winter backpacking gear in action

Lightweight and ultralight picks for core winter backpacking gear categories

Compared to baseline options, winter backpacking gear is synonymous with added warmth and weather protection, at the cost of additional weight and bulk. As such, you should strive to pack only as many winter-specific items as you actually need for the expected conditions and itinerary. Note, it doesn’t even have to be winter to use winter backpacking gear. This category is relevant in most regions from mid-fall to early-spring.

To build out a winter backpacking gear kit, upgrade one item at a time, starting with the core of your shelter, sleep system, pack, and insulative apparel. This non-comprehensive winter backpacking gear list highlights many of our top lightweight and ultralight winter picks from a wide array of possible categories. The assortment will expand as we test more gear this winter!

Winter gear enthusiasts may also be interested in our guides to 4-season tents, 0 degree sleeping bags, 0 degree quilts, winter sleeping pads, down booties, down pants, and down parkas.

You make Adventure Alan & Co possible. When purchasing through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Here’s why you can trust us.

Winter Backpacking Packs

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 70

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 70

38.7 oz | $425

To carry all of your insulated winter backpacking gear, you will need an XL backpack. What’s more, you need it to be waterproof so that it can be safely exposed to snow, all day every day. The HMG Southwest 70 is a perfect tool for the job made with tough-as-nails dyneema. It has large aluminum stays for load transfer and a capacity up to 60 lbs (though we recommend against pushing that limit). The pockets (whose volume isn’t even counted in the 70L namesake size description) are so clutch. Rather than mesh, they are another layer of waterproof Dyneema, which helps keep gear from getting damp when you set your pack down.

ULA Equipment Ultra Catalyst

ULA Equipment Ultra Catalyst

33.8 oz | $380

We love ULA Equipment’s Ultra Circuit pack for 3-season-use, and the Ultra Catalyst is its bigger brother with 75L of storage. What sets this pack apart from similar XL offerings is its ultralight weight, and the Challenge Ultra weave fabric composition, which is even stronger and lighter than Dyneema, while still maintaining waterproofness. What’s more, you a spacer mesh foam breathable back panel, dialed-in straps and buckles, large pockets, and durability designed for a thru-hike. Perfect for carrying full size bear cans and hauling winter gear.

Winter Backpacking Tents

SlingFin CrossBow

67 oz | $720

The SlingFin CrossBow is our pick for best all-around 4 season shelter, thanks to its spacious interior, large vestibules, and incredible storm-worthiness. This tent is engineered to the max with internal guy lines, 10.65mm DAC PL poles, and web truss pole attachment system, yet it still feels and carries like a much lighter 3 season tent.

SlingFin WindSaber

80 oz | $875

The SlingFin WindSaber is an exceptionally sturdy, 4-season storm-worthy expedition-grade tent with the best strength-to-weight ratio we’ve ever seen. It is a level up in wind resistance even from our beloved CrossBow, and far lighter than alternative options in its strength-class. This is our shelter of choice for camping on the preposterously windy Southern Patagonia Ice Field. Shop now.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2

19 oz | $699

As iconic as it is versatile, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2 is a seriously strong, seriously ultralight shelter. Weighing just 19 oz yet offering 2x the floor plan and significantly more wind resistance than traditional 2p tents, this minimalist pyramid is ready to rock it in the backcountry.

Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL

16 oz | $765

The Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL in Dyneema is an ultralight marvel. Like all pyramid shelters, it’s lighter, larger, and stronger than any traditional tent or tarp tent, and also our favorite pyramid design on the market thanks to its offset pole structure. Shop now.

MSR Blizzard Snow Stake

MSR Blizzard Stakes

0.7 oz | $10 each

Pitching a tent on the snow requires specialized snow stakes, or a lot of effort bury anchors. As long as the snow is reasonably compact, a snow stake is usually easier, and the wide body holds well. They can also be used in sand.

Winter Backpacking Sleeping Systems

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 0

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 0

24.2 oz | $505

Ahh, Enlightened Equipment Enigma. If you’ve read our coverage of summer weight quilts, then you won’t be surprised that Enigma wins our top pick for winter quilts too. Its combination of 950 fill power down in a 7d shell is simply best-in-class, and offers the highest warmth-to-weight ratio. The U-shaped baffles prevent down from drifting off of the top. And thanks to the sewn footbox, which is definitely preferable to zippered models in a winter quilt, makes it EE’s most minimalist ultralight model.

