Winter Pack Weight

Managing your pack weight when winter camping is a task that seriously needs consideration, skill, and knowledge.  I know that most of us are always looking to shave some weight here and there, lets face it, most of us need to shave the pack weight, and body weight too.
So lets talk about getting rid of unwanted ounces in your winter kit.
First of all, this process needs to take time and thoughtful consideration.  Every one has his own way of packing, gear they like, and equipment that you are comfortable with.  So, take this post as it is intended.. it is my thoughts and ideas and mainly my opinion.  It is NOT one size fits all and when working with Scouts Safety must be the first priority when putting together the winter kit.. weight should always be a consideration, but not the over riding decision maker.
Now lets talk about the three biggest items in your pack.  Your sleep system, shelter, and the pack itself.
Notice I said, Sleep system and Shelter.  There is much to be saved in systems.  Rather than your off the shelf cheap sleeping bag it is a good idea to invest in a good sleep system.  Now before you turn off the computer and say I am just trying to get you spend more… hear me out.
We are talking about winter camping and how you can shave some weight.  Your sleep system could include the sleeping bag, and insulated pad (close cell foam, or inflatable), a sleeping bag liner, and maybe a Bivy sack.
You can take a 20 or 30 degree bag and turn it into a 10 or 20 degree sleeping bag just by adding a sleeping bag liner at very little cost.  The weight savings may come in the fact that a 20 degree bag is typically lighter than your off the rack 0 degree or 10 degree bag.
Down is much lighter, but takes a certain degree of care.   Keep it dry and you are fine.
You can add more comfort and heat by adding the bivy sack.  This light weight shell keeps you dry and our of the wind and will add another 5 to 10 degrees in a pinch.
Take a good look at your sleep system.  A cold night sleep makes for a terrible experience in winter camping.
Your shelter is the next item to consider in winter camping.  Ask yourself what you need and where you are camping.  Bugs are not an issue in winter camping, so there is no need for a bug net or netting.  A good nylon tarp that can be pitched low to the ground and get you out of the elements is all you really need.
Unless you are camping in hunting tent with a pot belly stove, your typical backpacking tent is not designed to provide warmth.  The tent keeps you out of the elements which, when inside and out of the wind and snow, you feel warmer.  But a properly pitched tarp can do the same, keeping you out of the wind and snow along with trapping escaping heat.  This is a nice option for shaving weight.
Having said all of that, you need to be comfortable using the tarp.  There are a lot of people that still feel the benefits of having a tent out weigh the weight savings.
Clothing is the next place that we can shave some weight.  First think minimum!  Remember that fleece is your friend, layers are the way to dress, and stay dry and clean.  Start with your base layer and only carry two pair.  If your base layer is dry the rest of your body will stay warm.
The rest of your layers should stay dry and clean and that is all you need.  Your outer shell is super important and needs to be used when the conditions warrant.
If you are going to add clothing to your pack, make it extra socks.  Far to many times do I see campers (youth and adults) that carry way to much in the clothing department.
Base layer, one worn and one carried, a mid layer and one extra shirt, and outer shell is the key to weight savings and warmth.  Add to that a pair of gloves and a snow cap and you are set.
I saved the biggest saving for last.  The secret to weight savings in both the winter and the other three seasons is simple.  STOP TAKING “COOL STUFF YOU FIND AT YOUR LOCAL OUTFITTER!”   There is way to much cool stuff out there that you really don’t need.  If you are not venturing to far from the car, take all the neat stuff you want, but when you are looking at carrying the winter load of your pack into the woods, neat equals weight.
If you are going to add little what-nots to your load, buy good quality what-nots.. they are always lighter and built better.
I am going to show you my load in tomorrow’s post.  Like I said at the outset of this post though, your load is your load and you need to feel comfortable under it.  don’t let me sway your judgement or opinion.  You need to be happy with what is on your back and how you build your kit.  I have gone through many evolutions on what and how I carry my stuff.  I have gone through countless cook kits, shelter options, and sleep systems, and who knows, things may change again, but for now I am real happy with the way I camp and the way it all gets there.  It is comfortable, easy to use, and provides all the comfort, safety, and protection from the elements that I need here in the Pacific Northwest.

Have a Great Scouting Day!


  1. Looking forward to seeing what you use.

    One option when considering winter gear weight/bulk is to use a pulk (sled). Given the right terrain/trip, they can be very useful. It’s still important to follow your weight saving approaches, but a pulk allows bringing the warranted heavier/extra items.


    1. Funny you should mention the Pulk Sled.. Our Troop is making Pulk Sleds for the January and February camp outs. February we will be heading out on a good snow shoe trek pulling the sleds. I have found many great designs that are easy to make and inexpensive.
      I will be posting the results when we make them. Surely a video will follow that also.
      Thanks for the comment Brian.


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