Late Season Thru-hiking Gear

Gear to Pick Up Before the Snow Falls Down

 

Staying warm during an October trip to the Sierra on the PCT.   Photo by Naomi Hudetz

Staying warm during an October trip to the Sierra on the PCT. Photo by Naomi Hudetz

Each October, thru-hikers rush to finish the long trail they started many months ago. Autumn brings cool temperatures, rain, and the potential for hike-ending snow. This time of year is called the “shoulder season.” It’s still three season backpacking, but requires extra gear and skills to comfortably enjoy.

This guide is a collection of outdoor gear that our staff has personally purchased for adventures that extend into the late season, including multiple shoulder season hikes of the PCT, CDT, GDT, and AT. It also includes recent gear tests performed this past weekend while doing Trail Magic on Glen Pass in the Sierra (~12,000 feet). 

Our focus is on how to increase the quality of your hike for minimal weight during the shoulder season. We believe in making safe and smart decisions when deciding when to call it quits on your thru-hike, including taking into account the weather, conditions, your skill level, and the areas you are hiking into.

If you decide that it is safe for you to continue thru-hiking, section-hiking, backpacking, or day hiking in October, this list is for you.

If you’re looking for summer backpacking or thru-hiking gear, check out our Best Backpacking Backpack guide, Best Backpacking Tents guide, and Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads stories.

 

The Garmin inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini

1. inReach Mini


First things first. If you’re going to be out hiking in October or beyond, please carry an emergency satellite messenger to let people know where you are. Every year, thru-hikers and backpackers go missing and need to be rescued from the PCT. Sometimes, they are never found.


If you’re going to take on the responsibility of continuing a hike into October or beyond, take the responsibility of carrying 3.5 extra ounces and bring an inReach Mini. It’s no replacement for making smart decisions. But at least if you were to get into trouble, it’ll make the search mission much easier for both the rescue team and for loved ones back at home.

Don’t want to be found? Too bad. People will come looking for you, even if you’re the biggest introvert in the world. The trail and other hikers keep an eye on those in their community. Don’t be a burden on Search & Rescue Teams. Save others from worry. Carry a device. 

Writer Dean Krakel likes the inReach Mini in our Best Satellite Messengers and Personal Locator Beacons story because of the weight and ability to send and receive text messages. When you can two-way text, you can let Search & Rescue or family at home know the difference between: 


“Hey, I got waylaid by a storm for a few days but have plenty of food. No need to send a rescue team for me. I’ll walk out a few days later than anticipated.” 

 “Hey, please save me ASAP. This GPS point is exactly where I can be found hunkered in a yellow tent. I’m wearing a red jacket. My body is healthy except for frostbite on my toe.”


The inReach Mini’s ability to send exact details to Search & Rescue allows them to better utilize resources and people to match your needs. For example, if you have frostbite on your toe but are otherwise healthy, they won’t send the cardiac team. Letting them know the coordinates of where you are and other pertinent details (“look for a red tent”) gives them information to make smarter decisions. 

Many people who are rescued say waiting is the hardest part. With two way text, Search & Rescue can let you know when they are on their way and how long it will take to reach you. 

Most importantly, if you stay on trail this year, make sure your emergency contacts at home have read this story by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Have a conversation with your loved ones at home about where you’re going, when you anticipate being at each town stop, under what conditions you feel comfortable, and what to do in case of an emergency. 

You should also have a conversation about reasonable expectations of what technology --including satellite transmitters --- can and can’t do.  Human error (like turning off the inReach too quickly) can make it look like a message went out when it didn’t. Satellite messengers can run out of battery (see our suggestions for Powerbank in #13).

For easy access, Garmin inReach Mini close to your body (not at the bottom of your pack).   Photo by Mike Unger.

For easy access, Garmin inReach Mini close to your body (not at the bottom of your pack). Photo by Mike Unger.

 

Warning: Carrying a transmitter can give some people a sense of false confidence. Even if you have a device, it’s no replacement for snow skills, navigation skills, cold and moisture management experience, and being aware of weather and snow conditions ahead. Discuss with your loved ones what skills you do and don’t have and what decisions you will make to avoid needing Search & Rescue in the first place.

If you’re looking for more information about satellite messengers, see our Best Satellite Messengers and Personal Locator Beacons.

