Thoughts about cold weather

4:23 p.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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in the relatively warm confines of Maryland, multiple mornings in the single or low double digits is an aberration. For the past several days, more often than not, I found myself out early in temperatures ranging from 8 to 16 degrees. It actually snowed a few times. In the interest of having some fun, I pulled out some things I don't normally wear, and it reminded me of some things I think about when i'm getting ready for really cold weather hikes. Some time in the next few years, i'll get back to my beloved White Mountains and do this for real. 
20180101_091740.jpgEddie Bauer/First Ascent's Peak XV jacket. fully baffled, including the sleeves. a couple inches shorter than a classic parka, which l like. I have had this since 2011/12. you want this kind of jacket for those times when it's brutally cold and you have to sit still, not move around for a while. forget about moving much in this unless it's well below zero; otherwise, it's too warm. i had to basically unzip it in 12 degrees to avoid sweating, wearing a long sleeve cotton t shirt underneath. i was moving at a slow walk, and i also took off my hat for a while. that was a mistake, the cold made my bare head hurt. still, you can get this jacket for a bargain price during eddie bauer's sales, and the warmth and quality are comparable to jackets 2x or 3x the sale price. don't believe? try it for yourself. remember to bring 2 good compression stuff sacks, one for your sleeping bag, the other for the sitting-still down jacket.
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Scarpa Inverno mountaineering boots, alveolite/high altitude liners. warmest pair of boots i own. wearing them and walking a fair bit on dry ground reminded me: 1) keep the upper laces on the loose side, as this boot can be a shin-buster. 2) ok to lace the inner liner up firmly though. 3) if you are going to take a trip in these, do get them out and walk around in them some to get your legs ready. anyone who has had to wear these with shin bruises knows what i'm talking about. My feet were extremely happy in these on an 8 degree morning.  plastic double boots are heavy, but i think they are warmer than most leather mountaineering boots too.  these work great with automatic crampons.
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katoohla microspikes. tire chains for your boots if the trail might be icy or slick but lacks the snow cover for crampons. there weren't many hikers out on the rocks pictured here, but the few i saw trying to scale this in shoes or boots were moving very slowly, a lot of slipping and skidding around. i felt like a mountain goat.  these things last a long time, i should review them. i should get a crampon bag for them, though, because when i lashed them to my pack when i wasn't using them, i sounded like jingle bells walking along.  


4:38 p.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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Injun%20Creek%20Loop%20040-L.jpg

9:53 p.m. on January 3, 2018 (EST)
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There's no such thing as cold weather, only inappropriate clothing.

You, sir, have appropriate clothing.

10:03 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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good stuff Andrew...I posted that fire picture to be funny before you had added your text, it's not funny at all after adding the thoughts :)

11:15 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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I grew up in Maryland, and was amazed going to school for a year in Ohio when the weather got below zero.   Then I moved West.  The Rocky Mountains and the Northern Plains in particular are really cold. It was -43 degrees F on a ski trip, not the wind chill. It was -38 degrees F in my driveway in CO.  Most people in the West deal with the cold and do not use any special clothing. Backpackers and skiers like to use specialized clothing while the people outside all the time like loggers and ranchers really don't.

11:21 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Andrew with the weather I have to dress in layers cause I am outdoors 50/50 on my job...Most of my clothing is things I can get really dirty due to job sites..So in winter I wear flannel lined jeans and then a Carhart Bib overalls that are insulated..Top is generally a wicking shirt with a flannel and then a fleece jacket..Gets colder I add a carhat insulated work jacket....Gloves are waterproof and insulated...Hat beanie when it that cold under a construction helmut...But yeah my backpacking gear is different,,,

11:25 a.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Denis knows what I am talking about.

2:50 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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No question, what you are doing out in the cold may affect what you wear. Snowmobiling, hunting, working outside in the deep cold....you wear what works for the situation. a lot of clothes people wear for construction or working outside are fine for cold weather camping/hiking/hunting, just heavier than some of the more specialized things.  

I have a pair of Sorel boots that are good in very cold weather too, and they're fine for snowshoeing or standing around - but you can't use them with crampons, and they are a blister factory if you walk in them a lot.  

3:09 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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I agree...my job clothes are completely different from my backpacking clothes.  Tougher and heavier.  Besides those obvious criteria, when I go outside for fun I also want it to be different from work...and I spend less time in wetlands, scrubland, and briers (OK - I still go in there but it is less time!).  Carhart and others lead the way for work, while Marmot and others are what I choose for backpacking.  I spend a lot more on the fun side but don't wear through it as fast.

