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Smokies Winter Gear List
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Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Smokies Winter Gear List on 02/15/2010 21:01:37 MST Print View

I'm planning to head out on a trip this weekend in the Smokies. Current forecast is highs near 45 and lows in the low to mid 20's. Some rain and snow expected Saturday and Saturday night (30% chance) and I'm expecting several inches of snow to be on the ground with possibly more at higher elevations. I'm mostly looking for any guidance and advice on my clothing and sleep system (i.e. do you think I'll be warm enough?) as I have farely limited experience backpacking in the winter. Also, if you see any areas where you think I could eliminate something or lighten my load, that would be great too. I don't have any high loft insulation for my legs but I could add fleece pants if you think its necessary. I could also add an additional 100 wt fleece base layer for my top. If the temperatures forecasted don't go any lower I might replace my sleeping bag with my Golite Ultra 20 quilt to save some weight and see how low I can sleep comfortably. Thanks for looking! Gear listgear list page 2

Edited by trevor83 on 02/15/2010 21:06:57 MST.

Misfit Mystic

Locale: "Grand Canyon of the East"
What's your itinerary? on 02/15/2010 21:24:29 MST Print View

Conditions can vary all over the park. Where are you headed? If you're headed to the high peaks, I would want more insulation than what you have listed. I think your forecast is for the front country. Go to the NWS site and check out the LeConte/Clingmans area. The lows this weekend up there will be low teens. I would want maybe a down vest in addition to your UL down inner, or a hevier coat. And take the Apache, it's a killer bag.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Smokies Winter Gear List" on 02/15/2010 21:40:45 MST Print View mentioned taking your Ultra 20, so I thought I would throw this out, FWIW.

This weekend we were out in the sierras in similar temps but clear skies. Here's my sleep system, I was dead-on, I wouldn't want to go any lower:

Smartwool socks
GF down socks
Capilene long johns
Fleece long johns
M65 quilted pants
Poly shirt
Patagonia mid-weight top
M65 quilted vest
Patagonia synthetic hooded jacket
1/2" full-length Ridgerest pad
NeoAir full length pad
GoLite Ultra 20 quilt

I'm still learning, but it seems like I'm about an "average" temp sleeper.

Edited by davidlutz on 02/15/2010 21:41:38 MST.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Smokies Winter Gear List on 02/16/2010 08:00:39 MST Print View

@Scott - we are planning to hike from Waterville School Road to Hot Springs, NC. We hike from Waterville School Road to Roaring Fork Shelter (15.5 miles) and then from Roaring Fork Shelter to Hot Springs, NC (17.9 miles). So we'll see some higher elevations (Snowbird Mountain and Max Patch).

I pulled the forecast off of the NWS website but maybe I didn't put in the exact correct location. You confirmed my guess about additional insulation at those higher elevations - I will see what I can add. I will also add my ID Hotsocks for in camp.

@David - thanks for the input on your experience and sleep system with the Ultra 20. Based on yours and Scott's feedback I might wait to use the Ultra 20 for a slightly warmer trip and use the Apache on this trip. I think I might need another fully insulated layer on my top and bottom to be comfortable down to those temps in the Ultra 20.

Thanks for your feedback guys!

jeff arnfield
(Windward) - F

Locale: NE Tennessee
Be prepared for snow! on 02/18/2010 09:25:15 MST Print View

Hi Trevor,

I'd echo Scott's comment re: colder temperatures in the hills. Also be prepared for the possibility of significant snow on the ground.

I've not hit the stretch from Allen Gap south yet, but hope to in the next month or two. However, I went from Sam's Gap (~3700') to Allen Gap on Jan 15-17 (a couple of short days there), and spent the last couple of weekends on Roan Mtn (~5500'). Both are a bit north and a bit higher, so represent more extreme possibilities

I live in the Tri-Cities area (~1600'), about 30 miles north of Sam's Gap, and drive over Sam's Gap several times each week. Temps at the gap are typically 7-8 deg F colder than at my elevation. Roan, with its higher elevation, often sports temps some 17 deg F colder than in the valley

Your gear list doesn't look bad if you run warm and are careful to stay dry; I might want a warmer bottom layer at night and perhaps high gaiters. This weekend's forecast could include rain, so keep the down dry; if I use a down bag here, I usually bring synthetic insulative clothing.