Sea to Summit Spark 15 Sleeping Bag

Sea to Summit Spark 0

39.7 oz | $649

While the 15F, 30F, and 45F of the new Sea to Summit Spark Sleeping Bag range from pretty good to dead average, the 0 degree version is truly best-in-class, and immediately jumped to the top of our winter bag power rankings due to its exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio. It even rivals some of the best 0 degree quilts! This is due to the combination of lightweight shell fabric (10d nylon) and copious amounts of 850 fill power down. The total weight of this sleeping bag is 75% down weight, 25% shell weight, which is an exceptionally high ratio.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Sleeping Pad

16 oz | $240

Updated for 2023, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT takes winter sleeping pads to the next level with one of the highest R-value-to-weight ratios we’ve ever seen – R-7.3. And as with others in the NXT series, it’s quieter and less crinkly than its predecessors. At only 3″ thick, it’s not the cushiest pad out there, but warmth is what matters most in winter. Shop now.

NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions Ultralight Insulated

17 oz | $250

New for fall 2023, the NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions Ultralight Insulated Winter Sleeping Pad has the highest R-Value (and the longest name) we’ve ever seen. A whopping R-8.5! Incredible, considering the regular mummy only weighs 17 oz. It’s the current pinnacle of warmth-to-weight ratio, and the warmest inflatable backpacking mat on the market. What’s more, it has all the signature Tensor benefits, including a quiet surface, and pressure dispersing baffles. They even used a tougher fabric to resolve durability complains with the less insulated Tensors. Shop now.

Down & Insulated Apparel

Rab Mythic Ultra

Rab Mythic Ultra

18.9 oz | $495

Compared to the entire field, Mythic Ultra comes out atop the heap for the most important stat of all, warmth-to-weight ratio. We can confidently infer this, knowing it has the highest uncompressed down volume per ounce of total garment weight, at 405 in³/oz. Pound for pound, Mythic Ultra is simply the best insulator. Primarily, that’s thanks to the simple combination of 8.5 ounces of 900 fill power down (most of the sub 20 oz weight class), encased in an ultralight 10d Pertex nylon shell. And measurable stats don’t even account for the additional insulation provided by its thermal reflective lining, and box baffling throughout the torso. What’s more, it’s even made with 100% recycled fabrics and has a full parka-length drape. Incredible design, Rab!

feathered friends helios

Feathered Friends Helios Down Jacket

18.0 | $469

The Feathered Friends Helios is a truly top tier, finely crafted, premium lightweight down parka. Its performance is thanks to an impressive stat line, and confirmed by our field testing. Helios simply has more down fill and higher fill power than average, all while maintaining a below average weight and fairly average price tag given the quality. AKA all up side, no down side. We love and strongly prefer its envelope-style hand pockets, which are extremely user-friendly (especially with gloves), all without compromising much in the way of security.

Enlightened Equipment Torrid Pants

Enlightened Equipment Torrid Pants

5.9 oz | $140.00

In fall and winter, we highly recommend packing insulated camp pants over fleece and merino base layers, and we think the best option for ultralight backpacking gear enthusiasts is the Enlightened Equipment Torrid Pants. They have a seriously excellent warmth-to-weight ratio at 5.9 oz. While we tend to prefer down insulation for jackets, synthetic insulation is a better option for pants due to its water resistance, as they’re more likely to come in contact with snow and wet surfaces at the ankle, seat, and knees. Compared to similar offerings from much larger brands, the Torrid Pants are simply warmer and lighter.

Rab Argon Down Pants

13.2 oz |$220

When temps drop below 20, it’s time to whip out the Rab Argon Down Pants. Stuffed with 5.6 oz of 800 fill power down, these are the warmest down pants in our arsenal, and the warmest pants we would conceivably need for anything less than arctic conditions.

GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Pants

GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Pants

Adventure Alan himself prefers the GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Pants. From an ultralight connoisseur’s perspective, this is where you’ll find the highest warmth-to-weight ratio if you’re willing to place a custom order and wait for the five week lead time. One potentially nifty customization is to get down capris. These should be cut to drape to your mid-calf instead of the ankle, and have a girthy opening. This configuration allows you to take them on/off over your shoes without resorting to zippers or having to de-shoe. Very useful! Pair with high top booties for full coverage/no gaps above the ankle.

