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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Pro: Staying Warm 2.0

Readers share their best winter comfort tips!

by: Kristin Hostetter

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of my favorite tips for staying warm. Since then, I’ve been flooded with some gems from savvy readers—and even a great tip from polar explorer Eric Larsen (—so I thought I’d share them, because…well, it’s still damn cold out there (in most places)!

But first, get a load of this intrepid winter warrior. I met him on the summit of Mt. Washington last February. Yeah, it was a cold one: -12 with the wind chill. I snapped this photo of him (but never got his name). He told me the beard is as warm as any neck gaiter, ice crystals and all!

Let's get to the tips:

"Wear thick insoles inside your boots. You lose a lot of heat through the soles! And stand on a foam pad whenever you have the option."
—Eric Larsen, polar adventurer, expedition guide, and educator

(KH: Closed cell foam is a good thing! I cut small rectangles out of my old RidgeRest pad—about 9x15”—and I always pack one on every winter trip. It fits inside my pack against the frame, and I whip it out at every rest brake to park my butt on it (while my comprades get cold butts in the snow).

"I'm self diagnosed with Raynauds -basically my hands get cold really easy (especially living in here in Alaska). The best trick that I found for keeping hands warm is a very small ski !mitten. I actually have better dexterity with a small mitten that a larger glove. I’ve even repaired a bike chain with my mittens on!"
—Jack Gadamus, AK

"Down booties!"
—David Link, Sacramento, CA

(KH: We like these.) 

"Drink more than usual. Even though you don't feel that thirsty, your body is using more water then normal."
—Edwin van Unin, from Facebook

(KH: Good Earth tea is one of my favorite warming, winter drinks. Its spicy sweetness seems to migrate right down my throat and into my bones.)

"Light or medium weight silk or silk-blend long johns under heavier wool underwear, union suits, neoprene face masks for downhill, balaclavas, and good old animal hides when your inactive or in extremely windy conditions."
—David McLeod, from San Jose, CA

(KH: This face mask worked fabulously for one of my testers on Denali)

"I get cold feet –just my feet--when camping & backpacking in the winter, even when I use a cold-weather bag. I solved this by using my down jacket as booties at night. I shove it to the bottom of my bag and put my feet in the arms of the jacket. Voila!…Toastie footsies!"
—Chad Moll, aka trail name "Wrapper", from Napoleon, OH

"Eat something fatty before bed. Nuts are a good choice. Bring a pee bottle guys, protect yourself from convective, conductive and radiant heat loss. Stay dry."
—John Brien, via Facebook

"Hand warmers in the sleeping bag and heat from the jet boil...that's how we survived a 27°F night backpacking in Yellowstone."
—Ranae Frost-Whitten, via Facebook

"Boil water for your Nalgene and toss it in your sleeping bag. Works great. You can also put it under your coat during the day. Love, love, love it."
—Christopher Mann, via Facebook

"Think of the beach."
—Craig Cassel, via Facebook

(KH: Fun fact: Some experts believe that you really can train your mind to tell your body NOT to be cold. Others believe that you can teach your body to deal with the cold by exposing it regularly to uncomfortably to cold temps (like a cold shower). Crazy, right? Read more here.)

"Bring another warm body and stay real close."
—John Ridgeway, via Facebook

(KH: Lots of people believe that sleeping naked—with skin-to-skin contact—is the warmest way to go. I prefer a light layer of long johns between me and my nylon sleeping bag. Got a strong opinion? Email me at

"Hot Tang."
—Hadley Krenkle, via Facebook

"Hot hard-boiled eggs in my pocket!"
—Lydia Rose, via Facebook

(KH: Ha! I imagine they only stay for a short time, but then you have lunch!)

"Candles in a mess-tin inside your tent."
—Zachary Roberts, via Facebook

(KH: Be careful though! Candles do give off a surprising amount of warmth inside a tent, but bad stuff can happen with an open flame and nylon. If you must bring a candle in the tent, make it a legit candle lantern, like this one.)

"I stuff my Jack Russell down into my sleeping bag… ZZZZzzzzzz."
—Lou Lou Brown, via Facebook

"Warm soup, hand warmers, good layers, hat and scarf (I love my buff!), good fire and a good cuddle buddy."
—Liv McCoin, via Facebook

"Gloves, gloves, and gloves. I ice climb, work outside in northern New Hampshire, and was a tow truck driver up here. So I might know a little about being in the cold. My tip is to keep your second pair of gloves against your chest, a third in your pockets, and switch them out. My preferred gloves, Kincos (
—Kevin Edward Keohan, via Facebook

Got a burning gear question or issue that you want me to tackle? Email me at

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Star Star Star
Jan 28, 2014

27 degrees F is cold?!

At any rate, for winter hiking, snowshoeing, back country skiing, here in CO I like taking a t-pee styled tarp (modern version) with me. Ultra lightweight, good wind resistance, easy to pitch and can give one a much need break from wind.

Saved my arse while snowshoeing in the Indian Peaks a few winters ago. Was around -5 F with 30-40 MPH winds (-33 F index). Pitched the t-pee, took a break, used my stove to make a hot meal and coffee and provided a much needed boost to get back to the car.

I also carry a summer sleeping bag (WM Summerlite) and a bivy as part of my winter kit for just in case. Combined with my winter layers the summer bag would allow me to at least survive a winter night AND it fits in my day pack unlike a 4 season bag.

Star Star Star Star Star
Jan 28, 2014

Awesome tips! In winter I have hiked up the White Mountains in NH for years. Here are some tricks I use to keep warm in -50 F wind chill conditions. I have used thermal running/cycling tights and undershirt as a base layer. Put a bicycle helmet liner under my winter hat. Used a thermos or other insulated containers to keep drinks warm - as you can't always use fire in high wind conditions. Most importantly, bring a shovel so you can dig a quick snow cave if conditions get really nasty.
Oh and a story about winter hiking in the Whites would be awesome as with the proper gear the sunset view from the summit is breathtaking.


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