My Jan 15-17 hike began on bare ground. Within an hour, I was perhaps ankle deep in snow. An hour later I was punching size 11, mid-calf post holes (no snowshoes on that trip). The deepest snow was of course on the northern side of the ridges, fairly protected from the sun. In one stretch I slogged 1.5 miles in snow up to knee deep. Kinda slow going there. Temps were reasonable, with a low around 25 and highs 35-45.

AT - Sugarloaf Gap, Jan 15

At - Jerry's Cabin shelter, Jan 16

We've had a lot of snow since then.

You might also budget time for "is this the trail?" moments. The Sam's to Allen stretch is crisscrossed with various trails. Sometimes blazes are few and far between, and the correct path may not be immediately obvious in the snow. I spent some time on "a" trail, but not "the" trail, resulting in a bit of backtracking.

Roan was way colder. Igt currently has several feet of wonderfully powdery snow in the woods, with some drifts hip deep.

AT - Roan Mtn, Feb 14

I hit that with snowshoes and skis last weekend, and still sank mid-calf sometimes. Lots of snow-laden, overhanging branches.

AT - Roan Mtn - low bridge!  Feb 14

Tracks completely disappeared overnight or quicker, it was challenging to locate 2x6 white blazes on trees covered with snow and ice, and snow depth sometimes put the blazes at hip height rather than head height.

I spent a fairly comfy 5 deg night in my Phantom 32 bag, supplemented with every article of clothing I had along.

=> (top) Cap 2 zip-t, Stephenson's VBL shirt, R1 hoodie, MB UL 1/2 sleeve down jacket, Pat Puff Pullover
=> (bottom) UA Boxerjock, Cap 1 bottoms, Stephenson's VBL pants, BPL Cocoon side zips
=> (feet) poly liners, VBL socks, wool socks, ID HotSocks
=> (head) MHW windproof fleece hat, R1 hood, BMW Cocoon Pro 90 balaclava
=> (pad) TR Prolite XS, TR Ridgerest (tapered, 60"), blue foam sitpad under torso, empty pack under legs
=> (bag) MHW Phantom 32. Total loft measures about 3".
=> (bivy) MYOG Sil/Momentum
=> (etc) around 1 or 2 AM I added the MSR Twin Peaks as a blanket -- slept soundly then until 0730

Up on the bald I found a layer of powder, then thick ice crust, then more powder, then more ice.

AT-Roan Mtn, Knee deep - Feb 7

As I said, this is probably more extreme than you'll find, but do be prepared for temps about 10 deg colder than the forecast, and for the possibility of some deepish snow on the trails. Should be an excellent trip -- enjoy!

Edited by Windward on 02/18/2010 20:50:30 MST.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
re Be prepared for snow! on 03/02/2010 15:57:50 MST Print View

@Jeff - I apologize for the very late response. Please forgive me. The information and pictures you provided were very helpful to us in planning our hike. We changed our itinerary to hit some lower elevations (topped out at 3500 ft) and decided to hike from Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter ( I also added in a Montbell Alpinlite Vest for more core warmth and it was nice in the evening.

Since there were some really helpful comments as it related to my sleep system I wanted to report back on what I ended up going with and how it worked out. As Brad indicated in the trip report the lows got down to about 30 so it wasn't very cold but we were sleeping on a decent amount of snow. I decided to take my Golite Ultra 20 Quilt to see how comfortable I'd be in temps just below freezing and ended up sleeping very well. I was only a little cold around 5:30 AM but slept like a baby the rest of the night and morning. My sleep system was as follows:
Smartwool liners
Smartwool socks
Grocery Bag VBL Socks
ID Hotsocks
100 wt fleece pants
REI convertible pants
Montbell Alpinlinte vest draped over bottom of legs and feet
Patagonia light-weight capilene top
Montbell UL Down Parka
Smarwool beanie
Regular-length Ridgerest pad (inside bivy)
Thermarest Prolite 3 Womens Full Length (under bivy)
GoLite Ultra 20 quilt
Ti Goat Ptarmigan Bivy

Here a couple of pictures from the trip:
Tarp and bivy setup on the snow
fire towerfire tower view

Thanks again for all the help and advice!

