Newbie Winter AT Hiking Gear List
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Ronald Cordell
(roncordell)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Newbie Winter AT Hiking Gear List on 06/24/2006 07:42:21 MDT Print View

Hi all,

I'm a noob on hiking light, and am working into it. I've got plenty of the heavy stuff, and am spending some summer hikes finding and testing lighter weight 3-season gear. However, we always do a winter hike in late January/early Feb on the AT in TN/NC/Virginia and have gotten into 0 deg F temps and lots of snow. On those trips the gear is often quite bulky and heavy. So I'm looking for what other people do in winter on 3-4 day hikes.

I'm thinking of getting Henry Shire's Rainbow tarp tent to use as a 3 1/2 season tent, that I could probably use in winter as well. That will help quite a lot. However, my 0 deg down bag, WhisperLite stove and fuel, sleeping pad, bulky winter synthetics like Polar Fleece and all that really require lots of space and the weight adds up. Add to that the leather hiking boots/socks/etc that always freeze at night and crampons and things start getting really heavy.

Then there's the food - winter hiking can demand a few more calories than usual, so usually high caloric, low glycemic index foods are my choice, but I'm looking for suggestions that help to reduce fuel loads.

Michael Neal
(michaelneal) - F
lighter on 07/31/2006 07:59:28 MDT Print View

instead of the heavy fleece get something like a Patagonia Micro Puff and use an Esbit stove

Edited by michaelneal on 07/31/2006 08:00:04 MDT.

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
layering is key on 11/14/2006 08:35:24 MST Print View

Look for alternatives to the fleece which is bulky to carry. (Marmot DriClime)
I like esbit stoves, but you will need the Whisperlite to melt snow for water. Tarp tents are great, but you do not need the mosquito nettting. When using a tarp in winter, think of using somewhat thicker guy lines(even though heavier!) than you might use in summer. For me small lines are harder to tie with cold or gloved hands. (parachute cord works) To help with weight think of layering rather than single pieces of bulky insulated gear. Layer with the hands also, starting with liners. It is hard not to get heavier for winter, but for each piece of gear, look for a lighter alternative or combination of clothes that will keep you just as warm. For example, long underwear, summerweight long pants and a shell (eg. Golite Reed) works as well as a fleece or insulated snow pant.

Lee Davis
(mldavis) - F

Locale: Southeast
Location is key on 11/17/2006 14:59:17 MST Print View

You won't need the whisper lite to melt snow if you're on the NC/Va border, yet it's still too cold for esbit. Even in the coldest weather the springs are still flowing. Get a light canister stove, make a windscreen for it and ignore people who say canister stoves don't work in winter, unless you happen to be going somewhere that the temp is -10. That said, I'd not go with a remote canister.

Regarding tents: there is NO reason to ever take a four season tent out in the southeast. Tarps or UL tents work perfectly well.

Get rid of the fleece. Layer: under shirt, long sleeve shirt, micro puff jacket, down vest, rain gear as shell. Even this is pretty overkill. If you're cold then it means you're not walking so you may as well get in your bag and arrange your camp so as to do all of your chores like cooking from there.

Running shoes, seal skins, and overshoes. Instep crampons or hex bolts for grip, nothing fancy or heavy. Put the shoes in a stuff sack and place in sleeping bag. I do find 2 sleeping pads to be critical for warmth.

Hope that helps.

Edited by mldavis on 11/17/2006 15:00:05 MST.

Ronald Cordell
(roncordell)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Gear update on 11/18/2006 16:02:30 MST Print View

Since I posted this question, I've been doing research and asking others. Today I purchased a Mountain Hardwear Compressor PL jacket from The Gear Revival here in Atlanta. So I'm going to ditch the PolarTech 300 fleece and North Face Denali in favor of more layers. I've used the Capilene and MTS thermal underwear from light to expedition weight in the past and that has worked well for me. Today someone told me that I should switch to a SmartWool type of thermal underwear instead. Any opinions on that?

Also, since I made that original post, I've purchased an SMD Lunar Solo tent which I'll use all year-round. I've thought about using just a bivy, but I'm not sure about them for the expense.

Agreed about the stove - I've moved to a single Ti 900ml cooking pot/cup that holds my canister stove and fuel canister. MUCH lighter.

So mow my plans are to use the Capilene and MTS thermal as base layer, ArcTeryx Gamma pants, Mountain Hardwear Compressor on top with shell as needed. I think I'm moving in the right direction, anyway, and I'll get to do some testing in colder weather soon.

