I've been doing a fair amount of spring/summer/fall backpacking the last few years but nothing in the winter.  I'm planning an MLK wkd trip (Deep Creek) and want to make sure I'm prepared gear-wise.   I've browsed some other boards but the recs are all over the place depending on the locale.  Am curious to hear from those that do a lot of winter backpacking in the Smokies.

My primary concerns are around my tent and keeping my hands/feet warm.

Tent - for camping at spots in the park at <4000' elevation, will my 3 season, mesh-paneled tent w/rainfly suffice?  On other boards I see a lot of recs to get a (expensive) winter tent.  Would prefer to avoid that if my current tent can handle lower elevation GSMNP sites.

hands and feet - my feet in particular tend to get very cold, both on the trail and in my sleeping bag.  Are sock liners helpful?   

For my hands I've always used mittens when snow-skiing as gloves didn't keep my fingers warm.  But figure I may need the utility of gloves for tasks around the campsite.  Carry both?  Or liners with a glove and hope for the best?

I feel good about clothes (layering synthetics) so I think I'm good there.

other questions...

  • balaclava - seem to be highly recommended.  Not sure if necessary if temps are in the 20s/30s?
  • Rain pants?  I have never carried before but potential for wet pants in cold weather makes me think I should consider
  • down sleeping bag.  I'll need to get one of those. any (price-concious) recs?  I use a liner by itself in the summer.  Should I couple that with the down bag or is that overkill?

other tips I've come across, please add others

  • keep a pair of clean dry socks for sleeping/emergency.  ditto for clothes
  • pack some hand warmers
  • hot water bottle in the bag at night
  • Plenty of proteins and carbs for food and hot drinks at camp

Any other tips?

many thanks!


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Comment by John Quillen on December 31, 2012 at 9:51am


We just returned from three days in some of the worst weather the Smokies can throw at us.  You ask the right questions and I have a few thoughts, of course.  First, on Friday, it rained like the dickens so I had my synthetic bag.  I knew that saturday was to be snow and much colder but if I wet out my bag it would've been useless the next night.  Sure enough, we were soaked and that turned out to be the right decision.  Down doesn't dry but some of the new shells on down bags are supposedly better nowadays.

Regarding rain pants, they literally kept me from hypothermia.  I usually wear a soft shell but they got soaked because I didn't put my rain pants over them soon enough.  Luckily I had them to change into for the snow storm on saturday.  The temp dropped into the low twenties with constant wind.  I had a great pair of manzella thinsulate gloves that did the trick in both wet and dry.  Fleece etc is insufficient when the weather is that variable.  I also suggest a waterproof toboggan and good rain hat like the Seattle Sombrero with a wide brim.  I have difficulty hearing out of my hood on the jacket when pulled up.

Last, regarding the tent, your regular frame tent will be fine.  Just to illustrate that point, I carried my ultralight, 2 lb, frameless, long distance tent this weekend because my MSR hubba hubba had a broken pole.  This ultralight utilizes my walking poles for the frame.  It did fine even with the constant snow.  I just had to periodically knock the accumulating powder off the sides.   There is no need for a big mountaineering tent in the Smokies. (I have one of those for mountaineering, never had cause to use it in the worst snowstorms here)

My last suggestion, and this is personal, carry a foldup saw and hatchet.  We like big fires and the hatchet will allow you to bust into wet wood and get at the dry stuff that burns quicker and hotter.

Those are just a few of my thoughts.  I prefer winter backpacking to warm weather any day.  No bugs, people and great visibility.

Comment by Gregg Bostick on December 29, 2012 at 2:15pm
We did that last year in Feb. definitely take rain pants and dry socks! You will have some mid thigh creek crossings so take appropriate foot ware.

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