“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” This should be the motto for anyone going hiking and camping in any season, but especially in winter. When preparing your trip, ensure you understand the challenges and risks of your destinations, including weather conditions. No one can accurately predict the weather for more than a few hours in advance, especially in the mountains, so it is important to learn about best and worst case scenarios.
When deciding what to bring on your trip, the worst case scenario is your guideline. Below packing list is therefore split into two parts. The first part is your basic gear list, needed for most winter camping trips to most destinations, under ‘normal’ winter conditions.
The second list is your optional list, with items that you only need for certain terrain types and under certain weather conditions. These optional items can also depend on the purpose of your trip. A Norther Lights photography expedition requires different equipment than an ice fishing trip.
Please note that all these lists assume you use no materials from nature, except water. A good winter camper leaves no traces, except footsteps.
Basic packing list
|4 season tent or bivvy bag
|Extra tent (snow) pegs
|Extra tent guy lines
|Winter sleeping bag
|Winter sleeping mattress
|Set of pans
|Foldable aluminium windscreen
|Sufficient fuel in fuel bottles (see gear guide for calculation)
|Field bottle (preferably a thermos flask)
|Maintenance kit for stove
|Waterproof matches/lighter of fire flint
|Meals (hot breakfast and hot dinner)
|Cereal or energy bars
|Tea bags/coffee/hot chocolate powder, plus sugar and whitener, if needed
|Soup powder or OXO cubes
|Plastic pot of salt/pepper
|Waste bags (to bring all waste back with you)
|Thermal long underwear, bottom and top + spare(s)
|Water and wind proof outer shell jacket
|Water and wind proof outer shell trousers
|Down or other insulation jacket
|Hiking socks + spare(s)
|Thin under gloves + spare(s)
|Water and wind proof outer shell mittens or gloves
|Water proof hiking boots + spare laces
|Hat + balaclava
|Water and wind proof gaiters
|Maps of the area, in a waterproof map cover
|GPS + spare batteries
|SAR Beacon + spare batteries
|Head lamp + spare batteries
|Toilet paper (in a plastic bag)
|Toothbrush and toothpaste
|Liquid soap to wash your hands
|Sunscreen with a high protection factor
|First aid kit (and knowledge how to use)
|Rescue blankets (those gold/silver foil ones)
|Charged mobile phone
|Roll of duct tape, for emergency repairs
|Sewing kit and safety pins, for emergency repairs
|Multi-functional tool, with screwdriver, pliers, etc.
|Whistle to attract attention
|List of emergency contact names and phone numbers of all team members
|Covid vaccination passport
|Wallet and debit/credit cards
|Health, travel and winter sports insurance cover documents
|Sufficiently large backpack
|Waterproof backpack cover, for travel, but also to keep snow out overnight
|Plastic or waterproof bags for clothing and other items
Optional items list
Optional extra items, dependent on goal, destination and conditions
|Climbing or group rope
|Cross country or touring skis
|Avalanche transmitter/receiver (for every group member!)
|Avalanche probe pole
|Down or insulating slippers
|Petrol or gas lamp
|Foldable tripod seat (keep your bottom end off the cold ground)
|Hand warmers/hot packs
|Inflatable travel pillow, or just a soft pillow slip to stuff a jacket in
|Smoked hard sausages
|Instant dessert powder
|Sweets or peanuts
|Orange/lemon vitamin drink tablets, make water taste better
|Water purification tablets
|Camera + spare batteries
|Waterproof camera bag
|Ice fishing rod and tackle
Remember that the proper functioning of your belongings in extreme situations can be of vital importance. So also think of good and regular maintenance and test things like tents, burners and devices with batteries before departure.
Flying with winter camping equipment
When traveling by air to your destination, remember that you are not allowed to carry any flammable substances on the plane, both in cabin and checked luggage. You certainly can’t bring any fuel, lighters, and filled fuel bottles. Sometimes it is even difficult to take petrol burners with you. In any case, make sure that burners are completely free of fuel vapour and that you thoroughly rinse and clean fuel bottles with detergent and then ensure they are completely dry. Do not screw the cap on, so leave them open in your backpack.
When choosing your burners, ensure that the proper fuels are available at your destination. In Greenland, for example, you will not be able to buy gas canisters or Coleman fuel and you will have to cook on lead-free petrol or kerosine.
Make sure all sharp items, like knives, but also multi-functional tools and screwdrivers are packed in your checked luggage. Reversely, make sure your compass stays in your carry-on bag, as the conditions in the luggage hold of some planes may cause problems.
Most airlines have a standard 20 kilos luggage allowance for checked baggage. Therefore, put small heavy things in your hand luggage, but leave knives and other prohibited items in your checked baggage. Please check the baggage conditions of the relevant company before departure. In the likely case that you need to bring more bags or go over 20 kg, make sure you pre-purchase extra luggage allowance, as this is cheaper than paying for it at the airport.
Finally, stick your backpack into a suitable backpack flight cover, preferably one that zips up. You can use this bag during your trip to cover your backpack when leaving it outside your tent in the snow overnight.