Basic Equipment Questions

11:59 p.m. on January 7, 2010 (EST)
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Hey everyone, first post on the site. Im in the Army and have done my share of backcountry and outdoor "activities", as well as a few multi day and half week summer hikes/climbs on my own. Previously, I used most of my issued miltary kit, and, while on my trips met other people and got a chance to see what they were using.

Some of the gear that is being used definately opened my eyes and made me really take a second look at what I was carrying. (Aside from the Army, growing up I wasnt able to spend a lot of time hiking) This is kind of my first real step into the non tactical outdoors world, and I have a few questions about gear and things related to it.

I really would like to get into 4 season hiking, as I live near the Rockies and a good 7 months of the year is winter.

That being said, here is the gear I currently own so that you can build a better picture of what my limitations are:

Pack: Kifaru MMR - 4200 CI, 7lbs 4oz
SBag: Issue Sleeping Bag (two bag winter/summer system)
Mat: Self Inflating Thermarest

Stove: Jetboil
MSR Denali Ascents w/ 8" Tails
Cold Weather Boots: Neo Navigator 5's
Tent/Shelter: REI Clipper

I know thats a very basic list, but its also the main items I wouldnt usually leave without, as far as my own comfort is concerned. (Im purposely not including clothing, or safety equipment)

I like doing extended hikes, 3-8 days, and am working my gear collection up with the goal of being able to go out whatever the season, whatever the weather, any altitude (under 13,000ft).

My pack... I think is pretty heavy compared to a lot of high end civilian models. Ive been looking at the Arc - teryx Bora 95 and think it might be a good option? But maybe a guy like me doesnt need a pack like that either? I really dont know. Hopefully some of you guys have the time to share your opinions.

My sleeping bag system is good to minus 60 celcius, but weighs damn near as much as I do. So I would like to get rid of that, but still retain the ability to sleep in minus 30 celcius or better. From my limited knowledge, I want an 800 fill down bag? Not sure what companies make the best options?

My mat is the same one I bought and use in the Army. It has been fine in winter conditions up to date.

My stove, hasnt seen any real winter use. The coldest I've used it in is -5 celcius. From what I have read, it seems to be an alright option for cold weather? If there is something much better out there, Im all ears.

The overboots I have are also ones I use in the army. I usually wear a winter sock system and then my assault boots inside of the overshoe. I think they are rated to -60 as well.

My tent is my biggest concern right now. Its a 3 season by design, and Ive seen and heard of guys using it in the winter at moderate altitudes, but I dont think I trust it in conditions that could become ugly. I usually hike by myself with my dog, Im sure I'll be doing even more solo trips once I start heading out in the winter. I dont really need a large tent, just big enough for myself, the bear decoy ;) and my kit. I was looking at the Eureka Alpinelite 2xt?

Im going to apologize for how long this is. I see a lot of experience on this board and am hoping some of you have the time to offer some advice.

If there is gear that you think is a must have, then by all means please let me know.

Thanks for your time guys.

2:40 a.m. on January 8, 2010 (EST)
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I'm by no means an expert on winter camping but from what I've learned

1) that's a heavy pack (less weight usually means more comfort and more miles you can get into a day) go to a few local stores and try on some packs with weight in them, find something that is comfortable. personally i like the osprey packs. i have an aether 85 and it holds heave loads well. I've heard good things about the bora 95, a heavy pack but larger than your current witch for winter is a good thing.

2) A bag doesn't need to be an 800 fill down, they make synthetic bags with those temp ratings, all though they are larger and heavier. Feathered Friends and western mountaineering seem to be the choice of alot of people, they are light weight and well built. not to say other brands wont work just as well. find one that fits you needs of temp, weight, and price.

3) For a mat i would look at Exped DownMat's. They insulate well and are relatively light weight. only thing that might be a problem is a puncture. carrying a repair kit should cover that (duct tape allso works in a pinch).

4) that stove will not work well in colder temps. you will want to look at white gas stoves.

as always check the gear reviews here. try to checkout gear at local stores and get a feel for what you like.