 

garmin inreach mini

 

Combine Parts A and B of AquaMira in the field for one of the lightest chemical treatments available.

Combine Parts A and B of AquaMira in the field for one of the lightest chemical treatments available.

2. Aquamira & what to do when your filter freezes


We love the Sawyer Squeeze (it’s the Top Pick in our Best Filter for Backpacking story).


But, news flash: the Squeeze stops filtering properly if it freezes. If you’re hiking between October and March, we recommend taking precautions to avoid your filter from freezing overnight. If day temperatures get cold enough, you may consider switching to chemical treatment for your water (we’ve personally had water freeze on us after leaving the tent in the morning).

 

Here’s how to prevent your filter from freezing

At night, remove your filter from water bottles or bags. Cap those bottles, bring them inside your tent vestibule, and flip them upside down (so they won’t freeze shut overnight). Empty the last water from your filter and put it in a ziplock bag or double bag it. Put that bag in the toe box of your sleeping bag to prevent it from freezing.

If it gets below freezing during the day, get yourself some Aquamira drops. They’re not as fast working in cold temperatures, but they are lightweight and can’t freeze. Treeline Review writers have used Aquamira for a collective three decades and can attest to its ease and effectiveness.

 

aquamira Water Treatment

 

3. Warm Gloves 

To keep hands warm and dry, Treeline Review writer and mountain guide Duncan Cheung recommends a two-glove combo in his Yosemite Clothing Packing List.

The Outdoor Research Gripper Convertible gloves make it easy to use your hands with gloves but then convert them into mittens for extra warmth. They’re made of fleece material that stays warm when wet and dries quickly. The Montane Minimus Gloves work as rain mitts to keep your hands extra warm and dry during cooler weather.

The less expensive REI GTX Minimus Rain Mitts are more affordable mitts, but not sized as well as the Montane.

Montane Minimus outer gloves keep hands warm when it is wet outside

Montane Minimus outer gloves keep hands warm when it is wet outside

We like the Gripper Convertible and Montane Minimus combo for its versatility and functionality. We’ve had gloves that make it too difficult to untie knots, unscrew water bottle lids, or buckle or zip a pack or jacket. This system gives you the most flexibility to continue life on trail as usual, even when it’s finger-numbing cold.

Any non-cotton gloves--even gas station gloves--are better than none. Many backpackers will use the budget system of a vapor barrier gloves from surgical gloves or dishwashing gloves (see Paul Magnanti’s article about the latter here). These systems are best for rain instead of snow or cold weather.

For more tips on keeping your hands warm, see a story by our friend Cam Honan, who hiked 12 long trails over 18 months: How to Keep Hands Warm During Cold Weather.

 

outdoor research gripper

montane minimus gloves

 

The Patagonia Micropuff jacket has the best warmth to weight ratio of the synthetics we looked at.   Photo by Liz Thomas

The Patagonia Micropuff jacket has the best warmth to weight ratio of the synthetics we looked at. Photo by Liz Thomas

4. Synthetic Puffy Insulated jackets

During the shoulder hiking season, most thru-hikers carry a heavier insulated jacket. While this is extra weight, it’s weight you will use. Many thru-hikers sleep in their jacket as well as find themselves hiking in their jacket in early morning as they leave camp. 

We researched more than 35 of the top down insulated jackets for our upcoming Best Down Jacket story. For cooler weather with some wet weather, the hybrid down-synthetic Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Hoodie (women’s and men’s) is one of our top picks. It also has one of the best DWR water repelling shells we’ve seen.

In the shoulder season, we think it’s worth switching your down jacket to a synthetic jacket. Synthetics stay warm when wet and dry out more quickly than a soaked down jacket. The technology of synthetics is getting close in insulation-to-weight ratio of down.

Our favorite synthetic jackets in our upcoming Best Synthetic Jacket story is the Patagonia Micro Puff (men’s and women’s). We bought this jacket and have tested it on 800 miles of thru-hiking the Arizona Trail. It has the best warmth to weight ratio of the jackets we considered with all the packability of down and the warmth-when-wet of synthetics.

Our senior editor Brandon Lampley loves his Patagonia Nano-Air (men’s and women’s) and writes about it in his Bike Touring Packing List story. The Nano Air is one of Patagonia’s newest jackets using a quilted synthetic insulation that is warmer than the Patagonia Nano Puff jacket many thru-hikers carry during summer months. Lampley likes how well it wicks and dries away sweat created during uphills. If you’re a sweaty person or expect to hike in a lot in your puffy jacket, the Nano-Air may be a better choice for you.

