Lightweight Backpacking in the Winter: Gear and Techniques from the Arctic
Feb 24, 2017 at 11:58 am #3452608
Companion forum thread to: Lightweight Backpacking in the Winter: Gear and Techniques from the Arctic
Lightweight backpacking in the winter requires more intentionality with respect to gear selection and skill set, but with great rewards.Mar 3, 2017 at 5:40 am #3454103Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
One trick I’ve often heard of but haven’t used is to bury a stick with guyline cord around it. In the morning, just pull out the line and leave the stick. Unfortunately I’m rarely in an area with enough trees to find loose sticks so I haven’t tried it.
This is my primary method, used many, many times in the Adirondacks, Catskills, Whites, etc Once the snow consolidates properly you couldn’t pull it out with a Buick.
My only change in the last few years is to use a mooring hitch to tie to the sticks because it releases cleanly without the guyline crossing over itself and creating friction. I can now tie a mooring hitch with one hand while wearing a glove. Mittens would be problematic.Mar 3, 2017 at 6:21 am #3454110Bob MoulderBPL Member
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
Jörgen: I came to the same conclusion after my first year living in Alaska and going out in all weather. As I put it, “The bottom of my fun meter is -15ºF.”
Because, yeah, I’m thinking, “A twisted ankle now becomes a survival situation.”
This is approximately the same for me, although if it’s not windy and not snowing, even -25°F can be fairly comfortable… but in the winter such ideal conditions cannot be counted on staying that way for very long.
‘Very cold’ does indeed require more caution, even with experience and proper gear. I caught myself last winter having too much fun and going far too fast while coming down a steep trail in the Adirondacks. I finally came to my senses and considered that I was solo on a trail on which I had seen nobody else all day, then slowed down a lot. I had my Spot, but there’s no guarantee I would have been able to push the button. And, of course, having to be rescued is the ultimate ignomy for someone who fancies himself a savvy winter traveler. Although dying and winning the Darwin Award in the process would perhaps be a little worse.Mar 4, 2017 at 9:16 am #3454332Mike MBPL Member
thanks for the article!
the “rulk” has me very intrigued :) when going winter camping with my wife there isn’t really a substitute, but solo outings I tend to get into rougher country AND I’m not pulling as much gear- the “rulk” would be perfect fitMar 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm #3454574Vincent RBPL Member
Another great article Jorgen, thanks.
I was wondering, you mention using synthetic trousers (cocoon pro) as part of your sleep system. I assume these over trousers will become slightly damp from use during the day and at camp. Even if minimal, does this not potentially increase the amount of moisture coming into contact with your down sleeping bag and so risking a damp bag earlier in the trip? Or will the moisture pass through the down until it reaches the dew point within the synthetic over bag? I’ve come from the school of thought that you should avoid getting into a down sleeping bag with any damp clothing.Mar 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm #3457686Elliott WolinBPL Member
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Brief story, folks may find some useful ideas:
Years ago I used to carry a lightweight snow saw in the Adirondacks and Cascades to cut out snow blocks. The blocks can be very useful, the most useful thing for me was building a small wall around one end of my 2-P double A-frame tent. This effectively closed in the vestibule area (the fly didn’t reach all the way to the ground) allowing me to keep the tent door open, hang a candle lantern in the now sealed-in vestibule area, and cook in there instead of in the tent.
The candle lantern hanging over the vestibule area warmed the tent a bit and gave plenty of light for cooking. And since I was cooking on the snow there was no concern over spills.
Other uses for snow blocks: cooking platforms, seats, tables, wind breaks, etc. Note that even rough, raggedy blocks work fine, you’re not trying to build an igloo.Mar 21, 2017 at 10:30 am #3458349Ethan A.BPL Member
@mountainwalkerLocale: SF Bay Area & New England
Jorgen thank you very much for this excellent article. I’m catching up on BPL reading and forums and this is a gem. I love winter backpacking and sincerely appreciate you sharing the wealth of your experience. Didn’t want to have to wait to finish it to say thanks. Taking notes along the way to compare to my own practices learned from many others.Mar 21, 2017 at 10:40 am #3458351
Thanks Ethan, much appreciated. And, of course, the way I learned was comparing my own practices with others, picking up a little bit here and a little bit there.Mar 24, 2017 at 5:16 pm #3459216Ivan DominguezBPL Member
@idtejeraLocale: Canary Islands
Congratulations on the article, I loved it.
I’ve been thinking about buying Paramo’s clothes for some time, but I have doubts. I like the velez jacket and the Bora windproof-Bora Fleece. What idea do you like more?
Thanks for writing so full complete.
IvánMar 24, 2017 at 10:11 pm #3459252S. SteeleSpectator
@sbsteeleLocale: North Central New Jersey
Congratulations, you’ve quite a snow specialist.