Winter-Grade Shells

Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket

6.4 oz | $250

Choose the Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket because it is the most breathable ultralight rain shell with an unprecedented MVTR rating of 83,000. The three layer Visp weighs just 6.4 ounces in a unisex size medium, has a very layer-accomodating fit, and comes with most of the bells and whistles including pit zips for even more breathability. The only downside is no pockets, but hey, this is Alan’s preferred rain jacket and we know you’ll love it too!

Arc’teryx Beta Lightweight Jacket

12.0 oz | $500

Formerly known as Beta LT, the revised Arc’teryx Beta Lightweight offers the same exceptional waterproof protection and features in a lighter weight and more sustainable package with the new Gore-Tex ePE membrane. And it is exactly what we want for hiking into a downpour. The chassis features pit zips, large hip-belt compatible pockets, and is constructed with a hybrid mapped split of 70d recycled nylon in high abrasion zones like shoulders and outer arms, with 40d along the inner arms and lower mid/lower torso. More than durable enough for 99.9% of hiking scenarios.

REI XeroDry GTX Pants

REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Pants

10.5 oz | $159

Choose the REI XeroDry for the most affordable, Gore-Tex waterproof pants. These are lightweight, have ankle zips and hand pockets, and are even made with 100% recycled polyester face fabric.

REI Activator 3.0 pants winter backpacking gear

REI Co-op Activator 3.0 Pants

14.5 oz | $100

The Activators are another lightweight mountaineering pants, now in their third generation. They are unquestionably the best value buy in the genre, but the quality is there too and they have all the basic features you need, including zippered hand and thigh pockets, Velcro back pockets, belt loops, etc!

Winter Fleece & Baselayers

Senchi Designs Alpha 90 Hoodie Pocket thumb

Alpha Direct Hoodie

An Alpha Direct hoodie is a great winter layer, since it’s so breathable and quick drying. Compared to just about any other fleece, Alpha Direct will keep you more comfortable on the uphill, dry faster when you get to camp, and offer a better warmth-to-weight ratio once paired with an outer layer. As fabrics go, it’s one of the least durable, but most effective and delightful to wear.

The North Face FutureFleece Hoodie

7.3 oz | $170

The North Face FutureFleece Hoodie is a lightweight, all-purpose mid-layer with exceptional breathability and a high warmth-to-weight ratio. It outperforms every fleece except for Alpha Direct, but still trumps that in terms of durability, wind-resistance, and versatility. Its performance is thanks to Octa hollow-core yarn, same as Mountain Hardwear AirMesh, but in a flat face exterior with grided interior. The inside face alternates between voluminous loop clusters that insulate, and channels of empty space to encourage breathability. Read more in our full-length FutureFleece Review.

Patagonia R1 Air Fleece

10.2 oz | $129

Patagonia R1 Air is the warmest, coziest, and comfiest of the lightweight fleece family and is a nice, nearly strict upgrade to the original R1. Its zigzagging knit pattern is designed to boost breathability in a similar way to how grid fleece functions. We like how the zigzag valleys create less empty space than square grid fleece. This boosts breathability significantly with only a minimal hit to its insulative ability. Read more in our full-length Patagonia R1 Air Review.

Alpine Onset Merino winter weight baselayer

Outdoor Research Alpine Onset Merino Hoodie

We like this particular merino base layer because of the built-in balaclava hood, perfect for use in cold weather. Hoodies are much comfier and more versatile than quarter zip tops. The 150 weight merino-polyester blend fabric is warm-not-too-warm, quick drying, and soft. This is what we’d wear as a baselayer in temps ranging from 15-35F, give or take.

Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Merino Base Layer Bottoms

Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Leggings

6.5 oz | $130

For winter hikes, snowshoeing, and high movement cold weather activity, we choose the Smartwool Intraknit Thermal Leggings. They’re quick-drying, stretchy, breathable, and warm-not-too-warm, thanks to the merino, polyester, elastane blend. Find knit mesh panels for ventilation on the back of knee and above the seat where back sweat drips. These are versatile, comfy, and perfect for fall and winter.

Winter Backpacking Accessory Apparel

Hammock Gear Premium Down Hood warmest winter backpacking gear

Hammock Gear Premium Down Hood

3.6 oz | $80

If your winter backpacking gear kit includes a quilt, you will need to supplement that with a down hood for added warmth around your head. They’re all fairly similar, but this one covers your full neck and below for a really great seal. V cozy.

