What to Pack for your First Winter Backcountry Hut Trip
A few months ago we ran a post with 15 rad reasons you should take your first backcountry hut trip this winter. And now that you’re convinced, we wanted to help you get ready. In this new post by Bearfoot Theory’s Colorado experts Ben and Jenna Thomas, they share a gear checklist for your first backcountry hut trip and some other helpful tips to ensure you have a good time out there in the snow.
A couple years ago, I went on my very first winter backcountry hut trip. I was so excited when we made the plans, but as the weeks went by, I got more and more nervous. Everyone else we were going with was really outdoorsy and did things like bike up mountains in their spare time. I didn’t know what to bring or what to expect.
Well, I ended up having so much fun that a hut trip became an annual tradition. We’ve already tried to convince you why you should take a hut trip this winter. If you are still undecided or have one booked and are feeling nervous like I was, here is a complete gear list with all the details on what to pack for your first winter backcountry hut trip, as well as some specific recommendations in case you are missing any of the essentials.
— Backcountry Hut Trip Gear List —
- Base layers: wool, silk, or polypropylene. NO COTTON! You’ll sweat and cotton doesn’t wick moisture–so when you stop moving and your baselayer is sweaty, you’ll get really cold. Recommended baselayers:
- Midlayer: fleece, down, or more wool is a good option here, and you might need more than one, for instance, a fleece under a down jacket. Also, you might end up taking this layer off if the hike is tough and you get hot. It’s safest to start with one midlayer and have an extra in your pack in case it’s colder than you thought. Recommended midlayers:
- Waterproof Shell / Pants: You’ll need something waterproof that is also breathable in case the snow starts to fall mid-hike. Recommended shell layers:
- Footwear: Should be waterproof, comfortable and supportive enough for hiking/snowshoeing. Preferably this will be a winter hiking boot, but if, like me, you prefer a lower-rise shoe style, you will need to add gaiters to keep the snow out of your shoes. If you’re buying new shoes or boots, break them in BEFORE the trip. Recommended footwear:
- Socks: Wool is my favorite. Whatever material you choose, make it warm, moisture-wicking (again, no cotton), and taller than ankle-height. You’ll also want an extra pair of dry socks to change into once you arrive at the hut. Recommended socks:
- A extra pair of comfy pants: unless you want to walk around in your long underwear, which hey, that’s fine! If you got it, flaunt it!
- Slippers: not necessary, but awesome
- Gloves, hat, scarf/balaclava: gloves should be waterproof, hat should cover your ears, and if it’s really cold you’ll want to be able to cover your face.
–Read More —
- A topographic map of the area, or at the very least the map provided on the hut’s website
- Snowshoes / Poles: These can easily be rented at REI or most outdoor gear shops. Skis or a split-board snowboard with climbing skins are another option.
- Backpack: this is probably the most important part of your get-up. This needs to be backpacking-specific and comfortable—padded straps, padded back, and a waist strap to help distribute weight. If you haven’t got a backpacking backpack, go to REI and get fitted. Don’t pick out a pack on your own unless you know your size already. Recommended pack:
- A small first-aid kit with Advil/Tylenol/Aspirin, band-aids, etc.
- Sleeping bag: You’ll want a bag that is light and packs down small, and a 20ºF bag should be sufficient, especially in huts with a wood burning stove. Many huts have mattresses, but if not, you will also need a sleeping pad. Double check before leaving.
- Sunglasses / snow goggles, sunscreen, and chapstick: Sun on snow can be really intense—even if there are clouds.
- If you are going anywhere near an avalanche-prone area, you should also carry avalanche gear and a beacon, and avoid these areas if you haven’t taken a class in avalanche safety. A SPOT GPS Transponder is also a handy device for communicating in the case of an emergency when you are out of cell phone range.
- A headlamp
- Earplugs in case you have a snorer in the group
— Read More —
- Snacks: trail mix, gels, PB&J…it’s up to you.
- Water: The amount depends on you, but bring more than you think you’ll need. You’ll be sweating more than you think, and the altitude will dehydrate you!
- Food: If you are going with a large group, coordinate breakfasts and dinners as group meals. This way you can each carry less food, but still have some grand, backcountry feasts. For snacks and lunches, bring your own. Remember, you’ll be hungry! Bring lots.
- Drinks: Tea, instant coffee and hot cocoa are nice and easy because they come in little packets. Booze is optional, but definitely helps you make friends at the hut. A bota bag, plastic bottles like Gatorade bottles, or flasks are the best for packing liquids in and out of the hut. Glass bottles are too heavy unless you really like carrying extra weight both in and out—there’s no recycling bin up there!
- Cookware: Some huts, like the 10th Division Mountain Huts in Colorado, come stocked with cookware including propane stove and eating utensils, etc. Huts in other places may not. So make sure you check whether or not you need to bring a stove.
— Read More —
Anything you’ll need to be comfortable/happy on an overnight trip. Cards, a bluetooth speaker, your camera, etc. Just remember, you’re carrying your own stuff, so the more you bring, the more weight you’ll have.
(Bonus points if you have awesome friends who will pack in a piñata to celebrate your birthday, Backcountry Style)
— Other Tips for your First Backcountry Hut Trip —
- GET AN EARLY START. Don’t try to estimate how long it will take you to hike in, because there are too many variables. Snowshoeing and skiing in almost always take longer than normal hiking, so adjust accordingly.
- Don’t worry about bringing extra water for while you’re at the hut or for the the hike out. You’ll melt snow for this. BUT DRINK A LOT OF WATER THE WHOLE TIME YOU’RE THERE. No one wants to deal with altitude sickness.
- Most huts DO NOT allow pets. Since the snow around the hut is used for drinking water, pet waste would contaminate the snow supply. Check on this before you book your spot in a hut and if pets are not allowed, PLEASE obey this!
- Pack it in, pack it out: Everything you brought with you needs to leave with you. There’s no trash or recycling at most huts.
— Read More —
Hut trips are my favorite way to get out into the backcountry during the winter. If you are on the fence about taking a hut trip, hopefully these tips will help get you out the door and on the trail!
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