Supplementing my -20 F. down mummy bag

8:08 p.m. on December 12, 2017 (EST)
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I may have a chance to go to either Montana or North Dakota this winter. If so I'll have the opportunity to test my -20 F. LL Bean 750 fill goose down bag. 

So... if I go up to the Great White North I want to sleep in -40 F. weather - in my -20 F. bag. Yeah, a 20 F. problem.

My avatar shows me in my Eddie Bauer down "sweater", which I could wear in my bag. I've tried it and there is no problem with copmressing either bag or jacket.

Now I'd like to add Montbell's lightest down pants as well. Haven't bought them yet but I'm close. I do have synthetic Thermolite Ultra insulating pants but naturally, they are much heavier and bulkier.

My clothing "sleep system" for -40 F. in my -20 F. bag:

1. Polar weight polyester base layer 

2. polyester fleece balaclava

3. PSOLAR breathing mask (to warm inhaled air & protect my nose/chin areas)

4. heavy wool/acrylic sleeping socks over thin polypropylene liner socks 

5. above mentioned down puffy layer

6. thin polyester liner gloves (yeah, it really helps)

-> I think this would be enough extra clothing since the bag has a great collar and hood, with elastic draw cords on each.

BTW, my experience in these cold temps, like the -22F. I've camped in, is that a pee bottle is an absolute necessity. I'm now looking for a wide mouth collapsible bottle with a VERY secure lid. (Anyone know of such a thing?)

Eric B.

9:43 p.m. on December 12, 2017 (EST)
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Eric, you'll want to look into a wide mouth collapsible bottle. I've used one, though not for the specifc purpose you list, and I thought it had a great lid.

2:06 a.m. on December 13, 2017 (EST)
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Pillowthread,

Where can I find this collapsable wide-mouth bottle? What is the brand?

3:00 a.m. on December 13, 2017 (EST)
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Ha. That's funny. I meant to write that part. Nalgene made the one I have.

3:46 a.m. on December 13, 2017 (EST)
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That set up may get you to -40, depending on both how accurate your bag's rating is and if you are a warm sleeper.  But if you are a cold sleeper you may need more than a puffy weight clothing layer.

I found I could not sleep wearing a breather mask.  My solution was a plush alpaca scarf.

Also eating right before bed will help generate heat while you sleep and digest.

Ed

10:33 a.m. on December 13, 2017 (EST)
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Most normal humans except Arctic explorers have no interest in sleeping outside when it is -40 dgrees F.  The Mandans, Aricira, and Hidatsas built some very intersting underground earth insulated shelters for places like ND and Sask.  They used fires for warmth.  I would build a lean to and heat it with wood if the materials were available. 

If your trip is longer than a couple of days, moisture accumulates rapidly in your sleeping bag and decreases the effeciency of your insulation.  Being able to warm the bag and dry it out is very important. 

I have slept in the back of a pick up that was carpeted and somewhat insulated in Colorado at around -20 with no problems.  In the truck it never got that cold. 

4:46 p.m. on December 13, 2017 (EST)
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pine,

My bLL Bean -20 F. bag has DWR treated down (DownTek) so it absorbs 30% less moisture than untreated down. But there's still that pesky 70% of absorption to deal with. That moisture accumulation in the sleeping bag is why I plan to get a pajama pattern at a fabric store and make a pants and shirt Vapor Barrier Liner of light, waterproof silnylon.

With this VBL I can wear a puffy down layer over it and keep (most) moisture out of my bag. Much easier to beat off frost from the inside of this suit than trying to dry a sleeping bag every morning and evening. Often the weather is not conducive to drying a bag.

Eric B.

12:57 p.m. on December 16, 2017 (EST)
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Everyone has different ideas of what is best.  I have never liked layers that don't breathe.  I do not like bivvys, rain gear and even Goretex.  For blankets wool is superior.  If kept dry there are great insulating layers in your clothing and bedding. 

Using a vapor barrier to me is too much like wearing a wet suit in warm weather. Clammy. Yuk.

2:21 a.m. on December 17, 2017 (EST)
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ppine,

I agree a VBL suit is clammy. But the alternative for multiple nights in sub-zero temps is having your sleeping bag get progressively damper and progressively colder (and heavier). So I'll take clammy and warm over cold any day.