4:16 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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I have wintered in Tucson AZ for over 30 year. A cold day here to the locals is 60, while to me thats a beautiful day to be out hiking or cycling in shorts and Tshirt. It was down to 26 around the week of Xmas. Last night it was 53 and was 59 when I got up at 7 am, now its above 75.

6:56 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Just got back from a trip to Algonquin Park where the average overnight temps dropped into the -40c which is roughly the same for Fahrenheit.

Down.Down.Down. Theres nothing more friendly than down at those temps. You need an insane amount of dead air space between yourself an the cold air at those temps. You'll feel like the Michelin man but style points won't keep you alive.

You can tell real quick about which manufactures make a good product in those temps. Lots of lesser made stuff will self implode real quick.

The first thing (as you mentioned) and most important is the best down jacket you can afford. Couple things to look for- baffled (stitched through seams will feel like pins and needles coming through the jacket at that cold), insulation on the outside of the hand warmer pockets (you'll see some of these things made with just thin nylon on the outside, its not gonna warm your hands much), drawstrings (mine has them on the waist, wrists, hood and neck, your gonna need to seal off the cold everywhere you can), interior drop pockets (any battery will fail real quick away from heat and water will freeze before you can drink it, keep them close to your body), well constructed hood (so much heat lost through the hood, make sure its a good one) and the most important is AMOUNT of down fill (you can get a lower quality down, say 650, for cheaper to help your budget if need be, just make sure there is lots of it, buying 900 fill power and there isn't a lot of it just isn't gonna cut it).

The second (and in my option highly underrated) is down booties. I have perpetually cold feet at the best of times and these do wonders, both walking around camp and in my sleeping bag. Buy another set of felt insoles and size the boots to fit them.


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You can see the amount of loft is both the jacket and boots, almost five inches. Both drying off after an amazing trip.

Also, god bless Hilleberg. Testing a new model for the Review Corps and a reliable, 4 season tent is a must, the more space the better.

8:36 p.m. on January 4, 2018 (EST)
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Jake W said:

Just got back from a trip to Algonquin Park where the average overnight temps dropped into the -40c which is roughly the same for Fahrenheit.

Down.Down.Down. Theres nothing more friendly than down at those temps. You need an insane amount of dead air space between yourself an the cold air at those temps. You'll feel like the Michelin man but style points won't keep you alive.

You can tell real quick about which manufactures make a good product in those temps. Lots of lesser made stuff will self implode real quick.

The first thing (as you mentioned) and most important is the best down jacket you can afford. Couple things to look for- baffled (stitched through seams will feel like pins and needles coming through the jacket at that cold), insulation on the outside of the hand warmer pockets (you'll see some of these things made with just thin nylon on the outside, its not gonna warm your hands much), drawstrings (mine has them on the waist, wrists, hood and neck, your gonna need to seal off the cold everywhere you can), interior drop pockets (any battery will fail real quick away from heat and water will freeze before you can drink it, keep them close to your body), well constructed hood (so much heat lost through the hood, make sure its a good one) and the most important is AMOUNT of down fill (you can get a lower quality down, say 650, for cheaper to help your budget if need be, just make sure there is lots of it, buying 900 fill power and there isn't a lot of it just isn't gonna cut it).

The second (and in my option highly underrated) is down booties. I have perpetually cold feet at the best of times and these do wonders, both walking around camp and in my sleeping bag. Buy another set of felt insoles and size the boots to fit them.


IMG_6326.jpg

IMG_6325.jpg
You can see the amount of loft is both the jacket and boots, almost five inches. Both drying off after an amazing trip.

Also, god bless Hilleberg. Testing a new model for the Review Corps and a reliable, 4 season tent is a must, the more space the better.

 Jake what parka is that brand and model please...You peeked my interest,,,

9:43 a.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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nice jacket!

i go back and forth with booties. i have polartec booties - ancient, over 30 years old. i still use them sometimes b/c the soles are 2 inches of closed cell foam, so great for walking around. most of the time, i end up leaving them home and walking around in the inner boots on those scarpas - which have some limited traction soles. my booties have smooth nylon bottoms, guaranteed i'll fall on my butt a few times in them.

9:57 a.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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It's funny...my warmest layer is an Ultralight Patagonia down sweater, but I never deal with those kind of temperatures. I think the most I've worn at one time on a trip is like two synthetic base layers, a wind shirt (like the Houdini), the ultralight down sweater and then a rain shell. I've used that in single digits. It has to be in that single digit range for me to even consider hiking or exerting with that down sweater on. 

10:21 a.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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JRinGeorgia said:

There's no such thing as cold weather, only inappropriate clothing.