REI Wind pro hinged balaclava for winter backpacking

REI Co-op Wind Pro Hinged Balaclava

2.5 oz | $40

We prefer balaclavas to traditional beanies, since they cover more of your noggin and seal in more warmth without gaps. This hinged balaclava is a nice piece of winter backpacking gear, since it can be pulled up and down as needed to insulate the face against wind and snow. Plus, who doesn’t love classic Polartec Wind Pro – such a great fleece.

Enlightened Equipment Torrid Mitts

1.9 oz | $70

The sub-two-ounce Enlightened Equipment Torrid Mitts provide four season hand warmth in an ultralight puffy mitten package. What’s more, the flip tops pull off and secure with a shock cord when dexterous handwork is required. They are filled with a high warmth-to-weight synthetic loft batting called CLIMASHIELD APEX. It’s quick drying and warm when wet. They are weather resistant on their own, but wear them under shell mitts or over liners in really gnarly conditions.

Black Diamond Windweight Convertible winter backpacking mittens

Black Diamond Windweight Convertible Mittens

Winter hiking and camping requires keeping your hands warm, without sacrificing dexterity. That’s why you’ll love the Black Diamond Windweight Convertible Mittens. Pull back the mitt-top while rifling through a backpack, setting up a tent, or making coffee. Put it back on when the mercury drops or the breeze picks up. This wind-resistant fleece is the perfect tool for the job, and we know you’ll love this versatile handwear.

REI Co-op Minimalist GTX Mittens 2.0

REI Minimalist GTX Mittens 2.0

2.0 oz | $50

A pair of Gore-Tex shell mittens is a perfect add-on to a pair of convertible fleece mittens. This creates a versatile, modular system with a wide array of configurations, whether you want to maximize for dexterity or weather protection. These mittens in particular fit the bill nicely for a good price, are lightweight, and not over-featured.

Winter Backpacking Footwear

HOKA Speedgoat 5

HOKA Speedgoat 5

Okay, so we know that standard trail running shoes aren’t winter backpacking gear per se, but whenever possible, and as much as possible, you should just try to wear basic trail runners, even in winter. You can usually get away with this in drier climates. And since our preferred trail runner, the HOKA Speedgoat 5, has good baseline traction, it’s compatible with light-duty snow walking.

HOKA Speedgoat GTX Mid great winter gear

HOKA Speedgoat 5 Mid GTX

If you’ll be hiking through wet snow, heavily falling snow, slush, or otherwise cold-wet-ground, you may wish to switch out of basic trail runners and into Gore-Tex midtops. The Speedgoat 5 Mid GTX are much lighter and more movement-friendly than traditional hiking boots, and give a trail-runner-like experience. This model is waterproof, and has great traction for basic snow walking. A great piece of winter backpacking gear, though for snowshoeing, you may want more structured footwear.

HOKA Speedgoat GTX Spike, new winter backpacking gear

HOKA Speedgoat 5 GTX Spike

We have our eye on the Spiked Speedgoats and are looking to test them out this winter. Built with carbide studs installed into the lugs, they are great for walking on frozen, icy, crusty, slippery surfaces without needing to resort to 3rd-party traction accessories. This allows for much more efficient movement, and less added weight onto your feet. And you still get all of the baseline comfort and traction of Speedgoats.

GooseFeet Gear Down Socks + Over-Booties

GooseFeet Gear Down Booties

6.5 oz | $124

Our preferred bootie system combines the GooseFeet Gear Down Socks with the GooseFeet Gear Waterproof Over-Booties to great effect. Firstly, it’s modular, so you can wear these inside and outside of the tent. Remove the over-bootie upon climbing into the tent and cozy up in your sleeping bag with extra toasty feet. Put them back on while cooking dinner or using the privy. Don’t worry about snow or rain, because the sil-nylon shell fabric is as waterproof as a tent’s rain fly. The only downside is that like a fly, it’s not breathable. So take them off if you start to overheat. Despite the added weight, we recommend the ToughTek Traction outsole, which is durable and grippy on all surfaces.