Making coffee in camp in the Patagonia Micropuff.   Photo by Liz Thomas

Making coffee in camp in the Patagonia Micropuff. Photo by Liz Thomas

 
The Patagonia MicroPuff jacket has quilted insulated that maximizes puffiness

The Patagonia MicroPuff jacket has quilted insulated that maximizes puffiness

The Patagonia NanoAir synthetic jacket has fewer stitches and less quilting for a sleeker silhouette

The Patagonia NanoAir synthetic jacket has fewer stitches and less quilting for a sleeker silhouette

Confused by all the Patagonia puffies? Here’s the scoop


Patagonia Nano Puff (men’s and women’s)

This is the thin, synthetic jacket many thru-hikers use in the summer. It’s the least expensive, least warm, and the heaviest of the three synthetics. It’s a quilted synthetic that uses 60-g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco. Patagonia says it maintains 98% of warmth when wet. We’d recommend going with one of the other options for shoulder season use. 10 oz for women’s medium


Patagonia Micro Puff (men’s and women’s)

It has the best warmth to weight ratio of any of Patagonia’s synthetic jackets. It’s quilted and uses 65-g PlumaFill Insulation. Patagonia says it has the warmth and weight ratio of down with the warm-when-wet capabilities of synthetic. 7.3 oz for women’s medium.

Patagonia Nano-Air (men’s and women’s)

Lighter than the Nano Puff. Breathable for use when sweating. Dries extra quickly and has four-way stretch. Good choice if you plan to wear your puffy layer all day and during aerobic activity. It’s not quilted, so it won’t catch as much (making it popular with alpine climbers or cycling where a streamlined silhouette is preferable). It uses 60-g FullRange insulation. 9.5 oz for women’s medium.

 

For a lighter weight and more affordable puffy synthetic jacket, we highly recommend the Montbell Thermawrap (men’s and women’s). Almost all of Treeline Review’s writers own this jacket. We think it’s a gold standard for quality synthetic jackets. The Thermawrap isn’t quite as warm as the Micro Puff, but it leagues ahead of the Nano (see above for Patagonia language glossary). At 7.2 ounces for a women’s medium, the Thermawrap is lighter in weight and less expensive than any of the Patagonia jackets. 

If you combine the Thermawrap with other layers like a mid-weight base layer and a cold weather rain jacket, that could be all you need for the rest of your thru-hike.

The Montbell Thermawrap is the lightest weight synthetic jacket and a favorite of ultralight hikers.

The Montbell Thermawrap is the lightest weight synthetic jacket and a favorite of ultralight hikers.

 

MONTBELL THERMAWRAP


5. Long underwear

While picking up long underwear will make a huge difference in your hike, we don’t think the brand matters much. During cooler weather, you’ll want base layer tops and bottoms. Look for synthetic or merino materials with minimal spandex. Why? Because Spandex and Lycra are heavier weight materials and can hold moisture (not great for keeping warm).

Treeline writer and Sierra mountain guide Duncan Cheung writes in his Yosemite Clothing Packing List, “My students like the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms (women's and men's). Bonus: Patagonia Capilene series is made with 30% recycled polyester.”

Another writer, Mike Unger, is using the Patagonia Capilene right now as he finishes his PCT thru-hike.

 

patagonia capilene Midweight women’s

patagonia capilene Midweight men’s

 

Treeline writer Dunan Cheung testing the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm in the snow.   Photo courtesy Duncan Cheung

Treeline writer Dunan Cheung testing the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm in the snow. Photo courtesy Duncan Cheung

6. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

Nighttime is often the most difficult part of shoulder season backpacking. Daytime temperatures can be manageable, especially for southbound hikers in the desert. But nights can dip into the teens and single digits making it near impossible to get a good night’s rest to recuperate unless you’re prepared for it.

With a rating down to -40F degrees, the Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XTherm is one of the best things you can get yourself to increase your quality of life on a late-season backpacking trip. It has a weight penalty only 3 oz more than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite that most backpackers carry, the XTherm can make cold nights on the trail feel a lot warmer for very little extra weight in your pack.

