Upgrade your Winter Backpacking Kit


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Most of us use winter as an excuse to tuck our backpacking gear into the back of the garage and focus on more pertinent adventures like packing on holiday weight and getting our money’s worth out of our Netflix account. But Devin Schmit, with Montana’s Glacier Adventure Guides, insists the snow and freezing temps are no reason to ditch our sleeping bags. If anything, winter should beckon us to the backcountry, especially in Glacier National Park.

“There are no bugs, no bears, and no people,” Schmit says, noting that the park’s visitation rates drop from 20,000 people a day during the summer to just 200 a day once the snow sets in. “It’s desolate, so the whole park becomes our playground during the winter.”

Glacier Adventure Guides takes advantage of this off season by guiding clients on a range of ski or snowshoe driven backpacking trips where adventurers can opt to sleep in a tent or an igloo. “People are turned off by the cold, but there’s no bad weather, just bad gear,” Schmit says.

With that piece of advice in mind, we asked Schmit to detail the key pieces of gear in his winter backcountry kit.

This thing is packable, but seriously warm with 850-fill goose down in most areas, but with synthetic fill in the areas that are prone to getting damp, like the cuffs and neck.

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A balaclava with WindStopper is key, not just for when it’s bitter out, but for keeping your face covered while you sleep.

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This is the place where it pays to make a good investment. I have the 10 below model, which has saved my life a number of times.

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I’m a big fan of Arc’teryx. I like these Gore-Tex pants, partly because of the high-back waist, which helps keep snow out of my pants.

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Outdoor Research makes great gloves, especially their “over mitts” designed to go over a liner or thinner glove. These are my go-to mitts.

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I prefer to bring a shovel and build a shelter when I camp in the winter, but if you’re not willing to put in that kind of work, a Marmot single-wall tent will work in a pinch. Honestly, we’re not picky on tents. We’re just using it until we bet a snow shelter built.

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It’s collapsible, with a removable shaft and can fit in (or on) most packs. Bonus: well-placed holes allow you to turn it into an emergency sled.

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