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What To Pack For Winter Backpacking In Europe


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Jacquenetta Oconner



Planning a winter backpacking trip in Europe? It’s an exciting adventure that allows you to explore the stunning landscapes, historic cities, and charming towns of this diverse continent. But before you embark on your journey, it’s essential to pack wisely and be prepared for the cold weather conditions.


Winter backpacking requires careful consideration of the clothing, gear, and essentials you’ll need to stay warm, comfortable, and safe throughout your trip. From layering your clothing to choosing the right footwear, each item you pack plays a vital role in ensuring a successful winter backpacking experience.


In this article, we’ll guide you through the must-have items for a winter backpacking trip in Europe. Whether you’re planning to hike through the snow-covered Swiss Alps or explore the Christmas markets in Germany, these tips will help you stay warm and enjoy your time to the fullest.


Keep in mind that the specific items you pack will vary based on factors such as the duration of your trip, the regions you plan to visit, and your personal preferences. However, the following guide will serve as a solid foundation for your winter backpacking packing list.


Clothing and Layering

When it comes to winter backpacking, proper clothing and layering are crucial. The key is to stay warm and dry while allowing for breathability and flexibility. Here are the essential clothing items to pack:

  • Base Layers: Start with high-quality thermal base layers that wick away moisture from your skin. Opt for merino wool or synthetic materials that provide insulation even when wet.
  • Mid Layers: Choose insulating layers like fleece jackets or down-filled sweaters to provide warmth. These layers can be easily added or removed depending on the temperature.
  • Outer Layers: Bring a waterproof and windproof jacket and pants to protect yourself from the elements. Look for breathable materials to prevent overheating and ensure comfort during physical activities.
  • Warm Pants: Pack a pair of insulated and water-resistant pants for extra warmth. Consider options with reinforced knees and seat for durability.
  • Gloves and Mittens: Bring a combination of lightweight gloves for dexterity and thick mittens for extreme cold. Insulated and waterproof options are highly recommended.
  • Hats and Beanies: Keep your head warm with a beanie or hat that covers your ears. Look for materials like fleece or wool for added insulation.
  • Neck Gaiter or Scarf: A neck gaiter or scarf provides extra warmth and protection from the wind. It can also be used as a facemask in harsh weather conditions.

Layering is key in winter backpacking as it allows you to adjust your body temperature as needed. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add insulating mid-layers for warmth, and top it off with a waterproof outer layer to stay dry. Layering also allows for easy removal or addition of clothing as you encounter changing weather conditions or engage in physical activities.


Don’t forget to pack extra pairs of socks made from moisture-wicking and insulating materials. Layering socks can provide insulation and prevent blisters. Consider bringing gaiters as well to keep the snow out of your boots and pants.


Remember to pack clothing suitable for both hiking and exploring cities. Opt for versatile pieces that can be dressed up or down, ensuring you’re prepared for all types of activities.



Choosing the right footwear is essential for winter backpacking in Europe. Your feet are your most important asset, and keeping them warm, dry, and comfortable is crucial for an enjoyable trip. Here are some considerations when selecting your footwear:

  • Waterproof Boots: Invest in a good pair of waterproof boots with insulation for added warmth. Look for boots with a sturdy sole for traction on icy surfaces.
  • Gaiters: Gaiters are a great addition to your footwear, especially if you’re going to encounter deep snow or wet conditions. They help keep snow, water, and debris out of your boots.
  • Extra Pair of Shoes: It’s a good idea to pack a lightweight and comfortable pair of shoes for when you’re not on the trail. This allows your boots to dry and provides relief to your feet.
  • Socks: Bring several pairs of moisture-wicking and insulating socks. Wool or synthetic materials work best in winter conditions as they keep your feet dry and warm.
  • Insole Warmers: Consider bringing insole warmers for extra warmth during extremely cold days. These can be easily inserted into your boots for added comfort.

Remember to break in your boots before your trip to avoid blisters and discomfort. It’s also a good idea to wear moisture-wicking liner socks underneath your hiking socks to prevent blisters and keep your feet dry.