You, sir, have appropriate clothing.

 

Oh, there is cold weather! Clothing just makes it survivable. ;)


bb9b15def47fefb04ef56aceb306dd02--mounta

10:31 a.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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Well if we are bringing wildlife inside...

Now back to the clothing discussion...

10:33 a.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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So that last reply was supposed to include this...
coldmice.jpg

11:14 a.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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phil I agree when iam hiking and backpacking the last thing I want to do is think or feel like Iam at work...Agree clothing options have to be heavier and beefier to take the abuse..

3:30 p.m. on January 5, 2018 (EST)
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The older I get the more that I believe there is nothing better than a good fire.

2:04 p.m. on January 7, 2018 (EST)
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today was a good alternative. 6 degrees when I left on a hike, 11 when I got back. was thinking from the start it was a good day to stay moving and dressed for it. fleece balaclava, merino base layer with a zip neck, Patagonia nano air jacket, shell jacket on top of that but ditched the shell after about ten minutes. wasn't very windy today. on the bottom, a reasonably warm fleece base layer and non-coated wind pants; wore the Merrell insulated boots I like for snowshoeing. for mittens, I used a pair of synthetic fill lobster mitt liners from Hestra that are great for cold weather hiking, I often use them without the gauntlet mitts. great hike, accumulated a nice cover of frozen sweat on the balaclava, but otherwise peachy. 

12:01 a.m. on January 8, 2018 (EST)
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JRinGeorgia said:

There's no such thing as cold weather, only inappropriate clothing.

You, sir, have appropriate clothing.

There is certainly cold weather, regardless of clothing! Somewhere past -60 no amount of insulation will keep a body at rest warm, unless you have external heat sources to add warmth, for example climbers use mutual body heat to survive severe cold.

Ed

8:36 a.m. on January 8, 2018 (EST)
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It's an old expression, I'm just the messenger.

10:04 a.m. on January 8, 2018 (EST)
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"Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær"

(There's no bad weather, only bad clothes).

An oft-repeated Norwegian saying.

Here's a photo of a Norwegian kindergarten group out for the day:
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11:34 a.m. on January 8, 2018 (EST)
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The quote is relatively recent and attributed to American Arctic explorer Will Steiger from Minnesota if memory serves. 

7:28 a.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Some additional thoughts after last weekend. I nearly found the lower limit of usability for my MSR Windpro remote canister stove. It was about 5F / -15C when I boiled water for dinner. I had to cup the canister in my hands and lift it straight up while inverted to generate enough heat to boil.


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8:44 a.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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I don't use canisters much any more but keep them around for colder trips...interesting that you found a lower limit on yours above zero F. That's about when I start carrying my older one. Above that I still carry an alcohol stove and just keep the next meals fuel in a 2 ounce bottle in my pocket...it stays warm and lights easy. I'll have to make sure and test my canister stove in some colder temps again.


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9:59 a.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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If it is really cold, sub zero or thereabouts, you want to go to liquid petro fuels.  My venerable Primus 71 functions better at zero F than I do....

10:33 a.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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well it may have worked if i had left it alone but I waited several minutes with no boil and I was getting hungry so I started messing with it. :)

for some reason I have an aversion to white gas stoves, not sure why I've just never wanted to mess with them. and really, it's unusual for me to be in single digits for days on end like we've been having. I think I read this was the most consecutive days below freezing in East TN since sometime in the 1800s

10:37 a.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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interesting that i almost always use white gas.  bottle attached to burner, MSR stoves for years, now an optimus.

12:20 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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A fire works in any temperature, and you do not have to carry anything but something to start it with. 

1:09 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Much conversation has been made about outer layers (and rightly so, since they make a HUGE difference), but don't forget the importance of base layers in the staying warm and dry conversation.

I've been reviewing some merino base layers this winter for Trailspace (reviews forthcoming) and without a doubt, I can tell the difference, especially when active. I've been warmer and drier than previous winters with non-merino wool base layers. 

1:27 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Having spent a bit of time hiking, backpacking, amoutaineering, and dog-sledding in in really cold weather (below -70°C a few times and some lengthy outings below -40°C/F), I have found "white gas" (bad name, but almost everyone uses it) to be the best choice by far for the sub-zero  conditions.

BUT WAIT!! - there are ways to use compressed gas in very cold weather.

First, compressed gas is very convenient, lights easily, readily controllable, and lots of other very attractive features. BUT!- compressed gas has several problems:

1: When you go on an outing greater than 4 to 5 "man-days", the weight of the fuel plus canisters exceeds white gas, aka naptha, aka several other names by a substantial amount (you DO carry your spent canisters out, don't you?)

