Layers of fun: Winter hiking essentials

8:08 a.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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This thread is for comments on the article "Layers of fun: Winter hiking essentials"

Don't let cold weather keep you off the trails. Proper layering and a few savvy gear decisions are all you need to keep hiking year-round.

Full article at http://www.trailspace.com/articles/winter-hiking-essentials.html

2:53 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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there have been a number of threads in the Trailspace forums on this topic. I think this is an area where everyone learns their own preferences and limits through experience. As you note, some people move and sleep "warmer" or "cooler" than others. Thanks for a comprehensive, common-sense article.

3:23 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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This is a great article, thanks for putting it all together!

3:33 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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I love reading these articles on Trailspace.

While many of us have a good bit of experience, these articles re-enforce what we have learned. Sometimes we need a refresher course, and I think that's especially important for winter trekking.

Here's a little experimental project I participated in several years ago at my local outfitters, and found most telling & helpful concerning the true warmth value of the clothing you plan to use. You guys might find this interesting, although this is not a perfect test.

1 - Gather the different socks & base layers you plan on using during your trip. Just for fun through in a pair made of cotton.

2 - Try them on (dry) while standing in front of a fan.

3 - Now try the same garments on damp, while standing briefly in front of a fan. Note which ones felt warmer, you will of course, find that the cotton is horrible in this test, but you may also notice some performance differences in your other types of fabrics.

You can also do this test with your insulating layer.

Price isn't everything, nor is advertising, so for those on a budget this is one way to determine how well some of the cheaper stuff will perform. I have found the cheaper stuff to be less durable generally speaking, but a good way to get started!

Thanks again for the article with numerous tips and tricks we can all use.

Stay warm, dry, and have fun this winter!

5:26 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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Sounds like great fun... I am going to refer to this as I work on my kit.

8:45 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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I have two objections/comments otherwise this is a good article. First off a down jacket can provide more warmth per weight than anyother insulation for your upper body. While layering and the ability to vent and control sweat is very important, the difference between active wear and the amount of insulation required when you rest especially when tired is dramatic. Only a down jacket can provide the required insulation. Be sure that your outer shell layer is large enough to put on over your down jacket, and do not get a down jacket with 4 ounces of down, your comfort and core warmth is more important than saving half a pound. A down jacket with a storm shell built in is well worth the money.

Secondly I was very upset at the suggestion of tights over long underwear as being adequate for anything but active use. You need either 300 fleece AS A MINIMUM or down pants. Insulating your legs is somehow just not part of modern outdoor thought. Cabelas sells down insulated long underwear for $60. Again be sure that you can wear your legs shell layer over the down pants. Bibs are much better than pants and bibs or pants with their own water proof shell is worth the money.

Jim - who has many many cold experiences and now owns the right gear.

P.S. Have a plan. If you are in a blizzard and stop for ten minutes, how will you put on your down and then remove it in such a way as to have it still be dry the next two or three times you put it on?

9:55 p.m. on January 17, 2010 (EST)
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Jim: would you consider synthetic (a la primaloft) because of the issues caused by getting down wet?

6:43 a.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Jim S, thanks for the comments and suggestions, which I think are very good points. I'll work them into the article for clarity.

2:06 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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You've left out Polypropylene, the best base layer material. Lighter than Polyester and more hydrophobic - it dries quicker. Regarding the Mid layer, fleece is usually made of polyester and is thick, absorbs moisture generating cold and added carrying weight - your own sweat. Experience has proven so. I wear fleece around town, not in the hills. Your torso area needs to remain relatively dry for you to remain comfortable, not cold. My mid-layer is polypropylene mesh, lighter than my base layer - it provides trapped air. Used alone or over my polypropylene base layer for torso or longjohns, depending on the temperature and activity. My outer layers are a light, breathable, water-repellent hooded shell and wind resistant, breathable and water-repellent nylon pants. I wear a polypropylene balaclava and fleece socks as my feet don't appreciably sweat. Polypro liner and outer glove are also worn. As an example, I'm able to walk, not run in eleven degrees F and a 10 mph wind with just a light coolness in my upper chest with a single layer of longjohns, torso base and mid layers, outer layer, balaclava, fleece socks and double glove layers. My hiking/running shoes are not insulated. You can argue the stink factor of polypro. Why not get a better deodorant.