Footwear maintenance is crucial during winter backpacking. Dry your boots thoroughly overnight to prevent moisture buildup and freezing. Keep them insulated in a waterproof stuff sack when not in use to protect them from the elements.


Lastly, make sure your footwear fits properly and offers ample room for your toes to move. Tight-fitting shoes can restrict blood circulation and lead to cold feet. Regularly check for signs of frostbite or numbness and adjust your footwear accordingly.


By choosing the right footwear and taking proper care of your feet, you’ll be able to enjoy your winter hike in Europe without discomfort or any unwanted foot issues.


Sleeping Gear

When it comes to winter backpacking, a good night’s sleep is essential for your overall well-being and enjoyment of your trip. Here are the essential sleeping gear items to pack:

  • Sleeping Bag: Invest in a high-quality winter sleeping bag that is rated for cold temperatures. Look for a bag with a temperature rating suitable for the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter.
  • Sleeping Pad: A good sleeping pad is crucial for insulation and comfort. Opt for an inflatable or closed-cell foam pad that provides adequate insulation from the cold ground.
  • Pillow: While not essential, a compact inflatable pillow can greatly enhance your sleeping comfort and help you get a good night’s rest.
  • Tent: If you plan to camp during your winter backpacking trip, choose a four-season or winter-specific tent. These tents are designed to withstand strong winds, snow, and cold temperatures.
  • Tent Footprint: A waterproof tent footprint helps protect your tent floor from moisture and adds an extra layer of insulation.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner: Consider bringing a sleeping bag liner for added warmth and to keep your sleeping bag clean. Look for a liner made from breathable and moisture-wicking material.

When setting up camp, choose a sheltered and level spot that is protected from the wind. Clear any snow or sharp objects from the area before setting up your tent to ensure a comfortable and safe night’s sleep.


Before your trip, practice setting up your tent in cold conditions to become familiar with the process. It’s also a good idea to test out your gear in advance to ensure everything is in working order and to identify any potential issues.


Remember to dress in layers even inside your sleeping bag to regulate your body temperature throughout the night. Keep essential items such as your headlamp, water bottle, and any necessary medication inside your sleeping bag to prevent them from freezing.


By choosing the right sleeping gear and taking proper precautions, you’ll be able to stay warm and comfortable throughout the night, ensuring you wake up refreshed and ready for the day’s adventures.


Backpack Essentials

When preparing for a winter backpacking trip in Europe, it’s important to pack the right essentials to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. Here are the backpack essentials you’ll need:

  • Backpack: Choose a backpack that is spacious enough to accommodate all your gear, yet comfortable to carry for long periods. Look for a backpack with good organizational compartments, a sturdy frame, and adjustable straps.
  • Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is crucial, even in cold weather. Bring a durable water bottle that is insulated to prevent freezing. Consider using an insulated sleeve or cover to further protect it from the cold.
  • Food and Snacks: Pack lightweight, high-energy food and snacks that are easy to prepare and provide the necessary nutrients for your winter adventures. Opt for foods that can withstand cold temperatures and do not require refrigeration.
  • Cooking Equipment: If you plan on cooking your own meals, bring a compact stove, fuel canisters, and cookware suitable for winter conditions. Don’t forget a lightweight utensil set and a mug or bowl.
  • Headlamp: Since daylight hours are shorter in winter, a reliable headlamp is essential. Choose one that is lightweight, has a long battery life, and provides enough brightness for nighttime activities and emergencies.
  • Extra Batteries: Pack extra batteries for your headlamp, as well as any other electronic devices you may be carrying, such as a GPS or camera.
  • Maps and Compass: In case of navigation issues or technology failures, always carry a detailed map of the areas you’ll be exploring and a compass to help you orient yourself.
  • Multi-Tool: A small multi-tool is handy for various tasks, such as repairing gear, opening cans, or cutting rope. Look for one with a knife, pliers, and screwdriver.
  • Dry Bags: Keeping your gear dry is crucial in winter backpacking. Pack your items in waterproof dry bags or use individual waterproof stuff sacks to protect them from moisture and snow.
  • First Aid Kit: Always have a well-stocked first aid kit that includes essentials like bandages, antiseptic ointment, blister cushions, pain relievers, and any personal medications you may need.

