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Don’t Make These 5 Common Winter Gear Mistakes

Stay warm by staying smart in the fourth season.

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Dialing in your winter gear loadout isn’t as straightforward as perfecting your summer setup. Inhospitable and frequently changing weather conditions can turn a hike from fun to uncomfortable—or even dangerous—in an instant, especially if your equipment isn’t up to the task. Avoid these gear mistakes to stay warm and get the most out of your fourth-season adventures. 

1. Overheating

Sure, staying warm on a winter trek is paramount. But turn up the heat too much, and you could pay for it later. If you sweat too much while you hike due to overlayering, that sweat will chill you when it evaporates during a break. To avoid the shivers while you’re having a snack, start your activities a little bit cold and then use the exertion to warm up, or remove a layer as soon as you start to sweat.

2. Not bringing enough layers

Reality check: There’s no such thing as a “do-it-all” layer for cold-weather outings. A heavy, warm, waterproof puffy might seem like it’s the answer to all your problems, but it lacks versatility. A considered layering system helps keep you from overheating (see above), becoming too cold, fending off weather, and everything in between. Gear that claims to prevent every eventuality is usually too bulky for packing as well.

3. Packing a weak tent

If there’s winter weather in the forecast, that three-season tent you have isn’t going to cut it. Light, breathable shelters aren’t designed to handle the amount of snow and wind that can bear down on you during fourth-season overnights. So while that ultralight trekking pole tent might offer weight savings, that’s not going to seem worth it when it collapses on you in the middle of the night due to snow loading. Buy, rent, or borrow a legit winter tent with solid geometry, and be prepared to carry a little extra.

4. Using an inadequate sleep system

The key word here is “system.” You can snuggle into a 0°F sleeping bag, but if your sleeping pad isn’t winter-worthy—with an R-value of at least 5—you’ll still wake up chilled. (Uninsulated air pads are a no-go.) The same goes for bags: The ultimate winter pad won’t prevent your top side from freezing if your sleep sack’s temp rating is insufficient. Note: If your sleeping bag is on the edge, you don’t necessarily need to spring for a new one. Adding in some of your layers (see mistake number two) or a sleeping bag liner can mitigate cold if you’re pushing your bag’s limits.  

5. Relying on your summer kitchen gear

Just like the gear you wear, the gear you use for cooking and hydration in winter might not perform when the mercury drops below freezing. Ultralight canister stoves can struggle to keep a consistent flame; take a burlier one or use a liquid-fuel stove. Uninsulated bottles and reservoirs freeze, making drinking a pain; consider double-walled models or bottle sleeves. (Heading out on a day hike or a ski tour? Keeping a soft flask or two in your jacket is a pro-level move.) In general, look at your eating and drinking setup and ask, “Will this fail if temperatures dip below freezing?”