What do you wear for, "So cold I might die" weather?

2:45 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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It was -6 F this morning and I'll be skiing this weekend, camping at the mtn so I have been pondering this. 

I have yet to break it out on a climb but I keep an old, 650 fill oversized Cabela's down jacket that fits over all of my layers in the bottom of my pack "just in case." 

I also keep chemical hand warmers that I more often end up handing out to buddies. 

My final SHTF cold weather item is a neoprene face gaiter that I usually only wear on windy days skiing. 

Actually I can't remember a time when I have actually WORN all of this stuff together.  Keep hauling it or leave it?  Hmm..

3:53 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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I like to carry a little more than I need just to be sure I'm not carrying less than I need. Being able to pull out just the right item feels nice in really cold weather. Emotional security beyond just the insulation. The extra weight also keeps you warm lugging it up the mountain. :)

My TNF Hyvent insulated pants probably fit the topic. They are really too warm, even with the thigh vents open, unless it is below zero. I could leave them home most of the time, but when the wind kicks up putting them on can make a huge difference.

I also have a giant, old school TNF Nuptse which sort of makes me look like the Michelin Man. That takes up so much room in the pack that I leave it at home unless I'm expecting really frigid weather. It is great for sub zero star gazing though. Like standing around with a sleeping bag for a shirt.

4:20 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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I worked construction for a few years around Denver. We had 10 day periods when the warmest temperature was -8 F. It was around -35 each morning in the driveway starting the truck in the dark. I kept mine plugged in.

We did not wear any exotic clothes, just normal layers and kept moving. We ate 4 meals a day to keep the furnace going.  A real breakfast, warm burritos from a nice Mexican lady around 0930, two sandwich lunch and a real dinner.  By around 1300 everyone was cold and not getting much done. We built a room out of cardboard and sheet rock and put a propane heater in it. We could then warm up once in awhile.

The foreman on the job was working next door in a heated building. He complained that our progress was slow. I showed him a US Army manual showing the decline in work efficiency with declining temperatures. He let up some after that, but we never worked in the heated building.

Then I moved to Wyoming and lived at 7,200 feet. It was even colder. We used to x-c ski every weekend no matter what the weather. Hard green wax went on in the fall and stayed on all winter.  Living in Nevada is like being in the Tropics.

The cold is relative to what you are used to. It is partly mental. People adapt better than they think they will.  Remember to check your friends for frost bite.

6:01 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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Over the years I have found out exactly what I need to wear to survive in extremely cold temps. The coldest I have done is -36F I believe. This is typically what I have with me on a deep winter trip, and more or less the order I will layer them in

Head: Smartwool balaclava, smartwool cuffed beanie, a primaloft hood from an old hunting jacket

**my favorite item for the head is that old detachable hood. Super warm, light, and I don't have a bunch of stuff all over the front of my face which I generally dislike.

Hands:  Marmot stretch wrist gaiters, smartwool liners, fingerless/mitt fleece gloves, OR flurry wool gloves, OR gortex shell mitts.

**favorite hand item is by far the wrist gaiters. my hands stay warm down to pretty frigid temps with just the gaiters and the fleece fingerless/mitts

Torso: capaline 3 l/s shirt, UA 1/4zip coldgear pullover, ww2 GI wool sweater, pantagonia nano puff, waxed cotton down jacket, ECWCS gortex parka

**I only use the goretex parka when its really foul weather, and typically only while actively moving. The waxed cotton down jacket is my primary in camp outer garmet of choice.

Legs: capaline 2 long johns, winter weight bdu pants, cabelas down long johns, ECWCS gortex pants

**I love the cabelas down pants, cheap, and super warm. Especially for sleeping in(makes those midnight leaps for the potty much more tolerable)

Feet: darn tough liner socks, and mountaineering socks, Muck Arctic sport boots, OR croc gaiters

**I have taken a huge liking to the Muck arctic sport boots. When combined with the croc gaiters I have no fear of them getting torn up. I buy a size larger than typical, and add an additional insole to make them more comfortable for hiking in.

Unless I am in major negative temps, a lot of the middle layer type items stay in the pack, mainly the wool sweater, the down pants, and the nano puff, balaclava, and additional gloves. The only real item I carry that I would consider my backup reserve item would be the wool sweater. It sees little use but adds substantial warmth when layered. Most all of my other items see frequent use in some form or fashion on any given trip.

I too usually have some hand warmers, and one of my favorite items... insole foot warmers! I don't use them frequently but they are nice on occasion.

If all else fails there is always breaking out the down quilts

 

 

 

 

 

 

6:32 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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-36?  Respect!