Remember to pack these items strategically in your backpack for easy access and weight distribution. Keep frequently used items within reach, and make sure to balance the weight evenly to avoid discomfort or strain on your back.


By having these backpack essentials on hand, you’ll be well-prepared to handle the challenges and enjoy the incredible experiences that come with winter backpacking in Europe.


Cooking and Food

When embarking on a winter backpacking trip in Europe, it’s essential to plan your meals and bring the necessary cooking equipment. Here are some tips for cooking and food on your winter adventure:

  • Meal Planning: Plan your meals in advance to ensure you have enough food for the duration of your trip. Consider lightweight and high-energy options that provide the necessary nutrients for outdoor activities in cold weather.
  • Dehydrated Meals: Dehydrated meals are a popular choice for backpackers as they are lightweight, require minimal preparation, and have a long shelf life. Look for options that can be rehydrated with hot water.
  • Hot Drinks: Warm up with hot drinks like tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. Pack your favorite instant drink mixes and a lightweight camp stove to heat up water quickly.
  • Cooking Equipment: Invest in a lightweight and compact stove suitable for winter conditions. Choose a model that is fuel-efficient and can withstand cold temperatures. Bring portable cookware, utensils, and a mug/bowl for cooking and eating.
  • Fuel Canisters: Ensure you have enough fuel canisters to last the duration of your trip. Keep in mind that cold temperatures can affect fuel efficiency, so bring extra in case of unexpected conditions.
  • Food Safety: Pay attention to food safety when backpacking in winter. Keep perishable items well-insulated and prevent them from freezing or spoiling. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands before handling food.
  • Snacks: Pack a variety of lightweight and energy-dense snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day. Nuts, dried fruits, energy bars, and jerky are all excellent options.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Respect the environment and dispose of waste properly. Pack out all your trash, including food scraps, and follow Leave No Trace principles.

It’s also important to be mindful of how cooking smells can attract wildlife in certain areas. Store your food properly in bear-resistant containers or hang it from a tree away from your sleeping area to prevent any unwanted encounters.


Remember to check local regulations regarding campfires and cooking restrictions in the areas you’ll be visiting. Some areas may have specific rules or designated cooking areas to protect the environment.


By planning your meals, bringing the necessary cooking equipment, and practicing proper food safety, you’ll be able to enjoy delicious and nourishing meals while winter backpacking in Europe.


Navigation Tools

When embarking on a winter backpacking trip in Europe, it’s crucial to have the proper navigation tools to ensure you stay on course and reach your destinations safely. Here are the essential navigation tools to pack:

  • Maps: Carry detailed maps of the areas you’ll be exploring, including topographic maps if available. Familiarize yourself with the trails, landmarks, and potential hazards before setting out.
  • Compass: A reliable compass is an invaluable tool for navigation. Learn how to use it properly and understand how to read maps and determine direction using the compass.
  • GPS Device: Consider bringing a GPS device with pre-loaded maps and waypoints if you’re comfortable using one. Ensure you have spare batteries or a power bank to keep it charged.
  • Altimeter: An altimeter is useful for measuring your elevation and tracking changes in elevation throughout your hike. This can help you determine your location on a map and estimate remaining distance and travel time.
  • Cell Phone with Offline Maps: Make sure to download offline maps of the areas you’ll be visiting on your cell phone. While cell service may be limited in remote areas, offline maps can still be useful for reference.
  • Guidebook or Trail Descriptions: Carry a guidebook or trail descriptions specific to the areas you’ll be visiting. These resources can provide valuable information about trail conditions, water sources, and points of interest.
  • Whistle and Signal Mirror: In case of an emergency or if you become lost, a whistle and signal mirror can help attract attention and aid in your rescue.

Prior to your trip, study the terrain and familiarize yourself with the landmarks, trail intersections, and potential detours. Make note of emergency contact numbers and the locations of ranger stations or visitor centers in the areas you’ll be exploring.


Always stay aware of changing weather conditions and be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly. Pay attention to trail markers, signage, and any posted warnings or closures.