My biggest concern is sweating and soaking my base layer, which happened last year. I couldn't get dry nor could I get warm unless I changed clothes, but doing so made the base layer I removed freeze in about 10 minutes, with no hope of drying it out. That's really a layer management issue, I think, because I should have had fewer layers underneath the shell I was wearing (the shell was because it was snowing really really hard all day).

And that brings me to the question of outer shells for winter - any suggestions?

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Re: Newbie Winter AT Hiking Gear List on 11/18/2006 19:52:51 MST Print View

Previously in this thread someone mentioned that you should ignore what people say about using canister stoves in cold weather.

Canister stove performance goes down drastically even in temps as high as the 40s. We had both an MSR Pocket Rocket and a Primus canister stove running MSR and Gigapower canisters last weekend with temps in the high 30s and low 40s.

Typical runtime of the larger canisters should be around 90 minutes and I'd estimate these times were nearly halfed due to the cold weather.

** I should put an addendum on this post to clarify that by canister stove I am referring to the pre-filled isobutane style canisters and NOT home-filled white gas stoves. As mentioned in the beginning of the thread you are a "n00b" to ultralight so I'd rather not scare you off with statistics unfamiliar to you. **

Edited by sharalds on 11/18/2006 20:01:02 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: canister stoves on 11/18/2006 20:08:42 MST Print View

> Canister stove performance goes down drastically even in temps as high as the 40s. We had both an MSR Pocket Rocket and a Primus canister stove running MSR and Gigapower canisters last weekend with temps in the high 30s and low 40s.
> Typical runtime of the larger canisters should be around 90 minutes and I'd estimate these times were nearly halfed due to the cold weather.

This is an issue which has been addresses MANY times at BPL. There are many Features and Techniques Articles on this. Read them!

Basically, an upright canister stove will have problems if you don't keep the canister warm - but it will run excellently if you do keep it warm. The myths put about by the vendors' legal department warnings to 'never use a windscreen' are largely responsible for the problem. Use a windscreen close to the stove, but monitor the temperature of the canister. Make sure it is warmish, but NOT so hot you can't touch it.
And read our published articles! That's why they are there! Happy Cooking.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: canister stoves on 11/18/2006 22:31:50 MST Print View

>Basically, an upright canister stove will have problems if you don't keep the canister warm - but it will run excellently if you do keep it warm.


I'll second this with a non-windscreen comment. I've used my JetBoil down around +15F many times with no big problem. I slept with the canister between my base layer and insulation, and held the canister in my hands (wearing only liner gloves) when the stove was running. There was a bit of flare-up occasionally (good reason to hold the canister rather than the handle) and my fingers got cold, but I was able to use all the fuel in the canister.

And yes, Roger and other BPL folks have written some excellent articles addressing other ways of using canister stoves in the cold. (Thanks.)

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Gear update on 11/18/2006 22:54:22 MST Print View

>My biggest concern is sweating and soaking my base layer [Capilene and MTS thermal]...I couldn't get dry nor could I get warm unless I changed clothes...


Been there, felt that. I quit wearing Capilene or MTS as my backcountry base layer because if they're wet I can't dry either out fast enough when I stop. (My old solution: carry extra clothing changes and fold the wet clothes so they freeze in a convenient shape :) I switched to an Under Armour-type base layer which wicks and dries quickly and now I just live in one set. Others use Merino wool (silkweight or lightweight) for good wicking and no-stink performance, which is probably why somebody made the suggestion to switch. [Oops, I didn't quite mean it _that_ way ;]


>That's really a layer management issue, I think, because I should have had fewer layers underneath the shell I was wearing (the shell was because it was snowing really really hard all day).


Agreed. Try a highly breathable windshirt instead of a shell. I don't know what your air temp was, but you don't need a waterproof shell if the snow doesn't stick or melt. I've never worn a waterproof shell that I considered sufficiently breathable. My 'active' clothing in winter is an Under Armour-type (Jockey Microfiber and Athletic Works from WalMart) base layer, Patagonia Expedition-Weight Capilene (feels like 100-weight fleece) or R.5 mid-layer (if needed), and a Montane Aero windshirt. They're all highly breathable so the moisture goes right through.

You may find the MH Compressor PL too warm for active wear. I keep my Patagonia Micropuff at the top of my pack for stops, but I would sweat it up badly if I wore it while active. You might want to consider a more breathable and not-quite-so-warm mid-layer, such as those I mentioned above or a mid-weight or heavy-weight Merino wool long-sleeve shirt.

