Hiking trips require appropriate equipment to keep you safe and comfortable on trails. In order to help you pack the right equipment, we made this interactive hiking checklist below which includes all the required equipment for multi-day hiking trips in cold to very cold conditions (temperatures below 10° C; 50° F). The checklist consists of compulsory as well as optional items; some are “luxuries”, others are for specific conditions such as avalanche safety equipment.
In the Things to Consider section you will find further advice on the hiking equipment on the checklist.
You can also check out the article How to Plan a Hiking Trip.
If you are looking for a hiking checklist for different conditions or duration, you can go to our other checklists:
Things to consider – Multi-Day Hike in Cold Weather
The required backpack volume for a multi-day hiking trip in cold conditions depends on the hike’s duration, conditions on the trail, your equipment and your preferences (changing base layers daily, lightweight rather than comfort etc.). By using well-compressible equipment you can save a fair amount of space in a backpack; for example a high-quality sleeping bag with down insulation will take up to 1 liter of space while a low-quality synthetic sleeping bag can easily take 3 liters or more space although it provides the same warmth as the down sleeping bag. Winter equipment like an ice axe, crampons and gaiters often stays in the backpack for the majority of the hike as it is usually only used for crossing some exposed areas. This equipment takes quite some space in the backpack. As a rule of thumb, you should go with with a volume of at least 40 liters – but remember that the backpack should be completely packed as it will be unstable otherwise. On the other hand, a too small backpack forces you to leave potentially useful equipment at home.
Also check our reviews of the Best Hiking Backpacks (includes backpacks with the volume of approximately 40 liters) and Best Large Hiking Backpacks (includes backpacks with the volume of more than 55 liters).
When choosing hiking boots, you basically need to consider two things: ground cover (snow, rocks, grass etc.) and weather. Boots with relatively stiff soles perform best on rocky or snow covered trails while you will be better off with flexible soles on dirt tracks and grass. Boots with stiff soles allow you to easily kick steps in the snow, provide better stability and can be used efficiently with type C1 crampons. Boots with flexible soles provide better comfort and are usually very light.
If there is a chance that the boots will get wet, boots with waterproof lining, such as for example Gore-Tex, should be worn. Waterproof boots have inferior breathability in comparison to non-waterproof boots but they also keep your feet dry for longer (no hiking boots are completely waterproof).
A third thing to consider is the weight of the load you are carrying; if it is heavy, you need good ankle support (high-cut boots) to protect against injuries such as ankle sprains.
In cold weather we recommend wearing base layers made of Merino wool as they excel at minimizing the conductive heat loss, provide warmth even when soaked with sweat and offer great odor control. Therefore, you usually don’t need to take more than one base layer on your multi-day trip. For more information about Merino wool, check out the article Why you should wear Merino wool clothing. It is recommended to wear tight fitting base layers in cold conditions as they entrap body warmth better. For more information about base-layers please read Comparison of Base Layer Materials.
The mid-layer is responsible for insulation and therefore it is a very important piece of clothing when it comes to hiking in cold conditions. For the multi-day hike (cold conditions) checklist, we consider a fleece jacket to be mandatory (as it can be worn alone or underneath a jacket with down or synthetic fill) and then either a down jacket or jacket with synthetic fill. These are particular useful for rest phases as they prevent you from rapidly losing heat. Down jackets offer better performance than jacket with synthetic fill in dry conditions, while it is the opposite in humid environment. For more information about mid-layers please read Comparison of Mid-Layer Materials.
A shell layer (rain jacket) protects you against rain, snow and wind and is therefore very important for hiking in cold conditions. There are three types of rain jackets – 2-layer rain jackets (inexpensive but limited performance), 2-5 layer rain jackets (very lightweight and decent weather protection) and 3-layer rain jackets (excellent durability and weather protection). In cold conditions you should wear the rain jacket over a fleece jacket in case of rain, snow or heavy wind. For more information about shell layers please read Comparison of Shell Materials.
Food and Water
On multi-day hiking trips food and water can get fairly heavy if you can’t restock en route. Therefore, it is very important to research potential sources of water and food along the trail prior to the trip. In order to minimize the weight and volume of the food you do bring along, pack food that has a good spatial and caloric density. For more information, please read How to choose food for a hiking trip?
For carrying water, we do not recommend using hydration systems in cold weather as there are too many weaknesses (tube freezes, hard to handle with gloves on etc). For more information please read Hydration Systems vs Water Bottles.
In these conditions we recommend using inflatable sleeping pads (better insulation than closed cell), sleeping bags with insulation made of down (for dry conditions) or synthetic materials (for wet conditions) and a double-wall or single-wall tent. Single-wall tents are best for winter conditions (snow) as they can be completely sealed while still offering some breathability – these tents are made of waterproof/breathable fabric such as Gore-Tex or eVent. If there is no possibility of snow, you should go with a double-wall tent. Alternatively, you can also use a bivy bag if you are hiking alone – these offer similar performance as single-wall tents but are lighter and smaller.
Ultimately, the trail conditions determine what winter equipment you should bring on a hiking trip. If the trail is covered with snow you will most likely need gaiters, crampons, an ice axe and in some cases also equipment for avalanche safety. Prior to the trip, you need to thoroughly research the trail conditions in order to pack the right gear to keep you safe, but not weighed down.
Hiking Checklist – Multi-Day Hike in Cold Weather
Food and Water