Winter Backpacking Trips
Photo by Joseph –

Learning the art of creating an effective layering system for winter backpacking trips provides the needed flexibility to keep your body warm and dry during the range of activity levels you’ll likely go through when hiking in the winter. Utilizing 3 or 4 layers provides the option of adding or removing certain layers to find the right comfort zone instead of being restricted by only a few layers. Here’s a quick review of a 4 layer system for winter backpacking to keep you comfy even while the weather is anything but:


Base Layer: A base layer is worn next to the skin and is beneficial for its quick drying, breathable, lightweight, and moisture wicking properties. A good base layer should be snug, but not too tight so that you can stay dry and warm even if you’ve worked up a little sweat. Popular materials for a base layer include polyester, capilene and merino wool.


Winter Backpacking Trips

Mid Layer: Worn directly on top of your base layer, the purpose of the mid layer is to provide added warmth without adding bulk. A mid-weight fleece, long sleeve shirt, or pullover are good options since they have a tighter fit so that additional layers can be comfortably added if necessary.

Winter Backpacking Trips


Insulative Layer: In colder conditions, an insulative layer should fit over the mid layer without adding too much bulk in case an outer layer is needed. If it isn’t too cold, a fleece jacket will be enough to keep warm, but for colder conditions, down and synthetic jackets are a must-have. While down is the lighter of the two options, synthetics will retain their insulation better than down when wet. The benefit of using an insulative layer is that it can be quickly taken off and packed away if you start to heat up, leaving you with a base and mid layer and, if needed, an outer layer.


Winter Backpacking Trips
Winter Clothing Systems (Photo by Alan English – Flickr)

Outer Layer: The outer layer is what comes in contact with the elements: the wind, rain, and snow. The outer layer should be breathable and allow for ventilation, which often comes in the form of pit zips or zippers in the front of the jacket. A GORE-TEX layer is a popular option because it’s both wind and waterproof.


Knowing the weather conditions before you hike will help determine what to pack and how to layer during the trip. Sometimes all that might be needed is a 3 layer system – the base layer, mid layer and outer layer. But for those colder temperatures, an insulative layer provides an added boost of warmth and can be easily removed and packed away if you start to get too warm.

Winter Backpacking Trips

And don’t forget about your head and hands – it’s always a good idea to pack a pair of warm gloves and a hat. Many gloves and hats come with water and windproof options to give you added protection against the winter cold.

Winter isn’t just a time to sit inside and fantasize about next season’s trips. Get outside and enjoy the cold trips this winter and that extra solitude out on the trail – but be sure pack appropriately so that you can stay warm throughout the trip!

For more winter camping tips, check out Winter Hiking Foods.

Winter Backpacking Trips
Photo by hikingqueen –
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