3:45 a.m. on January 8, 2010 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace. There is bewildering amount of gear to consider (one of the great benefits of capitalism), but at the same time, there is almost too much. Deciding what to buy is a daunting task.

I am not that familiar with GI issue gear other than to know that it is generally designed for durability rather than light weight. Recreational gear runs the gamut from cheap stuff sold at Wal-Mart suitable only for car camping in summer to expensive expedition quality gear that could last you a lifetime.

My advice is, if possible start visiting stores like REI or spending a lot of time on the web looking at what is available. Many sites have forums like this one along with gear reviews like you will find here.

Some basic advice-

Reading something like The Complete Walker, considered the hiker's bible by many, is a good introduction to civilian camping and hiking. Read the posts in our other forums such as Backcountry and Gear Selection. There are several threads on winter gear and clothes.

For winter camping, Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book is a good introduction. You can skip the skiing part and still learn a lot about winter camping, which is much of the book.

Look for gear lists. Many of us have posted what we have in response to questions like yours. A search may turn them up either here or on other sites. Google and Yahoo Search will turn up a lot of useful sites. For winter camping, a site like www. should interest you. It focuses on a more traditional style of camping, but lots of useful information.

Think of your gear and clothing as systems-shelter, kitchen, sleeping, first aid, etc. Don't buy gear or clothes at random; get stuff that will complement what you already have.

If you are replacing your pack, buy that last. Personally, I think the Bora 95 is overkill for most applications. I had a Bora 80 and sold it. Too heavy and didn't fit me right.

NOTE: EDITED THIS SECTION AFTER READING BILL'S COMMENT BELOW. My winter camping experience is limited to Yosemite in February and the coldest it was at 7600 ft. was about 15F, which is about -10C and much warmer in the daytime. That's where I am in my picture and you can see I am lightly dressed for daytime skiing. HOWEVER, if as Bill notes, you are going to be out in -30C or colder, you will need whatever he recommends.

Canister stoves like the JetBoil do not work in very cold weather; somewhere around 20F is the limit depending on altitude. They work better the higher up you are. Something like an Optimus Nova or one of the MSR stoves that burns white gas is more suited for winter. Get a stove that will simmer if you want to actually cook something instead of just boiling water; some don't (the MSR XGK for example).

The Thermarest is fine. I have one of those. I also take a closed cell foam pad to put under it on snow. Mine is a Ridgerest, but a cheap blue foam one will do.

A number of companies make good bags, WM and Feathered Friends make excellent products from what I have read, but they are very expensive. Other people can recommend something. I have a MacPac bag, but they aren't readily available in the US.

There is used gear galore around, but be careful. EBay has a lot of counterfeit gear and clothing for sale. North Face is a popular knock-off so beware of any unusually good deals on any TNF products-cheap usually means counterfeit. There is a thread here about that.

Clothing is a whole other discussion-again, a wide range of choices in all price ranges.

12:20 p.m. on January 8, 2010 (EST)
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I do have to differ with Tom on one point - you say you live near the Rockies and want to get out in winter. Depending on how hardcore you are (and most young military types are hardcore until they get a few years under their belts), you are likely to get out in temperatures in the Rockies in the -40 range. I spent a week in the Tetons back country on a ski tour where the temperature was 0F on the warmest days, -40 or so at night, and -10 to -20 F on many of the days. I have also seen that in the Rockies in winter when visiting my son while he was in college and grad school in Colorado.

But your point about your military bag system - yeah, their double bag system is warm. BUT... as you noted, it is very heavy, and it is pretty bulky. To cut the weight down, you really are going to have to spring the bucks for an 800 fill down bag by one of a very few top quality manufacturers - Feathered Friends (my current -40 bag is from them as is my spouse's), Western Mountaineering (located almost in my back yard here in the SFBay area), Integral Designs (who also make some good synthetic bags - Primaloft is the closest to down in compressability and warmth for weight, about equal to 500 fill down), Valandre (Euro company), and a very few others. For your comparison, my FF expedition bag is 4.5 pounds. I have used it on Denali and in Antarctica on Mt Vinson, as well as in the Rockies. It is a bit overkill in the Sierra, which tends to be warmer than the Rockies (maritime air masses, vs the Arctic continental air masses you find in the Rockies).

