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Categories of Layering Don't Lose Your Heat Rule Frostbite prevention Gloves Health Hazards Hot water bottles Hypothermia prevention Layering Layering at Camp Layering Gear list Layering while hiking PNW Weather Preventing Wet Clothing Rain Pants Safety precautions Setting up camp in harsh conditions Tips for staying warm Vapor-Barrier Socks Warm Feet Strategies Water Bottles Wind chill Wind Protection Gear Winter Layering techniques

Layering for Winter Backpacking

Layering in the Pacific Northwest:

Knowing how to layer clothing will determine whether you are comfortable or uncomfortable in winter conditions. But be aware that the information here is for winter conditions of the Pacific Northwest, which are comparatively mild—meaning conditions between 0–45ºF on average in elevations between 3000–7000ft and winds that are mostly 0–25mph and rarely up to gale force. You will likely need more insulation in colder regions, which is why in many places people are traveling on skis pulling heavier gear on a pulk, rather than backpacking in snowshoes. In Pacific Northwest, it is not difficult to backpack in winter with a 25–35lb backpack. The mountainous terrain here would make pulling a pulk nearly impossible. Nevertheless, some of the basic techniques described in this short introduction to layering may be useful in other destinations.

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Sock liners Vapor-Barrier Socks Warm Feet Strategies Winter Boots

A New Use for VP Socks

Some mountain climbers use vapor-barrier socks to keep double-layered boots dry. These boots have a warm removable inner liner and a plastic outer shell. The plaster outer shell keeps out moisture, but because the boots don’t breathe, perspiration soaks the socks and liner which can then freeze. Vapor barrier (VP) sock are used to prevent this problem. The VP socks hold in the moisture to keep the boot dry. 

rab vapor barrier socks
Rab Vapor Barrier Socks weigh 1.85 oz. (52.4 gm.)
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Convertible Gloves Expedition-level gloves Inner and Outer Mittens Liner gloves Thermal Waterproof gloves

What are the Best Gloves for Winter Backpacking?

Usually, I carry at least three pairs of gloves in winter. No glove serves every purpose on a winter backpacking trip. For that reason, I select a combination of different gloves to meet different requirements.

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Lowering backpacking weight The Big Three The Three-Pound Rule Ultra-light gear Winter Backpacking Gear

How to Lower Your Winter Backpack Weight

There are a lot of reasons to reduce pack weight, such as comfort, safety, speed, and pack durability. Studies have indicated that hikers with lighter backpacks are more likely to complete long journey goals and with fewer injuries. With a lighter backpack, you can more easily avoid back injuries as well as injuries from losing your balance. Many backpacks are only rated for 30–40 lbs carrying capacity, so the further you can reduce the weight, the less likely there will be a pack failure.

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Canister and Liquid Fuel Stoves Liquid Fuel Stoves Stove Repair kits Stove saefty Stoves

Why Use a Liquid Fuel Stove?

When I started out backpacking as a teenager, my first “stove” was a series of home-made paraffin burners (cardboard rolled into empty food cans and covered in wax). Eventually, I acquired an Optimus Svea stove which I really enjoyed. It sounded like a jet plane, but it worked well and was reliable. The simplicity of the design makes the Svea perhaps the most reliable liquid fuel backpacking stove. I eventually gave it away, but later in life when I returned to backpacking I decided on an MSR Whisperlite International, which is also a liquid fuel stove and the one that I still use.

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Winter backpacking Winter Backpacking Gear Winter camping Winter Planning

What’s in My Winter Backpack

From late October to March a typical cold-weather backpacking trip in the Cascade Mountains can involve preparation for snow camping in temperatures ranging from 10 to 35º F with 5–25 mph winds. The gear shown here is for such a trip.

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Hot water bottles Mummy bags vs quilts Sleeping pads Sleeping systems

Tips for Sleeping Warm

Here are 12 basic tips for having a warm night’s sleeping while sleeping out on the snow or ice.

1. Pick a sheltered campsite. Camp on the leeward side of ridges and mountains or near large boulders that break the wind. Avoid camping near water or in drainage areas where cold air collects. For me, views take priority, so generally, I don’t always pick the most sheltered site. To stay warm, I rely on other strategies (listed below). 

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Dedicated base layers Down insulation Hot water bottles Male vs female sleeping bags Maximizing warm Mummy bags vs quilts Pacific Northwest Temperatures Sleeping Bag Liners Sleeping bag storage Sleeping bags Sleeping pads Sleeping systems Synthetic insulation Tips for staying warm Weather Winter Backpacking Gear

Winter Sleeping Bags

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Pacific Northwest Winter Backpacking

If you are used to camping in summer and the shoulder seasons and are wondering what type of sleeping bag you’ll need for winter use in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington State, here are some basic points to consider.

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Canister and Liquid Fuel Stoves Canister Stoves Fire starters Flasks Flints Lighters Liquid Fuel Stoves Nalgene bottles Stove Repair kits Stoves Water Bottles Winter water management

How to Keep Your Water from Freezing

If you want to really enjoy winter backpacking, one of the first skills you need to master is your water management. This is both about staying hydrated and staying warm. It may seem like a minor thing to have your water freeze in a plastic bottle, but if you allow this to happen, it is one of those small things that can spiral into big problems. You don’t want this to happen. So let’s start with the basic gear necessary for managing your water.

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3-Season Tents 4-Season Tents Backpacking Backpacking Tents Expedition Tents Hammocks Tent Stakes Tents Ultra-Light Tents Wind Protection Gear Winter Backpacking Gear Winter camping Winter Tents X-frame design

3-Season vs. 4-Season Tents

Will a 3-season Tent Work in Pacific Northwest Winters?

The short answer is yes. I’m not going to do a detailed review of particular tents, but I want to mention a few models that I see often on our trips. I’ll also discuss a few pros and cons of using 3-season tents in the Pacific Northwest winter conditions and some of the best 4-season options available. In context, I’ll be referring to small and light tents for backpacking rather than tents that are used for basecamps and long stays in one location.