Winter camping gear

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Winter camping gear

Posted in : Stuff we've written, Winter camping on by : wclendining Comments:

Before heading out for a winter camping experience we want to make sure we have the right equipment. This is not the place to tough out a cold night… it can get really cold. There are four categories of equipment we need: our clothes, our sleeping gear, our shelter, and our toys. And then of course we need to eat.

First our clothes

Most of us have heard about “dressing in layers.” This doesn’t mean just putting on lots of clothes, there is a logic to the different layers to use. And you only need three layers: a base layer, a middle layer, and the shell layer.

The base layer is basically our underwear—the layer next to our skin. Synthetic and merino wool fabrics work best because they wick perspiration away from our skin to outer layers. Don’t use on cotton, it just gets wet and then you get cold.

The middle layer is our insulating layer. It is primarily designed to help retain body heat. A heavy weight fleece or microfleece is excellent for the middle layer because even wet it, retains its insulating value. Wool works well too.

The outer layer, or shell, is our waterproof/windproof layer. Laminates such as Gore-Tex, eVent or REI Elements offer premium protection. Less expensive alternatives use polyurethane-coated fabrics that are equally waterproof but somewhat less breathable. Look for core vents and underarm vents that expel excess heat and moisture.

In addition to our actually clothing we will need mittens (at least a couple of pair), a warm hat,  felt-lined winter boots, warm socks, and a warm parka. The parka, socks and warm boots are for after the sun goes down and when we are less active. A balaclava is also a very good idea, there have been many nights when I wore mine all night.

Our sleeping gear

Assuming we are in some kind of shelter (and we will be), our sleeping gear is a good sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

Our sleeping bag should be a mummy-style bag that has an insulated hood that include a draw string. This way you can tighten the bag around our head while leaving our face outside the bag. Pulling our head inside the bag seems like a good idea when it’s really cold, but after awhile the moisture from our breath builds up inside and we and our bag get wet. Being wet is our worse enemy in the cold. A synthetic bag is strongly recommended because the retain some of their insulating value even when wet. The bag should be rated for at least -20° C.

Our sleeping mat will keep us of the cold ground, so it needs to be a good mat. Those thin blue foam mats just wont cut it on a cold winter’s night. Thermarest makes some excellent sleeping mats in a variety of sizes and styles starting at about $60; this is a good investment. Our mat must be at least as wide as we are, and long enough to go to our knees (3/4 length). A longer mat is fine, but it means packing more.

Our shelter

We are going to be tenting it, so we will need a good 4-season tent. A 4-season tent has a tent fly that goes to the ground and doesn’t have meshing. This provides the best protection from the wind and the snow. We also want to avoid a tent with sags in it, this avoids snow building up and collapsing the tent in the night. Strong poles and tie downs to anchor the tent are also good things. A tarp for under the tent is a very good idea. This way our tent floor doesn’t get wet, not to mention us.

If anyone wants to sleep in a snow shelter, you will want a small tarp to put you sleeping pad on.

Our toys

This is simple: skis and/or snowshoes. If you plan to bring anything electronic, including a camera, only bring what you are prepared to sleep with. Batteries can freeze in the cold so we will keep these and our water inside the sleeping bag.

Our eating

As far as equipment goes, we will each need to bring a plate, a bowl, a cup, a plastic spoon, a plastic fork, and a knife. Eating with metal utensils is like licking a steel pole in the winter. Bring a sturdy plastic water bottle (1l) with a tight fitting lid. Remember we will be sleeping with it so the water doesn’t freeze in the night.

Our stoves need to be white gas fueled. Propane liquifies and the pressure drops in the cold, which sucks when hungry. The classic backpacking stove is the Whisperlite, but there are a number of other good ones as well.

And of course we will need some pots, nothing too big because our stoves will be small and it’s had to heat a big pot.

The menu, we will need to meet and discuss what we will want to eat and who brings it.