Winter hiking- what do you carry in your pack?

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Usually wearing:

Fleece Hat (sometimes w thin liner hat)
Gloves (waterproof, well-insulated fatties)
Long sleeve wicking tee
Fleece jacket
Waterproof parka
Mid weight Bergelene tights
Summer rain pants
Thick socks
Sock liners
Waterproof, insulated boots

I was thinking the same thing as Tim. Wearing a fleece jacket underneath a waterproof parka climbing up a mountain? I would be wearing the long sleeve wicking tee under a synthetic shirt at best. If windy, I might put on a gore-tex hardshell over everything. But a fleece jacket?
Scott -- can you really wear that much while hiking up a mountain? I'd be overheated in 5-10 minutes.


Hi Tim and RR - Let me clarify. Since we know winter hiking can be -20 to 20 degrees, above or below treeline, windy or not, ascending or descending, I opted for a general list of what I wear on the coldest days.

I rarely ascend in the parka, using just a base layer and fleece only. I often descend with it on however. I am also envisioning what I wear on a truly representative winter day on the cold side (to err on the side of caution) with negative wind chills.

I should have been more clear about the parka though - I agree it's usually not something I wear on the way up the trail. I often put it on at treeline before the wind hits, wear it above treeline whether ascending or not (with wind), and usually wear it descending.

There are winter days I hike in a long sleeve base layer, long tights, hat, gloves, and gaiters and leave the shell pants and fleeces/parkas off. I suppose it's more about what I have with me - what I'm wearing will depend on a variety of factors with wind, temp, precipitation perhaps the biggest factors.
Thanks for clarifying. I have seen groups at the trailhead bundled up like they were downhill skiing on a -10 day. It makes me shake my head. I wore a parka once, above treeline on Madison, on a pretty cold and windy day and I was too warm.

Thanks for clarifying. I have seen groups at the trailhead bundled up like they were downhill skiing on a -10 day. It makes me shake my head. I wore a parka once, above treeline on Madison, on a pretty cold and windy day and I was too warm.


Sure thing - I do tend to delayer after 20 minutes of warming up then I add layers back at elevation.

I almost always ascend in the long sleeve base layer and fleece jacket (if 20 degrees or less). I find I don't overheat in that combination but I run about 180 pounds too - I only generate so much heat with that mass. I also have pit zips on the fleece and with that option I get the right amount of heat and air flow usually.

I totally hear what you're saying about the trailhead over-bundling. At some point I suppose people learn that you should be adding layers on reaching elevation, not sweating all the way to the top in all of your clothes only then to deleayer everything at the summit and get cold and shivering in 2 minutes!
Great thread, will add my list when I get a minute. Question for John H. Swanson: how is the Nalgene plus water only 556 g? Should be at least a kilo, right?

In an effort to light weight (I used to have a pack that pushed 30 pounds), I realized that water and more specifically the bottles and insulatorsa were....heavy. So I made the following changes in gear from my previously used 1L lexan nalgenes with OR or EMS insulators.....

I put a 500ml PE nalgene bottle (narrow neck) in the appropriately sized insulator on my hip. This is the one that weighs 556g

I then take another lightweight bottle such as a gatorade 20 oz PET bottle fill it with hot water and wrap it in my coat in my pack - no insulator. On a long hike, like the sewards, dixes, etc, I might take 2 PET bottles.

The down side is that I can not fill the PET with boiling water but rather near boiling if it was -25, I might revert to the previous method but I have fewer outings at very low temps these days.

Downside 2: I have to pour the water from the Gatorade bottle into the Nalgene. It sounds bad meaning it sounds like the water would cool off and there is risk of spilling water on gloves...but actually it has not been an issue.

Downside 3: you have water next to your emergency layers - So you must be smart enough to make sure the lid is on securely.

I wait for the 1/2 L to be empty and then transfer the water - completely refilling the 1/2L nalgene and drink the remaining water in the 20oz PET.

It works for me and saved a significant amount of weight in my pack.
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"I, too, am happy to initiate someone as long as they are willing to take my advice. People who ask and then ignore simply annoy me.

