Winter Clothing

2:49 a.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Hi everyone. It's getting cold this time of year and I for one don't let that get in the way of enjoying a nice weekend in the backcountry. Obviously winter camping comes with a whole different set of skills and gear. So I was wondering what you guys take for a normal cold weather hike or camping trip. What additional gear do you take (different stove, different cook set, etc.)? Also what is your typical layering system consist of (brands included)? I love camping in the winter so I thought it would be nice to see what everyone else uses. Thanks.

12:20 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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.... a normal cold weather hike or camping trip.....

What do you mean by "normal cold weather"? If I were to go into the local hills (Santa Cruz Mountains), or the Ventana Wilderness (a bit south of here on the coast, which includes Big Sur), I would just take my 20F sleeping bag, a Siltarp, and some rain gear. That's our rainy season, and temperatures that can get down to freezing. OTOH, in the area where I grew up (the Sonora Desert in central Arizona plus the jungles of Central America), I might dispense with the rain gear (although that's the "monsoon" season, when the area gets most of its annual rain). If it is the Sierra, then I would go with my 0F bag and some long johns, snowshoes or skis, and a light tent. When we lived in Mississippi and December in Africa, I would take the same tent as any time of year (lots of mesh for ventilation, but a good fly), lightweight long pants and shirt (keep the mosquitoes off), and a "summer-weight" bag. On the other hand, for "summer" in Antarctica, I take a full-on expedition tent, -40 bag, and lots of down gear and long johns.

Remember, "winter" means very different things in different parts of the continent. As the folks in "Music Man" said, "Ya gotta know the territory!"

2:03 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Sorry, I meant to clarify what I meant but I guess I lost my train of thought. What I mean by a normal cold weather trip is down maybe between 0 and the low teens, chances of snow but not rain or sleet, and wooded area. Around the Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska area.

8:14 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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My winter camping has been only in Yosemite around Badger Pass, so my gear is for those conditions where the temps range from about 40 or warmer in the day to around the mid teens at night with snow on the ground.

I have an old EMS winter tent, MacPac -5C down bag, two pads I stack under it, and an MEC overbag and Bibler Winter Bivy.

For cooking I bring a Coleman Xpert stove that uses the Coleman proprietary canister or an Optimus Nova white gas stove, with a small cookkit.

Clothes-Capilene base layer, Columbia fleece jacket, REI Elements rain jacket, Marmot Precip pants, Patagonia socks, a balaclava, gaiters, gloves and mitts, including liner gloves, SD down booties and Garmont Excursion ski boots. I also bring a TNF down parka (a big one, not a Nuptse) and Go-Lite insulated pants.

Skis-Atomic Rainier with Voile 3 pin cable bindings on release plates (the ones in my picture) and a cheap kiddie sled to haul everything. I have been solo camping so that is why I use the sled.

12:22 p.m. on October 27, 2009 (EDT)
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kansas-mizzou & nebraska areas. right in my backyard.

when we take the scouts out for winter camping, we insist on at least a 20degree bag with a full fleece liner (a colder bag if you have or can afford one). some sort of inflateable ground pad. (much warmer). and 4-5 guys in a tent (body-heat). clean clothes to sleep in and wear the next day. wool socks and water-proof boots.

if you can do it, a bale of straw to shread and put under your tent would be nice (extra) insulation.

3:40 p.m. on October 27, 2009 (EDT)
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Living in the pacific nw for winter camping it is usually in the low to mid 20s with lots of spikes into the above freezing zone.At times it can get into single digits but this is not real common.I use a 20 degree bag mostly and several layering set ups again depending on the temps and general weather report,keeping in mind worst case situations.Merino wool or capilene underwear,Light fleece top,synthetic shorts over longjohns or fleece knickers or fleece windstopper pants,down sweater and or parka,windstopper fleece vest or jacket,Gore-tex pants and coat,fleece gloves and mitts with overmitts,fleece hat and ear band.It can vary quite a bit.

4:47 p.m. on October 27, 2009 (EDT)
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Living in the Deep South, if it gets to 29* we are certain hell has frozen over. We use 20* sleeping bags with a silk liner and an inflatable mat. A 3 season tent is plenty warm enough for here. And we will bring a knit hat and gloves, and a mid weight base layer (though I cant remember ever really wearing the base layer).