Our writer Amanda Jameson calls The XTherm the “Best 4-Season Sleeping Pad” in our Best Sleeping Pads guide. Having a warm sleeping pad can be just as important--if not more--than having a warm sleeping bag. I’ve known ultralight hikers who trade foam pads for XTherms when the trail is snowy.

Upgrading your sleeping pad is less expensive than getting a warmer sleeping bag.


But if the XTherm is out of your budget, Treeline writer and former winter mountain guide Tiffany Searsdodd tells us, “An easy sleeping pad hack is to add a closed-cell foam pad to your inflatable summer pad.” Our two favorite foam pads from our Best Sleeping Pads review are the NEMO Switchback or Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, both of which have a better warmth to weight ratio and better durability than the blue foam pads from Big Box stores.


Bonus: if you’re southbounding the PCT or CDT and reach the desert, a foam pad can offer extra protection against spiky plants for inflatable pads.


 

therm-a-rest neoair xtherm

nemo switchback

Z-Lite SOL


7. Warmer Sleeping Bag or Sleeping Bag Liner


If you have the funds to do so, upgrading your sleeping bag or quilt in October is one of the biggest things you can do to improve your Quality of Hike.

For shoulder season thru-hikers, chances are you want a warmer bag right now without waiting for custom work. Luckily, this won’t be a problem with the winner of this year’s Best Sleeping Bag in our Best Sleeping Bag story by Kate Hoch. Feathered Friends offers Express and Next Day Shipping and makes a 10-degree version of our recommended 20-degree Best Three Season Sleeping Bag. For shoulder season hiking, we highly recommend the Feathered Friends Petrel 10 UL (women’s) and Lark 10 UL (men’s).

A warmer sleeping bag can alleviate the discomfort associated with the long fall nights.   Photo by Dan Slattery

A warmer sleeping bag can alleviate the discomfort associated with the long fall nights. Photo by Dan Slattery

Feathered Friends is known for quality work hand-made in Seattle, WA. They are conservative on temperature ratings and design their bags to maximize warmth to weight. Although these bags aren’t budget items, they’re consistently ranked among the highest quality gear available anywhere. They’re also gear items that will last you more than a decade.

 

Petrel 10 UL (women’s)

LARK 10 UL (Men’s)

 
 
The REI Magma sleeping bag

The REI Magma sleeping bag

If you know you need a warmer bag and the Feathered Friends is out of your budget, the REI Magma 15 bag (men’s and women’s) weighs less than two pounds and has One Day Express Shipping. The REI Magma won our Best Budget Sleeping Bag in our Sleeping Bag story. REI also has among the best return and warranty programs available, so if you decide this bag isn’t warm enough, returns are easy.

If a new sleeping bag is out of your budget, Treeline writer and former winter mountain guide Tiffany Searsdodd suggests picking up a sleeping pad (see above) and a sleeping bag liner.

 

The Sea to Summit Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner, which adds up to 15 degrees extra warmth for almost one-tenth the price of a new sleeping bag. It will add 8 ounces of weight, but that isn’t bad considering the warmth. Plus, if you are headed south and find the desert to be too warm for your liner, it’s easier to send home than a sleeping bag.

If you need even more extra warmth, the Sea to Summit Thermolite Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner gives you up to 25 degrees warmth for one-fifth the price of a new sleeping bag. But it’s heavy at 14 ounces. We think most hikers will find the Thermolite to be plenty additional warmth.

 
 

8. Backpacking Stove (but not for the reason you think)

If you’ve been going stoveless so far on your hike, it’s time to carry a stove. We could talk about hot food are a morale boost on a cold day. We could talk about hot water bottles can help stave off hypothermia. But the real reason ultralight minimalists carry a stove this time of year is to melt snow for drinking water.

Depending on when and where you are traveling you may find your water sources obscured by snow or frozen over.  When this happens, you will need to melt snow.

See our Best Backpacking Stoves and Best Cookpot for Backpacking story for which systems we like and why.

 

A Powerbank allows you to charge your electronics in the field

A Powerbank allows you to charge your electronics in the field

9. Power Bank

If you’re thru-hiking in 2019, chances are you are carrying a power bank (aka external battery, aka Anker). But if you’re not, it’s time you picked one up. Cold is no good for phone battery life. And when snow obscures the trail, you’ll be a lot happier with a phone or GPS that actually turns on.

