Our Best Gear for Winter Camping

As falling leaves are replaced by falling snow, you may think of stowing away your backpacking gear and waiting patiently for the return of spring. But with the right gear and adequate preparation, you can continue to spend nights outside deep into the cold and snowy winter months. From snowshoe camping to ski-tour camping, winter is full of adventure possibilities. To help make these trips a success, we’ve rounded up our list of favorite winter camping gear.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that the landscape you travel through will dictate the preparations and specific gear you take. If you’ll be in mountainous terrain, be sure you’re up to speed on avalanche awareness to ensure you’ll enjoy a safe adventure in the snowy environment. After all, winter is truly a spectacular scene worth exploring.

access mountaineering tent

Access™ 2 Tent and Footprint

Most backpacking tents are made of mesh and lightweight fabrics, which help minimize your pack weight and allow for a breeze to pass through the shelter. While you may appreciate that breeze on warm July nights in the alpine, you won’t feel the same about a breeze on a cold January evening. The MSR Access™ Tent Series provides winter-grade warmth and stability without a significant weight penalty. Set up the tent with a Universal Footprint to protect your shelter from abrasive snow and to provide an additional layer between you and the cold ground.

blizzard tent stake

Blizzard Tent Stakes

Have you ever tried to stake your tent in soft ground? You can imagine how challenging it would be to use regular tent stakes in snow, which can be one of the most challenging surfaces to secure a tent on. Instead of your summer tent stakes, use Blizzard Tent Stakes—the broad profile and concave design of these stakes make them ideal for holding well in snow.

whisperlite universal stove

WhisperLite™ Universal Stove

Liquid fuel stoves are your best bet for winter camping for a multitude of reasons, from consistent output in cold temperatures to stability on uneven or meltable surfaces like snow. If you’re used to canister fuel stoves like the MSR PocketRocket® and want to give liquid fuel a try, the hybrid-fuel WhisperLite™ Universal provides you the versatility to use the familiar canister fuel in warmer months and easily convert to liquid fuel in the winter—all in the same stove.

ceramic camping pot

Ceramic 2.5 L Pot

At the end of a long, cold day in the snow, there’s nothing better than warming up with a hot meal. The MSR 2.5 L Ceramic pot is built of ultralight aluminum and uses a tough ceramic coating for nonstick performance, keeping your pack light but making dinner clean-up easy. This pot is the perfect size to prepare dinner, melt snow for drinking water and boil water for hot chocolate or tea for up to 4 people. Incidentally, snow makes a great pot cleaner—another bonus point for winter camping.

MSR lightning snowshoes

Lightning™ Ascent Snowshoes with Paragon™ Bindings

The trail you take to your campsite in the summer is likely well established, but if you’re winter camping, there’s a chance that you’ll be breaking the trail. The MSR Lightning™ Ascent snowshoes offer the flotation and grip you need to reach your campsite—wherever it might be. They feature our most advanced traction for surefooted stability. These elite snowshoes also come with Paragon™ bindings, featuring all-mesh, freeze-resistant top straps that provide maximum snowshoe control while spreading tension across the top of your shoes for maximum comfort. Lightning Ascent snowshoes also feature Ergo™ Televator heel lift bars that can be quickly and easily engaged to reduce calf fatigue as you climb hills, acting like a step as you gain elevation.

If you’re heading into deep, light snow or carrying a very heavy pack, pick up a pair of our modular flotation tails, which can be added to your snowshoes to increase the surface area for more flotation in softer snow.

dynalock explore backcountry poles

DynaLock™ Explore Backcountry Poles

Poles help you keep your balance as you cross uneven snowfields, making you more efficient and helping to save energy. Our 3-section DynaLock™ Explore Backcountry Poles are built of high-strength aluminum and collapse down small, making them ideal for a full range of winter activities. They feature an EVA foam grip for comfort while hiking all day. And the poles’ two DynaLock adjustment mechanisms are simple to use, letting you adjust the length of the pole even with thick winter gloves on, so there’s no need to expose your hands to cold winter temperatures.

The poles’ powder baskets are designed to lift the heel bars on MSR snowshoes, so you don’t have to bend over mid-trail for the adjustment. In addition to powder baskets, the poles also include a pair of trekking baskets so you can swap them out and use the same poles all year round.

beta snow saw

Beta™ Snow Saw

Building snow walls and wind barricades around your camp and tent will help protect it from windy conditions, particularly in the alpine. Protecting your camp will keep you warmer inside your tent and make it easier to cook outside of it. Our Beta™ Snow Saw lets you cut everything from snow blocks for walls to benches for seating. It’s built of stainless steel for ultralight strength, and is super thin, allowing it to slip easily into your pack. This saw ups the ante of your winter camping kit.

operator basecamp shovels

Operator™ Basecamp & Backcountry Shovel

Like the snow saw, a backcountry shovel is an important part of your gear when you begin to set up camp. Use the shovel to dig a platform for your tent, as well as a pit inside the vestibule, to give yourself a standing-height space to store gear and change footwear before entering and exiting your shelter.

Our Operator Shovel is built tough yet light. Its handle was designed for maximum comfort and leverage and its flat chopping face makes an aggressive tool for penetrating harder snow. If your stove won’t stay above the top of light snow (or if the heat from the stove is melting the snow), the removable shovel blade can be used as a platform for a stove to keep it above the snow.

striker probe

Striker™ 240 Probe

If there’s any chance that you’ll be traveling in avalanche terrain, you’ll need to bring and be prepared to use the mandatory avalanche safety gear, including a beacon, shovel and probe. The MSR Striker™ 240 Probe is made of durable, lightweight aluminum with a corrosion-resistant coated stainless steel cable. Combined with its fast deployment, this probe adds a reliable piece of safety gear to your backcountry kit.

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Updated. Originally Published October 29, 2019.

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