That said, there's nothing like testing to find out what works for you. I went x-c skiing in various combinations of clothing for a month last winter before I felt comfortable changing to a new (lighter) clothing scheme for the backcountry.

(BTW, I think you'll be happy with the SMD Lunar Solo. One of my highly-experienced hiking partners used one when we hiked the Wonderland Trail in September in nasty weather and was happier in it than we were in our tent. Nice.)

Edited by Otter on 11/19/2006 09:20:42 MST.

Ronald Cordell
(roncordell)

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Gear update on 11/19/2006 08:47:19 MST Print View

That's very helpful information, Doug. I've been looking at the UnderArmour web site this morning taking a look at the cold weather base layer products. I've also been taking a look at the SmartWool products.

Your comments about the MH Compressor are right on - I was planning to put it in the top of the pack for stops. I think I would also sweat it up badly if I were actually hiking in it. I'm going to start testing some of this stuff eventually - it takes some time for it to actually get cold here in the Southeast.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: Re: Gear update on 11/19/2006 09:20:09 MST Print View

>I've been looking at the UnderArmour web site this morning taking a look at the cold weather base layer products.


I just took a quick look at those too. $80 for a t-shirt? Wow. Instead, I use the Athletic Works brand stretchy t-shirt available at WalMart for about $15. The label says 81% Cationic Polyester/19% Elastane. I use it summer and winter, since all I want it to do is wick without insulating. (Unfortunately, it doesn't make me look like one of those male models on the Under Armour site.) WalMart also carries Life by Jockey brand "Microfiber" underwear, which is 92% polyester/8% spandex and has the same feel.

YMMV. I have a love/hate relationship with this material. It is a close fit, which isn't flattering for me, and it tends to 'flash' hot and cold when I am dry and just on the edge of sweating. But I can pull into camp soaking wet from rain, get under shelter and stand around for ten minutes, and have it dry enough to add my insulation layer without worry. When it's hot and I'm sweating it cools me off nicely. It also doesn't seem to stink as much as MTS after four days without washing.

Edited by Otter on 11/19/2006 09:25:28 MST.

Lee Davis
(mldavis) - F

Locale: Southeast
windshirts! on 11/20/2006 08:09:03 MST Print View

I agree that windshirts are the best shell unless it's really wet. I like the modified 3/4 layer system that (I believe)pro mountain sports outlines on their site. For 4-6 oz you can't beat a windshirt's benefit. I've tried wearing my windshirt uner my WB jacket a few times now instead on a long sleave base layer when it's really cold and have been happy with the combination, especially as I can get the windshirt dry very quickly with body heat when stopping. The micropuff or down jacket stays in the top of my pack for stops.

Target also has cheap nylon base layers, but the t-shirt I bought there does tend to stink after a few days.

RE canister stoves, yeah, they can't be terrible in cold weather, but the trick outlined other places on this site get you over that hurdle.

Speaking of cold, looks like we're finally gonna get some, or something close to it anyway.

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
cooking in the cold on 12/08/2006 11:34:06 MST Print View

Roger, I just finished reading your article comparing the MSR Simmerlite and the Coleman which makes me glad I own the Coleman. With no pumping necessary, it is easy to set up and get cooking. However, at sub zero temps one time it did not work well. The flame hardly got higher than a simmer. It looked like the can was low on fuel even though it was not. My companions had tha MSR Dragon Fly.
That was going great guns, sounding like a freight train, but melting snow at a rapid rate. I had the "PowerMax" bottle wraped in closed cell foam, but obviously the can was not warm enough. The Coleman is advertised as a cold weather stove, but.... How does one keep the canister warm, anyway? The liquid fuel was not warm, and it worked great. NB Do not touch the freezing fuel bottle with your bare hand if you can help it!

Victor Karpenko
(Viktor) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: cooking in the cold on 12/08/2006 14:01:40 MST Print View

Don't wrap the "PowerMax" bottle in closed cell foam. It takes heat to vaporize the liquid in the bottle into a gas that is used by the stove. By wrapping the bottle, you have insulated from the environment slowing down the vaporiztion rate. That may account for it's poor performance.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Re: Re: cooking in the cold on 12/08/2006 16:32:41 MST Print View

I know that this adds weight but in winter I use a white gas stove coupled with a single MSR pot and the MSR heat exchanger. What I save in fuel makes up for the added weight.