Pack a spare base layer, balaclava, mittens, gauntlets and socks. Tied to my pack is a down parka, not just for periods of inactivity, but also survival. Additionally, I pack a poncho-tarp for wet weather, an emergency space bag and bivy. Food, water and other essentials are also packed. As noted previously, down pants apply depending on the temperature and gaiters depending on snow depth, providing added warmth and wind protection. Chemical toe warmers are advisable if you haven't enough foot area insulation or activity to support warmth and should be available for potential survival. Frostbite loss of toes is the first on the list of body damage.

It appalls me to read gear trip lists posted on a number of sites that ignore preparation for survival, usually due to weather, accident or getting lost. There are limits to going light and ignoring basic survival gear. I've had my share of accidents and saved a fellow hiker's life that wasn't prepared. Learn winter survival, primarily fire, shelter, insulation and wind protection. Energy conservation and attitude are also important. Keep your water close to your body, not your pack to prevent freezing and/or add some salt to reduce the onset of freezing. It's an electrolyte. I could go on and on, but enough. You're not taking a walk in the park.

3:25 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Tom and Alicia,

There certainly are other adequate insulators, the problem being weight and stuffability. The great thing about most synthetics is that they do not compress a lot, thus keeping some thickness under pressure. I happen to have down and good quality garments at that. I have had friends wearing long underwear and 300 fleece with cold feet while wearing minus 60 boots. After putting on my spare down pants, (they were'nt really spare - I knew they would be cold) their feet warmed up. The important thing is that down pants often provide over an inch of insulation and few synthetics can do that at a weight that modern people would consider reasonable. Leg insulation IS critical and too often bypassed.

Jim S

3:30 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Performance,

The stink factor with polypropylene is a real problem. After a day or two wearing it I can't stand being in a sleeping bag with my self. The main problem is that it melts so you can't wash it and dry it at high heat. Its the heat of the dryer that ultimately destroys the smell in other garments - evaporates the BO. Melted crusty poly is just not nice. Its probably ok for midlayers. Since I live in Oregon and its cold here in winters, and because I save my expensive clothes for skiing, I wear a cotton wool blend long underwear mostly around town. It doesn't stink, washes well and is both comfortable and cheap - I do not ski in it though.

Jim S

5:10 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks for the comments. I expanded the insulating/mid layers as well, with the benefit of Jim S's comments.

On a personal note, I'll reinforce the point that while there are some very important basic principles to follow in dressing and layering properly, which I hope are communicated above, you have to get to know your own personal thermostat.

I know that with reasonable clothing and gear I have no (or few) worries about getting cold while moving. But, my circulation is not stellar, and once I stop I need to layer up immediately, eat something, then get moving again.

I've also learned not to dress according to my husband's layers. I can check out what he's bringing along, but I better bring more and warmer versions if I want to be comfortable, and that's okay. We're different people.

If I'm not sure, I throw in the extra and/or heavier version of something. I don't think I've ever regretted doing that.

6:27 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Great read. Was just what I was looking for!

Thanks

8:16 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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I have Capilene which I think is a superior product. I've had mine for more than 20 years and it's still in good shape with moderate use over the years. Also in spite of the claim by Performance about polypro, there are a lot of people who believe that Merino wool is far superior. Several companies, including Icebreaker, make Merino base layers.

8:26 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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I like wearing fishnet underwear. I have a set from Byrnje . I like to wear a close fitting, but not snug, light weight wool shirt over that. I feel I can close the shirt up tight to hold in heat or loosen up as needed. I usually wear a wind parka over the shirt. A wool watch cap style hat and mitts with liners top it all off. If it is really cold, I wear a wool sweater, and have a down parka in my sack. I also use a NF softshell, but it does not have a hood.

