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help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns
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Justin Marney
(gotascii) - M

Locale: Shenandoah
help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/13/2008 09:47:37 MST Print View

Hi bpl this is my first post and I am pretty much a complete noob to light weight backpacking and have basic hiking and camping skills gained from bi-yearly 2-3 day summer/fall backpacking trips in the Shenandoah. That said, I have spent the past two weeks lurking and reading as much as I possibly can (Articles read and detailed notes taken: WP/B fabric technology, Revisiting wind shirts, science and breathability of rain gear, high exertion moisture accum, clothing and sleep systems for hiking, winter backpacking comfort, as well as numerous reader gear reviews and posts and the book is on its way to my house right now). That said, there is nothing that beats experience and at some point I need to finalize a gear list and do some backyard winter camping & low-risk overnight backpacking trips. I really enjoy the outdoors in the winter, nothing beats a silent forest covered in snow :)

As far as I can tell by looking at wunderground and other weather sites, plus my limited experience with Shenandoah winters, the conditions I will be camping in include:

Temps: mid-teens - 40s
Unforecasted rain and snow are both probable however I would avoid backpacking during forecasted snow or rain storms.
I am not sure of the overall relative humidity of the Shenandoah during the winter months. Any additional advice in the area of climate would be greatly appreciated. The trip length I would like to achieve comfortably would be 2 to 3 nights. Avoiding the dead of winter and/or extreme forecasts (being able to survive an exceptionally cold/rainy/snowy night is obviously required). On top of all of this I am focused on informing myself to the best of my ability and packing exactly what I need to be comfortable. I am extremely intrigued by the philosophy of backpacking light as it matches a similar agile philosophy I live my life by.

That said here is the clothing/sleep gear I have. I would appreciate any/all suggestions on what clothing/sleep gear I still need to acquire/test and also what additional material I can read to further learn about how to make decisions on my own about what gear to get and how to use it properly.

EMS Techwick 2 long sleeve shirt w\ 1/4 zip
EMS Techwick 2 pants

Beyond Clothing Cold Play Shock

Sleeping Bag:
Montbell #3

Sleeping Pad:
BMW TorsoLite

Tarptent DoubleRainbow (+1 girlfriend)

Clearly an incomplete list :) Based on all the research I've done here are ten questions/assumptions. Any answers/direction/advice on the matters below would be so amazingly appreciated and probably help keep me alive and comfortable ;)

1. The beyond pants + base layer should provide adequate leg insulation while active.

2. I need torso layers for wind, insulation, and rain.

3. Would it be possible to hike during the day in 20-40 deg weather in nothing but my base layer and a wind shirt? Much of what I have read has led me to believe this is possible/common. I was thinking about something like the Houdini.

4. Hiking during freezing rain is not something I am into so hunkering down during a shower and/or slowing down my pace while wearing a rain shell reduces the need for more advanced breathability. I was thinking of something along the lines of O2, Precip, or DropStopper.

5. That said, would it be possible to replace my wind and rain layer with something like a Patagonia Specter, GoLite Virga, or even something as flashy as an ID eVENT? Would those types of jackets provide the additional protection against evaporative heat loss to allow me to hike in nothing but it and a base layer (in the event the houdini wouldn't cut it)? Is that wise given my inexperience?

6. While in camp I would need an insulation layer and based on what I have read I was going to go with a synthetic high loft based garment based on polarguard or similar (suggestions?).

7. My sleep/tent system poses a few problems: down bag rated to 30deg inside a single-walled tent in possibly humid winter conditions is overall a terrible idea unless I take the right precautions. Below are some of the things I can identify.

8. My bag will need to be protected from condensation. Do I need a vapor barrier? Where can I find more information on vapor barriers (as this is one of the areas I have done the least research, but have read as many forum threads on the subject I can find)?

9. Assuming I determine an appropriate way to keep my bag loft dry and wear my base/insulation layer will my 30deg bag be warm enough? I sleep hot and love to sleep cold. I don't sweat a lot in general.

10. The above concerns are potentially compounded by the fact I have a single wall tent. Will this shelter combined with my torso pad and using my backpack as ground protection for my legs be adequate? What else should I add?

I realize this is a TON of information. If 25% of this gets addressed I will be exceedingly thankful. If this is way to noobish of a post and there is stuff I can read to answer this on my own please do not hesitate to point me in that direction before taking time to answer. You can be assured I will continue to read as much as I can on my own. Thanks, and this site/community rocks and has me seriously excited about getting out and camping light!

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/13/2008 11:04:22 MST Print View

Welcome Justin,

I'll take a crack a few of these as I hike in New Hampshire in winter which has similar conditions to yours, only colder :-)

#1 I think your legs will be OK.

#2,#3,#4 and #5 I hike in a single medium-heavy weight wool top at 40 and add another one for the 20's, plus poncho and rain pants for rain.

#6 In camp/rest stops, I have a Patagonia Micropuff hooded jacket 0.6" of synthetic loft. If in the teens or 20s I also pack a down vest to wear under the micropuff.