9:13 p.m. on November 4, 2009 (EST)
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Two pads for sure. An Optimus Nova and a larger pot - 2 liter. A larger pack for bulkkier gear. A synthetic bag - this is heavier, but it works better for me on longer trips. Good food. I love to take foods that need refrigeration. It is the perfect time of year for bacon on my fry pan. One of the places I hike has some really mean hogs. I've had issues with them in the past - so I do carry a gun in the winter in that area. But I have never pulled the trigger and hope to never have to. I did have it pointed at a charging hog once - but he turned at the last minute and saved us both a lot of trouble.

I hike with a dog so I have to carry a little sleeping bag for him when it gets into the teens - he kicks it off at temps above that.

I used a Sierra Designs Oragami tipi for two seasons and now have a 2008 Meteor Light II for winter. Its bigger, heavier, and useful for winter trips down here. It can sustain high winds and has already had its first snow load this season - near Cold Mountain, last month.

My pack is a fatty in the Winter - but I am old school and it never bothers me. I carry a Super Tioga 4900 and it is a dream. Best pack I've ever had.

Cold painful hands and feet, windchapped cheeks, frozen tent poles and fly, shivering, hungry at 5 am in the bag, mean winter hogs - my favorite time of year.

10:16 p.m. on November 4, 2009 (EST)
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I used a Sierra Designs Oragami tipi for two seasons and now have a 2008 Meteor Light II for winter. Its bigger, heavier, and useful for winter trips down here. It can sustain high winds and has already had its first snow load this season - near Cold Mountain, last month.

Hey hooty,

You mean Cold Mountain in Pisgah NF?

9:54 a.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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Hootyhoo! Great to see you out and about. I just got back from a 23 day backpacking trip, my longest ever, and managed to go 18 of those days w/o resupply(two BearVaults hidden at a trailhead). I figured October is the best month to be out and so, well, why not do the whole month?

I always have a "winter load" vs a "summer load", obviously. On my most recent trip I took most of my winter load:
Icebreaker merino tops and balaclava
Gloves and second watch hat

Beefy Thermarest(Base Camp, 3.10lbs, 6.2 Rvalue)

My usual Hilleberg Staika dome tent

I've been wanting a decent down parka for years as my usual North Face Nupste was a sad piece of underfilled fabric, so I sprung for the Icefall and all I gotta say is this: ALL WINTER BACKPACKERS JUST GO AHEAD AND GET ONE AND FORGET ABOUT IT. I could leave my usual fleece jacket at home(though it made a good pillow)by taking the parka, and it kept me warm in camp. Here's some fotogs of my recent trip:

Here's the Hilleberg in what turned out to be a 96 hour of rain and sleet and snow.

I leave my tent and go visit a group of Boy Scouts from Georgia. One of them was an "Ultralighter" and he had to rethink his strategy real quick.

The whole point of backpacking is to find scenes like this. Two women backpackers from TN leaving the high ground.

Behind this friendly backpacker is the highest hill in the area, 5,700 foot Huckleberry Knob. Behind it is the Snowbird wilderness, NC.

Oh, and I can't forget my main piece of winter gear: A Western Mountaineering Puma down bag! What a lifesaver.

11:19 a.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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Nice pictures!

I just returned my MEC -20c down bag at the store and i'm not sure what to get to replace it. I really miss my WM ultralight but i already have a -10c bag. Maybe if i get 2 light bags and double-up for deep cold. Anyone tried this? I could just get a Puma too. So much choice, help me!

1:10 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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The bag "doubling" is a tried and true method. It is as old as adding an extra blanket on a 3 dog night. In the Winter/Snow Camping course I directed for a decade (and still give some sessions in) for scout leaders, we recommend that for use by the youth. It works well and keeps the cost down (most of the youth only go on one or two snow trips a year for the 4 or 5 years they are in scouts, so it isn't worth the cost of buying a full-on winter bag). It is a bit heavier and bulkier, of course.

Several companies make bag "systems" of 2 bags, a light summer bag plus a medium 3-season bag. The two are combined to make a pretty serious winter bag, something in the 0 deg F range typically (I think Stephenson's version is a -30 or -40 when combined). My old 1960 Bauer Karakoram was -40 by itself, plus has a flannel liner that adds another 5 deg. The readily available fleece bags (typically rectangular shape) seem to add 10-15 deg and are pretty cheap ($20 or so these days).

One of the things we strongly recommend for youth is synthetic bags, because especially in Sierra wet snow, the kids are guaranteed to get wet (synth at least retains some insulating value). Realizing that the youth tend to imitate the adults ("Mr. Jones is using a down bag, so Pop and Mom, I need one, too, at only $500"), I have a TNF 0F synthetic that I would line with my Marmot 40F summer bag. The TNF always felt cold by itself by 20F (TNF still is a bit optimistic in its ratings), but the combination felt warm enough at 0 and even once at -8F on the "minimum-reading thermometer" that I had with me (the Marmot was used as a liner for the TNF).

