Winter shelters

10:26 a.m. on October 24, 2008 (EDT)
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I am looking for some comments on winter shelters for lightweight hiking in the White Mountains, below treeline, on snow (not platforms), single person tent, for a 2 to 3 day trip. The area is prone to extream weather changes, high winds in opean areas, high humidity, deep snow, and drifts.

So lets list the choices:
Heavy duty 4 season tents designed for extrem conditions
Mid weight 3 season double walled tents
Lightweight 3 season single walled tents using hiking poles and tiedowns
Tarps
Bivy
Sleep under the stars
Snow shelters
(Huts or Shelters not included)

I thinks that about covers the options. Who has used what and where? I would like to go as light as possible, but what is too light?

1:28 p.m. on October 24, 2008 (EDT)
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I have used all of the above over the years and still use several each winter. And, of course, during the winter camping course I help teach (and used to direct), I start the first night (having driven up from the Bay Area and arrived late) with a tent (expedition type), then dig one of several types of snow shelter as a demo and use it the next night.

Snow shelters are by far the most comfortable and warmest, particularly in extreme conditions. But they do require having a good snow shovel, with also having a saw making things easier. You might consider that extra weight, but you are likely to want a shovel (and probe pole) in case of avalanche in the Whites (ever been under a tree during storm that decided to dump its snow load?).

Sleeping under the stars in winter is fantastic! But it does require a top-quality sleeping bag (and pads), and really doesn't leave much backup in case of storm unless you have a tent, shovel to dig a shelter, or bivy sack. Then again, you will probably want the bivy sack at least, anyway. I sometimes use a combination of bivy sack and Siltarp if the weather outlook is not too bad (didn't have a Siltarp when we lived in New England and spent winters in the Whites, because they hadn't been invented then - but they are so light and compact, I almost always carry one on any backpacking or climbing trip).

3-season tents of the currently fashionable design provide no more (maybe less) protection than sleeping under the stars, thanks to the large amount of mesh that is fashionable. I have used my Flashlights (both the Sleeve and Clip) and my Meteor Light in winter when I knew that any storm was extremely unlikely, but I would not use them if there were a finite possibility of a storm. I would go with a bivy instead, or a 4-season tent.

There are "4 season" tents that are actually 3-season tents with zipout panels over the mesh. These work for moderate conditions, though the people showing up for the snow camping courses with them always seem to regret it if we get even a moderate amount of snowfall.

There are light duty 4-season tents that would work for camping below treeline in the Whites (just don't pitch the tent under the trees themselves - when the snow slides out of the tree and onto your tent, you will find yourself a bit annoyed).

3:43 p.m. on October 24, 2008 (EDT)
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You have had the snow fall from a tree on your tent haven't you?

I would like to try my Six Moon Lunar Solo, but I'm worried it may be too fragile. There are numerous article on line stating that people have used this in the winter with no problems. Even a few in Alaska.

It is a very ligh tent. It's almost as light as my bivy, but its not free standing. If I'm in it, it shouldn't matter (unless I have to go to the bathroom).

I've slept under the stars both with and without a bivy. I love it, but since you have spent time up in the Whites, you know how fast the weather can change. I wouldn't try it without a backup (i.e. the six moons).

Were you able to build a snow shelter in the Whites? How long does it typically take and where would I find directions on how to do it safely?

8:22 p.m. on October 24, 2008 (EDT)
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Time for digging a snow shelter depends on how big and how much experience you have, plus snow conditions. Take a look at the Princeton Outdoor Action website (Princeton University outing club - http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/winter/wintshel.shtml ). Or look at about page 15 in this website from a scout troop http://www.bsa14.org/ResourceFiles/Snow_Shelters.pdf

I can dig a bolt hole in typical Sierra or White Mountains snow in 10-15 minutes. But that's probably not what you want. I find that first-timers in our courses take 2-3 hours for a 2-person snow cave that is roomier than the typical 2-person tent. The snow in the Sierra and Whites tends to be wetter and more consolidated, whereas in the Rockies, Wasatch, Tetons, it tends to be powdery and loose. The usual shape is the T-entrance snow cave on a slope or into a snow drift or in the side of a tree hole (tree holes in the Whites tend to be a bit dangerous, though). With experience and the cooperation of both people, you can get that down to a half hour. Quinzhees can be done in almost any snow conditions, even with only a foot of snow on the ground. But you have to allow a couple hours after making the pile for it to firm up a bit, then dig for a couple hours.

