12 Winter-Specific Backpacking Gear Changes

I just went on a little mid-January jaunt through the Greyson Highlands and the Mount Rogers Recreation Area. It was brutal and it was beautiful, just as Mother Nature always is during winter. Before leaving, I made some gear changes that I only do when I know I will be facing harsh winter conditions. Some things stay the same, but when I go winter backpacking, many things change as well. Here are twelve winter specific gear changes I make when packing for a trek out in the snow and ice.

Gear I Always Bring With Me

Gore-Tex Boots

I refuse to wear boots unless I know there will be snow. Then, I know I can tromp through all that snow and those little mountain streams because my Gore-Tex boots have my back! My Vasque Breeze boots are my best friends in winter, but only in winter. (Sorry, boots.)


To really keep those feet and ankles dry, bring your gaiters. Again, I hate gaiters even more than boots but, man, they are excellent for hiking in the snow! No snow sneaking in the top of your boots from deep drifts. Gaiters are a pain to deal with, but the tradeoff is well worth it!

Micro Spikes

I love these little ass savers! I try to stay on fresh powder as much as possible, but there is always an unavoidable ice patch lurking. My most painful spill was in a bad winter storm. One foot went out from under me and I landed poorly on the other leg. Micro spikes make the entire experience of winter backpacking far more enjoyable. (I really like Kahtoola.)

Nalgene Bottles

I carry Nalgene bottles in winter so that I can boil water at night and pour it into the bottle. Slipping a (very tightly closed) hot water bottle into your sleeping bag warms you up and ensures that you have liquid water in the morning. The same may work well with lighter, diposable water bottles, but my down sleeping bag on a 12° night is not the place for experimentation!

Frogg Toggs

Another thing I hate: rain pants! (Let’s just go ahead and change the name of this post to “Pieces of Gear That Rainbow Braid Hates”). I don’t want to spend $100+ on rain pants so I went with Frogg Toggs. You can pick up an entire suit at WalMart for somewhere around $15 to $25 or you can buy them one piece at a time on their website. You get what you pay for with these guys (particularly in terms of fashion) but they work as well as the real deal, only slightly less durable. Also, Frogg Toggs are sized really big. I have a pair of mediums that I could use as an emergency shelter if I had to.)


AquaMira is a chemical water treatment used by many long distance hikers. I enjoy it in winter, because it’s never froze, even in all my cold weather backpacking. The makers of the product say that it does not lose its effectiveness when it freezes and then thaws again, but I have never had it freeze in the first place.

Backup Shelter

Shelter hopping is ideal for winter.  You may stay warmer in a tent, but who likes tearing down frozen-together tent poles every morning? That being said, still bring a tent!  Even if you don’t plan to use it, bring it. You never know what circumstance you’ll run into.

Gear I Always Leave Behind

Trail Runners

I almost exclusively hike in trail runners, but they are just not made for some situations. Winter backpacking is one of those. I like that they are so light, breathable, and dry quickly, but that also means you slip a lot and they get soaked through… cue frozen feet.

Camp Shoes

Your boots will be all you need. If you have to pee or get water, your boots will be warmer and safer to walk around in than crocs or flip flops. If you’re feeling lazy, just tuck in your laces and try to not trip over them.

Water Filter

If you do not properly back flush or drain your ceramic filter after each use, they can freeze in the winter. The crack may be so tiny you don’t see it and you may be doing a lot of work for no results.

Water Bladder

Water bladders are an excellent way to drink easily, unless the hose is frozen. Then they’re pointless. Make sure to bring a hydration system that will make it easy for you to drink in the winter. Hydration is still really important! Always bring at least one water bottle and don’t bother with the bladder.

Bug Spray

Um, yeah, let’s not forget the number one reason to go winter backpacking. No bugs!! No need for bug spray.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 4

  • JD : Jan 30th

    Great tips! I would suggest editing the water bottle part to include insulator sleeves for the bottles and also to carry or store it upside down so that in the case that ice does form, it will be at the true bottom of the bottle.

  • Frogmonkey : Feb 9th

    Iif you don’t keep your water bottles in your sleeping bag and it’s getting down to zero or below, just dump the water completely. I had my water bottles turn into blocks of ice one night, and I only had one empty bottle to put water in the next day.

    I also bring plastic grocery bags with me to put over my socks before I put my boots on if there’s snow on the ground. As we all know, waterproof doesn’t mean waterproof, and the grocery bags help keep my socks dry and feet warm.


What Do You Think?