2:05 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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I've always done the two bag layering systems as I just can't get myself to part with the cash for a legitimate -40F bag. I've used whatever bags I happened to own at the time. The two bag system works very well, that is you stay warm when you sleep and that's all that really matters. The only issues are more weight, more bulk and a bit of a pita to deal with two sets of zippers and two sets of hood drawcords. All that said, someday I may get myself to part with the cash, but not this year.

I had a Wiggy's overbag for a while which just so happened to nest perfectly with an REI polarguard bag I owned at the time. Once I discovered goose down I sold both bags on ebay. My latest configuration is a Class 5 down bag with a Paul Petzoldt Wilderness Equipment synthetic overbag. Both bags are older than dirt, but that's what I own and use at the moment.

Walter, great photos. I don't understand how the ultralighters deal with below zero weather, not my cup of tea.

5:12 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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When I was dirt poor and basically a backpacking homeless bum, I went the two-bag route and it was the only way I could stay warm in zero or below temps. Even with a pretty good North Face bag(550 fill Ibex rated -5F), I still had to augment it with a feather Army bag over the top and though bulky and too heavy, the system kept me warm but was very constricting. And I spent one whole winter sleeping in the snow inside the Ibex with a very heavy flannel "boy scout" bag draped over the thing. The kind with the jumping deer in red flannel on the inside. See fotog.

I got the canvas covered bag back around 1957 and used it up till the early 1990s before it disintegrated. Though sentimental, no one should have to carry such a bag to stay warm.

6:12 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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Nice photos tipi,

I ran across your blog the other day, thanks for sharing your experience.

Is this trip in your blog yet?

9:05 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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Hey trouthunter--

My blog is way behind and isn't updated very often. All my up-to-date trips are on trail journals.

9:43 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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Ok tipi, thanks!

I'll check it out.

10:52 p.m. on November 5, 2009 (EST)
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Double bag it is. I already have a synthetic quilt big enough to go over my down bag. I really can't justify spending 700$ on a good winter bag right now. Thanks for the tips.

4:40 p.m. on November 14, 2009 (EST)
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lets see, I guess the changes from summer to winter for me would be a winter stove, my coleman xtreme - I have the single and double burner versions - double when camped with someone else - single for solo, or an XGK - the original model. (I'm 60 and darned little of gear my has needed replacement)

If I'm out in the winter I am wearing backcountry ski gear and clothes designed for aerobic travel in rain or snow - long underwear, fleece jacket, goretex pants and jacket. NOTE: Real ski gear is specialised with waist bands, snow skirts, covered zippers, high pockets, etc and is very different from Walmart gear.

an insulated coffee mug.

extra fuel *** bringing home full canisters is the way it should be

winter sleeping bag

sleeping gloves and balaclava

really serious footgear ski boots or - PAC books or equivalent. I still wear my 30 year old sorrels a lot and I live in the cascades now. I think I broke the laces 15 years ago and never tie them anyhow, and I'm still using the original liners. Generally though I am in insulated backcountry ski boots and carry muklucks, the sorels are for snowshoeing.

winter tent

maybe a shovel - depends on circumstances

a real winter coat***

shelled BIBS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

quality long underwear

really serious glove system

I grew up in Peoria Illinois and I learned a lot living in winter conditions, enough to know what not to do - that got me halfway!!!!

Attitude. You have to enjoy it or you may make bad decisions based on being uncomfortable or out of your element

Jim S

5:21 p.m. on January 7, 2010 (EST)
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hi i live in da u.p. oh michigan so winter camping to me means conduet hooded mountain hardwear down jacket ,m,h,chugotch pants.a pair of expedition weight capaline long underwair ,north face neptuce down booties these are just camp far as snowshoe clothes a good whicking base layer and a hooded water resistent outerlayer is what i wear.also wear a pare of north face apex pants.hope this helps.

