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Best Travelling Back-Pack For Winter

Monday, 07 January 2013
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Camping or backpacking in the snow appeals to anyone who enjoys the beauty and peacefulness of a pristine winter wonderland. There are no bugs or crowds, and who doesn't enjoy playing in the snow? With a little preparation, you also might be surprised at how comfortable it can be. Here's how to get started.

Winter is gear junkie paradise. Crampons, ice axes, snowshoes, shovels, skis, snowboards, avalanche gear...whole worlds of specialized equipment await the cold-weather adventurer. There's just one problem. You need a way to carry it all. And for that, you need the right winter backpack.



Winter backpacking requires extra gear, so you most likely want a high-volume pack. Pack as lightly as you can, but always make sure you're prepared for winter weather and conditions.

Rough guidelines for a 2- to 4-day winter backpacking trip:

Lightweight: minimum 4,000 cubic inch pack

Deluxe: approximately 5,000 cubic inch pack or larger.

If you plan on carrying skis or snowshoes, make sure your pack has lash points or is otherwise able to secure these large items.


Strap up

Winter gear is bulky stuff. Until they invent collapsible snowshoes, skis, and snowboards, you'll need a way to lash them to the outside of your backpack. Look for packs that feature multiple side straps and no side pockets to get in the way. Longer straps are better, though you can always extend them with accessory straps to provide additional length if needed. Avoid slide-through buckles; they are maddening to adjust and thread with icy fingers. Choose buckles that clip and unclip, which makes it much easier to secure gear quickly. Finally, look for sewn-on patches or loops that allow you to add extra straps if you need them.


The shred factor

Winter gear is sharp. Ice axes, snowshoes, shovel blades, and ski and snowboard edges can quickly shred fabric, especially the thin nylon found on many lightweight packs. Look instead for tougher materials that can withstand sustained winter abuse. To carry an ice ax, most packs incorporate an ax loop near the bottom. Make sure the pack also includes a small accompanying strap to secure the handle farther up; many packs neglect this crucial feature. (You can add a pick and adze cover to your ice ax for extra slice protection.) Try to avoid attaching cramponsÔÇôand their many sharp pointsÔÇôto the outside of your pack; invest instead in a crampon bag to stash them safely inside.

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Winter-specific packs

If you spend a lot of time in the winter backcountry, you may want to consider a specialized pack. Ski and snowboard packs feature strap systems specifically designed to lash on your gliding gear; they also incorporate reinforced materials to fend against sharp metal edges. Many winter styles also have a designated shovel pocket for quick access, a crucial feature if you're traveling in avalanche terrain. Snowboard packs secure the board to the back of the pack; these also work well for attaching snowshoes instead. Ice climbers can choose from a variety of super tough packs that feature dual attachment points for ice tools, plus reinforced loops to clip and access climbing gear easily.


Cold-weather Clothing

The simple rule of winter camping is to stay dry and warm. Carefully choose clothing layers that are moisture-wicking, quick-drying, insulating and waterproof/windproof/breathable. By adjusting your layers of clothing, you can regulate the amount of warmth you need.

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Boots Winter boots

Depending on your mode of transport and the snow/weather conditions, it's possible to get by with traditional hiking boots. However, most snow trekking is greatly enhanced by boots that are waterproof and insulating. These can be so-called winter boots or mountaineering boots. Skiing and snowboarding, of course, require their own boots that are compatible to the bindings.


Hats: You lose a significant percentage of your body heat through the top of your head. Follow the old mountaineering adage: "If your feet are cold, put on a hat." A warm hat is critical for snow camping. Consider windproof models such as those made of Gore WindStopper fabric.

    Gloves and mittens: This is another must. Take extras, too, in case they get wet.

Gaiters: A must for deep snow, they help keep snow, rain and water out of your boots. They even add a bit of warmth. Be sure to use a waterproof/breathable modelÔÇôthey cost more but are designed for winter use.

    Goggles and glasses: Always protect your eyes from sun and wind. There are different lens tints for various weather conditions.

    Socks: As with most of your body, your feet need a thin, snug layer next to the skin and a second layer over it, both made of merino wool or synthetic wicking fabrics. The thickness of your second sock is determined by your boot fit. An extra-thick sock will not keep your feet warm if it makes your boots too tight and restricts circulation. Take extras. If they get wet, put them in the sleeping bag next to you to dry.


Sleeping Bags

A sleeping bag helps retain your body heat to keep you warm, and keeping warm is essential to snow camping. Make sure you use a bag that's rated at least 10┬░F lower than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. You can always vent the bag if you get too warm.

Sun protection is very important in the winter. You need to protect your skin and your eyes from the harsh UV radiation.

SUNSCREEN!!!!!!! ÔÇö The UV radiation inColorado, esp. at higher elevations, can be fierce. Bring a small amount of sunscreen.┬á A sun hat is also suggested for similar reasons.

SUNGLASSES!!!!!! ÔÇö For similar reasons to the above, be sure to wear sunglasses. Do not need anything fancy. As long as they have 100% UVA and UVB protection. Even the $15 drug store glasses┬á offer this type of protection now. Most ski goggles offer this kind of protection as well. But, unless it is very windy, sunglasses are better suited for most snowshoeing conditions.