8:41 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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I have worn about everything in cold weather and "cold" to me is 0*F and lower. I have pitched all of my synthetic layers and now wear merino wool exclusively, prefering Icebreaker and MEC models over the others I have.

Cotton is VERY useful in REAL cold and most people in northern Canada use it as a shell over a blanket duffle coat, especially the aborigines who no longer will make Caribou and MuskOxen clothing. I often used my "Black's of Greenock" Ventile Anorak or my "Synergy Works Expedition Parka" with merino wool and a down vest or sweater in cold weather snowshoe camping, to roughly -30*F. I found this was more comfortable than any Gore-Tex parka and wish I could buy another.

I like a GOOD down jacket, I have a "Richard Egge" double duvet from Switzerland that is now 35 yrs. old and has kept me toasty at -40*F,over just my merino longjohns. However, a mediocre down jacket is inferior to my synthetic Integral Designs "Dolomitti Parka" and my two "Rundle Jackets" from ID, these are insulated with Primaloft. They compress well and are far tougher than a down jacket and work better in all but extreme cold, so, I have bought my last down jacket and I have had several.

I prefer layers, I don't like a down or synthetic parka with an attached shell and now only use eVent shells and prefer the ID "Pullover" type. I had Evan make this to my specs., which he is kinda grumpy about doing, but, with a merino layer system, my Rundle and this, I can handle any weather I will ever see, even in the Yukon.

10:08 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Jim S, apparently you don't use a good deodorant - Ha. I wash my polypro in warm/warm and air dry it. I've worn polypro for decades and modify crew neck long sleeve Duopro's to zip turtleneck capability for torso base layer. Compare the price and durability of polypro against merino wool - big combinatorial difference. Duopro includes odor resistance. You cannot lead a horse to water and such is not my intent. Polypro works for me. As individuals we require comfort and resolve in our decisions. We select ideas, philosophy, products, etc. to meet our personal needs. To each his own.

11:59 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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Performance, Dewey

It really does matter where you use the stuff, any stuff, AND how your body chemistry works. I have heard that the Finlanders wear cotton in their extreme weather winter army gear. At those temps liquid water does not exist and I know canvas is great at minus 20. But I'm like Tom D, I like my capalene and Montbell Drion. I tossed all of my polypro. I once had fish net, but I found it uncomfortable and I had octopus bite looking marks all over me. I had a polypro "hoodie" once that I really loved - by Royal Robbins, but it melted.

Jim

7:02 p.m. on January 19, 2010 (EST)
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Excellent article Bobbi and thanks for Trailspace for publishing it.

As mentioned above, so much of this is personal choice and what makes you comfortable. Best to test, I reckon, before a long trip.

Thankfully our winters are quite mild and snow hard to get too!!!

7:39 p.m. on January 19, 2010 (EST)
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I don't have the experience of Jim, Dewey, or Bill in real cold climates, my trekking is done above 0*F. I do however go wade fishing during the winter in real windy river gorges with water temps below 50*F and after using different materials I now prefer Capilene and micro fleece for use under my waders, with Capilene and wool my choice for hiking & backpacking. I also like all my tops to be quarter zips so I can regulate my body heat better.

12:42 a.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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sabino and Jim S, You'll eliminate octopusing and increase your freedom of motion by wearing a base layer first and then the fishnet. Fishnet alone binds as you described as octupusing. Polypro has "sensible warmth" - you fell comfortable just as you put it on, not like polyester which feels cool. Lightweight, hydrophobic and quick drying clinches it for me. I tried capalene during warm weather. I didn't know that it was recommended for winter. I'll look into Montbell's Drion. Jim, you're too close to the fire if your melting!!

I'm with trouthunter. I don't hike in extreme temps. Nor am I prepared to pay the price for additional insulated parka, pants and boots which would limit my performance - fluid motion.

