You’ll naturally want to extend your backpacking adventures into the shoulder seasons if you love summertime backpacking. However, shoulder season backpacking can expose you to some cold temperatures and harsh conditions that not everyone can handle.
In what temperature range does backpacking become too cold?
Some people with the right gear and experience will go into the mountains regardless of the weather because there is no universally agreed upon “too cold” temperature for backpacking.
Generally, backpacking won’t be very comfortable when the nighttime low temperature drops below 10F (-12C) and the daytime temperature is below 40F (4C).
There are many nuanced opinions about what’s too cold for a backpacking trip, however, as every single camper has an opinion on what they think is too cold.
The question of what temperature is too extreme for backpacking can’t be answered clearly, but we can answer some of the most common questions.
Temperatures Too Cold for Backpacking
It is a common question among campers whether backpacking can be done in the winter. Camping can be done in any weather, but there are no temperatures that everyone agrees are too chilly.
Due to their skill level and comfort level as well as the quality of the gear they have available, everyone has their own cold tolerance.
The overnight low temperature should not drop below 10oF (-12oC) and the daytime temperature should not drop below 40oF (4oC) for most people. The only time it gets this cold is during winter camping, which requires its own skills, equipment, and techniques.
That isn’t to say that backpacking is impossible when temperatures are below 40oF (4oC). It is quite common for people to backpack in much colder conditions than that. Most backpackers don’t have the equipment necessary to handle temperatures like these.
Clothing and sleeping bags are particularly important in this regard. If it’s raining or snowing, staying warm at overnight lows below 10oF (-12oC) can be really challenging.
As well as several different jackets and upper body layers, you’ll probably need to have a few specialty clothing items, such as puffy pants and booties, to keep yourself warm and dry in these conditions.
It is also recommended that you use a sleeping bag rated to at least -10oF (-23oC) when sleeping in temperatures below 10oF (-12oC). During these conditions, many people would actually prefer a -20oF (-29oC) sleeping bag.
Because most campers use sleeping bags rated for temperatures between 20o and 40oF (-7 to 4oC), most people don’t have a sleeping bag that’s suitable for cold weather backpacking.
You can spend $500 or more on a winter backpacking sleeping bag, so it’s not something that everyone can afford. It is therefore impossible for every backpacker to camp under these conditions.
How Do Backpackers Stay Warm in the Winter?
The most important thing backpackers should do to stay warm in the winter is bring the right gear to deal with the climate conditions they’ll encounter in the mountains.
Pack a sleeping bag that will handle the forecasted overnight lows and plenty of extra warm layers to keep them warm.
In addition to staying warm, backpackers can also take a few other steps. Their bodies will burn enough energy to keep them warm and comfortable if they consume more backpacking food than they normally would.
A backpacker can also do crunches and other light exercises in their sleeping bags to increase their body temperature at night.
Before going to bed for the evening, many backpackers make hot water bottles so they can use the heat in them to stay warm.
Is 40 Degrees at Night Too Cold for Camping?
Many places, especially at higher elevations, consider an overnight temperature of about 40°F (4°C) to be fairly standard for summertime camping.
It depends on your comfort level and the quality of your gear whether you should camp in these conditions, but 40oF (4oC) isn’t a particularly low temperature for camping.
It is important to remember that cold sleeping bags are required if you are camping in 40oF (4oC) conditions. People who have a tendency to get cold at night might prefer a sleeping bag rated at 10oF (-12oC) instead.
Can You Hike in 20 Degree Weather?
The right gear will enable you to hike in temperatures as low as 20°F (-7°C).
Compared to other winter weather conditions, 20oF (-7oC) conditions are fairly mild for some people. It’s important to recognize that many people may consider these temperatures very cold.
While hiking in 20oF (-7oC) weather is not inherently bad, it does require the right gear for your trek.
In addition to base layers, insulating mid layers, and both rain pants and rain jackets, you should pack a variety of clothes. A hat, gloves, and other warm clothing will also be necessary in these conditions.