Lip Balm ÔÇö Not as critical (no !!!! or ALL CAPS ;D ), but some lip balm protects those lips from the dry, windy and sunny conditions.


Hydration and food

In winter, it is very easy to not drink. Psychologically, because it is cold, you don't feel the need to drink as often as during summer. But, it is essential to keep hydrated. Otherwise, you will feel sluggish, not process food as well and ultimately get colder. Not fun!

I am a big fan of a Gatorade bottle or two stowed in my pack. Wrapped in my clothing (or even an old wool sock), the bottles rarely freeze. Another trick that works well is to heat some hot water at home and pour it into a Nalgene and then stowe it in your pack.  You can buy an insulated bottle holder if you feel the need (or simply use the old sock trick, with the sock placed in plastic shopping bag for waterproofing)

An optional item, but one enjoyed by everyone, is a thermos of your favorite hot beverage. Some hot tea is always welcome! I also enjoy Lipton's soup or similar: A hot drink, much craved salt and some carbs/protein in one lovely package. Mmmm

As for food, standard hiking food is fine. You may want to take a bit more quick sugar (like chocolate) to give the body a needed boost if you feel the need to warm up.  Also remember  that it is better to munch all day rather than have one big meal. Your body is a furnace. Esp in winter, it needs constant stoking!

At night, FAT! SUGAR! CARBS! LOTS OF IT!┬á Yes, cook some nice calorie laden dinners.┬á Get a nice carb and fat mixture before going to bed. Pasta with a cream sauce works quite nice. Add some protein to help repair the muscles you used during the day. Being winter, do not have to worry about food spoiling. Pack in your favorite food (if you are willing to carry it! )┬á┬á Sleeping with some candy or cookies high in sugar also helps. Feel slightly chilled at 2 AM? Eat some sugary food. The quick energy for your body to burn can often mean the difference between a good nightÔÇÖs sleep and restless night.


Overnight adventures

Winter backpackers need beefier gear than their summer peers. Tents must be stronger, sleeping bags warmer, and clothing more extensive. As a result, the bulk factor goes up considerably. To accommodate it all, packs must have significant capacity. Look for styles with at least 4,500 cubic inches (74 liters) of volume to ensure adequate room. Packs between 3,500 and 5,000 cubic inches (57 to 74 liters) can work with careful packing; anything less than that will be a challenge for all but the most ultralight winter adventurers. Finally, make sure the pack's hipbelt and suspension system are designed to accommodate heavier pack weights, which can easily exceed 35 pounds for even a short overnight excursion.


Finishing touches

A large, easily accessible pocket provides instant access to a down jacket or other warm layer when you need it. Adding an accessory pouch to your shoulder straps or waist belt offers a convenient stash for regularly used items, such as lip balm, map, GPS unit, or camera. Winter clothing can add an inch or two to your waistline; make sure your hipbelt comfortably accommodates it. Finally, look for capacious water bottle pockets that can handle the extra diameter of an insulating water bottle cozy.

Choose a backpack that will fit the greatest amount of gear youÔÇÖll need to carry. DonÔÇÖt forget the group gear youÔÇÖll need to bring along too. That said, donÔÇÖt buy a pack thatÔÇÖs bigger than you need. YouÔÇÖll be tempted to carry more than necessary or will end up with a floppy, half-filled pack.

If youÔÇÖll need a medium- to large-sized backpack for your adventures, youÔÇÖll have to choose between an internal or external frame pack.

Internal frame backpacks are designed to carry the pack weight on the hips and with their body-hugging design provide the most balance and freedom of movement. This is especially important if youÔÇÖll be on rough trails, off-trail, scrambling, climbing, or skiing. Internal frame packs work well for nearly everyone and are the most popular option.

External frame backpacks were once the mainstays of backpacking. They can help you carry very heavy loads, but generally are best for covering easy terrain. Because they donÔÇÖt lie against the body they are cooler in hot weather. They are also cheaper and can be good introductory backpacks for growing kids and beginners.

Size a backpack to your torso length, not your height. DonÔÇÖt assume you need the tall (or the regular or the short) model just because of your height. To find your torso length, have someone measure from the iliac crest at the top of your hipbone to the prominent bone at the base of your neck (the seventh cervical vertebrae).

The sizes of different manufacturers' frames may correspond to different torso lengths, so check the packÔÇÖs technical specifications. For example, a 20-inch torso length may mean a regular size in one pack and a large in another.

Since it will be supporting your packÔÇÖs weight, make sure the hipbelt provides adequate padding. Some pack makers offer interchangeable hipbelts in different styles and in sizes for both men and women for a better individual fit.

During a fitting, load up the pack with weight (an amount you typically would carry) to see how well the pack carries. Then walk around with the loaded pack, practice taking it on and off, make sure you can look up without whacking your head on the pack, and climb up and down stairs.

Shoulder straps, which control the fit of the suspension system, should be well padded and adjustable.   An adjustable sternum strap, which connects the shoulder straps, helps bring the load weight forward, and off your shoulders.

A padded back or frame sheet will keep your stove, tent poles, and other hard objects from jabbing you in the back. Women and others with short torsos, like kids, should consider backpacks sized for them. Many pack manufacturers produce women-specific or short torso versions.

Last modified on Monday, 16 February 2015 11:53