Also as an old winter clothing experimenter, I’ve tried various approaches to low temp. comfort, but not lower than about 10 degrees F. Experimented with vapor barrier plastic bags with wool inner socks for feet back in the mid 1970s, polypropylene base layer tops and bottoms from Brynje and others, chemical heaters for hands and feet as well as wool and fleece for torso and bottom second layer, Event over mitts, etc.. I use chemical heaters from early fall through early spring if needed. They’re an excellent survival item. Due to the build-up of perspiration with fleece, fleece weight and moisture weight for torso and bottoms, I prefer polypro. Fleece is made from polyester, heavier than than polypro and less hydrophobic. The fleece moisture build-up is colder versus warmer, the added weight is not comfortable generating material to body friction, reducing freedom of motion thus wasting energy. I trust that you’re aware that Brynje mesh polypro is prized by many northern Europeans. For a second layer for torso, I find a light to mid-weight wool sweater to be excellent – good insulation and moisture transfer. Beyond that for lightweight freedom of motion I prefer a pair of nylon pants and a nylon wind shirt or down parka depending on the temperature. Should the weather get wet, I’m ready with a poncho/tarp. An alpaca cap or polypro balaclava, fleece socks, merino wool neck gaiter, inner light wool gloves with double layer fleece mittens and Event over mittens when needed, I’m pleased with my approach. Have you experimented with Brynje polypro? Have you tried compressing less than roughly 5 inches,(13 centimeters) of light to medium weight snow with your heels while leaning forward for improved speed? I find 5 inches plus/minus of snow to be a practical limit for comfortable travel in snow without snow shoes.Mar 26, 2017 at 6:45 am #3459519
Thanks Ivan :-)
About the Velez or the Bora, if I were to use it in the circumstances described in the article I would chose a Paramo waterproof. Velez is one of those. The Bora seems to be a windshirt, which is a garment I really love. Even in combination with the Bora fleece it is not promoted as waterproof, as far as I can see. So for snow and sleet it would probably need a backup, like a lightweight rain jacket. Which might be a good combination under some circumstances.
However, in winter when you need more clothing, the weight of the Paramo waterproofs is compensated by it being windproof and waterproof without the disadvantages of Goretex and the like. Which is poor breathablility leading to perspiration freezing on the inside of these garments. So as far as I am concerned the waterproof Paramo is a perfect combination of weight, breathability and waterproofness in winter. For summer use it is too heavy and (probably) not waterproof enough.
I hope you get something useful out of my ramblings :-)Mar 26, 2017 at 6:56 am #3459520
Well, as far as I can tell you seem to be doing allright on your own as a snow specialist :-)
There are always different ways of doing things and I certainly cannot claim to have tried everything. Regarding the clothing you are talking about I prefer wool next to the skin and synthetics as middle layer but I have also used wool sweaters as middle layer. If I do not wear it next to the skin I usually prefer synthetics because of shorter drying time.
I have lots of friends who swear by the different kinds of mesh underwear available here. I prefer a base layer that is thin and close to the entire surface of my upper body skin. I have not tried mesh in winter for over 40 years (and then it was made from cotton, not so good…). I am a bit afraid that the moisture might collect on the skin between the fabric strands and start running down my body if I exert myself. A bit like what happens with micro fleece (‘expedition weight’) next to the skin.
For shorter outings like 1-2 nights I would not mind using polypro, for longer trips I prefer wool, mainly because of the stink.Mar 26, 2017 at 3:34 pm #3459649Ivan DominguezBPL Member
@idtejeraLocale: Canary Islands
Thank you Jörgen you have been very kind and very helpful
I also like to always use wool as the first layer but I love the woolnet of Aclima. It is the best I have found for packrafting (cold and humid environments).
Warm regards.May 26, 2017 at 12:47 am #3469883
My question seems to have dropped off so I will ask again.
have you ever had a chance to use a Buffalo Sports mountain shirt or Special 6 shirt to be ble to compare the Paramo to them/it?
Is the Paramo windproof or merely highly wind resistant? Does it rely heavilly on venting zippers to remove excess heat and if you did not use the zippers would it work as well?
I MYOG a lot of my own gear and clothing and I’m trying to make a decision on what shell fabric to use with my Polartec Thermal Pro fabric.
Other than that what you use is not to much different to my own Australian winter set-up due to the influence of high humidity on insulation I need almost as much clothing to cope with our winters hereMay 26, 2017 at 12:48 am #3469884
EDITMay 29, 2017 at 3:55 am #3470309
Hi Edward John,
Just back from Coast2Coast Sweden :-)
No, I have not used the Buffalo system, but always considered it to be very similar to Paramo. In dampish weather I have used a windshirt combined with a light fleece sweather and found that it works very well as long as it i mostly drizzling. My impression of Paramo is that they work very well in most kinds of rain execpt for continous heavy rain. I could be wrong, since I mostly use Paramo in winter. But I got the impression that a number of Brits using Paramo on an exceptionally rainy crossing of Scotland in the TGO Challenge some years ago, got disappointed. During those circumstances more regular kinds of waterproof/breathables seemed better at keeping the heavy and prolonged rains out.
I do not know the technical wind resistance of Paramo outer fabric, maybe this could be found somewhere on their site. It has always been wind resistant for me in winter, even in hard winds. And I use the zips of my Velez smock and Cascada pants quite a bit to remove excessive heat on occassion. The zips are not needed, however, to ventilate excessive moisture, the fabric manages this a lot better than most waterproof/breathables of the membrane type.
I am afraid I cannot give you much advice on what would be the combination with your Thermal Pro, perhaps some other reader here could?
It is not really surprising that winter travellers in different latitudes come up with similar solutions to similar problems. Especially in these days when information flows fast via the Internet.
Hope this helps somewhat,
JorgenMay 29, 2017 at 6:30 pm #3470388
Many thanx; I’ll err on the side of more breathable when I and my beloved make it. Until I read your article I thought I would have to buy all new gear for my trip but if I do as you suggest by adding in an extra warm layer I can see me being well clad and able to cope. Simply substituting one of the UL fleece layers with the warmer ThermalPro. I may have to carry a little extra weight and stick with the DAS parka tho and spend the saved money on other things; like a guidebook in some places
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