In cold weather, Treeline Review’s team will often hike with their phone in a pocket close to the body (closer to base layer than top or mid-layer). In super cold situations, the bra-wearing among us will keep their phone right against the skin.

At night, turn your phone off and put it in your sleeping bag. It’s important not to expose your phone to below freezing temperatures for hours at a time. Wirecutter describes some of the science about what you can do to extend your phone battery life.

We like the Anker Powercore 10000 PD Redux to use while backpacking. This usually has enough charge for your electronics and plenty of ports to charge at night.

 

Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux

 

10. Extra headlamp batteries (cuz you’ll be hiking in the dark) (better make em lithium too)

This time of year, days are shorter and nights are longer. You may find yourself needing to night hike, or at least set up camp in the dark. Your headlamp is going to see a lot more use this time of year. 

Also, if you’ve been using a minimalist light like the Photon Freedom or Petzl e-Lite, it may be time to upgrade to a legit night hiking headlamp. See our Best Headlamps story for ideas, but (spoiler alert), we’ve got some new favorites for night hiking including the Black Diamond Spot 325 for folks who like using AAA batteries and the BioLite 330 for a lightweight USB-rechargeable.

The BioLite headlamp on an October trip in the Sierra

The BioLite headlamp on an October trip in the Sierra

 

black diamond spot 325

 
 

11. Map and Compass

This really should go without saying (and this item should probably be #1 on our list…), but while we’re on the subject of batteries dying in the cold, please bring a map and compass.

In fact, no matter the time of year and the distance of the hike, you should always have a map and compass and the skills to use them.

But we personally know the reality of how tempting it is to hike these long trails with minimal gear and navigate mostly from a phone. But even the maker of the most popular PCT app says always bring a map and compass. Too many deaths and rescues are associated with dead phone batteries. Maps show bail out options that may not show up on apps.

When you are shoulder season hiking, consider carrying bigger maps that show more than just the immediate area along your main route.   Photo by Naomi Hudetz

When you are shoulder season hiking, consider carrying bigger maps that show more than just the immediate area along your main route. Photo by Naomi Hudetz

We like the Suunto M-3 D Leader compass, which gives you just what you need but is big enough to read clearly.

For those of you reading who aren’t currently on a long backpacking trip, we recommend refreshing your map and compass skills regularly by taking a one day class each season. You can make the most of the non-hiking season by signing up for winter classes.

 

12. Thicker socks/Sleep socks

A thick pair of dedicated sleep socks is a luxury item even a tough hiker can get behind. We’ve had the unfortunate experience of hiking through rain all day with multiple river fords when the daytime temps never got above 40F. Even with a 15F bag and full-length sleeping pad and night temps above freezing, our feet were like bricks of ice all night long. Lesson learned - always have a pair of DRY sleep socks in the shoulder season.

We like the thicker Darn Tough Full Cushion socks (women’s and men’s), which provide coverage well above the ankle where skin tends to be thinner and it’s easy to get cold.

We’re also fond of using Possumdown socks as sleep socks, but they’re almost twice the price. We haven’t found the durability on the PossumDown to be good enough to hike in, but the Darn Toughs are excellent hiking socks on your last day into town before hitting a laundry.

The Darn Tough Full Cushion boot socks come in fun color and designs

The Darn Tough Full Cushion boot socks come in fun color and designs

 

Darn Tough Hiking Socks-Men’s

Darn Tough Hiking Socks-women’s

 

The Altra Lone Peak 4 RSM

The Altra Lone Peak 4 RSM

13. Lightweight Waterproof Mid Hiking Shoes 

This time of year, a waterproof pair of higher cuffed trail runners can do wonders for keeping your feet warm. While we generally use mesh trail runners for almost all our hiking, autumn thru-hiking calls for extra foot protection to prevent frostbite and discomfort from frozen numb toes. 

If you’re already using Altra Lone Peak trail runners men’s and women’s), we suggest switching to the waterproof breathable Altra Lone Peak 4 Mid RSM (men’s and women’s). The transition from trail runner to waterproof mid will feel easy on your feet because both shoes are zero drop. The Altra Lone Peak Mid is the lightest weight hiking boot available. The extra warmth from the waterproof feature and higher collar will go a long way to increase your comfort while walking through snow, rain, or on frozen ground.