#7 Tarptents are known for their ventilation. Unless you are out for extended treks, you should be OK on long weekend type outings. (Moisture can accumulate over time with constant rainy conditions which may catch up to you on long treks).

#8 Vapor barriers are usually reserved for colder conditions than you describe. They can be rather uncomfortable and therefore, a last resort measure.

#9 To each his/her own. For me, I would be wearing my other hiking clothes in a 30 degree bag if the temps were teens and 20s. It your Montbell is a super stretch, you wouldn't have any problems layering clothers inside it.

#10 I would definitely add more ground insulation in the form of Closed Cell Foam (CCF) pads in 3/8" thickness. See for top quality pads. No matter how much insulation you are wearing or is in your bag, you are cruching it under you, making it useless; you will freeze from the bottom up! And, CCF pads are light!

Happy camping!

Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Re: help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/13/2008 12:47:30 MST Print View

The Shenandoah’s are pretty much in my backyard and have been my go-to place to backpack when I have time. It’s a great place to go year round.

First, take whatever answers you get to your post with some common sense as the temperature and conditions vary greatly throughout the year and you need to pack for the conditions during your trip. Snow and rain are also a whole different ball game. It also depends on your behaviors too and how you choose to hike. For example, I’ve been quite comfortable in winter while on the move with a base layer of merino wool / SmartWool and merely a windshirt and Rab eVENT pants. However, as soon as I stopped moving, I got cold. So, you should be fine with what you mentioned while you’re on the move and you can regulate your head and hands with lightweight gloves and a hat (again, my suggestion is Merino / SmartWool. You’ll also quickly find that valley’s and summits are completely different in temperature and wind, so you’ll need to plan your stops accordingly. The difference can be about 5-20 degrees and a cutting wind or a quiet night. Picking your camp site is important too as if you put your Torsolite on a well used campsite you’ll get cold quick since there is no duff. Personally, I always seek out unused places which have a lot of pine needles or leaves as it helps quite a bit. Aside from the insulating factor, it is quite a bit more comfortable too and during the summer a pad isn't really even needed with the right site. A second pad may also be a smart choice as is common for winter hiking for some backpackers.

Based on your post, I wouldn’t say you’re a noob to lightweight backpacking as you have a lot of good gear, and let’s face it, we’re all here to learn something. Ryan Jordan’s book is excellent too and covers a wide range of topics that will no doubt help your search for information.

Others may differ in their opinion, but I’d swap out the Techwick stuff for Merino/SmartWool. To me, simply nothing regulates body temperature better and it doesn’t hold smell. Wool also holds about 80% of its heat retention when wet. If you want to forgo the need to bring two pairs of pants (hiking, rain), grab a pair made of eVENT. It breathes so well you can wear it even while exerting yourself regardless of the weather. I use a Western Mountaineering Carbou as a quilt after I couldn’t find something bigger (i.e. Nunatak, Jacks R Better, etc.) to go over my body (I’m 6’6” and 270), so our bags are very similar. You should be okay as long as you are layering your clothing system properly with your bag. You might want to consider a bivy like those they have at BPL as I’ve found that condensation will otherwise kill the loft and that’s what is keeping you warm. When I use a tent, I use a Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo which is similar to your Tarptent only a little longer. I wouldn’t use either in the snow, however. My snow option is a GoLite Shangri-La 2 which would likely work well for you and your girlfriend and they aren’t really that expensive. Depending on what you may encounter, you might want to find an option that can hold the weight of snow a little better as lightweight tents and those which are single wall (unless it is a Hilleberg) suffer quite a bit. The only other things I bring with me are the Cocoon jacket and pants sold on BPL which I use as part of my sleep system. Quite honestly the pants are a little too warm most of the time even in the snow. I have found that a second pair of socks is welcomed too as that’s about the only thing I feel like gets less than warm and lugging around a pair of down booties just seems like a bit much. Grab a nice fleece balaclava too as they work wonders. Getting one with Windstopper is the choice of some on this site. For rain and snow, just grab an inexpensive pair of DriDucks or FroggToggs and that should really cover you in the event that you aren’t wearing eVENT pants. DriDucks and FroggToggs breathe quite well. If you’ve got the money and you don’t mind the extra weight, go with eVENT….it’s great stuff and more durable. eVENT mitts are also great in the winter.

You didn't mention it, but get some hiking poles if you don't use them already. BPL and Gossamer Gear have some lightweight ones as does Komperdell, Leki and even your local REI. Ensuring proper footing in the snow is critical.

Lastly, if you’re in Shenandoah National Park, you likely won’t be able to start a fire. However, some places on Skyline Drive and off of the Blue Ridge will allow you to have one while on the trail. Having a fire is great in the woods, especially in winter. This might be a fact you'll want to consider when deciding where to test your skills for the first time as you could always fall back on a fire in a pinch in these locations.

Course, this is just what works for me and my experience. Others may have a different take. If you see a tall guy sporting the gear I mentioned on the trail, it might be me as I'll be headed that way several times in the coming weeks. Good luck.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/13/2008 13:15:11 MST Print View

Mostly you are doing fine.