The comment about the Jetboil not being suitable for winter is correct. It is a canister stove with the major component of the compressed gas being isobutane (vaporization temperature is +10F/-12C). Jetboil also makes the Helios, which uses an inverted canister that overcomes some of the cold weather problem. However, as the post above advised, you need to consider a white gas stove, by MSR or Primus. These work well (once you learn the "secret handshake" lighting procedures) in conditions you will find anywhere on Earth. Just don't use your stove, or any stove, inside your tent - dangers include CO poisoning and depletion of the oxygen, in addition to fire (fire in a tent is no fun at all).

Clothing is really important. As Tom said, military clothing for winter tends to be made for durability and for fighting conditions. Your boots in particular are heavier and no warmer than much lighter gear that is made for expedition use. That setup is great if you are slogging across North Korea (compare to what they had in 1953) or Afghanistan in winter. But there is much better available (at a price, of course).

Yes, you need to get something other than a 3-season tent. You should look at expedition tents for what you say you want to do. But I would actually advise starting out on a smaller scale - several weekend overnights before doing a 5 day trip. And make a couple of these in storm, going only a short distance from the car. You will be amazed at how many things can go wrong camping in a blizzard. Once you learn the little "tricks of the trade", you can stay warm, dry, and very comfortable in most winter conditions while camping. Until then, you are likely to learn a few things the hard way and be wet, cold, and really miserable, with a stove that doesn't work and ice for drinking water a few times (have a Plan B, C, and D, and a way to bail)

There is a lot more to be said. But this is long enough for now. Except, since you are in the Rockies, there are several excellent specialty mountaineering shops in the Rockies in the Springs, Boulder (Neptune is excellent), Fort Collins, and in Wyoming and Montana, plus over in Idaho and Utah. Spend some time in those shops talking to the folks there - they do this sort of thing for a living.

3:15 p.m. on January 8, 2010 (EST)
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I have edited my post to reflect Bill's comments regarding temperature. I overlooked your reference to the Rockies.

One thing I would suggest is taking a course of some kind. I took a mountaineering course years ago and learned such things as how to make a snow cave, use crampons and an ice axe and basic mountaineering. Being out with people who actually know what they are doing is invaluable. I've learned mostly by just reading and going out, but I don't go out in extreme weather and don't go very far. I limit my trips to what I consider the envelope of my experience.

One thing I learned on one of my Yosemite trips is that a three season tent without a vestibule is not a good winter tent in bad weather. I don't mean just in a heavy storm, where it would be obviously a bad choice, but even when it is doing nothing more than sleeting and snowing. Without a vestibule, you tend to let the sleet and snow into your tent and get your gear and the inside of your tent wet. Plus you have no place to put your wet stuff.

My tent is a two person tent I use by myself and I wouldn't want anything much smaller for winter. I tried it and it wasn't a pleasant experience. I suppose I would be fine in a smaller tent and have been in a tent about the size of mine (a TNF Mountain 25) with two of us but I like the extra space.

11:29 a.m. on January 10, 2010 (EST)
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Overclock, Tom D and Bill S,

Thank you for all the advice and tips. You have definately helped me in deciding on some routes to go and how to go about it. I will do a lot more reading now, I was at a point where I wanted to understand my situation and gear before I started reading and looking in the wrong places at the wrong information. You guys have saved me hours of reading.

Bill, thanks for the tip on going out in storms and staying close to the car, plus all the gear advice. I will be using your baby step method to work out my gear and equipment set ups before I take on something on a larger scale.

Tom, thanks for the references to websites and gear companies. Now I can filter through a lot of the garbage and save myself time on ebay if I decide to go that way too.

Not that it matters, but for informations sake I am in the Canadian Army, live and train in the rockies in the winter and am Mountain Ops Qualified. So as far as safety, and things to do with survival in the mentioned conditions, and shelters such as snow caves and pits, I am aware of the minimal precautions and risks.