Eric B.

10:17 a.m. on December 17, 2017 (EST)
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When tent camping I use a VBL for my head to keep my hat from frosting up, but don't use a full body layer. Instead I've found using a synthetic quilt over my down quilt moves the frost line beyond the down. When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is compress the down to force out as much of the moist air as possible before it has a chance to cool down. Then I take the synthetic outside and shake off the frost that has formed on the outside.

This has worked for multiple night trips with sub zero temps, but I have never pushed it so don't know the limits. For a week or longer I think I'd go with a full body VBL, even with my quilts, just to be safe. Be careful of whatever parts will be sticking out. I woke up with some icy eyes on a 16°F morning a few weeks ago while testing out a hammock system because I didn't have my hat with the fold down flap to cover them. Everything else was toasty warm, too warm at times actually, but those crunchy eye lids hurt in the morning heh. Be safe, have fun, take pics if your batteries work!

11:52 a.m. on December 17, 2017 (EST)
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Drying out the bag is the other option.  I like to have fires in the cold with a lean-to.  It is a tried and true method.

1:26 p.m. on December 17, 2017 (EST)
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My system is similiar to LS. I use a synthetic over bag over top of a down sleeping bag. It moves the dew point out from the down. My overbag uses a Gore wind stopper membrane so it allows enough moisture to get out. As soon as I’m out of the bag I roll it from foot to head to get any warm moist air out. Do this a couple times and youll be fine. Let it freeze out side the overbag or bivy (if you use one, I havnt found one that lets enough moisture out) and just brush it off. Between that and airing out the bag, on top of my tent usually, and letting the sun do it’s magic, the systems has worked for me up to six nights without any noticeable loss of performance. 

4:16 p.m. on December 17, 2017 (EST)
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Thanks for the tip about compressing the bag while it's still warm to vent the moist air out before it freezes in the bag. That should help a lot when I don't use a VBL suit.

At BPL someone suggested the Stephenson's Warmlite VBL suit. I'll take a look at it before I order the silnylon to make my own suit.

Eric B.

4:30 p.m. on December 17, 2017 (EST)
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LoneStranger said:

When tent camping I use a VBL for my head to keep my hat from frosting up, but don't use a full body layer. Instead I've found using a synthetic quilt over my down quilt moves the frost line beyond the down. When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is compress the down to force out as much of the moist air as possible before it has a chance to cool down. Then I take the synthetic outside and shake off the frost that has formed on the outside.

LoneStranger describes an advanced skill, pushing the frost line beyond the insulating layers.  Often a simple, breathable tarp sheet does the trick; the frost condenses to the outer surface.  You shake it off in the morning.  Compressing loft before it has the chance to chill and freeze retained moisture is also very effective. 

At some point severe cold makes it impossible to push the frost line out of the loft.  I found this the case at ~ -30F, but it may be a function of several factors: the temp, breeze (if present), and the amount of loft in your sleeping bag.

Ed  

2:05 p.m. on December 19, 2017 (EST)
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for more than a few nights in subzero weather, i use a vapor barrier bag liner. https://www.campmor.com/c/vapor-barrier-liner-regular-41360?gclid=CjwKCAiAjuPRBRBxEiwAeQ2QPrC1evP210k64KIKZnPrkox7_dREio5erY6kkH09oJ8kgqBE9Z84PhoC_j8QAvD_BwE i wear light long johns inside it. sleeping in a vapor barrier is an acquired taste because it can feel uncomfortably moist at first. but, it avoids having evaporation from your body freeze in the insulation of your bag. moisture still escapes your mouth and can, over time, create an icy 'collar' around the opening for your face at the top of the bag. having a scarf or buff over your mouth helps with that.

because most of my trips in the cold are long weekends, though, i don't bother b/c there isn't enough time for moisture to compromise the insulation. 

i will, however, use vbl socks (stephenson makes good ones, if you are willing to seal the seams yourself).  https://www.warmlite.com/product/vapor-barrier-socks/  

8:44 p.m. on December 20, 2017 (EST)
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Andrew,

My LL Bean -20 F. bag has DWR treated down (Down Tek) and I wonder how well it will do over 4 or 5 days of sub-zero night time temperatures at 9,000 ft. 