Edited by trevor83 on 03/02/2010 15:59:31 MST.

jeff arnfield
(Windward) - F

Locale: NE Tennessee
Glad you had fun! on 03/02/2010 16:40:16 MST Print View

Hi Trevor,

I saw Brad's trip report... glad you guys had fun! Also glad the info was useful, and that you got to play in some of the snow. It's hard to predict the conditions you'll find, as you noticed going from "what snow?" in Hot Springs to "oh, Snow!" with only a modest elevation gain. Finding lows around 5 was a bit surprising on Roan, since my best research suggested maybe low to mid teens.

Not sure how far north you guys have trekked, but there is some wonderful trail between Hot Springs and Damascus, just waiting for your discrete boot prints.


James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
Smokies Winter Gear List on 03/02/2010 18:17:40 MST Print View

I have been following this thread with much interest as I am planning to hike from Davenport Gap to Hot Springs March 12-14. Do you think snowshoes will be necessary or would Kahtoola Microspikes suffice? I realize it is difficult to predict conditions 10 days in advance, but I would suspect that no matter how much it warms until then (if at all), there would still be plenty of snow at higher elevations.

Hal Potts
(halpotts) - F

Locale: Middle Tennessee
Smokies Winter Gear List on 03/02/2010 19:15:40 MST Print View


I also did a winter trip there recently and we had ice that required spikes but snow was less than 6 inches and very walkable without snowshoes. Three weeks later I heard it was three feet deep in places. I would take both spikes and snowshoes and make a final decision from the trunk of the car at blast off. I usually call the Backcountry Rangers the day before and get advice on trail conditions - I find them to be quite knowledgeable 1-865-436-1231.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Davenport Gap to Hot Springs on 03/02/2010 19:32:05 MST Print View

Hi James,

On our hike at 2200' (Tanyard Gap) there was almost no snow but at 3500' where we topped out I would estimate we were walking in 8 - 12 in of snow depending on where you stepped and there were snow drifts quite a bit higher. The Life on Leconte blog is currently reporting 46 in at 6600'. The places you will be heading (Max Patch, and Bluff mountain) get up over 4600' so I would think there will be some pretty good snow levels. There was some warm weather last week but it's snowing again in the mountains this week and the long range forecast calls for the temps to stay low so I'd have to guess there will be some pretty serious snow at those elevations.

I haven't used snowshoes or micro spikes before but hiking through a foot of snow is pretty slow going and tiring so I might recommend some snowshoes unless next week brings some warm temps to the higher elevations and melts some snow. The weather forecast for the trip two weekends ago changed daily so I'd keep checking right up until your trip to make your final gear decision. It should be a beautiful trip! Good luck.


Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Re: Smokies Winter Gear List on 03/03/2010 07:58:00 MST Print View

When I called for our trip, they had a reported 24" of snow on Snowbird, Max Pacth, and Bluff Mountain. If enough people have already been through, it wouldn't be too bad, but if you are post-holing, it would be very slow going.

Call Bluff Mountain Outfitters in Hot Springs and see if they have any recent reports 828-622-7162

I would also check with Curtis Owen, of Standing Bear Farm Hostel on Waterville School Road and see what information he has. 423-487-0014

James Lantz
(jameslantz) - F

Locale: North Georgia
Smokies Winter Gear List on 03/03/2010 13:26:06 MST Print View

Thanks for the info. Bluff Mountain Outfitters will actually be transporting my party to the trailhead at Davenport Gap. Sounds like maybe both the microspikes & snowshoes would be a good idea. They might represent extra weight but could make the trip much easier.