If you’ve been using a sturdier trail runner than the Altras, the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX (men’s and women’s) is one of the most beloved mid lightweight hiking boots. It’s a pick in our upcoming Best Lightweight Hiking Boots story.

 

Altra Lone Peak 4 Mid RSM

salomon x ultra mid 3 gtx

 

14. Waterproof socks

When our staff has thru-hiked for multiple days in snow or rain, we’ve found the experience much more enjoyable when we can feel our toes. Waterproof sock designs have improved significantly in the last decade allowing you vapor barrier warmth with an almost sock-like fit.

Still, finding a waterproof sock that fits like a glove and is comfortable has been a challenge. The best we’ve found so far is Sealskinz Hiking Mid waterproof socks.

 
A waterproof sock can help keep feet warmer when trudging through snow

A waterproof sock can help keep feet warmer when trudging through snow

We’ve tried many combinations, but found that waterproof socks work better when you wear a thin liner or bike-style merino sock against your skin, then layer it with the thicker waterproof sock on top. We’ve had our share of chafing from waterproof socks directly against the skin. The bike sock or liner sock is a thin layer that (admittedly) will get soaked with sweat over the course of the day, but will protect your skin.

The main issue for many hikers who use waterproof socks is that their shoes aren’t big enough to accommodate two pairs of socks. Keep this in mind when choosing your waterproof socks. Sealskinz also makes a thinner waterproof sock that may fit in your shoe better. However, these can sometimes be difficult to get over your liner sock.

 

seal skinz hiking mid waterproof sock


Snow baskets can help when walking across fluffy fall snow.

Snow baskets can help when walking across fluffy fall snow.

15. Trekking Poles

If for some weird reason, you’re going Ray Jardine and have rocked the trail pole-less, this is a good time to pick them up. 


If the trail is icy, you’ll at least want some poles to help with balance on the ice. See our Best Trekking Poles story for ideas on what will survive the rest of your chilly adventure.

16. Snow Baskets

If you use trekking poles, you’ll find they’re useless in the snow without snow baskets. Your poles will just sink deeper into the snow, probably when you need the stability of your poles the most.

Snow baskets are cheap and light. They’re easy to attach - Lekis are threaded and you don’t need any special tools to put them on or take them off. If they bug you while you hike, just unscrew them and put them in your pack.

Snow baskets are specific to the make and model of the trekking poles you are using. Be sure to get the right brand.

Bonus - now you can use your trekking poles as snowshoeing poles in the winter!


17. Microspikes

Whether you’re on granite in the Emigrant Wilderness on the PCT or on the granite of the Mahoosuc Range on the AT-- icy trails is one of the most annoying hazards of the early or late-season thru-hikers.

Depending on where you hike in the early spring or fall, rain and melted snow on wet rocks and trail can go freeze overnight, then thaw during the day, and re-freeze overnight. The result is slick trail that can range from frustrating to hazardous. 

Treeline Review writers have broken a finger and given themselves black eyes from slipping on icy trail on thru-hikes. Don’t let icy trail take you off the trail for good.

We’re working on an Ice Traction Device story, but so far, we like the Kahtoola Microspikes. Almost everyone on our staff has purchased and relied on these traction devices for more than a decade.

 

kahtoola microspikes

 

18. Legit Rain Jacket (REI GTX)

We’re a big fan of minimalist ultralight rain gear, but when it gets to be October, it’s time for backpackers to consider switching to something more robust. Although it’s a three-layer Gore-Tex jacket, the REI Drypoint GTX (men’s and women’s) is one of the lightest cold-weather rain jackets available.

The Drypoint weighs 10.5 ounces (in men’s medium)--or about 3 ounces more than the Marmot Precip or Outdoor Research Helium 2 that most thru-hikers carry throughout the summer. Upgrading to the Drypoint is a prime example of getting a lot more warmth in your gear system without having to add much extra weight.

 
The REI Drypoint jacket

The REI Drypoint jacket

The REI Drypoint GTX is our Cold Weather Three Layer recommended jacket in our Best Rain Jackets guide by Amanda Jameson. Although we call it an Upgrade Pick, you get a lot of jacket for the price. Similar three-layer Gore-Tex by Arc’teryx can be twice the price (and they’re heavier, too). As a three-layer rain jacket, the Drypoint is suited for cold weather travel over our other rain jacket picks. Plus, it’s backed by REI’s highly regarded warranty.