A bit of safety info - lots of people tend to dig snow caves by tunnelling in, lying down on their bellies. Problem here is that if the snow decides to collapse, it is extremely difficult to get out. The T-entrance approach is to cut a T entrance, with the upright about 3-4 ft tall and the shelves to the side opening out as you go back into the drift. You stay upright in the trench as you cut back and use the arms of the T to shove the snow out on either side of you (another advantage over the belly-flop tunnel, where you have to slither backwards out to pull the snow out). After you get a couple feet back in, start opening upward and to the sides to build 2 sleeping platforms. You can block the entrance with your pack if it is blowing really hard, but that usually isn't necessary - it is still warmer inside, because the colder air sinks into the trench, while your sleeping platforms are up in the warmer air - typically at or a bit above freezing, even when it is sub zero outside.

10:55 a.m. on October 31, 2008 (EDT)
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Thanks for the links. Now all I need is snow to try some of these options out, brfore I attempt to do it in the field. My kids will love this!

2:27 p.m. on October 31, 2008 (EDT)
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You may want to look at www.grandshelters.com. He has a really cool igloo building tool that works well, with practice, and makes a very safe igloo.

12:35 a.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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You might want to combine a snowshelter with a tarp shelter - the Golite Shangri-la 1 (you will want to us all of the tie outs) comes to mind.

www.golite.com

7:47 a.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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It depends on how much you want/can spend here and that is a personal issue for each of us. My suggestion for this type of winter camping, which is, I expect, probably quite typical of most of what most here do, is to check into the new shelter coming out from Integral Designs.

From what I have been told by Keith of ID, on the 'phone and Vigilguy can add some detail here, is that it will weigh just over 3 lbs., be made of eVent, the best wpb fabric I have ever used and be a lower, lighter and smaller version of their MKI_XL tent.

This will give you the strength of the X pole design, although the actual cross is further to the rear in this rig as contrasted with their tents and the lightest weight and most room/height available in an eVent shelter.

One of these, in the cheery yellow colour they have would be about perfect for your (and my needs) in winter camping. You could add a siltarp from several makers to gain some cooking room up front and have yourself quite a luxurious little bush camp.

Like Bill, I seldom go anywhere without a siltarp and I also ALWAYS carry a bivy and light pad. So, my latest info. is that these "should" be available for sale this month; I am going to call ID later today and see what is happening as, although pricey, these impress me as being the best option for solo, short-term winter camping.

10:14 a.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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So are you saying you would carry this new shelter from Integral Designs at 3lbs+ and leav the bivy and siltarp home? If not you are talking about over 5lbs of gear. This is what I'm trying to get away from. I am looking to go fast and light.

If I use a tarp tent like the Shangrila 1 at 19oz., (or use my Six moons tent at 23oz), set it up below treeline (not under a tree as advised by Bill) and combine it with snow walls, I should be in good shape. Right?

I like the x pole design for above tree line, or in areas of heavy wind. I will look into the ID tent. It sounds like it would work great for another trip I have planned that will be more in the open and will be at a more casule pace. The price I would guess will be over $500. Thats alot, but you get what you pay for in life...

12:51 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Be VERY aware of a few things about this new ID shelter and the cross pole design in particular.

-The new shelter is going to be very, very low as GE will not permit eVent to be used in the manufacture of tents. Bivies yes, but not tents due to the lack of fire retardation. Best case is a height of 28 inches of headroom. This sucker will be tight! At that height why not just carry a bivy or even a Big Agnes 3 Wire Event bivy for 2 lbs (far superior than the Unishelter as it overcomes every shortcoming)?