6:54 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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I've only done two trips in the -30s, done quite a few though where it dipped down into the -20s. Most frequently the coldest I ever see is maybe -10.

The hardest part of that specific trip was devising a way to stay warm enough while sleeping. I didn't want to wear every single layer to bed, so I ended up with just the capaline, a fleece pullover, the nano puff, and the down pants.

I was using my hammock so I used my normal winter quilt, with a 15F bag cocooned over the entire hammock. Two nalgenes of boiling water in my mountaineering socks, and I surprised myself and slept like a baby!

And Juno, my Siberian husky had her freaking paws in the air when I woke up in the morning...If only I could have gotten a picture of that lol. It was so cold that my iphone refused to cooperate.

7:01 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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I used to think I was a hardman for camping when it was zero F.  I stand corrected. 

7:37 p.m. on January 12, 2017 (EST)
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-36!!! I woke up to +20 Wednesday morning in the Smokies and I used a pocket hand warmer to get my boots warmed up before I got out of my bag! You all know how to make a man feel bad

8:44 a.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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In the lower 48 my coldest trip was a post Xmas ski mountaineering S/N traverse of the Sierra.  The high passes were cold beyond range of our thermometer (-20), but we estimated it was only somewhat colder.  The winds certainly made it tougher.  The trip was three weeks.  The lasting memory is an acquired dislike of mint, specifically Kendal Mint Cake.  The trip leader had a policy: one whole Kendal Cake per day per person.  Yet I still lost 15 pounds, and was cut to begin with. 

I tolerate cold better than most.  This trip my in-camp layers were two balaclavas on top and a alpaca scarf.  my torso layers were two x-ped weight L-john tops, a fleece crew, a light weight down jacket, and a 60/40 parka soft shell.  My legs wore an x-ped weight L-john, cycling tights, down bib pants, and a hard sheet pant.  In camp my hands were covered by a thin glove, a wool XC glove and a fleece lined Goretex "flipper" outer mitt.  My on trail hand s usually used ski gloves, but I also had fashioned some gloves similar to contemporary ice tech gloves that were used when up close and personal with the snow and ice.  My feet were shod in the double sock fashion of the day, and I wore double boots with gaiters.  In the tent and cave I used the felt boot liners as booties.  And when asleep I retired to a -20 bag.  The only change I would have made was taking a warmer bag, but since I oversize my cold bags I just wore my down layers to bed and was toasty.

I have done a few high altitude trips in Alaska and Peru that were quite colder.  I was never warm once we got up high.  We used trekking snorkels to preheat the air we breathed.  Our outer wear was x-ped down parkas and pants.  Our footwear was army artic "Mickey Mouse" boots.  exposed flesh was minimal; face masks and gloves worn almost continuously.  One trip we were informed it would probably be well below -40.  On that trip we did have a -40 thermometer and it was pegged also.  I have a theory that no amount of garments can achieve the r-factor necessary keep a human warm in these conditions.  Oddly enough the weather could turn nice, and you'd roast in your tent, albeit the slightest breeze would require bundling up to venture outside even though you are sweating in the tent.

Ed

8:54 a.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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In summary

No cotton

Don't sweat

No exposed skin

Look out for conduction.

We were skiing up around Winter Park, CO one fine day near Frazier, CO at high elevation. The thermometer read -48 F. There were no tracks on the state highway. 
We got some runs in in the afternoon after the temperature rose 40 degrees up to around -9 F.  We didn't stay out more than about 2 hours at a time.

Somebody like North will chime in about the time it was minus twenty teen million.  The cold becomes dangerous when it is below zero and it should be treated with respect.

1:15 p.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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I have little experience with such temps and so I don't really own the super duper cold weather gear. I just keep adding layers of stuff. The most top layers I can recall wearing might be two wool base layers, a fleece, a windshirt, a down sweater, and a rain jacket.

 

The coldest (that I'm sure of the temp) was in the Smokies in November, during the artic blast or whatever they called it that year, and it was -8F or so. It didn't get much above zero for about 3 days of a 9 day trip.

I imagine I've experienced wind chill effects below that though. I remember a couple trips (with no balaclava) that I could not stand the wind on my face and I had to stow my trekking poles so I could walk with my mitten covered hands over my face.

 

5:16 p.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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In order to eliminate exposed skin, a balaclava helps with a silk or wool scarf. Ski googles are great for riding snowmobiles, skiing or ATVs in the cold. It is best to have thin glove liners and then heavier gloves or mitts.  The rest of the clothing is pretty standard except for foot wear. I like Sorrels with felt liners. Nylon pants can be good in a lot of snow.