2. Depending on the exact mix of fuel in the canister, it won't heat below various temperatures (32°F for butane, 20°F for butane/isobutane, etc). Primus has developed a mix that goes down to 0°F

However, there is a "trick" No, keeping the canister in your sleeping bag does not work very well. The reason is that to make the compressed gas push out of the canister into the burner, the gas will expand and hence drop very low in temperature. That means the gas in the canister drops in temperature and will drop in its pressure.

The TRICK! - You want the canister to remain above 32°F. HMMMMMmmmm - That's the freezing temperature of water. Sooo... if you place the canister in a pan of water, it will continue to provide cooking heat. The problem is you need liquid water to begin with. I have set my stove in a pan of water from a stream and a lake to allow me to melt snow and get the cookpot hot enough to heat freeze-dry.

You can use the inverted canister trick, up to a point. Back in the days when Trailspace just got started, there was a group of us (Jim Shaw among others) who experimented with inverted canisters, and "pan of water". It appears, though, that such tricks are becoming less and less known, limited only to a tiny number of us OGBOs (OldGreyBeardedOnes)

1:44 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Thanks for that ogbo ...Never knew that

8:50 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Hey Denis. It's a MEC brand jacket, I can't quite remember the product name as its a couple years old now, I want to say Reflex or something like that.

 Jake what parka is that brand and model please...You peeked my interest,,,

 

8:54 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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I've got to fourth the white gas in winter conditions. There is a slight learning curve and in general they are bulkier and heavier, which sucks, but when you need something reliable to melt snpower in sub zero temps they can't be beat.

9:59 p.m. on January 9, 2018 (EST)
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Second the base layers - I have set my trusty Capilene layers aside this season for some testing of merino layers as well and wish I had done it sooner.

I should clarify my quick response above...I push the limits of alcohol stoves (always with a backup plan) well below freezing but begin to re-evaluate if the trip is consistently below 10 F.  I'll use canisters between freezing and zero (until I tightened that range in the last couple of years by keeping the alcohol stove in use) trying to keep the canister warm (thanks for the tip Bill!), and then if I go out below those temps (rare for me) I'll switch to the trusty old MSR white gas stove that sits on a shelf patiently waiting its turn.

10:39 a.m. on January 10, 2018 (EST)
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i like merino base layers for colder temperatures because i think it is quite a bit warmer than a comparable synthetic base layer. (a relatively thin merino wool top is quite a bit warmer than a relatively thin patagonia capilene top). on the other hand, wool stays damp and takes longer to dry out than most synthetics, so i might still wear a synthetic base in really cold weather if it's a very demanding hike/trip.  

well-made merino layers don't itch unless you're very sensitive to it, which is great. 

wool smells 'wooly' when you sweat a lot in it; new synthetics don't generate much odor these days due to the way the fabrics are treated, but after a lot of wear and washing, sweating a lot in a synthetic layer can generate a pretty awful odor. 

tradeoffs with everything. 

also, though i hate picking at the carcass, the Ibex website has some exceptional deals on merino wool stuff due to the demise of the business. the quality of their merino wool garments is outstanding; it's a shame the business is closing.  

10:55 a.m. on January 10, 2018 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

new synthetics don't generate much odor these days due to the way the fabrics are treated

Not all synthetics are treated, and if they aren't they stink a lot, and quickly. Cheaper synthetics, even new, often are not treated. The tag will definitely let you know if it's been treated with polygiene or something similar.

3:13 p.m. on January 16, 2018 (EST)
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A few cold weather items I have found essential:

1. polar weight or mid weight polyester long johns

2. VBL socks-> 3 mm thick neoprene divers' sox over thin poly liner socks (one pr. liner socks for each day camping) VBL sox keep your boots dry - and warm - on the inside. Neoprene VBL sox are much warmer than ripstop VBL sox.

3. GTX glove shells with removable fleece liners. Carry one or two extra pair of liners of different weights. Mitten shells for backup in very cold weather.

4. light fleece balaclava for sleeping 

5. DWR treated down sleeping bag and garments (Dries 60% faster than untreated down)

6. eVent parka ans pants (breathes far better than all GTX except GTX Pro)

7. winter sleeping bag should be at least -20 F. rated for safety if camping in sub-zero temps. AND it should have a very good neck collar with drawcord.

8. Duluth Trading and RailRiders make fleece lined nylon cargo pants. Very wind resistant and warm. (Duluth Trading version is least expensive and great quality)

Eric B.

January 16, 2018
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