Getting into the civilian market is a really involved step due to all the gear and brands out there. Again, thank you guys for the help, and if in my reading I find more questions, Ill come back and harass you all ;)

2:03 p.m. on January 10, 2010 (EST)
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In your case, I would definitely suggest checking out the wintertrekking site I mentioned above. Most of the members are Canadian and I think a few are ex CF. I joined just out of curiosity after learning about the site from a member of yet another site I belong to, but I've not been out in the kind of conditions they usually are (-20C to -40C). I've been out in -10C.

From your latest post, it sounds like you know far more than most people getting into winter camping, since you have your military experience, so now it's probably just a matter of picking out some gear and clothes that you like.

Since you are in Canada, look for a Mountain Equipment Co-Op store or online. They are the Canadian equivalent of REI here in the States-a big chain that sells a wide variety of gear. Canadian Tire, from what I have read, also carries some camping gear, but I'm not sure about the quality.

MEC's prices are reasonable compared to buying gear from the US and shipping it up North.

6:22 p.m. on January 10, 2010 (EST)
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Be careful what you read on the Internet - even people like Bill S can be so sloppy, like saying the Boiling point of isobutane is 10 degrees F when we all know its 10.9 which is much closer to 11. Geez...

Generally we suggest getting a pack last after you get a sleeping bag and know how much space every thing takes. Knowing your physical training level I woulds say you should just carry the large mil type pack you have for a while, the extra 3-4 pounds won't hurt you.

Boots - hiking in cold weather vs skiing or what ever, your feet spend a lot of time buried in the snow. Wear warm boots, but then you already know that. The warm civilian models are somewhat lighter and I've heard a lot of bad things about the Canadian mil winter boots. Basically you want them to be loose enough for plenty of socks but also some are only good for keeping your feet warm and you can't really hike far in them. The winter trekking group is a good place to learn about boots for your area, BUT be aware that those guys are traditionalists and if you don't want to drag a 40 pound sled you can ignore most of what they say. Have mukluks or other soft warm boots for camp, or wear your spare boot liners inside a fur mukluk or something. ALL of the Canadians on winter trekking complain about their boot liners getting soaking wet after a day and they dry them in their hot tents, this does not sound like a good system to me, note that plastic shopping bags over your socks inside your boots would keep the liners dry.

You should have learned in your training that a thin layer that covers your entire body is warmer than a heavy coat and thin leg insulation, this is why snowmobile suits work so well and aren't all that thick. Have good leg insulation and your whole body will be warmer and your feet will be much warmer because the blood arriving there will be warmer. Cabelas sells down insulated long underwear and the pants are $60, maybe two pairs would be nice yet comfortable at -40. Too many layers of clothes is really uncomfortable - three is best.

Winter tents aren't light and a "two person tent is really only a one person tent in the winter with your gear inside it. The dog probably will not be comfortable in those temps unless shes a sled dog and she may require a sleeping bag of her own. Note that if you have a bag large enough to share with her, it wouldn't have to be rated as low... the thing about down bags is that they can absorb moisture and are not as warm after a few days until you master the art of the down bag. You need to press out the warm moist air as soon as you get out of it before it cools and you then reloft it and press it out again. A tent set up in the sun with a bag "opened up" inside can dry your bag even on a cold day. A dark tent may not be as fun, but it will absorb more solar energy.

an inflatable insulated pad with a closed cell pad is the way to go, don't use 3/4 length for winter. Your dog will need her own pad.

Forget the jetboil as others have mentioned, and since the really good compressed gas winter stoves are obsoleted (they were too good and competed with junk), you will want a white gas stove.

Cookware - beware tiny pots and pans, they are not suitable for melting snow and are inefficient, carry a 2 liter pan, aluminum is cheap and light, you don't need titanium and steel is heavy. A windscreen is the most critical item to the efficiency of your cooking/melting system, it must come about half half way up your pan. Lighting a stove in extreme conditions is an art if you haven't been taught.

