Whatchya Wearing: Winter Backpacking

Yes. This photo was in last week’s article, too. Not many photos of me. 🙂 PCO Andrew Skurka.

This post is a follow-up to my Whatchya Wearing: Nordic Touring article.

This article builds upon the first one but is about the additional clothing I take for winter backpacking.

When I winter backpack, I am not hiking nor am I snowshoeing.

I am usually, but not always, on Nordic touring gear.

Even in winter, I now prefer quilts. I’ll essentially even use my 0F Campmor bag as a quilt and layer for added warmth. Difficult to do this layering in a traditional sleeping bag without compromising the warmth of the clothing. My clothing is part of the sleep system to both extend the temperature range and to adapt to the conditions as needed.

I mix and match the clothing below depending on the temperature, trip goals, if I am solo vs. a group setting, etc.

I will occasionally try something new but always seem to come back to this primary system.

With all that in mind, here’s the clothing I may take on a winter backpacking trip in addition to my winter day use clothing.


Since I am not moving and I am in camp, my hands may get cold especially if the weather is sub-10F or so.  I may also be performing “camp chores” such as building snow furniture, digging a cold trap or even melting a lot of snow in a group situation. My shell mittens may wet out. And there is always the chance my critical liners will wet out.

And I make some damn good snow furniture. 🙂 PCO Andrew Skurka.

So here’s the additional handwear I mix and match for winter backpacking trips.

  • An extra pair of liner gloves because cold and wet hands are terrible. I may put the liners down on the snow when taking a photo (Oooh! Look! My umpteenth beautiful sunset photo. I must take it!), drop the liners or just in regular activity wet them out a bit. Be it solo, with a friend or on a group trip, I always take extra liner gloves.
  • I’ll take leather work gloves treated with Sno-Seal. I tend to take these work gloves if I will be performing a lot camp related activity as opposed to quickly setting up the shelter and sacking out. The leather glove/liner combo is surprisingly warm when active. The treated leather repels dry snow very well and breathes, too.  When winter car camping, they are also a favorite for similar reasons: They keep my hands warm and dry for camp chores. The leather work glove/liner glove combo has long been used by the military, experienced winter trekkers and lifties at ski areas.  This combo is so popular, even mainstream gear companies have emulated it.
  • Brutally cold but still need to do stuff? Boiled wool mittens are the bomb. They are bulky and somewhat heavy, but they are warm, durable, and very weather proof. The boiled wool mittens repel the type of snow typically found in the very cold conditions, too.  If it is particularly cold out, I may even use them during the day rather than traditional shells.



Nothing too fancy. If I am moving in a social setting, my feet will stay relatively warm even in my leather touring boots. Naturally, if I am wearing my plastic Tele boots, my feet will be very toasty. They are primarily plastic double mountaineering boots after all.


  • An extra pair of thicker socks is always taken. Always. My sacred stash, my snivel gear, my “OH SH**!” gear. Call it what you will. A pair of warm and dry socks just for camp when winter backpacking is a fundamental component for me.

    From the World War Two era “Willie and Joe” comic. Bill Mauldin, the creator, was from the same division as my grandfather. My grandfather was more resilient than myself, handier and more intelligent. And he apparently would have appreciated an extra pair of dry socks. Good enough for me.

  • Down booties once settled in. When cooking from the opening of my tent or even hanging out a bit from my tent opening,  the down booties are rather nice to keep the feet warm. My down booties are not the very lightweight ones meant for only backpacking.  Mine are an AliExpress special. A little more rugged nylon with a thicker footbed for warmth when walking or standing. Very similar to these Baffin down booties.

These down boots do triple duty for  1) Hut trips  2) Late fall or early winter car camping when there is no snow on the ground and 3) winter backpacking of course.

When solo, I tend not to take them as I am typically cooking right from my sleeping bag. Since my Tele boots have removable liners, I do not take down boots when I use that particular gear unless it is a hut trip.

Head Wear

I always carry a heavier balaclava when winter backpacking. A warm and dry hat that gives total head coverage helps a lot at night. Or even skiing when it is VERY cold out.  I used to wear an Elmer Fudd-esque blaze orange one given as gift one very cold Rhode Island winter. When it finally wore out, I switched to one that is functionally the same but made of fleece. According to Amazon, I’ve had this particular balaclava for three years now. It’s worked well!  I do not take any extra layer beyond the heavier balaclava when winter backpacking.  My down coat has a thick hood.

My old wool balaclava. It is about -15F in this photo. But I’m outside. Hence the smile!

Additional Base Layers and Pants

  • In front of a snow cave in March of 2015. Wearing my liner pants with Tele boot liners. Also shown with my newer balaclava and older GoLite Bitterroot. PCO Mark T.

    Military liner pants are what I take when winter backpacking or even for deep shoulder season trips. Durable, reasonably light and excellent performance to price ratio. These pants are part of the ECWCS Generation I line and are a little older at this point. But are still readily available in surplus stores such as found on eBay. Only about $20 with S&H!  Be sure to get the long ones as they are sized better for non-combat boots.

from Polartec












And that is the clothing I use for winter backpacking. Coupled with my day-use clothing, I have a very versatile system that can accommodate a broad range of temperatures, activities, and styles of winter backpacking.

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