Essential Winter Gear Guide

Hiking: Winter Conditions Gear Checklist

The following list is extensive. Not every person will bring every item. When you head into the backcountry, you are responsible for assessing the terrain, current conditions, your abilities and those of your group, and what items you should have in your pack to survive if you encounter a mishap or sustain an injury.

For more detailed information on trip planning and preparation, as well as tips for safe travel, refer to the AMC Guide to Winter Hiking and Camping.

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HIKING: Winter conditions gear checklist

Note: No checklist is infallible. Before you head out on an adventure, it is important to check the weather, prepare for the worse possible conditions and make a plan based upon your personal and/or your group's abilities in mind. Plan an alternate route in case of bad weather, injury, illness or slower than expected travel time. Before departing, make sure someone at home knows your plan: where you are going, with whom, and when you plan to return. And make sure you know how to use the gear you carry.

  • Daypack/backpack

Tip: You typically carry more in the winter and the gear is generally bulkier and heavier. Make sure your pack can accommodate the gear you need.

  • Waterproof pack cover

  • High-energy food & snacks

  • Water (at least 2 quarts per person)

  • Water bottles and an insulation system

  • Drink mixes (for hot drinks on the trail)

  • Water treatment system

  • Trowel

  • Toilet paper

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Re-sealable double-bagged plastic bags for toilet paper

  • Sunscreen

  • Lip balm

  • Sunglasses and/or ski goggles

  • First aid kit

  • Personal medications: For example, an inhaler (asthma) or Epi-pen (allergies)

  • Repair kit , including a knife/multi-tool and duct tape

  • Headlamp/flashlight w/ extra batteries

  • Lighter/matches

  • Firestarter (for emergencies)

  • Whistle

  • Mirror

  • Route description/guidebook and trail map

  • Compass

  • Trip itinerary (2)

Tip: Leave an itinerary at home with a friend or family member, and place one, out of sight, in the car parked at the trailhead.

  • Personal ID, insurance card, credit card, and a small amount of emergency cash

  • Nylon cord

  • Contractor grade trash bags

Tip: Plastic trash bags serve many functions: Use them as pack liners to keep your gear dry, to carry out trash, as a makeshift rain poncho, or as an emergency bivouac sack.

  • Group Gear: If you are traveling in a group, carry at least 1 sleeping bag, 1 closed foam sleeping pad and 1 form of shelter (tarp, tent, bivy sack), 1 cook stove, fuel and a pot. These tools can be used in an emergency to keep an injured hiker warm until help arrives. Hypothermia is more of a threat when you sit, immobilized, due to an injury.

  • Trekking poles with snow baskets

  • Watch

  • Cell phone

  • Camera (w/ extra batteries)

  • Re-sealable, insulated mug for hot drinks

  • Wicking (synthetic, wool or silk) underwear

  • Wicking (synthetic, wool or silk) base layers: top and bottom

  • Synthetic or wool long pants

  • Insulating layers - top and bottom: Fleece/down/synthetic insulation jacket/vest/pants

  • Wind/rain gear - top and bottom: Waterproof, breathable fabrics

  • Synthetic or wool hat

  • Face mask or balaclava

  • Neck gaiter

  • Bandanna or Buff

  • Liner gloves

  • Insulating gloves and/or mittens

  • Waterproof mitten (or glove) shells

  • Boots

  • Waterproof/breathable gaiters

Tip: Your boots may need to be crampon-compatible.*

  • Socks (synthetic or wool)

Tip: Consider bringing at least one spare pair of socks.

  • Chemical hand/toe warmers

  • Gaiters

  • Snowshoes

  • Skis (with skins)

  • Microspikes or similar traction devices

*Extreme Conditions

Additional items may be required for extreme conditions (extended above-treeline travel or traveling in avalanche terrain). Use of any of this equipment requires specialized instruction and knowledge, practice and an ability to take of yourself and/or your group in harsh, often unforgiving conditions. If you are interested in learning more, consider attending one of the workshops or courses offered by the AMC and its local Chapters.

  • Expedition weight long underwear tops and bottoms

  • Ice ax

  • Crampons

  • Avalanche beacon

  • Avalanche probe

  • Extensive first-aid kit

  • Snow shovel (One per person)