Getting in and out of a tent in a blizzard and storing gear with two people is the primary reason for a vestibule BUT with the correct technique a vestibule is not required and I save weight by not carrying one solo. However in a really bad blow even a vestibule is not enough without the technique. With a vestibule, and it must be large enough to get into and zip it up (Hint, digging out a hole inside the vestibule offers an increase in volume and a place to pull your boots on comfortably). So you get into the vestibule, zip it up, shake off your coat and unzip it, then open the inner door and slide into the tent and out of your coat simultaneously so that your wet coat never crosses the threshold into your tent. Without a vestibule you only unzip a small hole just big enough for you to crawl through and do the same thing. Then if you do not have a vestibule, you open a kitchen sized garbage bag and bag the coat as you pullit into the hole. Now your legs are still outside, and you "sit out" of the shells over your legs as you pull your legs into the tent and either bag thenm, or with a vestibule your coat and pants are rolled and left in the vestibule. You must be careful to either roll your coat up inside out or using a process such that the wet outer part does not contact the dry inner part. When done you are in the tent either with everything rolled in the vestibule with your coat and pants covering the tops of your boots so that wind driven snow cannot get into your boots, or you are inside with all of your outer layers and boots "bagged" and sitting in the back corner of your two person tent. Use your small towel to mop up the bit of moisture that gets in. Then and only then can you pull up your sleeping bag and sit on it with your feet wrapped up in the end of it.

Practice makes perfect.

After you get that sleeping bag and try packing it all, you will decide on the size of pack that you need. Note that large does not = heavy as long as its also $expensive. My $800 (US) spectra 6500 cubic inch pack weighs about 3.5 pounds, the same as my winter bag.

Jim S

forgot - if you have th money go for a quality single walled tent, they are much easier to set up alone, and a double walled tent can have a heavy layer of ice under it to shake off or even then will make the tent hevier after you repack it and a wet snowy tent will not ever go back into the same tight vacuum packed bag that it came out of, have an oversized tent bag. Your tent is kept strapped to the OUTSIDE of your pack so you can get to it and set it up without exposing the precious dry material inside the pack to the weather. Carry snow stakes appropriate for your snow conditions and sometimes you will need to tie out to deadmen. Having short nylon lines already tied to the stake out points facilitates this when wearing gloves or mitts in a storm. Now to properly tie to a dead man you will want about 4 foot sections of cord. You stamp a hole in the snow with your boot perpendicular to the direction of pull on the cord. Then you lay the cord across the hole, put a branch at least a foot long in the hole (again perpendicular to the direction of pull) and stamp snow down over it, then pull the loose end of the cord back over and tie it back to your tent using a tautline hitch, or to the pull out loop using a double half hitch on a bight. This way in the morning when everything is frozen in you won't need an ice axe to move your tent. You simply untie the end of the cord and pull it back out of the snow leaving the deadman in place. Trust me this is the easiest way.

You probably already understand packing a tent platform and leveling it. After stomping down the snow wait fifteen minutes for it to harden then do it again and level, then wait, then pitch your tent. Soft snow under your tent doesn't work, your elbow will sink in when you try to lean on it and holes under your tent are a drag.

12:30 p.m. on January 11, 2010 (EST)
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Since you are in Canada, be sure to check out Integral Designs. They are based in Calgary. They have been doing CF contracts for a while, so you probably have used some of their gear. The military stuff they do is more of the heavy duty, bang it around stuff, heavier in weight than the stuff they do for civilian use, where people can make the effort to take better care of thing (hard to be careful of your gear when you are running and crawling through the woods, trying to avoid missiles from the bad guys).

1:57 p.m. on January 18, 2010 (EST)
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I have not done a lot of winter camping, and very little in extreme cold, but I can offer the results of the gear that I have-

My Optimus Nova stove is an excellent stove- it is very small and light weight, will burn practically anything, extremely stable, and burns very hot.

My Thermarest prolite 3 and 15F degree Alps synthetic bag has kept me perfectly warm down to 10F (while wearing a base thermal layer & socks)

I don't know if the Alpenlite is any better, but I have the Pinnacle Pass (3 season) and I am not very happy with it at all: The "vestibules" design lets rain and snow in the tent quite easily, the tub floor isn't tall enough, the fly doesn't extend low enough resulting in a very drafty tent that still collectes lots of moisture. Grrr. I will be buying a Hilleberge as soon as I can afford it.

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