Cut Winter Weight: 4 Ways to Pack Light and Stay Warm

Don't overload your pack. Learn how to leave the non-essentials behind and still stay warm.

Even with global warming, winters still get cold in much of the country, and fear of freezing often motivates hikers to overload their packs with clothing and gear. But just because there’s 10 inches of fresh snow on the ground doesn’t mean you need to equip for the Arctic. Try these weight-saving tips to keep your pack 3-season light.

Downsize your shell Leave the bulky, insulated waterproof/breathable jacket at home. It’s fine for windy chairlifts, but too warm for winter hiking and snowshoeing. With lighter materials and spare designs, today’s hooded shells weighing about 16 to 24 ounces are ideal for winters in the lower 48–and all you’ll need to wear over a base layer when moving on snowy, windy days.

Adjust your layers Build insulation with multiple lightweight layers that work together instead of heavier layers worn alone. Slip a midweight fleece (vest or jacket) over a long-sleeve base layer when on the go. Retain heat during rest breaks by adding a hoodless puffy jacket weighing 1.5 pounds or less. In camp, wear insulated booties.

Fine-tune your sleep Bring only as much bag as you need. Warm sleepers should select a bag rated for the nighttime lows, while human popsicles should aim for a rating 10°F to 15°F lower. Use 2 pads for ground insulation: a full-length foam pad underneath a shorter inflatable mattress.

Save your stove Pack liquid-fuel stoves (e.g. white gas) for winter trips. Unlike canister cookers, they don’t sputter when temperatures dip below freezing. Bring 10 fluid oz. of white gas per person per day if you need to melt snow, and half that amount if water is available. Stick with lightweight, one-pot meals that require only hot water.

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