Trying to add Fourth season to backpacking

9:32 a.m. on August 26, 2015 (EDT)
denis daly
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How's everybody Doing? I really need our members help. I am trying to add the fourth season to my backpacking..I haven't backpacked heavily in snow since the 80's as a teen...I need to get the right gear that I can use in cold weather ( Snow) conditions and extend and add more trips...This is a topic we really don't discuss in length.. I would like recommendations that you could give me on a Parka and layering underneath and also Winter stoves..To include if you think I will need crampons and what to look for with those..Also to include Snow shoe's and how to size those so I get the right thing..I have micro spikes but they are for mild traversing.  Add anything you think would cover this topic to increase what you think I need as far as gear and any knowledge you would like to give me and pass on... I know we have members with a wealth of knowledge and I know your going to ask me where am I going..Trips will range up and down the east to start..That means could be in Virginia to NH and Vermont...Thank you in advance..

10:47 a.m. on August 26, 2015 (EDT)
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I used to do overnight x-c trips. A small plastic sled can be used to haul some of your gear to reduce top heaviness. At first I hauled the sled but then got my dog to do it.

Winter mountaineering lost its appeal when I started to meet people with dead friends.

The best solution to extend the season is to go south to warmer climes for winter backpacking. I have enjoyed Death Valley and Big Bend in Jan-Feb. A Feb canoe trip on the lower Colorado R was really different at 400 feet.

In the snow, you only have to get a couple of miles from a trailhead and off popular trails to have the whole place to yourself. My favorite trips were in the woods in fresh snow with a Whalen lean-to and a fire. Luxurious camping. I like to ski with a headlamp at night and look for fur.

2:41 p.m. on August 26, 2015 (EDT)
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well, I don't have any really serious winter experience to draw on but I do go out year round. So what I'm listing is the "mild southern winter kit" :)

I've not needed real crampons yet but have really enjoyed the Kahtoola micro-spikes for icy trails; they work really well.

I have an irrational disdain for white gas (which everyone else uses in winter) so for a winter stove I've been using the MSR Windpro II remote burner stove; it allows you to invert a standard isobutune canister (which makes it liquid feed). I've used it down to a few degrees below zero F. It seems to use much more fuel when inverted than when upright but I haven't really quantified it yet.

I don't use a parka; I usually just add more layers under my gortex 3 layer rain for my area.

this sounds silly, but I got a lot of good use out of some bread-bags as vapor barriers on my feet last winter. I used a thin sock, vapor barrier, then a wool sock and my standard leather trail shoes.

I also carry a small towel to blot my sleeping bag in really cold weather, the micro fiber Western Mountaineering bag I use gets a lot of build up on top.

I hate cold hands so my defcon 5 solution is the Mountain Hardware Nilas down mittens...they work really well.




10:00 p.m. on August 26, 2015 (EDT)
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For true winter/snow camping you need not only different equipment but also different skills and experience. Trails are fairly obvious to see and follow in 3 seasons, very different when covered in snow. You need strong navigation skills even with a GPS device. You have to watch out for things like snow bridges over a creek -- you could be walking along in the snow and suddenly not realize you walked right over top of a creek until you fall through and find yourself and your gear soaking wet in sub-freezing temps. Keeping up on weather forecasts is all that much more important -- getting stuck in your tent during a summer downpour is very different from getting buried in and hiking out of a winter blizzard. You may need to know about and be careful of avalanche areas, maybe even add an avalanche airbag to your gear list. Etc etc. Basically winter backpacking and 3-season backpacking do have a lot in common, but they also are a lot different.

7:56 a.m. on August 27, 2015 (EDT)
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As a person who tends to naturally run hot, winter hiking/backpacking is my favourite time of year!

There are many things to take into account, so I will just start with a few.

1. Crampons: depending on the area you are going to cover, you MAY be ok with microspikes. I like the hillsound trail crampons which are better, and more aggressive than standard micospikes (like Kahtoola), and still easily fit on the boot of your choice. There are also multiple options for stiff (but non crampon rated, or B-0 rated) boots. Something like the CAMP Magix 10 will get you through most terrain short of very serious alpinism. Otherwise you will need proper crampon rated boots, which are typically not the most comfortable for long distances.

2. Ice axe: if you need crampons, then you need an ice axe. I really like the CAMP Corsa Nanotech as it is ridiculously lightweight and works well. Perfect thing to carry.

3. Trekking poles: I don't know if you use them for 3 season, but for winter they are very important. Much easier to keep balance and traction over uncertain ground, especially when you cant be too sure what is under the snow you are stepping on (also good for probing before stepping!).