6:25 p.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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Oh yes, my 'Pound sand, Winter!' clothing...

I add an R1 balaclava, a fat down coat, some full-zip synthetic pants, and pac boots. I also have a pair of those massive army surplus mitts with the leather palm, fleece back and removable liner. 

I have to wait 'till it's -20F or something like that to wear it, because yoopers are hard-ass folk and I don't want 'em thinking I'm sissy.

8:55 p.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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My absolute coldest cold weather clothing is as follows:

BASE LAYER-> Cabela's Polar weight polyester long johns W zip T-neck top or Cabela's Power Dry gridded fleece long johns.

MID LAYER-> 300 weight fleece pants, 200 weight fleece lined nylon shirt, 200 weight fleece vest, Thermolite Micro synthetic fiber insulated jacket and pants (Or light down jacket and pants if I am to be more stationary)

OUTER LAYER-> EMS Gore-Tex mountain parka, fleece lined, Himalayan knit wool "Andean" style hat, Turtle Fur neck/face collar &/or neoprene face mask and goggles if very windy or alpine skiing

FEET-> thin poly liner sock, 3 mm closed cell neoprene divers sox VBL, Sorel felt pacs, GTX knee-high gaiters (The VBL Vapor Barrier Liner keeps all sweat out of the boot liner and adds a lot of insulation as well - more than heavy wool socks.)

HANDS-> Thin poly glove liners, heavy version Dachstein boiled wool mittens, OR GTX nylon mitten shells. (Glove liners are for briefly handling items like cameras, etc.) 

That setup has been tested to -40 F. and I was nicely warm. I did put my parka hood over my hat when I was standing around.

Face it, winter clothing is just heavy by necessity. If buying down items try to get DWR treated down like Dri Down or Down Tek to keep body moisture absorption to a minimum. My LL Bean -20 winter sleeping bag is Down Tek treated as is my EB soon vest.

Eric B.

9:28 p.m. on January 13, 2017 (EST)
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apologies in advance for the length of this - it's an issue i have dealt with for a long time.  the coldest i have camped out in is minus 30.  wind chills in the -60-70 range.  it happens in the Northern Presidentials in New Hampshire on a reasonably regular basis.  if you were up there right now, as i type this, it's -11 with 75 mile per hour winds on the summit.  

i have a pair of scarpa invernos, plastic boots with a high altitude closed cell foam liner.  with expedition-weight socks (i prefer smartwool and bridgedale's heaviest socks), they are good to minus 20.  any colder, i add a thin liner sock and a pair of vapor barrier liners between the liner and the thick sock.  make sure your boots can deal with the extra volume.  if they can, vapor barriers are a good solution.  (mine are from Stephenson, a quirky company, but their VBL socks are nice).  if they don't have extra room, adding the liners will work against you and impair your circulation.  so it's worth figuring this out before you head out.  

footwear has really evolved for me.  when i was a babe in the woods, i used a pair of insulated super gaiters with leather boots, then a pair of overboots (mountain hardwear absolute zero.  still have them.  mountain hardwear absolute zero.  ridiculously warm.  very bulky.  abominably difficult to use with crampons - can't use step-ins with them, and i used to spike the overboots and trip at least a couple of times per winter.  i haven't tried or needed the integrated high-altitude climbing boots, like the millet or la sportive ones, but they would be a far better choice than those overboots. and too much boot for all but a few.  on the other hand, if i were not climbing and out on snowshoes all day, i would still consider pairing my regular leather hiking boots with the overboots.  most of the time, i can't absolutely say i won't use crampons, though.  

moving around, even in extreme cold, my legs overheat in puffy pants.  so unless i'm sitting still, i wear expedition weight long johns and fleece pants under shell pants if it's really cold; if i'm sitting still, i like patagonia's synthetic puff pants. haven't had great luck with down-filled pants - open to ideas, but synthetic puff has worked better for me for bottoms.