Feathered Friends Down Booties

Feathered Friends Down Booties

9.3 oz | $119

A pair of Feathered Friends Down Booties has four ounces of down fill, that’s as much as a sweater-weight puffy jacket! They’re incredible warm, but also modular. The down sock can be worn separately from the soled, weather-resistant shell with foam insole. They even have ankle cinching and calf cinching, to ensure they stay upright! Great for winter.

Paka Performance Socks

1.7 | $24

For the ultimate blend of comfort and functionality, pull on a pair of Paka Performance 3/4 Crew socks, our editor’s choice award winning model for hiking socks. They have all of the right features, and are made with a dreamy blend of alpaca wool, Tencel, recycled nylon, and spandex that keep your feet comfortable, thermo-regulated, dry, blister-free, and less smelly, all day long. We’re even prepared to say that alpaca wool is superior to merino.


Kahtoola MICROspikes

Kahtoola MICROspikes

11 oz | $75

Often copied but never equaled, the Kahtoola MICROspikes are the go-to option for walking on steep snowy and icy terrain. They have incredible traction, last forever, and are the preferred option of PCT thru hikers in the Sierra Nevada mountains during high snow years.

MSR Lightning Ascent , exemplary winter backpacking gear

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes

Internet users, buyers, everyday snowshoers, and expert reviews all seem to agree that MSR Lightning Ascent is the best overall pair of snowshoes in terms of functionality, traction, weight, quality, durability, fit, and all of the rest.

Assorted Winter Backpacking Gear

Frankenstove pocket rocket deluxe stove plus jetboil stash pot

Frankenstove (MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe + Jetboil Stash Pot)

Frankenstove is our nickname for the combination of the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe stove (our pick for best standalone stove), and the pot from the Jetboil Stash System (the most heat-efficient pot on the market). Combined, these two offer wind resistance, pressure regulation, high BTU output when desired, fuel economy when desired, pietzo ignitor, and a heat-exchanged element on the pot. It boils faster and more efficiently than another other unit except in extreme wind. We use this stove all season long, from summer and into winter. The only downside is that there is currently no way to purchase the Jetboil Stash Pot without also purchasing the stove, which is much worse than Pocket Rocket Deluxe. Warning, please use with caution. This system is only recommended for boiling water. PRD puts out more heat that Stash’s default stove, and has potential to singe or burn the bottom of the Stash pot, or the food in it.

MSR Reactor Stove System

17 oz | $290

The MSR Reactor Stove System is our pick for severe wind, stormy winter camping, and melting snow as a primary water source. Of all isobutane stoves, none have better high wind-resistance or heat output, making it the perfect tool for camping in the coldest and stormiest of conditions with no access to liquid water. But keep in mind, this is a specialist to add to your stove quiver; not a daily driver. It’s unnecessarily heavy, bulky, and expensive for 3-season use.


C.A.M.P. Corsa Ice Axe

C.A.M.P. Corsa Ice Axe

7.1 oz | $120

For periodically ascending steep-but-non-technical snowy passes and peaks, the ultralight C.AM.P. Corsa Ice Axe is all you need. It serves the primary purposes of self arrest and acting as balance point, while also saving more pack weight than any other ice axe when stowed. We think it’s the best ice axe for hiking and backpacking.

black diamond storm 500R headlamp

Black Diamond Storm 500R

3.5 oz | $75

For a winter backpacking gear kit, we prefer a slightly heavier duty headlamp Enter the Black Diamond Storm 500-R rechargeable headlamp. This bad boy can put out up to 500 lumens, and is powered by a 2400 Li-ion battery that can be recharged as-needed. The headband fits great. It’s waterproof. And of course you get all of the basic dimming, strobe lighting, and red/blue/green vision.

Forty below bottle for winter backpacking gear kit

Forty Below Water Bottle & Bottle Boot Insulator

Bottle: 4.8 oz | $23
Boot: 4.5 oz | $35

For living day in and day in out in temps below freezing, you need an extra tough, extra wide mouthed water bottle. This model is designed for sub zero temps, its plastic won’t be damaged by the cold, and you can get bigtime leverage on the lid to open and close even when slightly frozen. Make sure to pick up at least one bottle boot insulator, because it’s typical to store 1L on the outside of your pack.

winter backpacking gear in action

Winter Backpacking Gear Conclusion

Thank you for reading our winter backpacking gear staff picks! We hope they serve you well in the backcountry, and wish for safety and bluebird days on your next trip.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.