Packing for a winter camping trip is a lot different than packing for a summer or three-season trip.
The gear is more specialized for winter temperatures and weather conditions, making it heavier and bulkier.
You also just tend to need a lot more stuff to stay warm and deal with the elements, so it adds up fast.
Be sure to get your free copy of our winter camping checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything.
As far as packing goes, here are our best tips.
Identify gear that’s at risk of damage in freezing temperatures
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is forget to protect gear that could be ruined if it freezes.
Here’s where to start:
Electronics: Cold temperatures can reduce battery life and potentially damage electronic devices.
Keep your gadgets in insulated bags or wrapped in clothing to protect them.
Water filtration devices: Many water filtration devices can malfunction if their filter elements freeze.
Be sure to store these inside your 4-season tent or sleeping bag to keep them warm.
Personal hygiene products: Some personal hygiene items, like toothpaste and contact lens solution, may freeze in extremely low temperatures.
Store these items in a similar way to electronics, wrapped in clothing or placed inside an insulated bag.
Fuel canisters: Cold temperatures can affect the performance of fuel canisters used for cooking.
To minimize issues, keep fuel canisters in a warm, insulated compartment, or bury them partially in the snow for insulation.
4-season tent: Consistently secure your four-season tent to protect it from potential damage by cold, wind, and ice.
Regularly check tent poles, zippers, and guy lines, ensuring they are all functioning correctly and without signs of damage.
Ice axe: Your ice axe will be exposed to cold temperatures and frost, which may impact its grip and performance.
Make sure to check the ice axe’s edges, spike, and adze for any signs of damage or wear, and consider using grip covers to keep your hands warm while using it.
Insulate your food and water from the cold
Store water in insulated bottles: To prevent your water from freezing, use insulated water bottles or thermoses.
This will keep your water liquid and easy to drink throughout the day.
Keep food in insulated containers: Insulate your meals, snacks, and perishable items in insulated food storage containers or bags to maintain their temperature.
Certain items like oil or coffee can solidify in cold temperatures, making them difficult to use when needed.
Use compression sacks for bulky clothing
These are a game-changer when it comes to packing for winter camping.
They can significantly reduce the volume of your bulky clothing, making it easier to fit everything into your backpack.
You can use them for items such as down jackets, vests, and base layers, which tend to take up a lot of space when uncompressed.
Packing technique for jackets: To pack a bulky winter jacket efficiently, zip or button the front, fold the sleeves inward over the centre, and roll from the top to the bottom.
You can use a rubber band to hold the jacket securely or simply place it in your bag last, as the soft and squishy material makes it easy to pack.
Packing base layers and socks: For maximum space-saving, fold your base layers and warm socks neatly, then place them in the compression sacks.
Wool socks are a great choice for winter camping because they provide extra insulation and keep your feet warm even when wet.
Layers and hats: Don’t forget to include a warm hat in your packing essentials.
A hat is an important addition because it helps retain body heat, especially during winter camping adventures.
You can either pack it in a compression sack with other items or just place it in any available space in your backpack.
Make a note of items you’ll need access to while on route to camp
When packing for winter camping, it’s important to keep certain items accessible so that you can quickly grab them when needed.
You can see that our item of choice here is Cheetos, but more common items include:
Headlamp: A reliable headlamp is needed for navigating in the dark.
Make sure it’s easy to reach and don’t forget extra batteries or a power bank.
First aid kit: Accidents can happen anytime during your trip, so keep your first aid kit within easy reach in case of emergency.
Snowshoes/skis and trekking poles: When traversing snowy terrain, you’ll likely need to switch between hiking boots and snowshoes or cross country skis frequently.
Keep them easily accessible to make the transition smoother.
Shovel: A compact, lightweight shovel can be useful for removing snow if needed.
Camera and extra batteries: Winter landscapes provide stunning photo opportunities.
Keep your camera handy and don’t forget to bring extra batteries or a power bank to keep it charged.
Snacks and hydration: Staying nourished and hydrated is especially important in cold conditions.
Keep snacks, water, and electrolyte tablets easily accessible to maintain your energy levels.
Extra layers: Winter conditions can change quickly, and having warmer gloves, an extra hat or scarf, and other layers on-hand will help keep you comfortable.
If you’re going ultralight or backpacking…
Choose the right tent: Opt for a lightweight, four-season tent that can withstand winter conditions.
A freestanding tent with a double-wall construction and strong poles is ideal.
Look for tents that have a low profile to reduce wind resistance.
Select an appropriate sleeping pad: A combination of a closed-cell foam pad and an inflatable pad helps maximize insulation and comfort.
Use the foam pad as a base layer to trap heat and add an inflatable pad on top for extra comfort.
Wear proper clothing: Lay clothes strategically with a focus on moisture-wicking, insulation, and waterproofing.
Start with mid-weight merino wool base layers, add fleece pants, a puffy coat, and top it off with a waterproof jacket and pants.
Don’t forget warm socks, a hat, gloves, and sunglasses.
Compress your sleeping bag as much as possible: Down sleeping bags offer warmth and compressibility while being lightweight.
Use a compression sack to minimize the space your sleeping bag takes up in your backpack.
Pack efficiently: In order to reduce pack weight and improve organization, place heavy items close to your back and centreed between your hips and shoulders.
Use a trash compactor bag to line the inside of your backpack, keeping all gear completely dry.
Incorporate trekking poles: Lightweight trekking poles provide extra stability and help distribute weight more evenly across your body, reducing joint strain.
Some tent models can even use trekking poles as supports, saving further weight from tent poles.
If you’re using a sled or pulk…
When packing a sled or pulk, it’s important to keep your gear organized and distribute weight evenly.
Here are some tips to help you pack your pulk efficiently:
Choose the right sled or pulk: Look for a sled with thick material, as thin sleds can crack in cold temperatures.
Consider a pulk specifically designed for winter camping, as they’ll have features like grommets for securing your gear.
Distribute weight evenly: Place heavier items, like boots and equipment, low and centered in the sled.
This will help maintain stability and make it easier to pull.
Arrange lighter items, such as toiletries and clothing, around the heavier items.
Pack your gear in layers: Start with a waterproof tarp or groundsheet at the bottom of the pulk to help protect your gear from snow and moisture.
Layer items based on when you’ll need to access them.
Place items like your wool clothing, gloves or map case on top, as you’ll likely need them along the way.
Secure your gear: To prevent items from shifting during the trip, use bungee cords or straps to secure everything in place.
This will also help you maintain control of the sled while pulling it.
Waterproof your belongings: To keep your gear dry during the trip, pack items in waterproof bags or use a rain cover.
Don’t forget to seal any electronics, lighters, or other items that can be affected by moisture in waterproof cases.
Don’t forget the essentials: When packing your pulk, remember to include items like crampons, a lighter, a spoon, and any other necessities you’ll need during your winter camping trip.
With these tips, you should have an easier time packing your sled or pulk for a winter camping adventure.
Enjoy the snow and the great outdoors!
More about winter camping:
- What to wear to sleep while winter camping
- The best hot tents for winter camping
- Easy winter camping meals to try
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).