I'll be airing it our morning and evening so some frost may sublimate off directly into vapor.

Eric B.

11:33 p.m. on December 22, 2017 (EST)
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Each year, I look forward to the coldest nights here in MN to test out different sleeping arrangements. Currently, I use a Big Agnes Crosho -20F bag with downtek. I notice that for most bags, the comfort rating is going to be 15* above the rating - which mine is. 

To supplement the sleep system in really cold weather (-10*F or more), I find that doubling the ground pads is essential. The compressed down on the bottom of your bag is going to allow your warmth to transfer quickly toward the ground. I over-inflate the bottom pad and under-inflate the top pad. This way, the bottom pad adds a thick air pocket as a base layer. The under inflated second layer allows your bag to sink into it. This envelopes your bag's sides, locking in more warmth. (The highest R-value pad I have is a 6.6 so I can't rely solely on one pad)

The second thing I do, is I always put my bag in a bivy. This adds about 15*F of warmth for less than a pound. 

The third thing that I have found that works extremely well is using a full body suit in the bag. The one piece suits allow the warmth to flow more freely from top to bottom. 

I used to use a blaze orange insulated hunting suit. I have since traded it in for an insulated fleece body suit used as an insulator for dry suit diving in frigid waters. It's fantastic. 

The last thing that I think goes a long way is a good draft collar. The more heat you can lock in, the better. Nowadays, if I have a bag that has a lackluster collar, I make my own down collar and sew it into the bag. They really have made a big difference in my bags for just a few ounces more weight. 
20171222_201728.jpg
20171222_201459.jpgI wish you luck. I've only slept in -50*F once. All night I head loud booms all around me. The trees were freezing, expanding, and bursting. It was a fantastic and unique experience. 



12:28 a.m. on December 23, 2017 (EST)
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I totally forgot- and I'd love to hear input on this one- I always inflate my pads with a trash bag in winter so as to not get any water vapor in them. As a science teacher I always tell my students that water conducts heat 20X more than air. I think if you blow up your pad with your breath, you create an immense heat sink. 

My brother-in-law thinks I'm nuts but each time we go camping in the winter, he complains about freezing at night whereas I'm usually toasty warm with the same rated bag. 

If you question the amount of water you put into a pad by blowing it up, try blowing up a balloon and letting the air out about 3-4 times. Look at how much water accumulates in the balloon. 

5:59 a.m. on December 23, 2017 (EST)
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Jessie, it is a common practice among mountaineers to use a sleep mat solution consisting of a winter duty blue foam pad and a inflatable pad.  The blue foam has good R-value and is not vulnerable to punctures.  I prefer the blue foam on top of the inflatable pad, but others may prefer otherwise.

I am not sure if I agree with your water vapor issues.  Frozen water combined with air (i.e. snow) is a superior shelter against the cold.  But I must admit I do not know if this concept applies to sleeping mats. 

Ed

11:20 a.m. on December 23, 2017 (EST)
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I have had good success using a canvas bed tarp in cold weather.  It keeps the frost off and is easy to dry out.  It holds the bed together, which often includes wool blankets in addition to a down bag, a foam pad and a Thermarest.  I have gotten up many times with heavy frost and 3-6 inches of snow and stayed warm. 

Extra insulation under the bag is very important in really cold weather whether on the ground or on a cot. 

11:23 a.m. on December 23, 2017 (EST)
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I have had good success using a canvas bed tarp in cold weather.  It keeps the frost off and is easy to dry out.  It holds the bed together, which often includes wool blankets in addition to a down bag, a foam pad and a Thermarest.  I have gotten up many times with heavy frost and 3-6 inches of snow and stayed warm. 

Extra insulation under the bag is very important in really cold weather whether on the ground or on a cot. 

I remember a ten day elk hunting trip in Colorado at 10,800 feet. It snowed part of nearly every day. It was below zero most nights.  We were saved by the wood stoves in the wall tents and could dry out our bedding. 

2:10 p.m. on December 23, 2017 (EST)
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space was around my legs. 