3. Sleeping pads: as you may know, doesn't really matter how nice and warm your sleeping bag is if your pad isnt warm enough. All that fluffy down underneath you wont work so well when compressed and you will feel the cold. In this area, I go all out with an Exped Downmat 9 (also very comfortable to sleep on).

4. Stoves: I really like the MSR reactor for this. I have used it for the past winter season and it performed flawlessly. It is so fast that it makes melting snow a breeze.

5. Jackets: I'm big on layering as it gives me more control, however, for sitting around after setting up camp, or for early morning cooking, pack-up, and start (before I get warmed up from walking), I bring along something really warm to add on, usually a big puffy down vest or full micro-baffled down jacket (I prefer something with 800+ fill and ultralight pertex outer, somewhere in the 300g area total so its not big weight added to my pack).

6. Insulated pants: I have a pair of Montane Primaloft pants that pack very small and are lightweight, but add the perfect amount of warmth for evenings and morning. Its much more fun to be able to enjoy your camp site and not just jump into your bag as soon as you setup because its too cold.

10:23 a.m. on August 27, 2015 (EDT)
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A game changer for me has been the mad bomber type fur lined hats. They are especially useful for sleeping in winter conditions. Using one adds a good 15 degrees to the temperature range of a down sleeping bag.

2:00 p.m. on August 27, 2015 (EDT)
andrew f. @leadbelly2550
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i have been winter hiking, with gaps here and there, the last 30 years.  mostly in the Northeast or NY State (green mountains, white mountains, adirondacks).  a couple of thoughts - my opinions based on my experience.  dissent welcome!

-layering while you're moving isn't a whole lot different than any other season, except that the layers will be warmer.  You still benefit from layers that keep you warm when damp, you still have to adjust for how hot/cold it is outside and how much you're moving.  even in very cold weather, i tend to strip most layers off if i'm going uphill or carrying a heavy backpack.  one of my favorite layers for cold weather is patagonia's R1 hoody - great fabric, amazing design for cold.  you need an outer shell the blocks the wind, top and bottom, no surprise there, and you want a top shell with a hood that adjusts well and hopefully doesn't constrict your vision.  i bring multiple hats - lighter beanies when i'm working hard, thicker ones or windblockers for colder or windier weather.  

-for sitting still or being stuck in the tent, puffy pants and jacket.  pants that have a full side zip are very beneficial, esp. with crampons.  i prefer synthetic fill for pants, i tend to overheat in down pants.  lots of jacket options, depends on your internal thermometer.  if you prefer to keep weight down, choose a down jacket with a very light/minimal shell.  western mountaineering and valandre have great ones if you are not cost-conscious; mountain hardwear has options that are good and go on sale from time to time, so does eddie bauer first ascent.  

-feet: expedition-weight socks are a must.  if i'm in areas where crampons might be necessary, i use mountaineering boots.  mine are plastic double boots; stiff leather mountaineering boots are increasingly popular.  make sure they are warm enough for the conditions you anticipate.  all mountaineering boots work well with step-in crampons, meaning a binding that's easily put on.(Black Diamond sabretooth, for example).  you can also hike with insulated non-mountaineering boots - boots with cleated rubber roles, insulated with primaloft or something similar.  those boots aren't as stiff and generally won't work with step-in crampons.  for those, you need strap crampons with a basket that fits around the heel and toe.  (black diamond contact strap, for example).  i agree with your comment about microspikes - fine for some conditions, not good for any steep trail or snow of any depth.  

-hands- shell mitts over thick fleece or primaloft are warmest.  insulated gloves keep your hands free, but in really cold weather, you need mitts.  and a spare pair, because a lost mitten or shell is a major problem in deep cold.  liner gloves or shelled windblocker gloves can give you some hand dexterity for shorter periods without too much frostbite risk, usually.  (i like Outdoor Research's gripper gloves when i need my hands ready, so long as it's not terribly cold).  

-stove - white gas works best in cold weather in my opinion.  i have used the MSR XGK and the Optimus Nova in very cold weather without any problems.  

-sleeping pad/bag - you need a thicker pad and a warmer bag, obviously.  don't skimp on the bag - sleeping cold sucks.  

-tent - the primary benefit of an expedition-weight tent is that it handles wind, snow better.  or, if you would rather avoid that expense the first few times out, you could stay in shelters, which tend to be empty or close to it during New England winters.  for example, in the white mountains maintains some unheated shelters that put you in a good spot to summit the various Presidentials, except for Mt. Washington, best accessed via the AMC Hermit Lake area & the Lion's Head trail. 

