Ahhh winter. A beautiful time of year when everything is a little more magical and home is a little more cozy. Some of our animals friends take an extended nap and snow covers the land. For me, winter is a time for solitude and peace. It’s a time to explore and play and then relax for hours on end.
“There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.” -Ruth Stout
Winter is my favorite season.
I love it for everything it is. Enchanting, harsh, glittery, invigorating, bleak, dangerous and drastic. It’s a time when things can be calm and quiet and then very quickly change to brutal and panic-inducing. If you’ve not spent much time adventuring in the winter, I suggest you follow my winter series . This series of blog posts will provide information, tips and tricks for having fun in the cold months. I also want to strongly encourage you to do more research. What you read here is amazing and top notch information (duh!) but there is always room for more. Research like it’s your job! Because in winter, dangers are on par with the fun if you don’t know what you’re doing. White-outs, avalanche, hypothermia, frozen water, etc... there is a lot to learn about. And if you can learn as much as possible before getting out there, you decrease potential risks by a lot.
To kick off this series, I want to discuss what to carry in a winter daypack. Because most people get into the wonderful world of winter adventuring by day hiking. Testing out the waters (snow?) if you will. An important part of winter fun is making sure you have the proper gear to keep yourself safe. So without further ado, lets get started!
Backpack! Let’s touch on the backpack you’ll be using. Keep in mind this is a day hike list- so no need to pack up your 70liter. I’m going to call a day hike anything under 9 hours just to keep us all on the same page. For a typical day on snowy trail, I use MHM’s Solute 34liter pack. It gives me plenty of packing room, practical accessibility and fits comfortably. It also has a built in rain cover. If I feel the need to bring more things, for more technical routes, I pack up my MHM Sultan 50liter. I’ve used many brands of backpack and have liked and disliked various things about each of them. In general, most companies make at least a few super solid packs. For women specifically, I recommend MHM or Osprey for comfort and fit. I prefer MHM because of the accessibility of your gear, with the giant stretchy pockets and full front zipper- it makes a huge difference when you need to grab something out quickly. This is key in the winter, but useful year round. Okay, so backpacks. You basically just want to use a larger daypack than you would in warmer months, because you’ll be bringing more items with you and may potentially be delayering more often.
Let’s get into the gear!
- Rain cover- whatever backpack you choose to use, be sure it has a rain cover. Most packs don’t come with them. This’ll save some of your things from getting wet if it rains, which is pretty important. Chances of rain in the winter are slim, but even a heavy snow could end up saturating some of your gear. Any time I use a backpack, I toss in its rain cover.
- Sunglasses- the sun is super bright in the winter, since everything is reflecting off of white. And if you live anywhere around me, the high elevation sun is pretty intense as well. Always use sunglasses if you’re questioning whether or not you should. It’s not a bad idea to use glacier glasses if you’re doing some bigger or higher hiking/mountaineering.
- Firstaid kit- just a simple day hike kit should do. The one I carry, I won at the GoPro Mountain Games. It’s the littlest kit! I tosses some other things into it, but all in all, it’s tiny.
- Boot laces- I always, always carry an extra set of boot laces with me. Twice in the past five years I’ve broken a lace on trail and was just kind of fucked. The first time I assumed it was a fluke. The second time I realized that I am just really hard on laces. It’s an insurance policy that I recommend for everyone. Plus in a pinch, they can be used for many things.
- Fire starter- I personally carry waterproof matches or a flint and steel. I usually have a little bag of lint or wood shavings as well. Fire can be an actual life saver in the winter. So be sure you have the tools to create one quickly. A lot of people take tiny containers of white gas with them, which is not a bad idea and maybe I’ll do that too this year :)
- Navigation- of course, the best thing here would be to carry a map and compass and know how to use them. But not everyone does or can. I use a Garmin GPS. I download or carry a map of where I’ll be. And until I get better with navigation, I don’t bite off more tha I can chew on that front.
- Gloves and mittens- gloves are great for staying warm when you have to use your hands. Mittens are for when you really need to warm up. Keeping your hands nice a warm is super important. If your hands get super cold and aren’t warming up, it’s usually a sign that you’re about to start freezing. Pro tip- get mittens on and start swinging your arms like you’re playing air guitar.
- Warm hat and wind hat- much like gloves and mittens, I carry two beanie style hats for two different reasons. The warm hat is for most of the time. A wool beanie. The second hat is a skin tight wind stopper for when the winds pick up. When winds get blowing, they’ll cut right through wool, which can be painful, loud and cold.
- Wool Buff- Buffs are amazing and can be used for so many things. In the winter, I use a wool Buff and wear it around my neck. When I get chilly, I pull it up over my nose. Not only does it keep my face feeling great, it makes me look mysterious as fuck.
- Wool tights and top- I sweat a lot. Can people talk more openly about that please? Anyways, I always carry a separate set of base layers in case I sweat so much that I need to change. This is important. If you get wet, you must change. You must. Hypothermia is no joke, and being wet in the cold is the easiest way to get it. Getting cold for five minutes by getting undressed, wiping off and re-dressing in the new clothing is worth it. Do it. Get naked outside to get dry.
- Tiny bra- see above. Boobs sweat, don’t forget it! I throw in a teeny, tiny packable bra that lends minimal support, but is better than a sopping wet sports bra.