-The cross pole design is great for snow load - static - but actually not as good as a hoop design in really high winds. Hoops will flex in the wind. Domes, generally not.

-The ID cross pole design requires you to climb into the tent and set up poles from the inside. A lot of fun if the weather is crappy or alternatively, your boots are full of mud and it is raining. Yippeee.

-No way that it will be 'just over 3 lbs' with pegs, guylines, etc.

To be frank, I would take a Hilleberg dome tent any day over the ID MK line, just from the point of ease of set up - poles affix externally.

2:50 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Actually, I had the opportunity to get inside their prototype ID Shelter at the summer show. I would like to share some facts with you all about it.

The door of this new shelter is quite large and was quite easy to get in and out of. And it was quite spacious. Yes the ceiling was lower than my MK1XL, but it was by no means claustrophobic. The shelter is wide enough for two people (wife, child, etc.)

In talking to Keith, the shelter is going to run around 3.25 lbs, approximately. Not sure if that is minimum weight or packaged weight. Time will tell.

Evan has recommended having a sil tarp in place overhead when setting up these tents when its raining. Not my style, but I guess it works okay for some.

Personally, I prefer my Nallo 2 as my all season shelter. I can set it up fast with 5 pegs and it has a built in vestibule.

This new shelter from Integral Designs is a very specialized shelter and should work fine for those people who want a small footprint in winter conditions.

3:17 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Jim S and I discovered a technique for setting up the ID and similar Bibler tents that avoids getting the "muddy boots" inside. Basically, you "put the tent on" while standing up, then insert the poles. Having the poles in place, set it down by kneeling, then sit down and put the front pegs in place from inside (I have done this by putting in the front pegs before "putting the tent on" when the winds were blowing). You can then put the rest of the pegs and guys in place, along with the SilTarp as a "front porch" or if you get the vestibule, put that in place, so you can sit in the doorway and take the muddy boots off. That was when solo. With two people, it is even easier.

Of course, since I use the tent a lot in winter, there is no mud, just snow, which is easy to brush out of the tent in -20 and colder weather.

In other words, CWF, I don't see any of your objections as being a problem if you use your head and develop a little skill.

By the way, who is "GE" that forbids the eVent for a tent and would restrict the tent height to no more than bivy height? If fire is really a problem, a bivy would be much harder to exit and more dangerous than a tent. There are, and have been for several years, emergency shelters made of eVent available for purchase.

As for the flexing in the wind, the ID and Bibler tents are not dome tents. In fact, the complaint by some people is that they flex too much in the wind.

Someone questioned adding the weight of the SilTarp and bivy. Depends on which of the SilTarps and which bivy. I find the smaller ID SilTarp to be just right for a "porch" for my bivy or my Bibler, and it is about 7 ounces. I have the ID VBL/emergency bivy, which is 4 ounces. As kutenay says, these two items are in my pack most of the time, and will serve as an emergency kit (I have used them for a few intentional bivies, just to see how they work, with one of the times being in a moderate blizzard). If you get one of the heavy-duty bivies, then yes, the weight goes way up, some of them weighing 2 pounds or more.

4:03 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Gearjunky, I carry ONE shelter and the siltarp as the new one from ID will be a very useful addition to their already outstanding line. I have different bivies/tarps/tents for different purposes/seasons and certainly would not over-burden myself with an extra item of gear I do not require.

I also gave my opinion very specifically regarding shelters and was not attempting to discuss techniques of snow camping. I DO think, based on my current understanding of this rig, that it will be an excellent option for what you wish to do. Snow walls, caves, etc. are a separate issue.

CWF, I think that Vigilguy and Bill have sufficiently addressed your concerns and there is little I can add to their expertise. I have posted before that I use my ID tent in SNOW and cold and my Hilleberg Soulo in rain and mud, but, either WILL work, in both types of weather.

The advantage to an ID is that they are "bombproof" in any weather I have seen, very easy to erect as Bill pointed out AND, most of all, they offer the largest protected space per unit of weight of any tent I have tried. ID quality is about the best available and the MKI-XL is as close to an ideal, "all-around" tent as I know of.