3:07 p.m. on August 27, 2015 (EDT)
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Don't forget some insulation for your dog to sleep on. I had a dog sleeping on a tarp once directly on the snow which no workee.  I zipped her into a fleece parka like a dog sleeping bag and she was still in it the next morning.

3:14 p.m. on August 27, 2015 (EDT)
andrew f. @leadbelly2550
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ps snowshoes are essential in the northeast and upper NY state in the winter.  i didn't comment because my shoes are like 25 years old and a brand (Sherpa) that's long since out of business.  as a more general matter, important factors in buying snowshoes include flotation, grip (cleats underneath your feet or outer rails), weight of the shoe.  most modern binding work pretty well.  if you lean toward uber-durable and don't mind extra weight, and don't mind spending, take a look at these:  you would want the 'ice' binding for the northeast, spikes are almost as long as crampons.  these shoes have gotten very expensive, though, and they are heavy.  if i had to buy a new pair today, i might lean toward the MSR Lightning Ascent:

8:49 p.m. on August 29, 2015 (EDT)
Jake W
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As a warning- get snow shoes that will provide enough float for both you, and your backpack. When I was just starting out I bought snowshoes recommended for my weight, completely forgot that I would be adding a 50lbs bag on my back....those didn't work so well.

2:38 p.m. on August 30, 2015 (EDT)
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Sorry I'm late to the party but I've been on trail :)

One thing I'd add is the importance knowing what to expect from the weather and being prepared for worse. NE winter weather swings wildly and into dangerous territory quite frequently. Stay low if it is bad and stay home if it is worse. Don't push past the limits of your gear or your skills.

I'm looking forward to snow camping myself as I picked up a new double wall tent a few months ago. Still hoping to build a pulk for this season, but I have too many trails to hit right now. Maybe I'll see you out there Denis.

11:39 p.m. on September 2, 2015 (EDT)
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**Take the AMC winter hiking series class.

You can use micro spikes through most of NH White mountains.

If you get crampons you'll need compatible boots.

I use a waste disposal white bag inside my backpack to keep things dry.

Keep the food next to your insulated water bottle that is in the backpack.

** Don't use a bladder, even the insulated ones they still freeze.

** Hike with experienced 4 season hikers (AMC group).

Regulate your temperature, with experience you'll find out if your a warm or cold hiker.

Redundancy is not a bad thing in the winter.

Organize/check list a couple days before and check again the night before.

Hydrate and eat the right foods.

Large mouth Nalgene bottles. (EMS or Outdoor research insulated)





5:28 a.m. on September 3, 2015 (EDT)
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Depending on the temperatures you are expecting, insulated bladders will work fine, in spite of the constant fear-mongering with regards to their use in winter.

I have successfully used them to -16 oC with no freezing. If you are expecting colder, hunersdorf, or HDPE nalgene work great. Get an OR cozy if you strap the bottle outside of your pack.

9:03 a.m. on September 3, 2015 (EDT)
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Winter seasons can actually be pretty nice depending on where you go. I have been a backpacker every year all year long for the last 38 years. I live in a milder cooler clime during the summers in NW Wyoming and go to a warmer southern clime in the southwestern US in winter. 

From 1983-03 I used to spend my "winter's " in the Grand Canyon where while the South Rim is 10 degrees and receives about 3 feet of snow, the inner canyon down about 3000 feet below is in the 60's during the day and rarely saw any moisture. Its only at night when I needed a warm sleeping bag to keep me comfortable when the temps dipped to the 30's. And frosty mornings when the dew was icy.

Other winters I would go down to the Tucson area of Arizona where winters are as warm "to me" as summers in Wyoming. I say "to me" because when its 60 degree's out native Tucsonians would be dressed in down jackets,long underwear and ski hats and gloves, while I would be in shorts and a t-shirt. Most that were friendly would ask if I were not cold in my get-up and I would ask if they were not hot in theirs. They would always reply that it "Was Cold!" and I would say it was like summer to me from where I was from. Most are used to it being 110 degree's in the shade in summer so 60 to them is 50 degree's below. 

So adding a fourth season does not mean you have to winter camp in freeing northern country area's. Just go south in winter! I own long underwear and a fleece like pull over and warmer gloves but wear them only in Wyoming during the cooler mornings in spring and fall when I am there to work and in Arizona's places during the nights and mornings as well. 

I use a 10 degree sleeping bag in places like the Grand Canyon and the deserts of Tucson and its mountains. Last winter in Tucson the only day we had frost was New Years Day otherwise it was in the 60-80's during the day and 30-50 at night. If one wants to "winter" camp then I go up to 9000 feet in the three major mountains that surround the Tucson Valley, but even then its only a few feet in the most shady places. 

