Note: This is not a lightweight winter camping kit list.
Far too early in the year, usually from October, I look forward to winter camping in Scotland. Folk often find this strange because I’m not talking about the deep, cold snowy winters of, say Alaska, but the bone chilling, ‘just-above-freezing and the sleet’s blowing sideways’ maritime climate that Scottish hillwalkers rejoice in.
Winter camping in Scotland can be cold and wet. We don’t live in a big country but it’s possible to get far away from the road and relative safety (some roads in winter have no traffic) and with the wind, snow and often freezing rain it would be easy to get hypothermia. It’s important to have the right skills, quality equipment and to be prepared.
Here’s a sample winter camping gear list for Scottish winter (with some kit thoughts and camping tips from 15 years experience thrown in).
Underwear - try merino wool, it doesn’t stink as much after a few days out.
Trousers - I’ve tried lots and prefer Powerstretch leggings (thick, stretchy tights – not for the fashion conscious)
Socks - thick woollen socks (carry a spare pair). If you wear leather boots, waterproof/breathable socks are very good (look for ones with merino wool inside)
Boots - Scarpa Mantas win Trail magazine’s ‘Best in Test’ award most, if not every year. (I use La Sportiva Nepal Extremes, which I find keep my feet nice and warm).
T-shirt - merino wool (mixed reviews – I like it) or Patagonia’s capilene
Fleece top - lightweight fleece, 100weight.
Windshirt - invaluable. Wear it over the t-shirt or the t-shirt and fleece and it can keep you warm on the move in most weather. (I used a Patagonia Houdini for many years. These days it’s a Montane Featherlite Trail Jacket)
Fleece jacket - I run very warm so I only wear this when it’s bad weather up high. I could take a really light option (e.g. a thin Primaloft top such as Rab, Haglofs, Patagonia) but I find these compress too much in a winter hoolie and I’ve gotten cold. I prefer an old-fashioned 200 weight fleece pullover (Berghaus Spectrum)
Duvet jacket - I’ve spent a ton of money looking for a good, thick hooded ‘belay jacket’. Current one is Mountain Equipment’s Citadel and it’s super toasty. (I’ve tried down insulation and don’t like it in Scotland in winter for camping trips, even with a water-resistant shell. It gets wet too easily and I don’t like to risk wearing it through the day)
Hat - thin wool hat (thicker ones I find get too hot for walking in)
Balaclava - powerstretch or merino wool
Windproof hat - spare in case of very bad weather
Windproof neck gaiter - ditto - I get a cold, sore face when the wind is strong and it is around/below freezing
Fleece gloves - Powerstretch ones are good for lower down or when it’s not so cold. They will get wet but should dry (relatively) quickly
Ski gloves - great for poor weather but if you wear them all day you sweat in them and they usually stay wet for the duration
Pile mitts - lightweight pertex/pile mitts, usually taken instead of the ski gloves
Pile mitts - sheepskin mitts I keep for emergencies
Waterproof/breathable shell mitts (e.g. Paclite) - I can put these over any of the above
Waterproof jacket - I like two layers of fabric for the front zip (or the wind/sleet/rain comes through it) and a hood you can disappear into (with strong bungee cord for cinching down – some jacket hoods un-cinch in strong winds).
Waterproof trousers - If you’re wearing thick trousers, you could get away with a lighter pair of shell trousers. (Caution lightness against robustness. I’ve trashed a pair of Paclite trousers in 2-3 trips (heel rubbing, crampons rips, etc.).
Gaiters - I use an old pair of Mountain Hardwear waterproof/breathable ones. Make sure the loop at the bottom is sturdy or it’ll break easily. (If you tuck your waterproof trousers inside them them you can negate the last point about robustness but you will end up looking like a German soldier).
Map - in Ortlieb waterproof case (essential)
Compass and GPS - essential (compass first, GPS as backup)
Mobile phone - in dry bag
Ice axe - Petzl’s Summit ice axe I’ve found to be a good all-rounder for what I do
Crampons - Grivel G12s (10-point ones would suffice for winter walking)
Ski poles – running poles (e.g. Black Diamond) are the lightest weight. I prefer their stronger Trail series for winter (flick-lock because I’ve had two Leki screw-tighten poles fail on me).
Headtorch - Petzl’s Nao head lamp is great when you’re looking for a tent spot or navigating off technical ground (take a spare battery). I also take a Petzl Bindi as a spare – handy for in the tent)
Bothy bag - this seems excessive when you’ve got a tent but if you’re planning to be far away from your shelter all day, you need an emergency option and this is 100% effective. It’s great for lunch stops too. (A 2-man one fits me and a dog. A 3-man one I’d suggest is better for 2 adults).
Blizzard bag - I’ve spent an unplanned Winter’s night out in a bothy bag and it wasn’t pleasant. I’d have preferred a second layer between me and the elements. Blizzard’s Active Range model I think is a good compromise between weight and protectability.
EATING AND SLEEPING
Tent - a 4-season dome or tunnel tent (I have a Macpac Minaret which has been bombproof, even when damaged - see caption at top of page)
Poles - there’s the option to double up on poles if you’re expecting very bad weather (I’ve never had to)
Pegs - long ones plus snow stakes if camping on snow (Useful to take poly bags then too – fill them with snow and attach them to the guy lines)
T-shirt, long johns, socks - it’s nice to have completely dry clothes to put on
Sleeping bag - Mountain Equipment Classic 750 down bag (much lighter options are available these days)
Sleeping bag cover (optional) – Mountain Equipment Ion is ideal (down bags are prone to get damp with condensation)
Sleeping mat - Cascade Design’s NeoAir XTherm is lightweight and packs down the same size as a 3/4 Thermarest I used to use. The comfort it provides is well worth the cost.
Pillow - I re-use an Exped dry bag. Stuff a fleece top and other clothes in it and you have a perfect pillow. (If you don’t like the slightly cold feeling of it on your face, the stuff sacks that Rab provides with their down jackets are a good alternative)
Glasses case - I’ve rolled over on my glasses a few times
Book - it’s a long night if you’re in bed just after it gets dark
Ear plugs - useful for tent partners but more for the wind
Stove, fuel, windshield - MSR Whisperlite (multi-fuel) or a MSR Windburner (gas). I like the latter as you can use it in between your legs
Water bottle - rigid 1l Nalgene with a wide mouth (doubles as a hot water bottle)
Vacuum flask - 0.5 litre seems a good combination of weight versus amount of use
Pot - 1.6 litre MSR pot (there’s smaller and lighter ones but I like to boil a big pot of water and use it to make dinner, fill a flask and fill a makeshift hot water bottle, all at the same time. Saves me re-boiling water)
Mug - it’s nice to have a drink whilst your tea’s cooking and you’ll appreciate your morning coffee more if it doesn’t taste of Thai Chilli Supernoodles
Spoon - Lexan
Lighter - Light my Fire
Pen knife - Swiss army knife
Water bottles - 1.5 litres worth of soft, roll-uppable water bottles, e.g. Platypus (It’s nice to not have to walk back and forth for water)
Hygiene - Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, handwash
Medicine - e.g. strong painkillers, loperamide
First aid kit
On top of this, I’ll also have a DSLR camera, a single lens (if not working), spare batteries and memory cards in a Lowepro Toploader Pro camera case.