Blog, Outdoor Skills

3 Season VS 4 Season Winter Backpacking

There is a huge difference between 3 season Winter Backpacking and 4 Season Winter Backpacking. It’s important to know the difference so you don’t spend money on gear you don’t necessarily need. Winter Backpacking often requires more gear thus more weight.

True Winter backpacking usually means you will be in snow, lot’s of snow. It will also mean that temps will fall below freezing each night, and may never reach 40 during the day. Normally with 4 Season Winter Backpacking you will be utilizing your gear different also. The fact you maybe melting snow for your water needs and sleeping with various gear items in your sleeping bag will make all the difference on how you get through a multi day backpacking trip in Winter. In fact, the type of stove you use will be different. Boots, sleeping pad, tent pad, tent. This type of Winter Gear won’t get used much but when it does, you will be thankful you had it.

Dino sitting on a Yoga Mat in the Smokies

Winter Backpacking with 4 Season Gear can be done with smart lightweight gear choices. However, keep in mind that true 4 Season backpacking is camping temps around zero. That’s cold, but THAT is truly 4 Season Winter Backpacking.

The one piece of gear that everyone always forgets is: Your Body! Your body is a furnace and when Hiking in Winter, use it! You will NOT NEED to bundle up for Winter Hiking. Your Pack will be heavier and you maybe hiking in Snowshoes. You’ll be burning calories at a much higher rate and possibly sweating more, and sweat is bad in the dead of Winter. This is why understanding the Layering System is so important in Winter. You must be able to regulate your body heat. Take layers off in Winter to cool off that Furnace. Stripping down to just a base layer is NOT uncommon when hiking in Winter, especially when climbing up a steep trail. If it’s windy, put on your Hard Shell (rain jacket) to block that cold wind. Base Layer+Rain Jacket might be just fine backpacking in Winter.

More than likely you will be trenching in snow. Hiking boots will not sufice in this situation. You’ll have to be wearing snow boots. If you are looking for a good pair of snow boots that you can stay dry in and wear with some Snowshoes, there is only one brand we recommend. Baffin Boreals! Removable & Wearable. Body-heat foldable Ultralite System with a removable insole Base: Dual-density midsole combines AirGrip Midsole with stronger, stabilizing upper-midsole Polar Rubber outsole Front-lace fastening Over-ankle supportive height Completely Waterproof. By the way, Liners for your boots are a must and yes, you will sleep with those too.

The other note about 4 Season Winter Backpacking is have your layering system or extra layers handy in your pack. This is not the time to have extra layers buried deep inside your backpack. You will be putting on, taking off continuously throughout your hike. Hats, mittens, gloves, neck buff, sunglasses, all should be relatively handy.

Pants! This is when snowpants will be required. You want to look for Snow Pants that zipper on the side of your leg. Usually 3/4 of the way from hip to your boot. It also helps overheating when your legs get hot. A good place to start is with Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain/Snow Pants.

Camping in the Winter can be for a long night. Most of the time you are sitting around cooking or melting snow for water. This is where your outer layer and sleep system better work for you. In fact, you will probably wear your Down Puffy Jacket to bed in your sleeping bag. And why not? This give you an added layer of warmth in your bag. A Zero degree Down Bag with you wearing your Down Puffy gives you added edge in your sleeping bag.

At the time you are ready to cook there a few thoughts here. One, this is the time that melting snow (or if you have a water source that’s not frozen) you can boil your water. You will need a little water anyway to melt snow. But it’s the best way to purify water. Even snow. This is where a good Winter stove comes in handy. You will need a Liquid Fuel Stove for cooking and melting snow. Why? Because liquid fuel (white gas) has a higher BTU rate and can burn in -40 degrees. That’s why we use the old tried and true of Liquid Stoves in 4 Season Winter Backpacking. That’s the MSR Whisperlite Liquid Stove. and the MSR Liquid Fuel Bottle *NOTE Never cook inside your tent in the Winter no matter how tempted you are. Carbon monoxide and fire will be real buzz kill on your backpacking trip.

Tents will be pitched a little different in snow. Tent stakes might not even work due to a frozen ground. If you are in snow, you will need snow anchors which are snow bags that you fill with snow. Sometimes even burring snow anchors in snow, then pouring water on the snow to create ice will be the only possible way to pitch your tent. A free standing tent is the key in true 4 Season Winter Backpacking. This is why we use Hilleberg Jannu 2 person tent. A true 4 season Winter Backpacking Tent The Hilleberg Jannu 2 Person Tent is an alpine tent for keeping your climbing and mountaineering trips lightweight. The Jannu is ready to pitch in tight spaces and takes on the howling wind while you snag some rest after a rigorous day on the mountain. The shelter is built for two, but light enough for a solo trip for those that enjoy extra space. The domed strength of the poles take on the weight of snow as well. The durable Kerlon 1200 fabric extends all the way to the ground, blocking out drafts.

Hilleburg Jannu 2 person Tent

For Sleeping Pads we use the Therm-a-Rest Xtherm beacuse of it’s high R Value. Almost a 7 R Value is about the best sleeping pad out there for Winter. Also a cheap Yoga Mat (found at Walmart) can be used to sit on or kneel on when eating at camp or setting your gear up.

As far as Backpacks and Sleeping Bags go. We always use the Hyperlite 3400 Southwest or Porter Backpack and the Feathered Friends Ibis EX 0 Sleeping Bag . The Hyperlite is so versatile it can be used all year round.

Remember that true 4 Season Winter backpacking is a lot of fun, but also remember it’s not even close to any 3 season gear you may think of using when temps get down to zero and you are in 20 inches of snow. Do your research before you go.

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In 2003 I completed a Thru-Hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since then I have over 12,000 miles underfoot and 20 years of backpacking, and camping experience. Certifications include WFA, WFR, LNT Trainer, and belong to AORE. Have been guiding backpacking trips for over 10 years. The outdoors has taught me one thing. Trusting the Trail! really does provide everything a person needs.

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