This winter I am braving the cold here in Wyoming so next summer I can take it off from May to October traveling around the entire USA by Amtrak and then ferry to Alaska and possibly fly to Hawaii. I have lived all over the west mostly since 1977 and Alaska a few times but have yet make it to Hawaii...

9:47 p.m. on September 3, 2015 (EDT)
Lee Patterson
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For cold weather, my tent and sleeping bag are my top priority.

My 2 tents of choice are the North Face VE-25 and the North Face Mountain 25.

Both tents are used regularly on Everest, Denali, Aconcagua, Annapurna, etc. Extremely well designed and built is an understatement. The materials are second to none. When you pull the tent out of the box and then out of the stuff sack for the first time, you will quickly see this tent is completely in another category than most other tents you have ever seen.  The guy lines on the fly are all made of Kevlar. Both tents do well in winds of 80-100 mph and heavy snow loads are no issue. Ventilation is great in both and storage pockets abound. My VE-25 has like 8 pockets I think and the vestibules are quite large. If you have to stay in your tent for days or weeks, you want a large tent like the VE-25. 

For sleeping bags, I can't say enough about Western Mountaineering. All the reviews you read are true. The stated temp ratings are conservative. I have the WM Bison (rated at -40F) with the GWS shell for winter camping. Completely insane warmth and comfort beyond your wildest dreams. It's like sleeping in a warm, silk-lined cloud is my best description.

The North Face tents and the WM sleeping bags are not cheap, but are among the best available on earth. Is $600 expensive for a tent?  Is $1100 for a expensive for a sleeping bag? How much is your life worth?

Growing up and camping in a leaking, wet tent and freezing my a$$ off in the Boy Scouts so many times almost put an end to my camping interest when I was very young. Now that I can afford top quality gear is a complete game-changer.

Buy the very best one time and be done with it.

You get what you pay for.


1:50 p.m. on September 8, 2015 (EDT)
Rob Keith
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Hey Welcome to the 4th season of camping! It is personally my favorite time of the year to get outdoors. Hopefully I can offer some advice just as others have done for me not to long ago. I started winter camping last year and have roughly 30nights under my belt. Mild in comparison to some but the tips I've learned have been very beneficial.

As far as stoves go, I would stay away from isobutane canister type stoves. The fuel has a tendancy to freeze and stop working at around 20 degrees F. There are however tricks to keeping it warm, but keep in mind that is one extra thing to worry about. A good alternative is the MSR whisperlite internationale. They can be found for reletively inexpensive amounts on ebay, especially the older models. If money is not an issue I would recommend the MSR XGK EX stove.  It is like having a miniature jet engine to cook with. Any stove that is white gas compatble will do well. That is the go to fuel for 4 season enthusiests.

Snowshoes, make sure you do some research before you buy. How much do you weigh with your gear fully packed? I cant recommend Crescent Moon enough. They are built in America and come with a lifetime warranty. The price isnt cheap but they are a killer shoe. My Expedition 17's handle my 200lb frame + gear + pack reletively easily. They are rated for 300lbs and I am generally pushing 255 when fully loaded for 5 days. They are also compatible with snowboard boots and can fit a wide variety of boots.

For layering, it can change frequently depending on level of activity. A staple should be a moisture wicking base layer....period.  When going in and out of somewhere know that you will be sweating and getting warm so dont dress to heavily. Hands down the most useful tip that was givin to me is to not let your body cool down. Keep it warm. If your coming back from a hike and are warm and sweaty, put a jacket on when you get back to camp. This will let your body cool while still maintaining a good level of warmth. If you let your sweat cool off then your body is going to work twice as hard to warm back up, and it may not ever warm back up to the point it was at. Save the calories as you will need more of them for the winter.

Stay hydrated, also more important during the winter as your body is constantly trying to keep itself warm. Do the pee test, if your pee is yellow, drink more.

Last but not least you do not have to spend a fortune to enjoy the winter. Ebay and craigslist are your friend. A good starter synthetic sleeping bag will run about 250 bucks and will not pack down that small. Like the Northface Darkstar -20/-40. Great Starter bags for people looking to get their feet wet. They dont pack small but who cares, they keep you warm. Also check out a Synmat air mattress with an R rating of 6 or higher. Anyway, good luck! Have fun!