This new ID shelter is going to be somewhat like my old Bibler Solo Dome, with it's problems fixed and I think that it will be a really useful rig for guys doing shorter snow treks with 2-3 nights camping. I am going to be called first thing when the first one hits Vancouver, so, I hope to report some "eyeball" opinions soon.

4:39 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Bill and Kutenay,

Having to 'wear' a tent while putting the poles in place is absolutely dangerous in windy conditions, no? How do you peg yourself down? ;)

Yes, they are considered cross pole dome tents. What ever you call them, they are not as good in the wind as a hooped tent but tend to be better with static snow load. Do you not agree? In any event, what shape would you call them?

General Electric owns the rights to eVent. And no, they do not permit any shelter made out of eVent to be taller than 28 inches due to concerns with cooking in the shelter. Go against them and they will pull the rights to use the fabric. Big Brother? Maybe - just stating facts.

Finally, with respect to the largest protected space per unit of weight. Without even listing alternative tents, the MK line does not come with vestibules standard. Adding one adds well over a pound additional. In my world, I consider a vestibule 'protected space.' As VigilGuy mentioned, a Nallo 2 has more protected space per unit of weight.

These shelters take longer to set up and have a high fiddle factor - I own an MK1 XL. Now whether one finds them an issue is up to them. I did not say they are bad tents, but there are many more options available.

VigilGuy - could you sit up in the ID shelter?

4:57 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Well....kind of.

My butt was inside, on the floor of the tent, while my head was outside, when facing the rear of the tent.

In other words, the door slopes quite a bit.

5:08 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks - when do you think you will be carrying these, VigilGuy?

6:31 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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CWF said

Having to 'wear' a tent while putting the poles in place is absolutely dangerous in windy conditions, no? How do you peg yourself down? ;)


Well, having set up tents many times in extremely windy conditions (up to measured 70 knots) and having set up my Eldorado (similar to the ID tents we are talking about) in measured 50 knot winds, I disagree with the "absolutely dangerous" comment. It is a challenge, yes, and you don't play "bat suit". But it is no more of a problem than setting up other tents, like my Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1. And yes, I did measure the winds in those (and many other) conditions ( I have had weather instruments including several models of Kestrels, currently the Kestrel 4500, for many years. My son is an atmospheric scientist, with his research area being severe weather, and the Kestrel 4000 and 4500 are among their standard field instruments). And yes, I am more than familiar with the difficulties of standing up and of holding onto tents in such high winds. But there are ways of doing it that one learns when spending time in the Arctic, Antarctic, and mountains over 20,000 ft.

Then he further said

General Electric owns the rights to eVent. And no, they do not permit any shelter made out of eVent to be taller than 28 inches due to concerns with cooking in the shelter. Go against them and they will pull the rights to use the fabric.

That is rather interesting. One would think the same would apply to SilCoat and related fabrics, since they do not meet the flammability standards in most states and countries fire safety codes. Hilleberg cannot sell his tents in California because they do not meet the codes here, for example (well, mostly because the required certification tests are so expensive). All tents sold here, no matter what material, are required to have a label forbidding cooking, lanterns, and open flames in general inside tents, even if they have passed the code requirements. We are required in our Boy Scout camps to have prominently displayed on the walls of all tents "NO FIRES ALLOWED" and "NO OPEN FLAMES ALLOWED".

I would be curious why General Electric believes that eVent is so much more flammable (maybe inflammable) than the many other materials used in tents, especially the cotton duck material with a number of the waterproofing treatments which are quite flammable (some waterproofing treatments are not so flammable). It doesn't take much to get ripstop nylon burning, for example, and that has been used for tents for decades.

6:38 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Yes I agree about GE's apparent control. It is frustrating because I agree that eVent is probably the best overall fabric for single walled shelters. For some of us, we would not cook inside a shelter unless absolutely necessary. But I do believe in the fabric. I just wish it could be used in more livable shelters.

7:44 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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When will these shelters be available? God only knows!

Evan at Integral Designs is pretty tight lipped about it. They are still tweaking the design, so it could be awhile.