I'd also like to mention that one should be careful with stoves. An aquaintance of mine had the stove tank blow up on him and his wife. It was pretty serious. You can read a brief bit about it in the TR here... http://www.wildernessbound.com (click on the link "what we did in 2005"). I've talked with George about this and it has made me rethink a lot of the stuff I do with my stoves.

Maybe I am paranoid but I sure wouldn't want to be out there and have something happen. Call me chicken!

Edited by Laurie_Ann on 12/08/2006 16:33:30 MST.

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
stoves on 12/08/2006 20:21:53 MST Print View

Victor, thanks for the tip. I guess if the bottle is not giving off any heat the foam pad is not doing any good. Does it draw heat from the surrounding air while it is being used? Laurie, how do you store the heat exchanger in your pack. How do you keep it from crumbling up? I have wraped pots in closed cell foam to keep the food warm, but obviously one cannot cook over a flame with such insulation. BTW Roger's article on "Selecting a stove..." does answer the question about how to warm a canister. Just put it under your parka awhile before using it. In my example of trouble with the Coleman the temp was 19F below zero. Next time I'll pre-warm the canister.

Edited by rambler on 12/08/2006 20:42:19 MST.

b d
(bdavis) - F

Locale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Stoves in winter - Laurie on 12/08/2006 20:36:18 MST Print View

Laurie,

I couldn't really find the topic you identified at the site you referred to.

In any case, I am willing to take a lot of risks but when it comes to my partner it is the opposite. I have been wondering about stove safety topic and am reading the articles here at BPL, not paranoic, but thoughtfully.

In the offshore sailing world we treat every item of gear, including the boat, rigging, our mind, the slightest detail seriously ... because they are all life threatening. In fact, the way my teachers taught ... expect if one thing or system is failing the others will.

Thus a small error in gear maintenance, purchase, planning can geometrically increase to a sever injury or death in seconds. Sailing was my real preparation for UL camping in winter ... so all inputs and thoughts are welcomed, respected and loyally taken into account. (Check out the stories in the Latitudes free magazine that every offshore, even the onshore people, line up to pick up at the West Marine stores when a new issue is coming out. It has stories of the good and fun stuff, but it also covers the tragedies.)

Something as simple as a newbie using a cheap bungie cord from a hardware store for a stay and line holder put a guys eye out in a storm off Cape Mendocino in a boat he had spent years building to sail around the world. My charter captain/delivery boat captain had to be dropped from a helicopter in rough seas and winds to take over the boat. Without that the man and his wife could have sunk, crashed on a rugged coast which is very hard to get to (the "Lost Coast"), or sunk. It was bad, all because of a cheap commercially available bungy cord. Finally, the Coast Guard and my captain friend don't like risking their lives in bad weather because someone else, especially a newbie, pulls a real dumb move like that -- threatening their lives, and families, especially the children.

Edited by bdavis on 12/08/2006 20:40:11 MST.

Victor Karpenko
(Viktor) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: stoves on 12/09/2006 00:05:45 MST Print View

Hi Frank,
Yes, the fuel container does draw heat from the surrounding environment while it is being used. It takes energy to convert the liquid fuel into a gas. That is why on cold days the canister develops frost on it. One of the earlier posts suggests using a wind screen to keep the container warm to the touch. You need to be very careful and not overheat it.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: cooking in the cold on 12/09/2006 02:51:50 MST Print View

> glad I own the Coleman. With no pumping necessary, it is easy to set up and get cooking. However, at sub zero temps one time it did not work well. The flame hardly got higher than a simmer. It looked like the can was low on fuel even though it was not.

I see that the 'sub-zero' was actually -19 F (-28 C). Well, that is cold! However, if the Powermax canister had been used correctly (previously) it should still have had some propane it it to pressurise it, as propane boils at -40 F (-40 C), so it should work.

I suggest several possibilities.
1) The canister was low on propane for whatever reason, and this meant the pressure inside the canister was very low. However, this is unlikely.
2) The canister had cooled down a lot further, lowering the pressure. You did mention to not touch the freezing fuel canister?
3) The valve or the jet had got a little blocked in the extreme cold.
4) The canister was not properly attached.

But I don't know which one(s) of these might have been significant in your case.

Going on from here:
You should NOT have wrapped the canister in foam. Instead position it so it warms up from radiation from the stove, and sit it on the foam off the ground. As long as you can keep your hand on the canister it is not too hot. I can be quite adamant about this as I know what the safety test requirements are for the canisters. A cool-to-warm canister is a Good Thing!