2:27 p.m. on September 8, 2015 (EDT)
Rob Keith
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The majority of my gear was bought used ( in like new condition, all top brands) for fractions of what people paid for it new. I don't match and am wearing 8 different brands but who cares. It works just as well, if not better than my friends few thousand dollar setup. 

4:51 p.m. on September 10, 2015 (EDT)
denis daly
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Wow You gave me alot of great feedback...

@TJ I noticed your pants are Uk provider and looked for Montane. Steep and cheap sells that brand..Do you think the Patagonia Nano Puff pants that lonestranger did a review on would work? Steep and cheap has a good price on them also thanks for pointing me in a direction...

@ Andrew I have the Patagonia R1 Hoody this past year thinking exactly what you said..Still how do I pick a Parker for conditions I might hit? Oh I read all your reviews on the Headware when you posted them..Loved that series you did on all of them..Also Mountaineering Boots I am going to search old threads of what BIll you and Erich and TJ posted on.I might have more questions about those after I read...

@ Patman Yup have used the bread bag in light snow...Been using my rain gear or my Gortex Mil issue jacket..But better options are on the market thought I would ask and learn..WM bag you have the Puma?

@Jake thank you was trying to understand how the figured snowshoes..You Andrew and Roger gave me a good explanation...
@ Roger thank you brought up a great point of shopping on other sites and explanations...Feel like adding more jump in...

@ Gary great point..I'll get to Arizona and see some of the things you post pictures of and agree with you..You can go South during Colder Northern weather..

@ PPIne I went to College in Texas and hiked Big Bend 2 times and GNP 2 times..But you have me talking to some friends about a winter trip to Big Bend been awhile since I left Texas and would be great to hike with them..Good call...

@ LS  I was hoping you would jump in..I still look at your reviews for winter gear hahah   Keep adding if you want to give me more very open to what advise you have..

6:35 p.m. on September 10, 2015 (EDT)
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denis those Nano Puff Pants are great insulation, but I mostly use them in camp, especially for sleeping when going well below zero. They pack really light and small so are easy to carry. I've worn them for snowshoeing in colder weather and they vented well, but the material seems like rocks would shred it pretty quick so I've been careful not to expose them to too much abuse. I found some TNF hyvent pants on sale last year and let them deal with the rough stuff :)

11:25 a.m. on September 11, 2015 (EDT)
denis daly
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LoneStranger said:

denis those Nano Puff Pants are great insulation, but I mostly use them in camp, especially for sleeping when going well below zero. They pack really light and small so are easy to carry. I've worn them for snowshoeing in colder weather and they vented well, but the material seems like rocks would shred it pretty quick so I've been careful not to expose them to too much abuse. I found some TNF hyvent pants on sale last year and let them deal with the rough stuff :)

 That's what I was thinking when I read your review when it first came out..I been thinking for over a year to go another season...Found some hyvent pants also on Ebay pretty cheap so I added those..Thanks LS...

11:41 a.m. on September 12, 2015 (EDT)
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I must be getting older. We are headed to the central OR Cascades where the temperatures are about to drop 30 degrees with a chance of rain for the whole trip. I can't seem to decide on the right clothes.

I am used to summer conditions. Last week freezing seemed really cold at 9,000 feet. Being bulletproof is one of the benefits of youth. Enjoy it while you can.


5:37 a.m. on September 15, 2015 (EDT)
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I cannot recommend Jaffa's advice strongly enough to take a winter mountaineering course (or two or three).  You will learn not only safety skills (proper axe and crampon techniques; avalanche safety; not to travel across large, level, snow covered areas - they could be lakes, etc) but also efficiency skills (how to fetch water from streams; understanding it takes more energy to bring snow to boil than water that is already melted, etc).

Cold is the bane of batteries; therefore I discourage relying on battery power for mission critical applications, for example use a mechanical compass, versus a GPS device.

Consider getting an altimeter - a mechanical one.  It aids navigation chores.

Get a head lamp with a remote battery pack that can be kept close to you body.  Bring extra batteries, too.

I am surprised no one mentioned bringing a snow shovel - this is mandatory in avalanche country.  Even when not in avalanche territory the shovel is useful around camp for leveling tent platforms, building wind breaks, etc.  In addition to the shovel I also pack a snow saw to cut snow blocks.  Shelters made of snow are warmer and much quieter than any tent pitched atop snow. 

Bring goggles and earplugs for when it gets real cold and windy.  Use your sun glasses on bluebird days, but going with an amber tint lens on your goggles will provide better visibility in overcast and low light conditions. Bring an antifogging product to keep your lens clear. 

Bring back up headgear and mittens.  I prefer wool balaclavas over down hoodies as the hoodies impair my hearing.  When it gets really cold I wrap a wool scarf around my neck area.