9:45 a.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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What a terrific refresher course! This is very useful information. Thanks for the great article.

10:31 a.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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I have a pair of the Byrnje synthetic fishnet bottoms and merino wool fishnet tops and have never had any problems with them. I prefer the Brynje over the wool fishnet, the only instance where I prefer a synthetic over wool for long underwear. A base layer of fishnet covered by a layer of merino wool works very well for me.

2:35 p.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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Excellent article. For stop time I also highly recommend down. I also suggest the hood on your shell be non - zipoff. It fits much better and there is no gap at the front of your neck. I have an old 3 - layer Goretex mountain jacket with a zipoff hood and have never liked it, but my 2 - layer one with attached hood is more comfortable and fits perfectly.

3:07 p.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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For some odd reason when I read "Layers of Fun" this comes to mind... Hmmmmmm.....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW4IZ0Flh3M

Just add a 85L pack...

5:32 p.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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HaHa!

5:42 p.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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Just figured I would throw a lil fun into the conversation. :)

2:33 a.m. on February 5, 2010 (EST)
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Great stuff~

And I thank you so much for the valuable information. Past January, I went on a winter camping along with my buddies. I was thinking that my 3 season sleeping bag (Vaude Sherpa) would hold. but it wasn't a comfortable sleep.

The temperature was about -10 C plus wind chilled factor (currently i'm Seoul, South Korea) and i was wearing several different layers for both bottom and top. The only thing kept me warm during my sleep was two 32oz hot water in my Nalgene bottles. Yet, this method is really good way to keep your self warm while you are sleeping.

The sleeping bag liner idea sounds good to me. I would most definitely try the liner on my Fall or early Spring outings. For my winter outings, I'm going to purchase me a winter sleeping bag. Any good recommendation for the winter sleeping bag? Any particular brand? I'll probably go for extreme condition perhaps... cold(-20 C).

3:37 p.m. on February 6, 2010 (EST)
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baseballman

In extreme weather you are much better off with clothing designed specifically for that use, rather than layering a lot of stuff never intended for that usage. For example there are "ski jackets" for everyday use but real ski jackets have more specific features and Randonee jackets will have waist level ties and snow skirts, bottom ties, zip pits, adjustable cuffs, serious hoods, double zippers with large flaps over them, etc, they are expedition gear and they were designed for places where clothing failure can mean death. My winter bag has two pieces of 1/8" elastic sewn inside to keep the bag snugly against my body and to cut draft inside the bag, this may make a 10 degree difference in the warmth of your bag, or help you to feel warm at it lower rating vs surviving but feeling cold.

Jim

7:15 p.m. on February 11, 2010 (EST)
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Jim, thanks for your info. i'll try to remember what you've said and i'll do more research on my winter gears.

never less, i really enjoy winter backpacking and hiking. i believe that winter season offer so much more than any other season. for that reason, i hope to prepare best i can to enjoy the nature even better. yes, i do realized that i must be cautious... never to mess with the mother nature.

again, thanks for your tip and i hope find more information from you and Trailspace.com

2:29 a.m. on March 13, 2010 (EST)
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I read that article and have two comments:

1. ALL winter boots excepting military "Mickey Mouse" boots need a Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL).

2. For extended winter camping sleeping bags, especially down bags, need a VBL to prevent the gradual buildup of frost in more and more of the insulation, thus getting you colder and colder each night. (Read what happened to Scott's men & their sleeping bags on their fatal attempt to be the first to the South Pole.)

Eric

Well, maybe three comments:

3. Gloves should be Gore-Tex shells with REMOVABLE liners. Extra pairs of liners of pile and fleece should be carried to replace sweaty, damp liners. (And carry mitten shells for when the temperatures REALLY drop. Put the thick pile glove liners inside them.)

10:35 p.m. on March 13, 2010 (EST)
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I have no vapor barrier boots and have never felt the need for them. Maybe my feet don't sweat.