Q: is there an inflator made for Thermarest?

I know Jesse is correct about breath vapor in the self-inflating mattresses defeating its insulating value. And it only gets worse every day. 

Eric B.

3:12 p.m. on December 23, 2017 (EST)
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The Instaflator works on Thermarest valves but I didn't like the fact that in bad weather you pretty much had to get out of the shelter to inflate the pad. I use a compactor bag and homemade valve system now and can stay inside the tent and still inflate it easily.

10:28 p.m. on December 24, 2017 (EST)
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Hey Phil, can you post a photo of the inflator and explain yer home made valve system?

Eric B.

11:31 a.m. on December 25, 2017 (EST)
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i don't have a great sense of how long it takes for water vapor to seriously compromise the insulating value of a sleeping bag; as i noted, i have a vapor barrier bag liner that i use for anything more than a long weekend in seriously cold temperatures. My experience tells me that at some point, the vapor you emit while you sleep works its way outbound, and the closer it gets to the exterior of the bag, the more likely that water vapor will freeze in the middle of the insulation.

Andrew Skurka wrote a good article about the benefits of vapor barriers. definitely worth reading if you are considering this option. https://andrewskurka.com/2011/vapor-barrier-liners-theory-application/ 

i use two closed cell foam pads in the winter - a pair of ridge rest solar pads. that gets me to an R value of 7, which I think is workable for really cold weather. i carry a US military bivy bag but don't normally sleep in it because it traps moisture emerging from the bag. fortunately, i have never had to use it to sleep out in the winter, but i like knowing it is strapped to my pack.

i use a -40 down bag for truly frigid weather, Mountain Hardwear Ghost. it has a waterproof/breathable shell and a ton of  800 fill power down. the outer shell adds some weight, but it also deflects moisture buildup on the inside of your tent in the winter, or if you accidentally spill your hot chocolate or water bottle. great bag when the thermometer bottoms out in New England. comes with a compression stuff sack that you need - even with that, it's space-eater in your backpack. look for sales, because a good -40 down bag will set you back financially. 

2:55 p.m. on December 25, 2017 (EST)
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300winmag said:

Hey Phil, can you post a photo of the inflator and explain yer home made valve system?

Eric B.

 The Instaflator isn't on the market any longer, but you can see what it looked like in this review

https://www.trailspace.com/gear/other/the-instaflator/#review32721

You can make your own adapter and use any garbage bag or even use just the bag with no adapter. I inflate our big BA insulated pad using the garbage bag I wrap the big synthetic quilt up in. Shake the bag to inflate, wrap the open end around the inflation point and squeeze it under my arm like a bagpipe.

4:34 p.m. on December 29, 2017 (EST)
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Here's something you may find interesting. I wondered how much of a difference a 4 season tent would make. I have a Marmot Sanctum 2. I took mine out 2 days ago on a solo trip to test it in -20*+ weather up north. Here are the results:

I pitched on a sky ledge along section 13 of the Superior Hiking Trail. The outside temperature was -20*F. Inside of the tent, it was 12.6*F. That's a 32.6*F difference! I always assumed a 4 season tent added about 15*; I guess I was wrong. They make a big difference. 

My assumption is that there was more like a 35* temp differential. The -20*F reading was for the nearest town. The backcountry is normally a few degrees colder. (I tried  putting my digital thermometer outside of the tent for a few minutes to get an accurate reading but it was too cold and the battery wouldn't work; thus the phone reading)

With that said, I'd say that a good 4 season tent should not be overlooked when thinking of how to supplement your cold weather sleep system. 
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20171227_200346.jpg

20171227_174254.jpg



5:17 p.m. on December 29, 2017 (EST)
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Eric

Just saw your post...here is my home made trash compactor bag inflator...

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/backcountry/topics/186315.html#186315

5:44 p.m. on December 29, 2017 (EST)
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If you add the vapor barrier to the inside of your bag, do you just burn off the extra moisture in your clothing in the morning after you get up and move around? Does the moisture draw away your heat? You know how Bear Grylls or Les Stroud always say wet=danger in the cold. I've never tried it since I keep my breathing outside of my bag at night. A lot of people say that they hide in their bag at night but I always worry about the moisture build up as you breath in your bag. I suppose that method would solve the problem. 