Unless you plan to venture into near zero and below temps, I prefer to stay warm by adding layers, versus using a mondo huge parka.  Make sure you approach layering as a system consideration.  People often make the mistake of purchasing clothing all in the same size (e.g. a medium size person buying size M shirts, vests and coats and wind shells).  The problem is the outer layer will compress the inner layers, greatly reducing the thermal efficiency of your clothing.  Instead purchase the outer layers one or two sizes larger, depending on what you wear beneath them.  My wind shell makes me look like a five year old in dad's coat when worn with no under layers.  When active I find I don't need much in the way of warm clothing.  Usually just a skin layer suffices.  When it gets colder I add a wind shell; colder still I'll add several pairs of cycling tights and fleece tops.  I'll add down pants and down sweaters to that when lounging around camp after dark.

Bring back up head cover and hand wear.  I prefer bring a pair of leather palmed wool gloves and a pair of fleece mittens with water proof shells.

Put tethers on your gloves and mittens.  The wind has a way of separating hikers from gloves they remove to use their hands.

If you normally use an external frame pack, consider getting an internal frame pack to improve balance as well as range of arm movement.

I prefer the pyramid design tents for winter camping.  They are much lighter, shed snow better, and have more head room.  You snow skills class should teach you how to fully exploit the advantages of this tent design.  The cuben fiber tents are crazy light, albeit pretty expensive.

Most people are better off with synthetic fill sleeping bags for the cold.  Down gear tends to accumulate moisture on longer trips, making them heavier and well as less warm.

You might consider using a vapor barrier envelope inside your sleeping bag.

Bring skin wear that is exclusively used as sleepwear.  The clothing you wore all day retains moisture and its evaporation will reduce the warmth provided by the other elements of your sleep system.

I prefer the blue foam sleep pads made for cold weather over any air mattress when snow camping.  They insulate better and do not leak!  Get two of the full length size, your legs and feet will thank you.

A tip rather than gear advice:  Digestion is a principal source of body heat; therefore you will sleep warmer if you eat something just before bedtime.

Use a heavy duty large trash bags as a pack cover.  They are lighter than fabric pack covers, absolutely water proof and very cheap, too.  Cover you pack with it when you get to camp.   

Trekkers often start their day while it is still dark, so they can get to a safe camp before the sun heats and softens the snow, increasing the likelihood of an avalanche; therefore take an alarm clock (or watch).  If you are traveling where avalanches are an issue.


5:36 p.m. on September 15, 2015 (EDT)
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he does some serious sub zero camping pulling a pulk at times.

8:13 p.m. on September 17, 2015 (EDT)
denis daly
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Jafa where can I get a listing of the classes and schedule of them from the AMC? I looked on their site and found nothing...

Ed you hit on something in the back of my mind about a shovel...Nut I could use snowshoes to start out to clear a tent area...

Smithcreek good point shug has some advise for this ground dweller...:)

10:44 p.m. on September 18, 2015 (EDT)
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Denis there are a lot of pack-lists that could be useful. Both so that you do not forget anything, but also so that you do not overpack. Things have a tendency to pile up, and everything has a weight. 

This is the advice given by our DNT (Norwewgian trekking assosiation) and I dare say they are experienced when it comes to winter travel in the terrain. You find a check list on page 28 in english. One thing they recommend and I too find useful is a snow brush. When tenting the snow you bring into the tent may melt and thus soak other stuff.

I personally put on a wicking layer first, then an insulating wool layer, then the windproof outer layer. My favourite wicking layer is the Brynje Super thermo, it is virtually impossible to wear out. I also seldom use gloves, mostly mittens. And windproof overmittens are a must.


1:24 a.m. on September 19, 2015 (EDT)
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denis daly said:

"..Ed you hit on something in the back of my mind about a shovel...Nut I could use snowshoes to start out to clear a tent area..."

When the snow is soft, yes, but wind packed snow can be hard to dig even with a shovel as it is far more dense and cohesive than undisturbed snow.  In fact Denali Park required mountaineers to carry metal shovels when I was climbing there, because the really stiff, old wind pack starts to approach the density and hardness of ice that would break plastic shovels.  Likewise a layer of ice will completely stymie attempts to use your snow shoes to work the pack, and if thick enough will even render a metal shovel useless. 

Another reason a shovel should be mandatory is for extricating team members from an avalanche, should such misfortune strike.  Along this vein you should select trekking/ski poles that can be assembled end to end to create a snow probe to search for buried bodies, once you have located their approximate position with your avi beacon. 

