The first time I went winter camping, I had all the wrong gear. My liners froze and I post-holed up to my waist trying to pee in the middle of the night. I swore I would never head out on a self-supported overnight ski tour ever again. Hut trips are nice. Holing up in a tent in a snowstorm was not.
But I eventually learned that not all who winter camp are miserable, and that with the right gear it can be 80 percent comfortable approximately 75 percent of the time. I also found that a little discomfort from spending the night deep in a snowy mountain range usually rewards you with incredible access to some backcountry skiing that would be impossible to access in a day.
Here’s what I use now:
Black Diamond’s FirstLight tent isn’t exactly a luxury palace, but this minimalist 4-season tent is one of the lightest and most packable mountaineering tents on the market. Totally worth sacrificing a little bit of space if you’re going to pure function and efficiency.
The FirstLight is all one piece—no external fly or footprint—so it takes about 30 seconds to have your shelter up. Plus, if it really sucks outside you can actually set it up from the inside thanks to the internal pole sleeves.
There’s a tiny mesh window for ventilation, but I’ve found it gets pretty steamy in there due to the durable NanoShield fabric. Still, if you’re spending the night in the FirstLight you’re likely not planning to spend a ton of time in this tiny shelter and at less than 3 pounds total, it earns its keep when you’re hauling everything in.
Cozying into the Phantom 0F is like getting a giant bear hug at the end of a long, exhausting day. The 850-fill goose down cuts chill and compresses well for easy transport with a snug face gasket that seals out any unwanted draft or nighttime chill. The contoured foot box is roomy enough to stuff your boot liners in to keep them dry and warm for the morning, and the glow-in-the-dark zipper is a nice touch for dark morning pee breaks.
A down bag is much more packable than a synthetic bag, although much less water-resistant. If I’m headed out for a night or two, a lightweight 0-degree down bag like the Phantom works perfectly. But if you’re headed out on a long expedition, a synthetic bag might be a better choice for staying dry around camp.
This little stove proves over and over to be the king of expedition stoves. When you’re freezing your ass off in the snow, cooking a hot dinner and boiling tea is priority number one after the sun goes down and the XGK-EX assures you have hot water boiling within minutes.
White gas is notoriously the most reliable fuel source for winter camping, and the XGK-EX can run off white gas as well as any other liquid fuel source, so depending on where you’re traveling, it can work with whatever you have available.
The XGK-EX weighs less than a pound and fits cleanly into a 1.5-liter pot, so packing is easy as ever, and the retractable legs provide a stable surface to cook on wherever you set up your kitchen.
An extra warm puffy is a non-starter if you’re spending a night outside. The Arc’teryx Cerium SV puff is one of the toastiest and loftiest down jackets I’ve put to use, stuffed with 850-fill down that packs down into a small stuff sack the size of a water bottle. I
like to keep an oversized puffy like the Cerium SV in the bottom of my pack while skiing in the backcountry to throw on over everything for a chilly lunch break, quick snow pit, or cold night outside.
I really like the subtle trim fit of this jacket because I can slide it on under a bigger shell, yet it’s big enough to fit over any of my other layers. It’s kind of like a portable sleeping bag ready to be deployed at the first sign of imminent chill. Plus, it makes a great pillow at night.
While 40 liters is definitely cutting it close for an overnight mission, if you can pack right and keep your load light, a pack like the Descensionist is way more pleasant to actually ski with than a 60-liter mountaineering pack.
I like how easy it is to cinch down the straps on this pack when it’s not packed to the gills, but it has tons of loops and straps to extend the capacity for an overnight trip. The dual-entry system lets you get into the pack from the top or side zipper, which is ideal, especially for big trips where you’ve got tons of gear floating around.
A designated avy pocket keeps all your safety gear in one place, and the large zippered pocket on top is great for a GPS device, snacks, or sunglasses. My only complaint is that it doesn’t come with a helmet carry, although I took one from another pack and hooked it on to the outside loops and it worked just fine.
It’s a compact little device that fits in the palm of your hand, so it’s easy to keep in your bag no matter where you go. Aside from the text communication you can also check the weather, track your route, and navigate.
I love how intuitive it is to use compared to other GPS devices, since the whole user interface is through your cell phone. It’s also got an SOS button which is worth carrying even if you don’t plan to use the navigation features.