Before we dive into this, full disclosure: I do a lot of backpacking and camping but this was my first time SNOW camping and snowshoeing. Though I’ve camped in the winter, there was always a minimal amount of snow on the ground. To ensure I was doing everything correctly, I went with someone who has a lot of experience and had some guidance on what to expect. As far as gear goes, I was very accurate in what I brought when comparing to what I was told to expect.
- Camping… in the snow
Our trip was planned around a simple concept: find some good snow, walk through a trail with snowshoes and then camp two nights in the snowy surroundings.
Fox River, Michigan
Being based in the Great Lakes State, as a whole, the Lower Peninsula (L.P.) can be hit or miss on sufficient amounts of snow. Obviously, the further north you travel, the more snow you’ll encounter. One thing is for certain: if you go to the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) you will most certainly encounter large amounts of snow every winter. Because of this, we decided to head to Fox River, Michigan – located roughly in the center of the U.P.
To say the area was beautiful is an understatement. We had a fresh foot and half of powder to stomp and romp through along the Fox River, which is also open year-round for fishing.
Gear Break Down
Here is a list of just about all of the stuff I brought. This may seem a bit overkill for some but in my humble opinion, when you’re doing anything in the snow, it’s always worth it to be over-prepared for any situation. Remember, you can always get warmer by adding layers or clothing.
**Side Note: I have been backpacking, hiking and camping for almost my whole life. I worked in the outdoor industry and have worked for outdoor retail companies. I accumulated a lot of the gear mentioned below on discount or was given to test. Do not think you have to buy these exact items. In fact, we recommend finding similar items at your local GI store or outfitter (I.E. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, etc.) This being said, I would strongly caution on going cheap on extremely necessary items. These necessities are designated below with a ** next to the name.
I have never really owned a standalone down jacket (typically midlayer up under a shell) but this jacket is probably one of the best jackets I’ve ever owned. It has extremely deep pockets, an outstanding hood and it’s perfect for winter hikes or casual wear. Simply put, I cannot recommend this jacket enough. Down jackets are not only warm but they are highly compressible and squeeze down to the size of a tablet. They’re a very easy to stay prepared and also easy to store in your pack without taking up much space at all.
– Arc-teryx Atom
This is probably one of the best versatile jackets you can possibly buy. It’s great year around, extremely light and very durable. I believe this is Arc-teryx best selling jacket of all time. This being said, I only wore this when sleeping in the tent.
I tried going with a single pair but it was too chilly with the feet constantly being in snow. I highly recommend wearing two pairs of thick, comfy socks.
– Patagonia R1 hoodie
I literally did not take this off the entire weekend. It was very nice to have but truthfully, any close fitting fleece will do.
– Mountain Hardwear Wicking shirt
I recommend wearing a wicking shirt under your layers. This could be a cheap Under Armor or some kind of athletic shirt – just make sure it breathes and can soak up moisture. Please, for your own nipple protection, please avoid cotton. You will see my distain for cotton while hiking reveal itself throughout this post.
These were my soft shell pants that I wore while hiking and hanging around camp. You don’t have to go with a high end pant but you’re going to want something that is relatively light and durable. Your pants will be getting dirty, snowy and fire ambers will strike them while you’re trying to thaw out.
– Mountain Hardwear Trail Running Thermal Pant
Honestly, you can wear long johns or whatever you can find on the cheap. As long as they are tighter fitting and keep you warm… that’s the real concept here.
This may seem silly or overkill but this is by far one of the most important items to keep you comfortable and enjoying your trip. Cotton is your enemy. Cotton will get very damp. Cotton will chafe you into oblivion. Do your crotch region justice and buy some merino based underwear. They’re expensive but you only need 1-2 pair and you’ll wonder how you hiked without them. This goes for any kind of hiking.
Patagonia no longer makes shoes (BUT you can still buy them on the cheap) but I recommend getting something that is aggressive for hiking all year around. You don’t have to purchase mountaineering boots but something substantial that is not a cheap knock off is very important. You want your shoes to be an after thought and not worry about the sole coming unglued or the lace holes falling apart.
Although mittens aren’t necessary for hiking (in fact, I would view them as a burden), they most certainly are essential when camping in the winter. Get a nice pair that have a waterproof shell. This way, you won’t have to worry about drying your gloves out and / or waking up to ice crusted glove-sicles.
