Packing for a Winter Hike

This past weekend, Ryan’s family hosted us at the Zealand Falls Hut in New Hampshire. We rented out the hut for the night on Saturday, hiking in early and out the next day. It was a crazy experience, to say the least, considering that the temperatures were below freezing and the hut had no heat other than in the dining hall. That being said, I was well prepared, thanks to Ryan’s preemptive advice on what to pack/wear. I’ve now experienced a summer and winter hike, so while I’m no expert, I do feel I can share an adequate packing list. Keep in mind, the following is really just for two days and one night.

Gear to Bring

Merrell Boots: When Ryan suggested we hike Mount Washington for (my) first time, he insisted I needed a real pair of hiking boots. Merrell makes incredibly comfortable, supportive shoes and you just can’t go wrong with Gore-Tex. I’ve been wearing out my pair for a little under a year now and they are tried and true. They keep the water, snow, and cold out while also feeling surprisingly light on your feet. 10/10 would recommend.

Backpack: I have a bit of a confession- I have yet to invest in my own hiking backpack. Ryan’s mom has leant me hers in the past and I am currently using Ryan’s old one (apparently it is “Caitlin” sized and too small for him). However, Ryan recently purchased a Teton backpack through Amazon and loves it. The multiple pockets, straps, and clips are perfect for a longer summer adventure or a shorter winter one. The most important thing to consider when shopping for a good hiking backpack is the frame and the features. They are what make it comfortable enough to carry for miles on end. Ryan swears by his new one, but I also like his old one from LL Bean (a similar style can be found here!)

Daypack: It’s so nice to drop your backpack at the hut when you arrive and pull out a stow-away daypack. The one I have from Eddie Bauer lacks a bit of structure, so carrying less is better than more. However, it breaks down into the tiniest pocket and adds almost no extra weight. I’ve also heard glowing recommendations about this Osprey daypack (find a similar version here with a water bladder included)

Ice Spikes: A new addition to my collection of hiking gear, curtesy of Ryan’s dad, is a pair of micro-spikes from Kahtoola. They are well worth the slightly higher price tag and saved my butt once or twice on this trip. If you are hiking anywhere in the North East in the winter, ice spikes are a must, even if there isn’t snow on the ground. Surprise- for us, there was!

Mummy Bag: I normally hate sleeping in a sleeping bag, but boy, do I love my mummy bag. I love that I can sleep on my side comfortably and this Teton bag is so incredibly warm. I actually got the kid’s size because it is big enough, with even some room to spare. Temperatures on our hike dropped well below freezing during the night so we were all very happy to be wrapped up from our nose to our toes.

Headlamp: Trying to get out of the top bunk in the middle of the night? Treacherous. A little less, though, if you’ve got a headlamp to light your way. Don’t forget to use the red light setting, however, to keep your bunk mate’s happy.

Water Bladder: Drinking enough water on a hike, even in the winter, is crucial. I love having the straw from my water bladder hanging over my shoulder so I can grab a sip every few minutes. Platypus is definitely a crowd favorite brand. However, I got mine for cheap at Walmart and have no complaints thus far.

Muscle Roller: By the end of a long hike, I’m laughing (and fighting back tears) when someone rolls out my sore muscles. It’s the best feeling though, after it’s over. It also saves you a whole lot of aching in your legs the next day. I like that mine is smaller because I can stick it in the side pocket of my bag, strap it in, and not give it another thought.

Hand Warmers: Hi, my name is Caitlin and I have Raynaud’s. If I leave my hands out in the cold for too long, my pointer and middle fingers turn white and lose feeling. Cue many, many packs of hand warmers. They are a necessity.

Cheez-Its: Ah, cheez-its, the ultimate hiking food. They are sturdy enough to survive being jostled around in your bag and replenish the salt you lose when you sweat on the trails. Also, they just taste so darn good.

Gear to Wear

*Note: No. Cotton. Allowed. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in regards to hiking is that synthetic fabrics are king (wick moisture, dry quickly when wet, retain heat)

Fleece Hat and Gloves: I bought this little set from Amazon a few days before the hike because I realized I didn’t have anything of high enough quality to keep my head and hands warm. I brought my ski gloves, in case I needed them, but ended up just using the fleece ones. (For reference, the set I got is sized in men’s and I ordered a medium)

Packable Down Jacket: Another more recent purchase- you can’t go on a winter hike without a packable down jacket. Extra points if there is a hood! I love the Eddie Bauer jacket I got (for a huge discounted price too!) and I all but lived in it on this trip. It really does pack down into a pocket if need be.

Knit Pullover: There are some great, stylish pullover sweaters made for activities like hiking that function solely to keep you warm. Added bonus- the version I have has THUMB HOLES. Since the key to dressing for a winter hike is layering, I highly recommend these styles.

Trek Pants: On a trip to the LL Bean outlet in Maine after our summer hike, I happened across a pair of high quality hiking pants, on sale for.. $10! WHAT? While these pants are (usually) more expensive, I can say with confidence that they are highly worth it. The pair I have has is made of such substantial material, it even has textured fabric on the butt to prevent tears when sitting or sliding on rocks and snow.

Thermal Base Layers: Base layers have always been a winter activity go-to for me. They’re the number one thing I pack when going skiing and now, the number one thing I rely on when hiking. To minimize packing for the weekend, I brought a few sets and swapped them out. It was helpful staying warm and dry while being able to re-wear some of my bulkier items. I have a few lighter sets for the actual day hikes and a thicker set for nighttime in the hut. Both, I couldn’t live without.

Wool Socks: Pack multiple pairs- trust me. Wool socks are great for keeping your feet warm and dry. For a 2 day, 1 night stay, I packed four pairs (and could have probably packed more.) Ryan’s family cannot recommend the brand, Darn Tough, enough. However, I also like these LL Bean pairs for spending time in the hut after a long day.

I hope my winter hike packing list has been helpful, if you’re adventuring out on your own! If not, would you ever try a winter hike, or does all this simply sound treacherous? Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Jim Carmellini wrote:

    Wow- great summary. You sound like a pro! You’ve come such a long way in so short a time!

    Posted 11.23.19 Reply