9:32 p.m. on January 7, 2010 (EST)
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clothes: thick merino wool socks, sometimes over a wicking liner, sometimes with a thin merino wool liner, with extra pairs. i like smartwool and darn tough socks. long johns top and bottom, heavyweight capilene bottoms, light or mid-weight on top if i expect very high activity (patagonia); backup merino wool long john tops. lightweight fleece bottom and top; heavyweight fleece top and bottom (the heavyweights are for colder temps than your range or for camp). windproof/waterproof shell top and bottom, preferably waterproof/breathable and lightweight. i also bring a non-waterproof set of wind-resistant shell top and bottom if the weather turns favorable, they breathe better. down parka with a good hood for really cold (10 degrees and lower). liner gloves, wool or synthetic wicking fabric; windproof/waterproof breathable shelled mittens or gloves with removable synthetic fill liners. i bring a pair of thick wool mitts and a pair of insulated shelled gloves as backup. multiple hats are essential - i like polartec, and i have a windstopper fleece hat that has been great. make sure they really cover your ears.

footwear depends on what i'm doing. sorels with felt liners if i'm mostly snowshoeing. My regular hiking boots are fine for your temperature range. double plastic mountaineering boots with high-altitude liners if it's really cold, and insulated overboots over the mountaineering boots if it's truly awful (-20 or colder). gaiters are essential if you expect any significant snow. down or primaloft booties are great in a tent.

tents need to be able to withstand snow and wind; be conservative about your sleeping bag. i have a 30 degree bag, a zero degree bag that i use for your temperature range, and a -40 bag for the deep freeze. i sometimes carry a gore-tex bivy bag and/or a synthetic sleeping bag liner to give me a little more flexibility.

same stove and cookwear all year, an optimus stove that burns multiple fuels. i only use white gas in the winter. i try to avoid metal utensils, plates, cups in winter - metal conducts cold more efficiently, so it's harder to pick up, and your food cools faster. don't even think about eating with a really cold metal spoon or fork! if you have metal utensils, warm them up. hydration systems don't work well in cold - even with the insulated tube protectors, they tend to freeze up; i opt for wide-mouth nalgene or camelbak bottles (regular plastic can crack, so look for tritan, something that can handle boiling water and very cold temperatures). you may need insulated bottle-covers so your water/tea/cocoa doesn't freeze during the day.

large amounts of snow, think about snowshoes, shovel, ski poles, crampons and an ice axe if you anticipate anything steep.

lithium batteries work better in the cold than alkaline. chemical handwarmers are great to have if your hands tend to get cold.

have fun!

10:06 p.m. on January 7, 2010 (EST)
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leadbelly's comment about metal spoons reminded me of a funny incident. I often carry a titanium spork that was given to me, even in the Arctic and Antarctic or in deep winter. One of the characteristics of titanium is that it is a very poor conductor of heat. So even when it is extremely cold (and in my experience, -40 to -50 deg), unlike steel or aluminum utensils, it doesn't freeze to your lips. It is amusing to watch the reaction of those "who KNOW" that you should never use metal at low temperatures as I eat stuff with the Ti spork. Actually, I do use nylon spoons most of the time in those conditions, and just haul out the Ti to bug the self-annointed "experts". Oh, yeah, one disadvantage - you can stir your boiling hot beverage with the spoon, lick off the hot chocolate, soup, or whatever, then, because the Ti has not gotten hot, start eating or drinking and thoroughly scald your mouth - a real pain in more than one way halfway through a winter expedition.

4:17 p.m. on January 8, 2010 (EST)
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good point. one reason double-wall Ti cups can be a nice winter accessory.

1:16 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Hmmm... ti cups, even with double walls, are not what I'd call a good winter drinking vessel.

A plastic insulated double wall mug W/ a rotating cap will keep drinks hot far longer.

1:24 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Nobody has gone into much detail about footwear on this thread. I recommend any warm footwear that has a removable liner.

This is very important for having warm feet in the morning. I use felt pacs and a VBL to keep my sweat from ruining the insulative value of the felt liner. The liners go in my sleeping bag's foot at night and I telescope teh boot tops to keep out spindrift snow B/C I store them in the vestibule.

My other lined boots are plastic Scarpa 3 backcountry ski boots. Same procedure with them.

There is nothing more miserable in winter camping than the pain of freezing toes while trying to fix breakfast and break camp. (Don't ask me how I know this.)


9:22 a.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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that's a critical point. if felt gets dampened from perspiration or outside moisture, it doesn't insulate well at all.

for pac boots/sorels, an extra layer of felt or closed cell foam in the footbed can help a lot w/heat loss, provided they don't take up too much volume in the boot. some of these boots encase a layer of felt or synthetic insulation in the lower boot between two layers of rubber/vinyl - keeps the insulation dry regardless.

7:18 p.m. on January 14, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks for all the replies everyone. I'm curious to hear more about your footwear choices...