I've just been invited to a "Sleep Out" at UNH to raise awareness for the homeless, etc. I've got some gear to share for the night and have already suggested some things to the enthusiastic young woman who thought I might be interested in joining them. I've already talked her out of her cotton sweat pants; she's talked me into spending the night in the parking lot in my tent." E Rugs

This post was meant to be a "reply" to the above post by E Rug but I didn't post it as such. Better late than never I guess.

What I have done with people who thru sheer lack of knowledge refuse to carry the gear, I don't hike with them. Still recall my one big incident up in a motel in Bartlett when a friend informed me that she was not carrying a pack to x-c ski. She had lots of experience on the golf course and insisted she did not need one. I had explained why this was essential but she did not take my recommendation to heart. My simple reply..."This is a shame because it looks like you will be spending the day right here with the weather channel." It was her favorite! She finally changed her mind and packed up. By the time I was trying to negotiate keeping my jeep on 16 going up to Pinkham, she started to comprehended why she might need some extra gear. When we arrived at DC and she say the little hut with the big red cross and I told her of it's contents, she seriously wanted to go home. That being said we did march (ski) on and had a great adventure.

As most of us know that big down parka can be a life saver. Don't leave home without it.
A thermos of hot fluid, be it chocolate, jello, whatever your pleasure, is also a big plus in the event that you or a member of your party starts to get seriously hypothermic. It makes a very big difference when you are trying to warm someone up.
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Maybe he carries it up full of hydrogen and burns the hydrogen to get water?

Excellent point. In fact, the requisite amount of hydrogen required to make 1 L of water would weigh in at a mere 111g. Of course, it might take quite a bit of steel to contain the ~1200 atm of pressure, which would result from putting that much hydrogen in a 1 L container (at ~0 degrees F). Maybe a giant hydrogen balloon that you attach to your pack? The volume of hydrogen at 1 atm would be ~1200 L, or thirteen 90 L packs (if you want a visual). Might get caught on the overhead branches. And would be ungainly in the wind. Hmmmm. Who's got a solution to this conundrum?
[/nerd hat]
John, thanks for the reply, that makes sense.
I have an old (1981) photo from Bigelow in January that shows some of my gear at the time:

Wool balaclava
Wool shirt (heavy, black & red check)
Wool pants (Green, "army" type)
Wool socks, knitted by my mom (the love keeps your feet warm)
Wool mittens
Sorel boots with wool liners

Underneath, polypro shirt & long underpants

Aluminum frame pack

Wood & rawhide snowshoes, with homemade snowshoe crampons
Aluminum ski poles

I won't get into the camping/cooking gear or the safety gear. This stuff kept me toasty and enabled effective travel up the Firewarden's Trail, etc.

So tell me again why I've spent thousands on high tech fabrics, plastic snowshoes, etc.?
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I would say, pack what you think you need and go camp in your backyard Friday and Saturday and don't go into the house unless it's a total emergency. Sunday morning you return. After a few weekends you'll have it figured out.

disclaimer: This works in Maine where we usually have some woods in the back yard. :)
An excellent idea and the way I started winter camping. I just went down on the flood plains behind my house for an overnight. After doing that a few times I started figuring out what worked for me and then added hiking to a nearby lower summit and then camping out. That way I could work out the regulating temps issues too. I brought a pencil and small notepad and made notes to myself so I did not have to rely on my memory. When I got back home I would address any concerns I had and adapt my gear or clothing needs, hike plan, layer management, in camp procedures, safety issues, comfort issues etc. to better meet my needs. It is a great way to build confidence in your winter camping and hiking skills while not totally endangering yourself or others. (Never far from the car or home). When your ready for bigger adventures you will know it and feel ready to take them on. I am now totally comfortable being out hiking mountains and camping out for 3-4 days at a time. Great discussions like this thread helped me to get there. Thanks to all who share their knowledge and experience so that others may learn something from it. You guys/gals are all great! Thanks again