Thanks for the idea. I think I'll try it. 

9:51 a.m. on December 30, 2017 (EST)
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I have always used a vapor barrier bag liner while wearing a light base layer. mostly, that is because I can't imagine emerging from a sleeping bag in sub-zero weather shirtless, but it's also because having a damp non-breathable layer like polyurethane against your skin is uncomfortably damp. still, when I first get up and out of the liner, I steam off some moisture and get kind of cold while I layer up (I sleep with other layers inside the bag but outside the vapor barrier) or in the middle of the night if I get up to relieve myself.

NOTE - STOP READING HERE IF USING A BOTTLE TO PEE IN ISN'T SOMETHING YOU WANT TO READ ABOUT IN DETAIL. though I really try to avoid using a pee bottle, somewhere between minus 10 and minus 20, which are the temps where I start using a vapor barrier liner, I also start thinking pretty hard about using a bottle b/c getting up and out in the middle of the night is so miserably cold. [very important to me if I end up peeing in a bottle to use one with a different top than drinking water, so I can quickly figure out which is which in the dark!)

Skurka prefers vbl clothing - shirt, pants, socks - so you don't get as cold waking up and can just layer over the clothing and get on with your day. haven't tried that, but he does have a point. the first blast of cold on your damp base layer in the morning isn't fun, but keeping that moisture out of your bag can be important. the big limit on vapor barrier clothing is that I don't think you can effectively regulate your perspiration on a really hard uphill trudge. that just wouldn't work for me in the mountains where I tend to do my winter hiking and sleeping, I would get too sweaty. plus, during the day, I think it's easier to regulate your core temperature by adding or dropping layers, whereas at night, you have one sleeping bag, and you really don't want to lose it's full effectiveness to moisture penetration when it is super cold.  

even if your face is exposed while you sleep, some moisture can get into the sleeping bag insulation around your face. again, an issue that becomes more important if you're out for a while, not just a weekend. one reason it's nice to have a winter bag with a waterproof/breathable shell, the moisture from your breath that goes out can't get back into the insulation, nor can rime that forms on the inside of your tent or spindrift that comes in when you unzip the tent.  

10:10 a.m. on December 30, 2017 (EST)
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My comfort level sleeping in the cold took a leap when I started sleeping in a rabbit fur Mad Bomber hat.  It covers the ears and the neck.  I like to use a small blanket around the shoulders to slow down the loss of heat from the bag opening also. 

8:24 p.m. on December 30, 2017 (EST)
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Thanks for the trash bag inflator idea. I'm buying an Instaflator and looking closely at using the valve for a trash compactor bag after the Instaflator begins to crap out.

Jesse, I'll check the temperature inside my TT Moment DW solo tent next time I winter camp. I thought 10 F. was about the max difference a 4 season tent would make. I guessed wrong on that one.

Eric B.

6:53 a.m. on December 31, 2017 (EST)
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The temperature differential between a tent interior and the outside is greatly influenced by several factors unrelated to the tent, enough such that trying to generalize what one can expect of any tent for additional warmth is an exercise in futility.  For example on high altitude trips I have experienced downright hot tent interiors on bluebird, calm, sunny days, regardless temps in the shade were below zero, yielding a differential of over 90⁰F.  On other occasions the differential was less than 10⁰F at night, during windstorms, at relatively low altitude.  So what's the deal? 

Factors contribution to tent interior/exterior temperature differential include solar intensity (greater at higher altitudes) wind, exposure to direct sun, tent placement relative to trees, water, and land features, latitude, and snow pack depth.  IMO these factors are of far greater significance than if the tent is of single or double wall construction.  Double wall tents are not designed that way to provide more insulation, the double walls are there to block out snow and rain, and provide support against heavy wind and accumulated snow loads.  (Do consider a flimsy fabric layer has almost no insulating qualities and two flimsy fabric layers yields almost no insulating performance X 2.)  Unfortunately double wall tents accomplish these feats at the expense of trapping in moisture originating from within their confines, one reason some of the more August members of this forum opine they prefer a well ventilated, cold temp tent over a possibly warmer but hermetically sealed tent, as a vented tent has far less condensation and rime issues.  Thus if your looking for more warmth and not concerned with heavy winds, spin drift or snow loads, one is better off investing that weight in better sleeping gear.   This all said, given one is not talking about hot tenting and similar gear.

