We’ve said it before: Hiking season never ends. If you want to extend your outdoor fun into the coldest months, though, you’ll need the right gear for the job. Here’s everything you need to stay warm, safe, and comfortable during your winter trip into the backcountry.
Black Diamond Stance Belay Insulated Pants
Conserving body heat becomes even harder once you stop moving, and the Belays kept our bottom halves toasty in camp or during long snack breaks. “The 180 grams of insulation kept me from turning into an icicle. These pants are the greatest things that have ever hugged my legs,” one tester reported after spending a week on Alaska’s Davidson Glacier in 50-mph winds and temps as low as -20F. A DWR-treated exterior prevents wet-seat syndrome, and full zips on the sides make layering with boots on a breeze. Note: The Belays might be too warm for uphill exertion, as one tester found out on a moonlit skin in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
$149; 1 lb. 3 oz. (m’s M); m’s S-XL
Buy Black Diamond Stance Belay Insulated Pants
Marmot Guides Down Hoody
It’s not the lightest jacket on the market, but the Guides Hoody’s primary function is to keep you warm, and it exceeds at that. “I practically lived in this jacket during a week of huddling in snow shelters while ski touring near Breckenridge, Colorado, in single-degree temps, and never felt the cold’s bite,” our tester says. The Guides’ 700-fill water-resistant down and sizeable baffles are enough to keep you comfortably warm in camp, and for the times you don’t need it, it packs into its own pocket down to about the size of a football.
$250; 1 lb. 7 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL
Buy Marmot Guides Down Hoody
Osprey Kamber 42 / Kresta 40
Wet clothing on winter camping trips makes for severe discomfort. That’s why we turned to Osprey’s Kamber and Kresta packs, which are designed with nasty conditions in mind. Water-resistant, 420-denier nylon withstood us burying the pack in snow and sloshing through winter rain during a hiking excursion near Conway, New Hampshire. “I kept my camera and my emergency puffy in the packbag’s separate dry pocket as we trudged through heavy New England snow,” one tester says. “I was soaking wet by the time we finished, but all my gear was dry as a bone.” Ski and snowboard attachment points on the exterior allow both A-frame and diagonal carry, while an easy-access compartment allows you to grab avy gear quickly. We found that carrying up to 40 pounds was quite comfortable over layers, especially with Osprey’s glove-friendly adjustment straps and a robust suspension that distributes weight evenly between hips and shoulders.
Icebreaker BodyfitZONE Winter Zone Long Sleeve Half Zip and Leggings
Baselayers are the keystone for a cold-weather outfit, and we donned the merino Winter Zone tops and bottoms again and again due to their laudable temp regulation. “While skiing laps in Mayflower Gulch outside Leadville, Colorado, their versatility really stood out,” one tester says. “The thermometer swung from 20° F in the morning to 45°F at midday, but the Winter Zone kept me warm and then wicked sweat to prevent me from getting swamped out as the sun rose.” Bonus: One tester spent 24 days skiing in the backcountry of Alaska’s Coast Range in March while wearing the Winter Zone, and she proudly reports that it resisted stink like a champ.
Top – $130; 11.6 oz. XS-XL.
Bottoms - $120; 7 oz. XS-XL
Buy Icebreaker BodyfitZONE Base Layers
Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Torch 0F
Less is more with the Torch, which kept us warm in frigid conditions due to several sleek design features. Mountain Hardwear forgoes traditional sewing in favor of heat-sealed seams, which trap more warmth and decrease heat loss from excessive stitching. A slim mummy shape with rounded shoulders and a narrow footbox eliminates excess weight and keeps the 200 grams of synthetic insulation close to your body. The half-zip design prevents even more heat from escaping. “Winter camping never appealed to me, because I’m cold enough sleeping outside in the summer,” one tester says. “But in 5°F-degree temps at 9,000 feet near the base of Colorado’s Mount Princeton, the Torch kept me in the comfort zone all night.” Also available in a long size ($275).
$260; 3 lbs. 13 oz
Buy Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Torch 0F
Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad - 1/8"
When paired with a four-season sleeping pad, this closed-cell foam number from Gossamer Gear adds a significant amount of warmth. But snow-sleeping isn’t the only reason we take this pad everywhere. “I use this for everything in the backcountry, from seat cushion to sled to an emergency splint,” our guide tester says. “And it’s great for that extra bit of insulation you need to go to catch some shuteye on really cold nights. The weight pays off when I can actually sleep for a few hours at high camp on Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua.”
$18; 2.8 oz
Buy Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad - 1/8"
Native Eyewear Hardtop Ultra XP Sunglasses
Bluebird days are great, but don’t let their beauty distract you from protecting your eyes. For an option that’s a bit less hardcore than full-on glacier goggles, we liked this offering from Native. The Hardtop Ultra’s wraparound lenses prevent glare from sneaking in from the sides, and they enhance maximum definition in snowy terrain by blocking more infrared light than normal polarized lenses. “These glasses let me see the terrain clearly in incredibly sunny spring conditions, and despite their light weight survived being dropped in the snow more than a few times,” says one Utah tester. Note: Those with small noses, be warned—the bridge sits wide, and that makes the Hardtop Ultra slip off of petite faces easily.
