In preparation for an avalanche course field day, I realized I had never put any thought towards a pack list while in the cold, snowy February backcountry. Often times, if I go out for a short tour, I just throw a cheap granola bar in my pocket and nearly break a tooth trying to choke it down, but I now have some options in my cupboard. Here is my optimal pack list for staying fueled on a day during winter in the backcountry.
Things I’m Bringing:
Things I’m Skipping:
The first thing that’s often debated on winter backcountry days is whether or not to bring a backpacking stove to heat water while you are out there. Temperatures are forecast in the single digits to teens and wind chill will bring those temps below zero, so I’m opting to bring my MSR Windburner. It’s well worth the pound penalty to both reduce the amount of water I’m bringing and boost morale with a hot drink and warm food for lunch.
Insulated cups, whether it’s a Yeti, Hydroflask, or in my case, a good ‘ol Thermos, are no doubt heavier than a drinking vessel one would bring backpacking in August, but it’s well worth the penalty to both keep your hot drinks hot, and to ensure your water doesn’t freeze long after you put the stove away. The freezing temperatures are another strong case for just skipping the classic Nalgene or disposable plastic water bottle altogether, especially since one has the opportunity to boil water at any time with the stove.
Ask any seasoned backcountry skier what their go-to backcountry foods are and often times miso soup will be somewhere near the top of their list. The portability of the little packets miso comes in, plus the salt kick and morale boost of warm soup on the mountain keeps you fueled for another lap. Also, it takes a fraction of the time of dehydrated food for it to be ready to scarf down and generally won’t leave a gut bomb like heavier pasta and rice meals.
I have always had a soft spot for coffee on the mountain, and doesn’t matter if I’m going for a day or 5, I will always have the makings for a cup of joe in my pack. This time around, I’ll be bringing Dark Timber Ascent Packs that I have stocked up so I can make a cup of coffee with the boiled water at lunch that I will sip on for hours in my Thermos.
A serious issue in winter backcountry travel is having snacks freeze and becoming more like a granola popsicle than a chewy bar. To combat this, I’ll opt for Off-Grid Trail Mix and Righteous Felon Jerky for snacks on the go. They still may get tougher to eat in such cold temperatures, but the risk of breaking a tooth off isn’t as bad as if you had the same ingredients in bar form. Along the same lines, I will leave out any nut butter, like Justin's or FBomb, simply because I don’t enjoy the consistency of nut butter when they’re cold. The oil usually turns to a solid and often times leave a fatty coating in your mouth that I don’t find all too enjoyable.
I’m sure we will sit down for lunch and multiple folks will bring out sandwiches of all varieties, from homemade hoagies to smushed sandos from Subway. I understand the convenience, but with how clumsy I am, there is no way any bread-like product in my pack would ever make it ‘til noon in one piece. Not to mention, I have a box of backcountry fuel that needs to be eaten.