if i'm moving around, i wear a couple of layers of fleece (or a layer plus patagonia's nano-air, which is kind of like fleece) under a shell, or fleece under a soft shell under a hard shell.  love patagonia's R1 hoody in very cold weather because i it fits well under other layers, and i can pull the hood over a balaclava and zip the neck up high - has an offset zipper that doesn't hassle your face.  i like being able to drop the hard shell but still have some wind barrier with the soft shell if i'm really working hard, or if the wind isn't so bad.  sitting still, i have a big down jacket.  last couple of years, that has been Eddie Bauer/First Ascent's Peak XV.  A heavyweight, for both warmth and durability.  but, any baffled down jacket performs well.  still have my old mountain hardwear sub-zero jacket, and it's still a good practical solution, though neither the lightest or easiest to move around in.  i think it's essential that your down jacket have a well-insulated hood in really cold weather.  on my head, i combine a balaclava with a hat.  oddly enough, most of my favorite hats for super-cold weather seem to have been discontinued.  i have an old patagonia hat with smooth outer fleece but thick looped fleece on the inside, contoured with not-quite ear flaps.  not wind-resistant but super warm under a hood.  same for a North Face hat that is thick fuzzy fleece, similar texture to Mountain Hardwear's monkey man jacket or patagonia's R3 fleece, but heavier weight.  also no wind resistance, so far warmer under a hood.  truly awful wind, i'll wear mountain hardwear's dome perignon over a balaclava or a hat and balaclava - not a very thick fleece hat, but it's wind block fleece and fits well over other things.  added bonus, the wind block layer actually filters out noise.  hard to hear your friends, but if the wind is howling, it's helpful.  

hands, outdoor research's alit-mitts are great, roomy enough for a glove liner too, and i like black diamond's guide glove if i want a little more ability to do stuff with my hands.  

i used to have a neoprene face mask; good for extreme cold but i thought it was too tight and uncomfortable, always felt like i was going to get smothered, particularly at the end of a day with a mass of frozen moisture blocking half the holes covering my mouth.  i do a two-part solution now - a neck buff with fleece in the back and wind block fleece in the front, paired with an outdoor research face mask that has wind block fleece only covering your nose and cheeks, with an opening near your nostrils.  

9:02 a.m. on January 14, 2017 (EST)
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Me?  I wear a house in those conditions.

12:37 p.m. on January 15, 2017 (EST)
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Bill makes an excellent point. When it is really cold it is no fun and you can die out there.

1:29 p.m. on January 15, 2017 (EST)
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No fun is relative I guess. You definitely have to be properly prepared and be able to smile/laugh off a little discomfort at times. I could get hit by a gravel truck tonight on the way to dinner with some friends, death is always a possibility.

If you plan and prepare properly, to include possible worst case scenarios. Then you will be fine. Its when you don't have a contingency plan for when things go wrong that you can find yourself in a world of trouble.

1:55 p.m. on January 15, 2017 (EST)
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For the man sound of body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every day has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously. George Gissing

It is true that you can die out there, but you can also live. Being alone in the snow for days without fire other than a stove nor shelter other than a tent gives you a chance to live in ways that a person safe and warm on the couch in front of the TV will never know.

2:08 p.m. on January 15, 2017 (EST)
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Where's the like button! =P

2:33 p.m. on January 16, 2017 (EST)
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i have seen things and critters in the dead of winter that i never would have encountered otherwise.  (No Yeti so far).  It's definitely worth the transient discomfort for me.  I'm still sporting all my fingers and toes, which I consider to be a victory.  

3:32 p.m. on January 16, 2017 (EST)
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Winter camping - No bugs. No people. Beautiful, snow covered wildness, even in a local woods. Perfect!

The more experience you have and the better suited your gear for sub-zero temps the more you will enjoy what the old writer Calvin Rostrum called "Paradise Below Zero" in the title of his winter camping book. It's a classic.

BUT, if you want the very best book on winter camping buy the little paperback titled 

"Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book". The text and illustrative cartoon-like drawings give you the best info available on winter camping and travel. Despite its title about 2/3 of the book is about winter camping. This book is a gem.

If you don't already have it you need this little book.

Eric B.

4:41 p.m. on January 16, 2017 (EST)
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Camping in winter is one thing. Camping at -40F is bullshit.

6:41 p.m. on January 16, 2017 (EST)
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LoneStranger said:

For the man sound of body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every day has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously. George Gissing

It is true that you can die out there, but you can also live. Being alone in the snow for days without fire other than a stove nor shelter other than a tent gives you a chance to live in ways that a person safe and warm on the couch in front of the TV will never know.

There certainly is a such thing as bad weather - me thinks Gissing has never been up high, or to the poles, or on the open ocean...

As for experiencing the cool side of life: most folks are fine avoiding extreme cold.  Having been there multiple times my permanently numb digits concur with them, I must be crazy to consider fun stepping off into climates colder than my home deep freezer.

Ed

9:42 p.m. on January 16, 2017 (EST)
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My most extensive exposure to cold was a trip to Denali thirty years ago..  Minus 20 was routine, although usually in bright sunlight.  The coldest we experienced was a minus 80 windchill, which was indeed a bit frosty.  I wore a Patagonia Guide parka (integral insulated layer) and a lot of polyester fleece beneath Goretex outer pants.  When not climbing, we wore Mickey Mouse boots, which were incredibly warm.  My plastic shell boots were OK as long as you were moving, otherwise into the down slippers!

