Friday, March 13, 2009

My First Winter Backpacking Camping Trip

Tomorrow I will be doing my first winter backpacking camping trip. Being that it’s still winter we will need our snowshoes as well. What I will not be bringing is a tent. Instead I will be bringing a shovel and I will be building a snow shelter to sleep in.


I’m no stranger to camping in the winter months, but I have never camped in temps lower then low 20's. And I have never camped without a tent. About a month ago, before I even heard about this winter backpacking camping trip, I attended a Winter Backcountry Essential’s clinic at REI which thought me a few things and definitely helped me assemble a list of items that I will need for this weekend. I am sure through this experience I will learn a thing or two on my own and by the time I get home I hope to have a few more items added to my winter camping list.


I like to experience things first hand. Sure, I can attend clinics, and read about things, but there is nothing like doing it yourself and having that experience.

So three weeks ago when I found out a group was planning on doing an overnight camping trip and building snow shelters, I signed right up and spent the next two weeks doing research on the things I’d need for the trip. And also researching how to build snow shelters.

I believe the experience I will gain from this trip, might even help me in an emergency situation if one should ever arise. The mountains can be a dangerous place, especially in the winter time. There are possibilities of avalanches and severe snow storms. The weather can be very unpredictable in the mountains at any time of the year, but in the winter the weather can become deadly if one is unprepared. Having the right gear, knowing how to stay warm, hydrated and protected from the elements, and being prepared for emergencies can make a difference between a good day and a bad day in the mountains.


Everything I was bringing had to fit inside my Gregory Diva 60 liter pack. We were going to be camping at around 10,000 feet in elevation and the temperatures would probably be dropping in to the single digits overnight, and possibly even below zero.

I assembled my gear list very carefully. But the real challenge was fitting everything I wanted to bring in to my pack. My pack isn’t that big and after packing and re-packing, and re-packing again. I was left with some choices to make.

Since my zero degree sleeping bag is very heavy and huge (I didn’t buy it for backpacking) I was planning on bringing two sleeping bags. A +15 degree goose down sleeping back which I just bought last October which is very light and packs down very small and the old +40 synthetic sleeping bag which packs downs pretty small also. The two sleeping bags together are actually way smaller then my one cheap synthetic zero degree bag, and better quality, so hopefully warmer too. I also wanted to bring my insulated Columbia jacket and my insulated winter pants but there wasn't enough space for all of that since both items are kind of bulky. In the end I decided that bringing the two sleeping bags was more important then bringing some extra warm clothes. The clothes I was going to be wearing would probably be all the clothes I would have on this trip.

I also wasn’t bringing the Jet-Boil, I didn’t have any space for it and I knew others would have ways of heating up water. None of the food I was bringing needed to be heated up. Instead of bringing the water filter, I was going to bring all the water I would need for the two days. If I needed more water I could melt snow, which usually doesn't need to be filtered.

I also wanted to bring the footprint for my two person tent, to use as a floor for my snow shelter but after having everything loaded in to my pack, there was no more space inside. When I started to strap the foot print to the outside of my pack, I noticed how heavy it was and decided to leave it at home. I already had a few things strapped on to the outside of my pack and I was concerned the pack was going to be too heavy, especially trying to carry it while wearing snowshoes. I have never carried this my weight wearing snowshoes before. Plus I needed to leave some space in my pack for some of my layers, since during the day the temperatures would be much warmer then at night.

Packing list:


20 oz water bottle with water
3 liter platypus with water
20 oz thermos with warm white tea
2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Trail mix
Energy bars
A few tea bags


Salomon snow boots
An extra pair of socks
A pair of thin fleece gloves (can be used as glove liners)
A pair of thick fleece gloves
A pair of goose down insulated mittens
A pair of thick insulated ski gloves
Thick fleece hat
Thin hat
Fleece neck gaiter
Insulated wicking turtle neck
Thin fleece pullover
Insulated quilted jacket liner
Thick fleece jacket
Gore-Tex thin jacket shell
Medium weight wicking leggings
Thick fleece leggings
Water resistant pants

-Equipment & Gear

Avalanche snow shovel
Trekking poles
+40 degree synthetic sleeping bag
+15 degree goose down sleeping bag
Sleeping bag liner
Emergency bivy
Insulated sleeping pad
Altimeter with compass
6 packets of Grabber Mycoal Mini Heater Hand and Pocket Warmer


Lip balm
First aid kit
Hand wipes
Small camping towel


A few extra plastic shopping bags
Some lint from the clothes dryer (to start a fire with)
Digital camera
Cell phone

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