Speaking of which, did anyone suggest you have/rent an avi beacon?  And practice using all of these tools before trekking off into the Great White North.

Someone mentioned getting an avi pack.  I think those are feasible for heli-skiing and short trips away from your vehicle, but their bulk and weight are impractical if you need to carry along more than a lunch and layer or two of additional clothing.


3:04 a.m. on September 19, 2015 (EDT)
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A game changer for me has been the mad bomber type fur lined hats. They are especially useful for sleeping in winter conditions. Using one adds a good 15 degrees to the temperature range of a down sleeping bag.

10:52 a.m. on September 19, 2015 (EDT)
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Gary makes some good points about choosing locations for the off season. It takes more creative thinking beyond the mountains in summer. The coastal mountains in California have very mild conditions in winter although sometimes it can be wet. The southwestern deserts are a novelty in winter. There is no one out there a few miles past the trailheads.

I would caution people to pay attention to elevation. One of the coldest trips I can remember was at Canyon de Chelley, no AZ in winter but at 6,000 feet. It was 10 degrees with 30 mile an hour winds. 

4:05 a.m. on September 21, 2015 (EDT)
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Ghazwan said:

A game changer for me has been the mad bomber type fur lined hats. They are especially useful for sleeping in winter conditions. Using one adds a good 15 degrees to the temperature range of a down sleeping bag.

 While having warm head wear is certainly going to help, I think your figures are a little exaggerated. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

I always find it suspect when people claim the amount of degrees an item adds to their sleep system. If I were to take all of these internet claims at face value, I could seemingly take a 32 degree bag down to 0 with just a hat, a silk liner, and a VBL (likely to die of hypothermia in the middle of the night).

I would say, if anything, warm head wear probably just helps you maintain the heat longer so your bag can function at the temperature range for which it was intended.

11:06 a.m. on September 21, 2015 (EDT)
Bill S
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There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the benefits of headwear. Some of the claims about how much heat-savings headgear produces would lead you to believe that you could go out wearing nothing more than the particular headgear at -90° in a 50 knot wind and be completely comfortable.

The fact of the matter is that the heat loss from your head is directly dependent on the area of your head that is exposed - 1 square foot of exposed head loses heat at the same rate as 1 square foot of arm skin, or leg skin, or torso skin, given the same blood flow rate. It is true that there are more blood vessels in your scalp than many other parts of the body, but not to the extent often claimed.

Note that I did not say that head covering is unimportant. It is just as important to provide insulation and wind blockage for the scalp and rest of your head (and don't forget your neck and face) as any other surface of your body of the same size area. As an example, one time on Denali, one of our group had left a small triangle of his face skin exposed to the wind. At a rest stop, a couple of us noticed this 2 or 3 sq. in. exposed and saw that it was almost snow-white. Luckily, catching it prevented permanent damage from the frostbite.

I have a pair of boots that the manufacturer claims are good to -100°C. As good as the boots are in insulating the feet and calves, the boots are not going to keep you warm if that is the only clothing you are going to wear. That's starting to get mighty close to absolute zero, implying you could stand in a vat of liquid nitrogen. I have worn them down to -50°C, and they are indeed quite warm (I was wearing an expedition down parka and overpants, as well as a full balaclava under the down hood of the parka, along with full down-filled mittens). Given that the rest of my body was being kept warm and that I was moving a lot, keeping my body producing heat, my feet did stay warm in the boots, as did my head.

12:06 p.m. on September 21, 2015 (EDT)
Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
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Denis, I also heartily endorse getting out with an experienced group to start. Depending on where you will be going, the Appalachian Mountain Club is one good example. 

You can look for its trips and classes by location here:

There's not a lot posted yet for winter trips, but I know they do winter ones. For example, in Maine, some local chapters have led a series of winter hikes of advancing difficulty as a way to learn the basics.

If you join the AMC, you should also get a newsletter that lists upcoming events.