IF the valve was gummed up you can usually fix this by getting the canister warm to raise the pressure and then cycling the valve wide open and shut a few times fairly quickly. I have met this problem once with another stove - it is rare but can happen.

If the jet was blocked then a field strip is required. This is a pain, but can be done if you have the tools. I don't think Coleman supply a jet spanner with the Xtreme - which I think is reasonable as I have never had any problems with mine. However, I do usually carry a very small light sheet metal spanner with every stove 'just in case'. This is for the jet. Oh yes - also a bit of very fine spring wire which is fine enough to act as a 'pricker' for the jet. This must be VERY fine - check before you leave. Do NOT force a bigger wire into the jet hole.

How to field strip the Xtreme? Place the base of the stove in the palm of your hand and pull the 'windshield-cup' down with your fingers. It will move a little. Then twist the burner head anti-clockwise - it will unscrew. It may be tight the first time. Watch carefully as you unscrew the burner as the bits can go everywhere! Doing this over a t-shirt or something to catch the bits is a good idea. Then unscrew the jet and hold it up to the light. You should be able to see light through the hole. Clean only IF necessary. Now reassemble - carefully! :-) Practice this once or twice at home first; don't rely on doing it the first time in failing light in bad weather in freezing conditions ...

Technique for very advanced users, to be tried OUTSIDE ONLY with NO flames around. When the jet is off, try attaching the canister and cracking the valve open briefly. There should be a whoosh of gas - you will smell it. If there is not then you have a problem with valve or the attachment.

Now, the attachment possibility. This is a known problem, but does not always happen. Even Coleman have heard about it, but they can't reproduce it in the lab.
There is a little O-ring on the spigot on the valve (have a look). This presses on the top of the nipple on the canister, and gets compressed to make a seal. Never try to use the stove without this O-ring!!!
In extreme cold it can be difficult to push the canister against the valve hard enough (before you twist it) to get a proper attachment. Known problem. I sometimes suspect the O-ring of being frozen solid, but I don't KNOW.
If the O-ring is not sufficiently compressed the central spigot on the valve assembly does not get pushed far enough into the nipple on the canister. It HAS to be pushed in to open the valve in there. If it is not pushed in far enough the valve may be only partially opened, or not opened at all. I know people have had this problem.
If you suspect this is happening, disassemble and warm the canister and the valve inside your clothing, then try reassembling the valve onto the canister, with a determined squeeze.

I would be interested in whether the stove worked OK when you got back home. Test?

Cheers
Roger Caffin

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Re: stoves on 12/09/2006 06:59:42 MST Print View

Victor...

the MSR Heat exchanger is made of metal and I store it curled up inside my pot so that it doesn't take up extra space. It still leaves me room to cram other items into my pot too. Because I use white gas I don't need to warm the fuel bottle(at least it has never been an issue) and we've been in -30C weather with it (which I think is about -20F).

The cool thing about the heat exchanger is that it made up of channels that cause the heat to go up the side of the pot thus reducing heat loss. It really is a brilliant piece of gear in my opinion. You can find it on MSR's website.

William...

The section I referred to on WildernessBound.com was "what we did in 2005". Here is a quote from that site...

"It was the next day that the accident happened. A stove tank exploded while we were cooking breakfast. Barbara and myself were burned severly and Jim had one hand burned. The large Eureka Tunnel Vision Tent was destroyed. But because their tents are made of flame retardent material it did not burn and we were saved from far more serious injury. We had a satellite phone with us and were able to explain our situation to the RCMP in Baker Lake and that afternoon some 6 hours later a helicopter picked Barbara and myself up and evacuated us to Baker Lake."

Now I've spoken with George about this. He has recovered but Barbara is still having some issues. If they hadn't had the sat. phone they would have been in an even more serious predicament. Because of certain things going on right now I can't tell you the name of the manufacturer (I promised George that I wouldn't say publicly). What I can say that this shouldn't have happened. Anyway - just be careful.

I do have a question about the canister stoves. Aside from the fact that they don't perform as well in the cold (or so I've found)... is anyone concerned about the environmental impact of canisters? As far as I know they aren't recycled or refillable. It seems quite wasteful. Correct me if I am wrong about that please.

Sorry for the hijack... back to regular programming.

Edited by Laurie_Ann on 12/09/2006 07:09:06 MST.