Two years ago, inspired by the Northern Hemisphere Midwinter’s Night, we posted an article about ski and snowshoe trips in really cold conditions. Mountain temperatures can hit overnight lows of -20°F / -30°C, with daytime temperatures around 0°F / -20°C at this time of year.
These are weather conditions which truly need to be prepared for – and a couple of new products from Sea to Summit will help you do just that. Read on…
Correct clothing is essential: really warm gloves / mitts and a balaclava or other face protection; plus appropriate warming / shell layers. It’s also important to be aware of an appropriate level of clothing while you’re moving – enough to be comfortable, but not so much that you work up a sweat – and just as important to have a warming layer such as a puffy jacket (packed in an eVac Dry Sack) which you can pull on as soon as you stop for a rest break. Make sure all your spare clothing is in dry sacks – it will be easy to find and won’t have become soaked by melted spindrift in your pack. Dry sacks are – according to Baz – essential equipment.
It’s worth reading the blog posts ‘What to Pack for Winter Backpacking Parts 1 & 2 https://askbaz.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/what-to-pack-for-winter-backpacking-part-1/’ for some general information about being comfortable in the cold, but also consider:
– Fabrics and hardware get stiffer and fingers lose their dexterity when it’s really cold. So – always opt for slightly larger dry sacks than normal to pack your essential clothing in.
– If you are venturing outside of normal day-use trails, make sure that one person in the group has an emergency bivy sack. The simplest of these are essentially folded and glued Mylar ‘space blankets’ – not the most comfortable environment, but in case of injury and immobilization much better than freezing to death. Nicer versions have somewhat ‘breathable’ fabrics; Baz’s favorites are from Adventure Medical Kits (AMK). If you have to create an emergency bivy, the injured person’s backpack can serve as a partial insulating pad underneath them – a proper sleeping mat (see below) is of course better.
– To keep warm inside that emergency bivy, there are two options. If you have the budget for it, check out the Spark Sp I sleeping bag: it is featherlight at 12.3ozs / 348g and has a tiny packed volume. If you are looking for a more budget-priced solution, consider the brand new Thermolite® Reactor Fleece Liner. Weighing in at 14.8ozs / 420g and with a packed volume of less than 2 Liters, it is not as warm as the Spark, but still well worth considering as part of your ‘what if’ kit if your ski trips take you far into the backcountry. Come summer it may morph into your favorite ultralight sleeping bag…
– A far more effective insulation layer for that emergency bivy than a backpack would be the new Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat. Compact and light when not in use, and easy to inflate when needed, the 3.3 R-Value will prevent or reduce heat loss into the frozen ground.
– If you need to melt snow, the tiny collapsible X-Pots (1.3L Pot/Kettle or 1.4L Pot) have just changed the rules. Packed flat, they take up an imperceptibly small space; popped up, they are fully featured cooking pots. Just read the section on melting snow in this blog post: https://askbaz.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/getting-the-best-from-your-x-pot/ before you fire up your backpacking stove.
Make sure your skis are waxed (take some liquid wax with you to keep them sliding smoothly and prevent snow from sticking to the bases) and ski/snowshoe bindings are functioning properly. Pack whatever tools you need to make sure they stay that way. Check weather and avalanche conditions before you leave home (for instance at www.avalanche.state.co.us), leave word of your intended route and expected time of return, and make sure everyone in the group knows the route and sticks together.
Then: venture out into the stark, winter landscape. The cold is a challenge, but it also contributes to an experience which is far more elemental and satisfying than most of us in modern society ever deal with.