Sleep / Shelter
If you don’t have a sleeping pad, do yourself a favor and get one. Your back will thank you for it after the fact. A sleeping pad will also give you an extra layer between the ground and yourself, which is crucial for camping in the snow.
If you’re getting serious about backpacking, it’s time to get a sleeping bag that can pack down nicely and doesn’t have anything cotton related. Cotton hates you. Cotton will destroy your outdoor adventures and fun times. Don’t use cotton when hiking outdoors.
Another friend on the trip brought this tent. Don’t bother bringing the bug net of your regular tent: a simple rain fly with some kind of standalone frame to keep the fly up is ideal. Throw in a foot print as well for the flooring over the snow and you’re golden. Be sure to pack snow along the bottom of the tent to trap heat and insulate the inside. Snow is a tremendous insulator and this will keep you nice and cozy.
– MSR Lightening – Trail Series
As stated in this post, you don’t need the top of line stuff. I got a discount and for that, I am grateful because these shoes are amazing. That being said, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on snow shoes. One of the guys in our group has been using a snowshoe / trekking pole bundle that can be had for $99.
– TALUS™ TR-2 TREKKING POLES
I have never really used trekking poles before for but snowshoeing, they are a must. They keep you balanced and help keep you from falling over when you’re making your trek. You don’t need a snazzy pair but if you do look for some for snowshoeing, be on the look out for baskets. This helps prevent sinking into the ground and keeping you stable (not critical but it does help).
– Mountain Hardware
If you’re snowshoeing, I highly recommend getting a pair of gaiters. They can be cheap ones but ensure that you find something to keep the area between your shoe laces and ankle covered. This blocks snow from getting into the socks and melting. Also helps protect against brushed and the like.
I recommend that you bring extra water with you because your water will freeze. However, you can always melt snow but this can be time consuming and also you might get yellow snow, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Reservoirs also come in handy in time of the year and hold large quantities of water. Unlike big bulky jugs or bottle, reservoirs can fit in between random items in your bag, making it easier to pack.
I always, always bring a water filter. You never know what you can come into contact with. Although I didn’t use it because I packed my water, it should be with you anytime you go hiking.
It’s time to ditch that cheapo head lamp you found in the checkout lane of your local hardware store. Get something reliable, durable and has a trusted name behind it. Also, since it’s cold out, be sure to bring an extra set of batteries in the event your batteries die.
– MSR Superfly
There are a lot of stove choices out there and I’m sure you could find something reliable on Amazon but I always like to go with trusted brands that have a great reputation. Again, some would question the necessity of a stove but I like having one because Mountain House meals are easy, high on calories and delicious. Stoves can also be used to cook up other food items, like eggs, bacon, rice, etc.
– Seal Line 10L
You can find dry sacks just about anywhere. Find one for a good deal and you should be rocking. I will mention that this is something you should have in your outdoor arsenal. It’ll keeps your clothes and other relevant items dry in the event that everything else gets soaked.
Gear Sum Up
I know that I left out some items like a knife, or lighter or rope but these are items you should already have. If you’re considering snow camping / hiking, you may want to do a day hike in the snow and even possibly wait to do a backpacking trip to ensure that you are serious. Winter camping can end very badly and if you’re not experienced in backpacking, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Also, if you are in the market for all new gear OR are looking to get a complete kit, we’ve absolutely got you covered:
Taking it all in…
Although winter camping can be a massive chore and sometimes grueling (like… waking up and getting out of your tent when it’s 5 degrees out), it’s a great time. Being able to provide for yourself and live out in the woods in the harshest of times during the year makes you feel great. Simply put, you feel accomplished. Not many backpackers do the winter backpacking thing, and for good reason.
My fiancee asked me if I, ‘was even enjoying myself.’ The answer was undoubtedly, ‘Of course!’ What better way to get out of the house in the middle of winter and challenge your body and mind. It certainly beats watching the latest season of some Netflix show all in one weekend from a toasty, boring, comfortable couch… but that’s just like my… opinion, man.
What do you think?
What are some of your favorite winter camping / snowshoeing items? What would you add to this conversation and what advice would you give if you were doing this for your first time? Feel free to share your thoughts below!