Use lithium batteries or Enloop NiMH LSD batteries (withstand cold temperatures better than other NiMH batteries).
- Candle lantern: Optional, but good for heating the tent and reducing condensation. It also produces a very cozy light.
- Large backpack with rain cover or waterproof liner
- Stuff sacks: Keeping gear organized is even more important when camping in winter.
- Seat: Can be an insulated “butt pad” or a camp chair. You don’t want to sit in the snow!
- Watch: You must pay attention to how many hours of daylight are left.
- Knife and/or multi-tool
Batteries: Energizer Ultimate Lithium Primaries
Lithium performs much better in cold weather than standard batteries. These ones by Energizer are good down to -40F and are available in AA and AAA sizes. Get them here (Amazon).
Lantern: UCO Candle Lantern Kit
The UCO candle lantern is a favorite piece of winter camping gear by experts. It gives you an nice cozy light which helps fight the dreariness of long winter nights. It can also heat up your tent a bit and reduces condensation in the tent. Get it here (REI).
Snow and Ice Gear
Some of this winter camping gear might not be necessary, depending on the nature of your trip. If you aren’t sure, it’s better to play it safe than sorry.
- Shovel: Absolutely need this for packing down snow, digging a scat hole, clearing snow from under tent and stove, etc.
- Trekking poles with snow baskets
- Sled for carrying gear
- Snow shoes or skis
- Campons or spikes
- Ice axe
- Avalanche transceiver
- Avalanche pole
- Snow saw
- Slope meter
- Goggles: Helpful if it is very windy.
Shovel: Voile Telepro Avalanche Shovel
It only weighs 1lb 14oz and has a telescoping handle which extends to 39.5” so you won’t strain your back too much while shoveling or packing down snow. Get it here (Amazon).
Traction: Kahtoola Microspikes
For when you don’t need full crampons, these microspikes are a great choice. They have nice features like being able to get on/off easily, are lightweight at 11oz, and come in all sizes – even for children. Get them here (REI).
*On winter camping trips, you want an extra layer to stay warm. So your mid layer is actually a thicker, expedition-weight base layer.
- Base layer (top and bottom): Ideally made out of wool and not synthetic. Wool is warmer, wicks moisture better, and still insulates when wet. It also doesn’t stink like synthetic! It should fit snug against your body.
- Mid layer (top and bottom): Also ideally from wool, this will be worn looser than your base layer.
- Insulating layer (top and bottom): For winter camping, you’ll want a warmer insulating layer than normal, like a puffy down jacket. Or a thicker fleece. Some winter hiking pants come with a built-in insulation layer so you could skip this layer.
- Shell (top and bottom): For most winter camping situations, you will be better off with a hardshell jacket than a softshell.
- Hat: Bring a spare too. If you lose your hat or it gets wet, you are screwed!
- Neck/face protection: a toque or balaclava.
- Underwear and bra: Not cotton; should be quick-drying synthetic
- Pajamas: Don’t overdo it with your pajamas. One warm, wool layer should be enough since your sleeping bag will provide warmth. Wearing too many pajamas will cause you to sweat and get wet at night.
- Spares: If weight isn’t an issue, bring spare base layers and insulating layers.
- Vapor barrier liner (VBL) – Optional: This is worn over your base layer to keep your insulating layers from getting wet from sweat. Many people wear latex gloves as VBLs for their hands or use plastic bags for VBLs for their feet. Just note VBLs will make your skin clammy and more prone to blistering, so VBLs should be removed once you stop sweating (stop doing strenuous activity).
Base and Mid Layer: Minus33 Merino Wool
Choose a thinner weight Merino wool top and bottom for your base layer. Use expedition-weight for your mid layer. Remember your mid layer needs to be loose so it traps heat in air around your body and also doesn’t cut off circulation. Choose a size or two bigger so it can fit over your base. The brand Minus33 has great base layers in various thicknesses. Check out the selection here on Amazon.
Insulation Layer: Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody
This puffy has an almost cult-like following among winter backpackers. It is lightweight, incredibly warm, and compresses down tiny. It can be worn as your base during winter camping trips, or it can be worn as a jacket around town in your everyday life. The Nano Puff also comes without a hood, but definitely choose the hoody version. Get it here (REI).
Feet and Hands
- Liner socks: Ideally bring TWO per day. Change out at the end of the day to keep feet dry.
- Insulating socks: Ideally made from wool.