Remember, relying solely on technology for navigation can be risky. Always carry a physical map and compass as a backup, as electronic devices can fail or lose battery power.


By bringing the right navigation tools and staying attentive to your surroundings, you’ll be able to navigate confidently and make the most of your winter backpacking adventure in Europe.


Personal Care and Hygiene

When embarking on a winter backpacking trip in Europe, it’s important to prioritize personal care and hygiene to stay healthy and comfortable during your journey. Here are some essential items to pack:

  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Don’t neglect your dental hygiene while backpacking. Opt for a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste to keep your teeth and gums clean and fresh.
  • Hand Sanitizer: Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer easily accessible in your backpack. Use it to sanitize your hands before eating or after using shared facilities.
  • Wet Wipes: Pack a supply of wet wipes for quick and convenient cleaning when bathroom facilities are not available. Opt for biodegradable wipes to minimize environmental impact.
  • Microfiber Towel: A lightweight and quick-drying microfiber towel is essential for personal hygiene, drying off after a wash, or wiping down your gear.
  • Toilet Paper: Carry a compact roll of toilet paper in a waterproof bag or opt for individually wrapped travel-sized packets. Keep in mind that it may be necessary to pack out used toilet paper in some areas.
  • Sunscreen: Even in winter, the sun’s rays can be strong, especially in snowy environments. Protect your skin by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF before heading out.
  • Lip Balm: Cold weather and wind can lead to chapped lips. Bring a moisturizing lip balm with SPF to keep your lips protected and hydrated.
  • Prescription Medications: If you take prescription medications, ensure you have an ample supply for the duration of your trip. Keep them in a waterproof container and easily accessible.
  • Personal Medications: Don’t forget to pack any personal over-the-counter medications you may need, such as pain relievers, allergy medication, or cold remedies.
  • Extra Contact Lenses or Glasses: If you wear contact lenses or glasses, bring extras in case of loss or damage. Consider bringing a repair kit for glasses as well.

Personal hygiene is essential, even in the wilderness. Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles by properly disposing of waste and minimizing your impact on the environment.


Take care of your body by staying hydrated, eating nutritious foods, and getting enough rest. Prioritize self-care to ensure you have the energy and stamina to fully enjoy your winter backpacking adventure in Europe.


Safety and Emergency

When undertaking a winter backpacking trip in Europe, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and be prepared for any potential emergencies that may arise. Here are some essential safety and emergency items to pack:

  • First Aid Kit: A well-stocked first aid kit is a must-have for any outdoor adventure. Include items such as bandages, antiseptic ointment, blister treatment, pain relievers, and any necessary personal medications.
  • Emergency Shelter: Pack a lightweight emergency shelter, such as a bivy sack or emergency blanket, in case you encounter unexpected weather conditions or need to wait for help.
  • Fire Starter Kit: Ensure you have a reliable fire starter kit that includes waterproof matches or a lighter, as well as fire-resistant tinder to quickly start a fire for warmth and signaling purposes.
  • Signal Whistle: A loud whistle can be used to attract attention in case of an emergency. Opt for a whistle with a built-in compass and thermometer for added functionality.
  • Emergency Communication: Bring a fully charged cell phone and a portable charger to maintain communication in case of an emergency. It’s also a good idea to carry a backup means of communication, such as a satellite phone or a personal locator beacon (PLB).
  • Knife or Multi-Tool: Include a sturdy knife or multi-tool in your gear for various cutting and utility purposes. Make sure it is easily accessible in case you need it in an emergency situation.
  • Headlamp with Extra Batteries: Always carry a reliable headlamp with extra batteries to navigate during low-light conditions or in case you need to search for something in the dark.
  • Navigation Tools: Carry a map and compass, even if you are relying on GPS or smartphone navigation. These tools can be a lifesaver if your electronic devices fail or lose battery power.
  • Emergency Contact Information: Have a list of emergency contact numbers, including local authorities, park rangers, and emergency services for the areas you’ll be visiting.
  • Emergency Plan: Develop an emergency plan before your trip and share it with a trusted person who will know your expected itinerary and actions to take in case you do not return on schedule.