- 3L of water- even if you’re on a shorter hike, it’s not a bad idea to bring this much water. Be sure to stay hydrated in the winter! Just because it’s cold out, does not mean you aren’t sweating and working out intensely.
- Lots of snacks- in the cold, you need to eat more. So usually whatever I would eat in the warm months, I just double it. That doesn’t mean I will eat all of that, it just means if I need to I can. Be sure to pack foods that don’t freeze, or if they do, carry them in your pockets so your body heat prevents the freeze. You’d be surprised by how many foods freeze in a short period of time.
- Headlamp- if you’re like me, you’d be starting in the dark anyways, so this is a no brainer. But if you like to start a little later, toss your headlamp in your pack anyway. In the cold months, dark comes early. And if you were to get lost or have an emergency, you will be super happy to have packed your headlamp. Be sure to check its batteries and maybe toss in some new ones.
- Giant down jacket- I always have a giant down jacket in a compression bag in the bottom of my pack. This is for chillin’ at the summit of a mountain or for if I get way too cold and need to get warm in a hurry. Always carry an emergency layer; something you can throw on quick if you fall into water, get wet for whatever reason or simply have an issue. I cannot emphasize this enough. It must be easy to put on and consider sizing up so you can throw it on over everything if you must.
- Hardshell jacket- in the cold months, this is a piece of gear that’s more for wind blocking and protection than for staying dry. Although it’s also for staying dry. I highly recommend you get one with pitzips. Because if you don’t, you may find yourself wet as can be inside this layer. While a good hardshell is breathable, they aren’t thaaat breathable. Having vents helps a lot!
- Hardshell pants- same as above, these are great for wind blocking, protection and also for staying dry. Same with the jacket here with ventilation as well; having some side zips to allow your legs to breathe is important. For hardshell pants, you may want to size up so you can toss them on top of whatever you’re wearing.
- Bivy (not my dog)- a bivy is an emergency shelter. Think of it like a gortex drybag for a person. Like a body bag I suppose. People sleep in them and camp in them and all that, so it’s not an unusual thing to have. They’re very small, so always toss it in your pack. Because yes, of course, nothing will go wrong on your day hike and you’ll always be safe and stuff. But on the off chance shit hits the fan, you’ll be really stoked to have an emergency shelter. Even in white outs, a bivy is an important tool.
- Knife/do-all tool- you simply never know when you’ll need this kind of thing. It could be useful in a million situations. Much like a first aid kit, fire starter or boot laces, you probably wont use it. But that one time you need to use it, you will be fucking stoked you brought it.
- Trekking poles- whether or not you like trekking poles for hiking, in the winter they’re a little handier. They’re great for balance, knocking snow off of tree limbs and they can be super nice when you find yourself postholing for miles. They are not essential, but I find them incredibly useful in the snowy months.
- Ice axe- if you plan to do mountain things, bring an ice axe and know how to use it.
- Headbands/hair ties- if you get really hot, you’ll want to take your hat off, so having a head band and hair ties will keep your bare head comfortable. No one likes hair in their face, no matter what you see on Instagram or in magazines. Tame the mane.
- Toilet paper- do I need to explain this? Be sure to follow Leave No Trace rules and clean up after yourself.
- Water filtration- this is another insurance policy. Because if things go according to plan, you’ve brought plenty of water. But if the plan changes, you may need more water, and melting snow is not always a very easy option. And depending where you live, filtering water may not be an option. Pro tip: if you can’t filter water, bring an empty water bottle. This is for if you run out of water. Simply pack it full of snow and put it in your jacket. It will melt and youll have water. Keep topping it off with snow.
- Hot drink- toss of thermos of something hot in your pack. It’s nice to have something other than cold water. To be honest, I have never drank hot stuff on a hike. But I like the idea a lot and I know a lot of people do this. I drink my hot stuff post-hike in the car typically.
- Wool socks- this is sort of in line with bringing extra clothing. You might get really cold feet and need to change socks. Or put on another pair.
- Clear glasses/goggles- this is for wind protection/snow protection. I wear contacts and the wind can dry them out. Cold temps can make my eyes really watery. Heavy snow can make eyes hurt pretty bad. Always toss in something to protect your eyes without limiting your vision in sunless conditions.
- Hanky- for blowing your nose, wiping your eyes, cleaning up mouth breathing messes. You know what I mean. Hankies feel good and are reusable. Mine are flannel and they are glorious. I always have one in my hip belt pocket.
- ID- for the worst case scenario.
- Traction device- there’s a pretty good chance you'll need better traction in the winter. So toss in some spikes, snowshoes or depending on what you’re doing, crampons. Always take the time to put them on if you’re asking whether or not you need them. It’s a “better safe than sorry” rule of thumb.
Below is my list of recommended gear; the actual stuff I use and trust. Lots of brands make lots of gear that is great. But I would only ever recommend what I can speak on. So here ya go! Happy adventuring!
Hardshell jacket- Arc’teryx Alpha AR
Giant down jacket- Arc’teryx Thorium SV
Hardshell pants- Arc’teryx Alpha AR
Baselayers- Icebreaker top and bottom
Bivy- Outdoor Research Aurora bivy
Traction- Yaktrax Summit
Ice axe- Petzl Summit
Sunglasses- Julbo Bivouak
Water filter- MSR Trailshot
Gloves- Sealskinz Ultra Grip Lightweight Waterproof
Mittens- Arc’teryx Alpha SV
Headlamp- Black Diamond Storm