Remember that your girlfriend might not be quite as enthused as you. Make sure she is happy, even if it means shortening the walk.

You approach of going cautiously and gaining experience is GOOD.

Base layer: there is a fashion right now for merino wool base layers. They are very comfortable, but they are more expensive, very weak and have a poor lifetime. If they get wet they take ages to dry. Treat them as a very nice fashion item rather than as serious outdoors gear, and stick to the synthetic base layers for walking.

Insulation while walking: yes, very often you don't need much insulation while active, but have good insulation easily accessible for when you stop. Torso is more important than legs.

Drop Stoppers are fine, and more waterproof than many jackets.

Down bag rated to 30deg inside a single-walled tent with possible snow:
Could be a weak area, but if you have good torso layers and a good foam mat (say 5 mm) as well as the BMW mat you may be OK. Your girlfriend may need more than you. Remember that the ground is cold! Your pack under your legs won't be enough.

VB: no, not needed above (say) -15 C).

Bivy bag: open to debate. Some use them, some don't. A single-wall tent will be much better than a tarp-tent in the snow, but still pushing it mildly. One or two nights - try it. Condensation when sub-freezing is generally not nearly as bad as when above freezing.

You haven't mentioned a stove. You will need a reliable one for these conditions. I strongly recommend a remote-canister stove with a wide pot. Read up on the Winter stoves articles. No problems with the right gear.

Footwear: joggers with waterproof membranes, thick wool socks and gaiters would be the go.


Justin Marney
(gotascii) - M

Locale: Shenandoah
Re: Re: help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/14/2008 08:05:15 MST Print View

I love this site :) Thanks for the detailed responses! Since cc insulation pads were the most commonly suggested item out of all three responses I went ahead and picked up two of full-length 3/8" goassamer gear insulation pads (one for my gf, she also has a BMW torso pad and a similar down bag). I also grabbed a montbell thermawrap parka and a pair of the gossamer gear lightrek 4 poles (which were on my list initially to allow me to pitch the tarptent freestanding).

@James This is definitely the kind of response I've been searching for. Someone with direct Shenandoah winter experience. A lot of the winter advice I've found is for backcountry alpine heavy snow off trail...way too intense and it has been hard to dial in the right amount/level of gear. Your suggestion to plan stops beforehand to minimize exposure and maximize warmth in terms of campsite is some great advice! I finished reading the condensation in single-wall tents article and it had really great advice on how to minimize condensation using similar techniques. A fleece balaclava is definitely on my list. I'm 6'4" and was wondering what wind shirt you are using? I was looking at some of the more popular windshirt sleeve lengths last night and it looks like in order to get something that fits me sleeve-wise I'll have to wear something that looks like a trashbag on me. Thanks for the help!

@Roger I do have a primus remote canister stove, not sure of the model off the top of my head. I'm sure its not the lightest but its definitely reliable. For shoes right now I'm wearing targhee II mids. Again, not the lightest, but they fit my feet fantastically.

Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Re: Re: Re: help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/14/2008 08:27:38 MST Print View

Justin -

I've used a Patagonia Houdini (no longer sold) and Montane Featherlite Smock in the past as a windshirt, I'm actually looking for something new this year as the Montane is a little tighter than I'd like and I just haven't decided which way to go. Some taller folks on this site have mentioned Arc'teryx as a good place for long-armed stuff, but I haven't tried any. I tend to like the lengths of Mountain Headwear stuff too, but most of it isn't really lightweight.

I agree that much of the snow advice on this site is dedicated to alpine conditions, as are most topics, which have minimal application to the east coast and specifically the Shenandoahs. I would definitely take Roger's input, however, as he clearly has more experience and knowledge on these subjects, and more then just experience (which is all I have to fall back on), he has science on his side which is the sword of justice. As everyone seems to agree though, a VB isn't really necessary, a bivy is an option many can agree, and a single-wall tent will get your through a few days. As already mentioned, I think the pads will be of vital importance as will good torso and head coverage. There is no harm in bringing more "just to be safe" since this is your first run. And as I forgot because I do 99.9% of my stuff solo, take care of your girlfriend.

If you want to chat more about this, PM me. I noticed your account wasn't set up for that yet or else I would have sent this your way privately.

Good luck.

Justin Marney
(gotascii) - M

Locale: Shenandoah
Re: Re: Re: Re: help with winter clothing & sleep system in the shenandoah mtns on 11/14/2008 10:06:20 MST Print View

PM is all setup now, thanks for reminding me :) What size houdini do you wear, as there is an xl for sale on the forums I was thinking about trying to scoop up.

I'm definitely taking everyone's input, especially a BPL staffer like Roger. The science of a lot of this is actually what intrigues me the most. I've learned more about textiles and vapor characteristics than I ever thought I would.

Re my gf, I think I'll mostly be doing training runs and backyard nights on my own while I build up some skills and experience (so as not to subject her to the error parts of trial and error heh) but she is right along side me in terms of reading everything I'm reading and really looking forward to lightening the amount of stuff we usually camp with. I'm pretty much buying two of everything in her size and I figure we can tweak her setup once she has some experience and knows what she wants.