Much has been said above, but here are my top points: 

  • Layer, layer, layer: As Andrew said, it's the same idea year-round, just with more and heavier layers. Think ahead and don't let yourself get sweaty or too cold. Anticipate and do your best to keep it in balance.
  • If you have gear that will safely work to start, use that and then buy the more expensive stuff once you know what you like, prefer and really need. As you can see above winter can mean a LOT of different things and there are many gear and apparel possibilities. So, get what you need to be safe, but borrow (not safety stuff though), rent, and use what you already have when you can to start.
  • Know yourself. I run very cold. My husband runs very hot. I know I have to make my own decisions about what to bring, and so I'll bring the extra layer (or two) that he wouldn't and I'm happy I did so. I don't think I've ever regretted bringing an extra layer, but I have regretted not bringing one.
  • Bring extra gloves and hats, and make sure they're warm enough too.
  • Start with places you already know from the other three seasons (unless you're going on a led trip). It can give you an appreciation for how the terrain changes in winter and how much it affects your rate of travel and so on. Plus, I personally think it's nice to know certain places year-round.
  • If you get into winter hiking and end up doing any hiking/climbing in avalanche terrain, remember that avy safety classes are not just for skiers, but for anyone who spends time in avalanche territory.
7:12 a.m. on September 24, 2015 (EDT)
denis daly
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I think I have the layering figured out from Andrew and everyone's post..I am just ordered a Ibex Hooded Indie also to see if that would work better than the R1 hoody...I'll test them both when the snow and cold hit...I am going close to home on a few weekend trips to get things figured out..But I can hike in 10 degree here and we only get snow in January for about 2 weeks...Thanks for the post Alicia on the classes..I am seeing where I can fit it in my time off to hit a few classes...

..I am looking at the canister stove the reactor TJ has and wondering if the Wisperlight International would be better than the XGK since the XGK is for mountaineering and has no simmer? I working on these things slow..I did order some pants and puffy pants for camp..I 'll order a few new hats thicker and some new socks also this week..Tent I have an idea to go with the Soulo...

4:11 p.m. on September 24, 2015 (EDT)
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denis daly said:

..I am looking at the canister stove the reactor TJ has and wondering if the Wisperlight International would be better than the XGK since the XGK is for mountaineering and has no simmer?..

 I would not recommend either of these stoves, based on your expectations.

The reactor is a canister stove, that due to the inability to invert the canister, will cause problems in lower temperatures with the gas mixture that gets burned.  If looking at canister stoves, consider the MSR WIndPro or other models that have a fuel line connecting the burner to canister, allowing the canister to be inverted.  The WindPro is also has great simmering control.

You mentioned the MSR Whisperlite international over the MSR XKG, because of the desire to simmer.  Well The Whisperlite can be made to simmer, and one could race the Tour d' France using a folding bicycle.  Both possible, but both will prove more an encumbrance than a facilitator of your objective.  Alas the Whisperlite is a dependable workhorse water boiler.  Instead consider the MSR Dragonfly.  It is white gas, it simmers, and also put out lots of heat when needed.

9:54 a.m. on September 27, 2015 (EDT)
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Home for a few days so I've been catching up on this thread. I've noticed that denis started out asking about winter backpacking but a lot of the discussion has headed towards mountaineering safety. I'd spend a lot of time working out simple camping in the cold before worrying about climbing mountains.

To that end denis, if you can test locally it is of real benefit. I'm blessed with a back yard that provides a great place to try out different sleep system components in cold temps. Finding out what works and what doesn't with a warm house near by is safer and easier than finding out the hard way deep in the woods. If you can't test at home you might want to test things out at a car camping spot so you can fire up the heater if things go poorly.

Another thing I do just in case is bring along a few of those chemical toe warmers. Never needed to use one, but tucked in a clean sock it should make a great cuddling companion if things get colder than my insulation can handle. My limit was around -15°f last year, but I want to try some different sleep pad options and see if I can't push it lower this year.

Was a bit nippy at elevation on this last trip. Between breathing that cold air and this thread I'm starting to get excited about winter coming!

2:08 p.m. on September 27, 2015 (EDT)
andrew f. @leadbelly2550
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i think it's a misnomer to say that some stoves can operate with lower heat whereas others can't.  the MSR Whisperlite and XGK, for example, can run at low heat.  it takes some fiddling with the valve and sometimes means pumping a little extra pressure into the fuel bottle.  if you use a stove enough, you will figure it out.  others do a better job controlling that.  the stove you ultimately end up with will be a personal choice depending on your overall needs.  

1:01 p.m. on September 30, 2015 (EDT)
denis daly
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I am still researching stoves..But north 1 did a review of the XGK and Andrew is making a good point..This stove would be just for winter use only that I order.

I ordered some mittens the MH Niles Patrick has and some overmits by MLD made of Event...I am also going to order some gloves Looking and researching different ones presently...

LS I have 2 acres to test gear and stoves and I think the Hiking class would be worthwhile to learn about spruce traps...I am a believer in getting information from experienced people..Also would help me to understand the area also..

@ Otto thank you for the list it's really helpful to make gear decisions and everyone's advice.....

Thanks everyone I appreciate all the comments and advice..

May 29, 2020
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