 

rei drypoint gtx rain jacket

 

19. Rain Pants 

Treeline Review writer and former winter mountain guide Tiffany Searsdodd recommends that if you only carry a rain jacket for summer hiking, you’ll feel a lot warmer this time of year if you have rain pants. 

Searsdodd recommends the Marmot Minimalist rain pants (men’s and women’s), the rain pants version of one of our rain jackets picks in the Best Rain Jackets story by Amanda Jameson. The only rain pants we’ve found that can perform better are heavier and less suited for thru-hiking.

To add extra warmth, we see thru-hikers walking in their rain pants during the day, even when it isn’t raining. This is one way you can get multiple uses out of rain pants and reduce the weight of your pack in cool weather.

 

marmot minimalist rain pants


20. Down or Synthetic Hood or Balaclava

Ok, so the “half your heat is lost through your head” myth has been debunked

But the face and head can sense temperature changes more readily than other parts of your body. Which means if it’s starting to feel cold, you’ll want a down or synthetic hood/balaclava.

A down or synthetic hood is a warmer and less constrictive alternative to the balaclava. For hikers who use a quilt instead of a mummy bag, a puffy hood can make a quilt function as a mummy bag. 

The 1.3 ounce Goosefeet balaclava

The 1.3 ounce Goosefeet balaclava

Goosefeet Gear makes a down balaclava that weighs only 1.3 ounces.

Mountain Laurel Designs makes the synthetic Apex Hoodie balaclava that has underarm bungee cords to keep it on your head while you sleep. It also comes in two sizes if you have a larger head or prefer a looser fit. It’s a favorite of several Treeline Review writers because it’s synthetic, so retains warmth even while hiking in the rain or sleeping in a condensation-filled shelter. Our biggest complaint is that this hood can be too warm.

 

Goosefeet gear Down Balaclava

Mountain Laurel Designs Apex balaclava

 
Feet and toes are among the first body parts to truly feel the cold. A down bootie can help.

Feet and toes are among the first body parts to truly feel the cold. A down bootie can help.

21. Down booties

Treeline Review writer Amanda Jameson loves bringing out the down booties in the season when the nights are long. If sleep socks aren’t going to cut it for you, we’re fans of the ultralight, high down fill models by Goosefeet Down and Montbell.

22. Warm merino buff

Treeline Review writer Josette Deschambeault suggests picking up a warm merino buff. Buffs can be used in all sorts of combinations to keep heads, ears, faces, and necks warm. The merino weight is slightly heavier over the summer weight synthetic options.


23. Hand Warmers

They only last 8 hours and don’t always work, but hand warmers can be a morale booster.

If you see yourself using a lot of hand warmers, you can get a better price if you buy them in bulk and send a few in each of your resupply food boxes.

 

24. Replacing Freezable Toiletries and Food

When temperatures drop, many everyday backpacking items can become frozen solid (or at least thick enough to be too annoying to use).

Here are some common backpacking items that freeze

Energy bars including Clif bars, ProBars, and PowerBars

Unless you enjoy gnawing on bars, opt for bars with more coconut (which has more fat and doesn’t freeze so easily) and avoid items that have binders like brown rice syrup, which can freeze.


Toothpaste

There is nothing sadder than trying to squeeze frozen toothpaste out of the tube.

We prefer to backpack with tooth powder, which is essentially dry toothpaste. It’s lighter weight than toothpaste and comes in a variety of brands and flavors. Most importantly, it won’t freeze.


Olive Oil and Peanut Butter

It’s still usable in colder temps, but olive oil turns cloudy and goopy. This can make it slow to pour and extra messy. Our writers have had peanut butter turn into a solid brick when nighttime temps get below 15 degrees.

From October to March, we like to switch to solid fats. Our favorite is cocoa butter, which is a healthy fat that is easy to add to hot foods and melts quickly. Make sure you use food grade cocoa butter, as it’s also sold as a moisturizer. In fact, we’ve used our food-grade butter to address wind burned faces in cold weather, too.

While it has fewer calories, powdered peanut butter can help you get your peanut fix if temperatures are too low for solid peanut butter.


Further resources

When to call it quits on the PCT by Cam “Swami” Honan and Shoulder Season by Paul “PMags” Magnanti



We hope you enjoyed our Late Season Thru-hiker Gear story. What backpacking gear items do you use during the shoulder season?