Practical Guide to Winter Hiking and Camping Expeditions – Packing List

Guide to winter hiking and camping expeditions, packing list

“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.

All your gear has to fit in your backpack (photo: author)

Basic packing list

Tent4 season tent or bivvy bag
Extra tent (snow) pegs
Extra tent guy lines
BeddingWinter sleeping bag
Winter sleeping mattress
CookingPetrol stove
Set of pans
Foldable aluminium windscreen
Sufficient fuel in fuel bottles (see gear guide for calculation)
Drinking cup
Plastic cutlery
Camping knife
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
Can opener
Waste bags (to bring all waste back with you)
ClothingThermal long underwear, bottom and top + spare(s)
Thin fleece/jumper
Thicker fleece
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
Ski goggles
Water and wind proof gaiters
HikingSki poles
Maps of the area, in a waterproof map cover
GPS + spare batteries
SAR Beacon + spare batteries
Head lamp + spare batteries
HygieneToilet paper (in a plastic bag)
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Liquid soap to wash your hands
Sunscreen with a high protection factor
Lip cream
SafetyFirst 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
TravelPassport/ID card
Driving licence
Covid vaccination passport
Wallet and debit/credit cards
Health, travel and winter sports insurance cover documents
BackpackSufficiently 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

ClimbingClimbing harness
Climbing or group rope
Ice axe
Ice screws
SnowSnow shoes
Cross country or touring skis
Avalanche transmitter/receiver (for every group member!)
Avalanche probe pole
Snow shovel
ComfortDown 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
FoodSmoked hard sausages
Hard cheese
Instant dessert powder
Sweets or peanuts
Orange/lemon vitamin drink tablets, make water taste better
Water purification tablets
PhotographyCamera + spare batteries
Waterproof camera bag
FishingIce fishing rod and tackle
Ice auger

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.

You need to bring a lot of stuff! (photo: author)

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.

20 kilos is a common maximum checked baggage allowance (photo: author)

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