6:42 p.m. on January 17, 2017 (EST)
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I've camped numerous times to minus 25 and maybe minus 30 but not colder. I can be quite comfortable to minus ten or so just hanging around camp. And many times I trucked camp.

I've almost always worn wool pants and either surplus long johns or polypro long johns but have also worn silk lj's but they don't equal the previous two.

Poly pro liner socks and wool socks, insulated boots of some nature, Mickey or whatever.

Poly pro or wool lj top with wool and down above.

Hats-almost always homemade wool. I seldom wear a hood.

Gloves and mitts vary but usually surplus and wool or just deerskin.

I prefer to wear a stretchable ear muff band around my neck to prevent cold breezes.

When truck camping which allows one to bring along all sorts of stuff, I usually brought a 30 gallon drum with holes punched in it low and high and kept a smoldering fire going and on top of that placed a grill and kept water warm for tea, coffee, soup or cocoa anytime I wanted it. I could sit there in my folding chair as happy as a lark.

Sleeping bags varied between North Face Ibex [ mummy down] or surplus synthetic. I slept in the truck [van] with windows and door open to prevent condensation from breath freezing but put bug screens over the openings to prevent snow blowing in.

An advantage of having a truck at hand besides being able to carry much assortment of everything when desired but I could disappear into the woods for the day and have a ready dry, if also still frozen, camp to come back to.

ALSO-I believe I read somewhere on Trailspace yesterday that someone was seeking a wool balaclava-if so I saw in the last hour Sportsman's Guide has a wool/nylon blend balaclava on sale!

8:40 p.m. on January 17, 2017 (EST)
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What do I wear in the "so cold I may die range"? A whole lot of down!

Coldest I've seen was -54f on the top of Mt.Washington, with wind gusts of up to 97 mph which made it feel even colder. Luckily got to stay inside the observatory that night. 

Coldest I've ever camped in was -51C. It was cold enough that even moving felt like a chore. Kinda scary that your body shuts down like that. It becomes a mental game at that point, forcing yourself to do some jumping jacks or push ups. 

Luckily have all my digits still, although I got some pretty bad frostbite on the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. They are extremely sensitive to temperatures now, both hot and cold. 

9:44 p.m. on January 18, 2017 (EST)
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Shug has a video of hammock hanging in northern Minnesota during a polar vortex. His digital thermometer crapped out at -60F.

I just don't have any interest in going much below freezing.

10:12 p.m. on January 19, 2017 (EST)
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OK, minus 50 is VERY dangerous weather.

Even at -40 F. you can get frostbite in your trachea and upper lungs with heavy exertion/breathing. I've experienced -40 F. for two hours on XC skis as a Patroller for the 1979 Pe-Olympics and that was as cold as I want to go. 

->SLEEPING: But in a sheltered nighttime sleeping situation I am pretty sure that in my new LL Bean -20 F. down bag I could be comfortable to -30 F. wearing my down jacket and pants, a good balaclava and my Psolar breathing mask and probably down booties. Protecting your face in these temps is important not only for comfort but to avoid frostbite. *In frigid temperatures I also wear thin poly glove liners for total sleeping comfort.

->KITCHEN: In subzero temps you are definitely NOT going to drink from a titanium mug or eat with a ti utensil. Plastic is your friend.

 In these temps I could get by with my Sidewinder Caldera Cone with its Inferno woodturning insert for extra combustion heat. But I'd rather have my MSR Whisperlite Universal stove in white gas mode. It's totally reliable.

6:54 a.m. on January 20, 2017 (EST)
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TheRambler said:

No fun is relative I guess. You definitely have to be properly prepared and be able to smile/laugh off a little discomfort at times. I could get hit by a gravel truck tonight on the way to dinner with some friends, death is always a possibility.

If you plan and prepare properly, to include possible worst case scenarios. Then you will be fine. Its when you don't have a contingency plan for when things go wrong that you can find yourself in a world of trouble.

I can plan.  I can prepare.  I can be prepared.  But I spent 20 years in the Army, so I no longer need to be practice to be miserable out in the weather.

9:40 a.m. on January 20, 2017 (EST)
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Thanks to Bill.

4:12 p.m. on January 20, 2017 (EST)
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As i said, "no fun" is relative. Some of my best and most enjoyable trips have been in the heart of winter in conditions where many dare not even consider the idea of venturing out.

If you don't have a good time doing such things... well, don't.

Hike your own hike , to each their own and all that jaz.

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