Prior to your trip, familiarize yourself with basic outdoor survival skills, such as building a shelter, administering first aid, and navigating with a map and compass. Also, stay updated on the weather forecast and potential hazards in the areas you’ll be exploring.


Remember, safety should always be a top priority when embarking on a winter backpacking adventure. Be prepared, use good judgment, and prioritize your well-being to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in Europe’s winter wilderness.


Miscellaneous Items

When packing for a winter backpacking trip in Europe, there are some miscellaneous items that can come in handy and enhance your overall experience. Here are some additional items to consider including in your backpack:

  • Multi-purpose Tool: A versatile multi-purpose tool, such as a Swiss Army knife, can be incredibly useful for various tasks on the trail, including repairs, opening cans, and cutting ropes.
  • Repair Kit: Bring a compact repair kit that includes items like duct tape, a sewing kit, spare buckles or straps, and a patch kit for tents or sleeping gear. These can be lifesavers in case of gear damage.
  • Trekking Poles: Trekking poles provide stability and help alleviate strain on your joints, particularly when traversing snowy or uneven terrain. Look for lightweight and adjustable poles.
  • Camera: Capture the memories of your winter backpacking trip by bringing a compact camera or smartphone with a good camera. Don’t forget spare batteries or a portable charger.
  • Sunglasses and Goggles: Protect your eyes from the sun’s glare and snow reflections by packing a pair of sunglasses with UV protection. Consider bringing ski goggles for additional eye protection in extreme weather conditions.
  • Extra Bags: Pack some extra resealable plastic bags or waterproof dry bags to keep your gear organized, protect items from moisture or leaks, and separate wet or dirty items from the rest of your pack.
  • Cash and Identification: Carry some cash and your identification or passport securely in a waterproof and accessible pouch or wallet.
  • Entertainment: During downtime, keep yourself entertained with a book, deck of cards, or small portable game to enjoy while resting at camp or inside a cozy cabin.
  • Microspikes or Crampons: Depending on the terrain and conditions you’ll encounter, consider bringing microspikes or crampons to provide extra traction on icy or slippery surfaces.
  • Extra Batteries: If you have electronic devices such as a GPS, headlamp, or camera, make sure to bring extra batteries or a portable charger to keep them powered throughout your trip.

These miscellaneous items can greatly enhance your comfort, safety, and enjoyment during your winter backpacking adventure in Europe. While not essential, they can make a difference in certain situations and provide added convenience and entertainment.


Remember to assess the weight and functionality of each item before adding it to your backpack. Prioritize what is necessary and consider the specific conditions and activities you’ll be engaging in to determine what additional items are worth carrying.



Preparing for a winter backpacking trip in Europe requires careful planning and packing of essential items. By considering the clothing and layering, footwear, sleeping gear, backpack essentials, cooking and food, navigation tools, personal care and hygiene, safety and emergency, and miscellaneous items, you can ensure a successful and enjoyable adventure.


Choose appropriate clothing and layering to stay warm, dry, and comfortable in cold weather conditions. Invest in quality waterproof boots and bring extra pairs of socks to protect your feet from the cold. Pack a winter-rated sleeping bag, a comfortable sleeping pad, and necessary shelter for restful nights in the wilderness. Organize your backpack essentials, including water bottles, cooking equipment, navigation tools, and emergency supplies, to easily access and carry everything you need.


Prioritize personal care and hygiene by bringing essentials like toothbrushes, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and sunscreen. Stay prepared for emergencies with a first aid kit, emergency shelter, fire starter kit, and communication devices. Consider bringing additional items like a multi-purpose tool, repair kit, trekking poles, and extra bags for added convenience and comfort.


Lastly, always prioritize safety during your winter backpacking trip. Be knowledgeable about navigation techniques, weather conditions, and potential hazards. Share your itinerary and emergency plan with someone trusted, and familiarize yourself with basic outdoor survival skills.


With careful planning and packing, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on a memorable winter backpacking adventure in Europe. Enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, experience the charm of winter wonderlands, and create unforgettable memories along the way.