- Winter boots: Should be waterproof and insulated. Check the temperature rating on the boots.
- Gaiters: You need these even if your boots are waterproof. Snow gets on boots and melts, causing them to get wet.
- Down booties or moccasins: These are worn in the tent or sleeping bag. Your feet will be happy to get out of your boots after a long day!
- Liner gloves: Like with liner socks, ideally bring two liner gloves per day. Swap out as your hands get wet.
- Insulating gloves: These will be made out of fleece or wool.
- Shell mitts: These are windproof and waterproof and worn over the insulating gloves. Many shells have built-in insulating layers.
- Mitt clips: It’s very easy to lose mittens when you take them off for camp tasks. Clip them to your jacket.
- Sleeping socks: You never want to go to bed with wet socks. Have a dedicated warm pair for sleeping.
- Boot bag: It’s smart to sleep with your boots so they don’t freeze at night. Put them in a waterproof bag so they don’t get your sleeping bag wet and dirty.
- Spares: Always bring spare liner socks and gloves and at least one pair of spare insulating socks and gloves. It’s very easy to end up with frostbite if your insulation gets lost or wet!
Safety and Navigation
- First aid kit
- Hand warmers
- Emergency food: Like energy gels or chocolate for combating hypothermia
- Sunglasses: The sun glare on snow is intense. Don’t forget these or the sunscreen.
- Balm or Vaseline: Use this to coat all exposed skin. Otherwise it will get damaged from wind and cold.
- GPS, map and compass: Bring a map and compass as backup even if you bring a GPS.
- Communication device: Like the SPOT finder. Read about emergency communication devices here.
- Duct tape: Or other way of repairing gear like tents, sleeping bags, and poles.
Food, Hydration, and Cooking
- Wide-mouth water bottle: Do not bring a metal bottle since the lid will freeze shut, the bottle might start rusting, or it might even explode. Insulated thermoses are usually okay, but weigh a ton and some types have issues with leaking or shattering if they freeze. You are better off with a wide-mouthed plastic bottle with a large lid so it is easy to pour boiling water inside and remove with gloves. See these best winter hiking water bottles.
- Bottle insulator: You can easily make your own out of wool socks or foam.
- Mess kit: Plate or bowl and spoon, fork, or spork
- Pot: Should be large enough for melting snow
- White gas stove
- Fuel: Bring 2-3x the amount of fuel you’d normally bring for a warm-weather trip, especially if melting snow for water.
- Wind screen for stove: You are already going to burn through a lot of fuel on a winter camping trip to heat snow or water for hot drinks. The wind screen is necessary to help conserve fuel, especially since it gets so damn windy in winter.
- Lighter and waterproof matches: Bring both. You need to have backups.
- Bag and rope for hanging food: Here’s how to hang a bear bag
- Food: Calculate at least 4,000 calories of food per day. It might be 6,000+ calories depending on how strenuous of activities you will do and how cold it is.
- Hot drinks and mug
- Sponge/dish cloth and biodegradable soap
- Water treatment method: Note that many water filters are destroyed if frozen. Purification tablets work slow in cold weather, so UV purification might be best. See the SteriPen review here.
- Trash bags
- Rubber gloves for refueling – Optional: Liquid fuels can cause frostbite instantly on contact in sub-freezing temperatures. Wear rubber gloves if you will need to refuel!
Water Bottle: Liberty Mountain Relags
This is the top-recommended water bottle for winter hiking. It has a wide mouth so is easy to pour melted snow water into. The large lid is easy to remove with gloves on. It is also durable and won’t crack if frozen and can handle boiling water. Get it here (Amazon).
- Shovel: This is also listed in the snow gear section. Don’t think you can get by without a shovel when winter camping!
- Toilet paper
- Pack-out bag: You must pack out your toilet paper in winter or burn it. Ideally you should pack out your poo too. If not, bury it deep and off the trail.
- Toothbrush and paste
- Hand sanitizer
- Pee bottle: So you don’t have to get out of the tent to pee at night. Ladies – bring a urination device like the Go Girl so you can easily pee into the bottle.
- Towel or face towel
- Baby wipes
- Permits, in waterproof cover
- Entertainment and morale items: Like a book, deck of cards, and whiskey 😉
- Power bank and recharging kit (cables, etc.)
- Tarp: if you want to set up a covered area
- Notebook and pencil
- Two-way radios