Ed

10:55 p.m. on December 31, 2017 (EST)
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Ed,

I'm learning on this thread. I have experienced loss of warmth in my sleeping bag on a 3 day trip. The 1st morning after two feet of snow(!) my -20 F. synthetic Mtn. Hardware bag was soaked on the outside but wet, not frozen. I tried to let it "dry" for an hour.

The 2nd night was OK but the 3rd night I could tell the bag was not as warm - still OK but I could tell the difference. Temps were in the low teens at night.

As for tent warmth both of my winterized Tarptent tents have top fly "eyelid" vents and four lower vents (including doors). B/C I want good venting my tent is usually not more than 10 F. warmer than outside. But the frost on the inside of my fly is usually heavy. As I may have mentioned I always zip up mu GTX parka and pull it over the foot of my bag to keep its warmth from melting frost off the tent floor and low waterproof bathtub walls. Plus it gives me a bit of foot area warmth too.

Eric B.

1:36 p.m. on January 2, 2018 (EST)
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To Whomeworry, Thanks for the information on the tents and how they vary. I found that to be very helpful. The one thing that I like about carrying the extra weight in the tent as opposed to the extra sleeping bag gear is that my face doesn't get as cold in the tent. I have used my summer tent on a number of cold weather outings to save on weight but found that the cold face kept me up in temps below -10 or so.  I know the easy fix for that would be to wear a face mask to bed. I've tried that and for some reason, the itch or discomfort gave me as much to gripe about as the cold face. It seems like I need to work harder so I can sleep through anything. 

In temps above -10, I still use a 3 season tent if I know I'm going long distances. 

5:53 a.m. on January 20, 2018 (EST)
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I have a couple of sleeping bags that are made for extreme temps, 1 is the JRC 5 season that is rated to about -40*c and The other one is the Snugpak Antarctica 2c which is rated down to -50*c with a high of -20*c neither of these bags are fat and lofty like many of the down bags you see but they sure work well, I bought a cotton liner just so I would have a pattern to copy so I could get the Mrs to make me a liner out of thick fleece so now doubt that will add at leased another 5 or 10* +/- to the ratings of both bags, The Antarctica 2c has now been renamed to the Antarctica RE and they raised the extreme temp to -30*c from -50*c due to the fact that people were taking silly risks trying to beat the Temp rating of the bag, But the fact is both the Antarctica 2c and the Antarctica RE ( softie 18 ) are the same bags, One feature I like about this bag is the foot area is lined/reinforced so those in the Military and the like can sleep in it with their boots on, Also they are very high spec with a whole list of high-tech materials inside and the results are that the bag warms up very quickly within seconds of it touching your body,

I have slept in it in about -6*c in just a T shirt and boxers and  I never woke until the next day and the most I have ever worn it were long johns top and bottoms, The company who makes them also make many different types of liners and expanda panels and they also make long version for the big guys and gals, and many in the Armed force buy them as part of their personal kit,

http://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/antarctica

2:31 a.m. on January 21, 2018 (EST)
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Synthetic fill Snugpak bags are well made but too heavy for me.

Until last year when I bought my LL Bean -20 F. goose down bag I had a 1992 Mountain Hardware -20 F. Polarguard Delta synthetic bag. It was heavy and VERY bulky. I sold it to a guy from Minnesota. It was a warm bag right down to its temp rating if I work polar weight polyester long johns and heavy socks.

I feel a VBL suit of silnylon is my choice for a week long winter camping trip. I will likely buy a pajama pattern to make buy suit. Seam sealing will be a must! As will installing elastic & Velcro ankle, wrist and neck closures.

Eric B.

6:24 p.m. on January 21, 2018 (EST)
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Yeah some folks don't like carrying a heavy pack, I am happy if I can keep it under 70 lbs, when I was younger I would haul 100-120 lbs without a care, but gear has got lighter and I have got older,

February 23, 2019
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