$129; 0.9 oz.
Buy Native Eyewear Hardtop Ultra XP Sunglasses
Ortovox Beast Shovel
To prevent getting stuck in your tent when the snowpocalypse hits, arm yourself with a burly backcountry shovel. The aptly-named Beast is a snow-moving machine, and we found it more than adequate for digging out sites for cook tents or breaking a trail from the hut to the latrine. Our tester especially liked the rubber grip close to the head. “I’m so tired of my gloves sliding around on icy metal,” he says. “The rubber coating makes shoveling so much more efficient.” High walls ensure the aluminum blade can scoop up to 2.5 liters of snow at a time, and the Beast collapses down to fit inside a 40-liter pack for use as an avalanche safety shovel.
$60; 1 lb. 9 oz.
Buy Ortovox Beast Shovel
Outdoor Research Stormtracker Heated Gloves
While heated gloves are undoubtedly a luxury, we think your valuable digits deserve to stay extra toasty. The Stormtrackers feature rechargeable lithium battery-powered heaters tucked inside locking zippered compartments; on their lowest setting, they ensured our tester stayed warm on an 8-hour hike in 10° F, blizzard conditions near Winterstet, Iowa. (Sixty grams of Primaloft insulation helps, too.) “Despite their extra bulk, these gloves kept my hands flexible and usable throughout the entire day,” he says. Note: their softshell material means the Stormtrackers are best used outside of heavy, wet snow. Thankfully, the heating system helps them dry quickly.
$265; 10.4 oz. (L); unisex XS-XL
Buy Outdoor Research Stormtracker Heated Gloves
Outdoor Research Lumen Ubertube Neckwear
Two materials means twice the comfort for this versatile piece. Fleece on the inside rested soft against our necks, while the merino on the outside boosted warmth. “The fleece interior wicked sweat away quickly as I struggled up steep slopes, so I never froze up even as the temp approached 0°F and the wind tried to push me off the mountain,” said our tester after vetting the Lumen on the exposed slopes of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington.
$28; 1.4 oz.; One size
Buy Outdoor Research Lumen Ubertube Neckwear
UST StormProof Matches / Waterproof Match Case
Save your fire steel for summer camping—winter demands gear than can hold up in any weather. Need proof? One tester—after falling through an ice crossing in early-season conditions in Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest—successfully started a fire with water dripping from these matches. “My hands were shaking so badly that I dropped the entire case in the snow as I was trying to start the fire,” she says. “After a minute of fumbling around, they lit on the first try and burned long enough for my shaking hands to spark the tinder.”
$5; 0.7 oz. (10 matches and case with flint)
Buy UST StormProof Matches / Waterproof Match Case
Black Diamond HiLight
A good shelter can make or break your snowy sleep experience. The single-wall HiLight does a great job of keeping heat in but letting moisture escape, as our tester discovered over a 28-day stint in the Grand Canyon, when temperatures sank to as low as 10°F at night. “I never woke up with a face full of frost, and the construction was strong enough that the tent withstood flash snowstorms,” he says. The HiLight is lighter than the average four-season tent so it’s not an extra burden in your likely already-overfull pack, but take note: While it’s billed as a “cozy” two person tent, prepare yourself to get close to your sleeping buddy or enjoy the space solo.
$400; 3lbs. 2 oz.
Buy Black Diamond HiLight
Klean Kanteen Insulated Wide 12 oz.
Hot drinks can make or break your mornings and evenings in winter—especially when the temperature matches your mileage for the day. One tester poured his coffee into this mug at 5 a.m. at the trailhead for Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail; despite temperatures never rising above 30°F, he was still sipping hot joe by the time he set up camp at Lindeman City, 8 hours later.
$28; 12 oz.
Buy Klean Kanteen Insulated Wide 12 oz.
Winter Camping Gear Basics
Hitting the trail in winter presents challenges you won't face in summer. The first step to tackling them is careful layering: start with a warm baselayer (synthetic, wool, or a blend, depending on conditions and your budget). Next, pick the appropriate insulation for your planned activity. Thick puffies are great for stargazing or carrying as an emergency piece, but gravitate toward more breathable midlayers on the trail. Finish off your layers with a waterproof-breathable shell.
Consider how you'll travel as well. If you're heading into untracked powder, a pair of snowshoes or light touring skis will go a long way towards keeping you on top of the snow instead of wallowing in it. If the trail is icy, a set of traction devices like Yaktrax can keep you from slipping.
Have plenty of time to burn? There's no warmer sleeping solution than an igloo, but building one takes time, effort, and a little know-how.