Jim S

9:29 p.m. on March 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Note 10 to the article, congratulations!!!

Campinas - São Paulo - Brazil...

2:45 p.m. on June 8, 2010 (EDT)
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I never thought winter hiking would be enjoyable either, but somebody asked me if I ever tried it, and of course I said no. That person told me it was ten times better-and they were right. The scenery is beautiful times two, at least, and 90% of the time you have it all to yourself.

2:40 a.m. on June 10, 2010 (EDT)
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I was very upset at the suggestion of tights over long underwear as being adequate for anything but active use. You need either 300 fleece AS A MINIMUM or down pants.

..down pants.. ..with their own water proof shell is worth the money.

I’ll take exception to these two views, but other wise generally agree with the advice posted so far on this thread. I have owned just about every kind of item one could wear in a layering system. I have spent weeks in sub zero winter conditions, as well as snow and rain storms lasting for days. I have been camping since the mid 1960s, so have decades of experience to pull from.

My experience has demonstrated two pairs of cycling tights are equal to one pair of heavy fleece pants. In fact last fall I was in the Sierras with the night time low in mid 20s, comfortable with my bottom covered in one pair of long johns, two tights, and jogging shorts. If I wore my heavy fleece instead of tights in this situation, I would also require a wind shell. (May I also comment: I am by no means tollerant of the cold.) While fleece traps lots of air space, I think the tights retain the air space they trap more effectively, and hold it closer to the skin. Thus I find the tights system warmer than fleece, and as a bonus, lighter and less bulky too. The draw back to tights, however, is you must remove your boots to change this layer.

Likewise I question the need for down layers to be equipped with their own water proof shell. My shell layer is only a shell; it provides no insulation. My down layers use the lightest weight fabric coverings I can find. I never wear my down without also donning the shell layer, so any protective properties afforded by the down layer having its own shell is redundant, unnecessary weight. I guess I haven’t had any problems exposing my down layer to the elements, perhaps because I don them while inside a tent, or under the protection a forest canopy that limits the amount of water that ends up falling on my stuff in mid change.
Ed

3:07 a.m. on June 10, 2010 (EDT)
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I read that article and have two comments:

1. ALL winter boots excepting military "Mickey Mouse" boots need a Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL).

2. For extended winter camping sleeping bags, especially down bags, need a VBL to prevent the gradual buildup of frost in more and more of the insulation, thus getting you colder and colder each night. (Read what happened to Scott's men & their sleeping bags on their fatal attempt to be the first to the South Pole.)

I never owned a pair of VB boots, nor used a VB system, and have camped to low temps below -20F. The only time I had problems with my feet was a trip where weather trapped part of the team mid-mountain on Mt St Elias, with insufficient food reserves for the duration involved. Most of the team suffered at least mild frost bite. Energy reserves and inactivity, not wet boots, were the contributing cause to our privations.

Likewise VBL sleeping bags are unnecessary. Note what happened to the South Pole trekkers occurred over a period of months, in weather conditions few of us will ever see. I have found exercising three techniques virtually eliminate loss of loft in down bags in cold weather:
1. Make sure the tent is well ventilated. The bag will retain more water if the air inside the tent is trapped, and as a result becomes humid.
2. Take you bag out when taking a break on the trail, and place it in a black plastic trash bag, set on top of a blue pad. The solar energy heats the bag and evaporates retained moisture. Squeeze and re-fluff the bag to expedite moisture removal.
3. Sleep under the stars whenever possible. Air freely circulating around your bag will wick off retained moisture.

Ed

3:31 a.m. on June 10, 2010 (EDT)
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No one mentioned using a scarf? I have an Alpaca wool scarf I use to fill up the neck area in my parka hood. I wrap it around my neck, then pull my balaclava over it. Eliminating this air gap acts as a cork to preclude your warm body air from rising up and out your hood face. It is also a utility item you can use to warm hands around camp, etc.
Ed

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