Bill S., thanks for the tip on setting them up. I'll give it a try next time.

BTW Bill, I love those Tasty Bites!

9:02 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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I called ID twice today, but, nobody was answering their phone, maybe too busy meeting a production deadline before the weekend.

So, I called Mountain Magic, my local gear shop, owned and manned by a couple of South Africans, one of whom is from Evan's home town there. They had spoken with ID last week when ordering some other bits and pieces for me and were told, by Keith, I think, that they are now assessing about three prototypes to determine just how much room they can get in this rig, considering GE's and various gov't.s strictures.

This is ONE among several reasons why ID is among my most respected gear makers, an opinion I have seen posted here by Bill, as well. They really do work on their products and I have found them to be of exceptional utility and quality.

On the tent issue, of course, if you count the vestibule, the Nallo may well have more space than the ID, but, I think that the ID is a superior WINTER design, especially here in BC's heavy, wet snows.

The ID CAN seem a bit "fiddly", but, it is the best of the singlewall designs I have used, these being Bibler, Early Winters and ID, so far. As to the wind issue, I don't know if I would agree, but, I have not had either a tunnel or dome tent fail me in winds and thus cannot really say.

For winter, I do tend to prefer the singlewall ID design and I actually wish that Evan would make the MKIII in the new Yukon style, as that, with it's large vestibule, would be ideal for my uses and much lighter than anything else I can think of at the moment.

CWF, what Hilleberg have you used and/or own? I LOVE these tents, but, they are gettin' a wee bit costly here in BC, now that our $$$$ has dropped so far. I keep looking at the Jannu with longing eyes and THAT is my idea of a really practical solo tent for long stays in crappy weather, it's 40*F here now and has poured rain for two solid days, the kind of weather where a tent really is worth it's weight and cost, IMHO.

10:36 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Kutenay,

I have a Nallo, but have been eyeing the Jannu as well for a 'mountain assault' type shelter. I am also Canadian and continue to lament the days of 1.10 exchange rates (to our benefit!)....only a few months ago. I suspect we will see 90 cents again before Christmas but you are correct Sir - these tents are NOT cheap. But so well made!

No snow yet but it is coming....

On a side note, I had an ID Unishelter in eVent but it was replaced with a Big Agnes 3 Wire Bivy (eVent) and I must say, it is the neatest little bivy shelter and overcomes many of the issues that I had with the Unishelter: more mesh / ventilation, better awning, much more room by the head area, wider, zipper flap (I do not trust waterproof zips), freestanding, etc. You should check it out. I would like to see ID incorporate some of these design changes....

9:46 a.m. on November 8, 2008 (EST)
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As it happens, I did call Big Agnes when they announced that rig and had a nice conversation with them. I had talked with them before and they have visited and skied near my home town, so, we got along very well.

They appreciated the fine craft beer made there and my great-grandfather, his brother and my grandfather (pioneer BC brewers) built the original "heritage" building in which it is brewed in the early 1890s, so, we discussed one of life's REALLY crucial things, good beer! Good folks who sell good stuff, IMO.

I didn't buy one as I have everything I require in bivies now, but, I was quite impressed with that design. I only use bivies for carrying an emerg. "cocoon" on my person at all times when hiking, except when I am carrying a tent, so, have no real need for another.

I also would have been more interested if it were a dark colour, so, I could use it for alpine hunting and thus have chosen the ID Mega Sola for this. I am not going to spend the $$$$$ to buy a green ID whatever the eVent one is as the MS does what I need; however, for winter and what Gearjunky asked about, it seems like this might be his best choice, when it hits the market.

I might buy one, I told Evan I would last winter when I asked him to please make a Mega Sola in eVent; he would not, but, then began design work on this new one and it might be a far better rig for most uses. I would surmise that he has various concepts and then will do things if and when customers request it.

But, he is one independent guy and will do it as he sees fit, no matter what, so, I doubt he will modify the Unishelter. I am happy with my 15 yr. old ,version, for what I bought and use it for, so, I kinda just ask him for stuff and wait to see what, if anything, he might do.

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