2:56 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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I want to flag the Jan. 17 article posted on Trailspace about this subject, by Bobbi Maiers. It's a good, comprehensive, common-sense article.

6:04 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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6:21 p.m. on February 22, 2010 (EST)
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One thing I have always used is military surplus wool pants. They always have a warm feel to them. I made a pair pant legs out coated nylon taffeta, these serve as my 'wind-pants'. A light weight shirt under my wool shirt provides a good start.

I feel one of the best pieces of hardware is the double wall insulated cup! It will keep a cup of oatmeal nice and warm for a good deal of time.

9:37 a.m. on March 18, 2010 (EDT)
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Winter for me is mostly east side Sierras, occasionally Alaska. Since Alaska bound folks generally know what they are getting into, I’ll describe my winter Sierra kit. Winter in the Sierras can range from the 30s high, and can get as low as 20 below; however, the lows are usually in the mid teens.
Shell Garments: Goretex wind parka and pants. I find other water proof systems don’t breathe enough or are only water resistant. Avoid shell garments with three fabric layers or insulation, as they get too hot when laboring. You’ll be amazed at how much heat you generate; I often wear only a t shirt and shorts under my shell garments while under way, even though it is below 30F.
Mid Layer:
I go with one of those down “sweaters” and a fleece crew neck. The combo keeps me plenty warm outside of a shelter when worn under a shell system, at rest down to the teens, and below zero when active. My legs are normally warm with just longjohns under a shell garment unless I am inactive, in which case I have down bib pants (usually used only around camp at night).
Skin layer:
Heavy duty long johns, top and bottom. Get ones that feel like cotton, otherwise they get clammy when sweating. I also don one of those cheap tacky Hawaiian print shirts. The fabric they are made of provides a curious combination of warmth/weight quality, yet can be cool when worn as an outer layer. This type shirt is breathable, and expedites wicking sweat away from skin.
Head gear:
Wool balaclava. Don’t go with synthetics, they are not as warm. I also have an alpaca wool scarf I wrap around my neck and face when it gets real nasty.
Hands and feet:
Ski gloves when needed on trail; wool gloves in camp. If technical mountaineering I use the usual glove layering systems made for that application, and carry spares shell gloves, since a ripped outer glove can invite serious frost bite issues in that setting. What I wear on my feet depends on the boots I am wearing.
Cook kit:
Go with white gas. While butane/propane fuel systems are convenient, I have been on multiple cold trips where that technology behaved poorly, regardless the canisters were kept warm prior to use, and regardless they inverted the canister in an attempt to address the dew point differences of butane and propane gases. If you can find one, go with the old school Optimus 00 (the most popular stove ever made – it is still used in many third world kitchens, on sail boats, etc.). This stove was made in various configurations (e.g. Optimus #1, Optimus 45, etc). My favorite white gas stove, however, is the MSR Firefly. It was made only a few years in the 1980s, is completely field serviceable, and is one of the hottest stoves ever, yet offered precise simmer control. The firefly is what I take into the cold. Good luck finding a used Firefly, however. I use two insulated mugs, one for drinking and the other to eat from.
If going into snow, make sure all mesh openings can be closed with a fabric cover flap. Likewise avoid tents with detachable floors; both these types of tents will allow snow to drift into your shelter. Snow caves and igloos are warmer than tents, so it’s a good idea to bring a snow saw. ALWAYS bring a snow shovel. My sleeping bag is a -20F down fill mummy.
Gear stowage:
Bring some trash can liners, used to stow gear in camp when not in use. Leaving gear out in the open invites losing it under a drift should the wind blow or it snows.

1:06 p.m. on April 13, 2010 (EDT)
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The clothing should also allow proper ventilation, which is to allow heat to escape if it gets too hot or seal heat in if it gets too cold. This should be achieved without having to take off any layer. Openings like buttons and zippers achieve this to perfection. Depending on the outside conditions decide whether to use more layers or heavier clothing with not so many layers. If it is freezing, heavier stuff is better and if variable conditions are going to be encountered, go in for multiple layers that are not so heavy. Gloves and mittens can be used to keep the hands warm. They are available as base layers or super warm stuff that can take care of the cold. Balaclavas cover the neck and head completely leaving only the eyes and nose exposed. Separate caps that offer very good insulation can also be worn. Even shoes with insulation and waterproofing are available to ward off the cold. When one thinks of winter, woolen clothes are the first things that come to your mind.

10:54 a.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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I just purchased a vintage winter sleeping bag, Eddie Bauer Kara Koram. Not sure of the rating but the Kara Koram line was suppose be expedition rated.

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