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--25c: Pad + Bag + Tarp OK?
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Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
Questions re: Urban Winter Camping (-25c/-13f). on 10/31/2011 16:10:02 MDT Print View

(NOTE: I updated this post+title from " --25c: Pad + Bag + Tarp OK?")

This will be my first year doing winter camping. I'll be doing this in Montreal (a city), up to 7 days a week, every week of the winter (I sleep at other people's homes sometimes). I want to be ready for temps of -25c/-13f. I have an Exped Downmat 9 l/w and a MEC Thor -30c/-22f bag with Windstopper NR55 shell. The shell is completely windproof, but only "water resistant". What that means is unclear and Gore won't help. As things are now, the sleeping bag's fabric isn't humid in the morning. I don't know how this will be after extended use, especially once the Canadian winter goddess has free reign. This said, I will air out my bag at least once a week inside my university's library.

1. Bivy or no bivy?
I've ruled out a tent due to visibility, though I'll experiment with a friends' tent for fun. I'm inclined to use a bivy instead of a tarp tent because this allows easier setup + lower visibility. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be such a thing as storm and blizzard proof bivy, in part because fully closing a waterproof bivy leads to condensation problems and suffocation if there's a lot of snow, while leaving it open requires at least shelter for the head.

This said, as things are now I'm tempted to get Canadian military bivy (very straightforward: just a gore-tex bag with
drawstrings, no zip). Advantages I see:

*Better temp control. If I unzip the bag without a bivy or tent, I expose myself to drafts. This should make it easier for me to control temps since this way I can unzip the sleeping bag a bit while still having a windproof shell.

*Snow protection
I assume (???) that light snow fall, either from the sky or pushed by the wind, will not cause problems as long as I have a balaclava. I may be dead wrong.

I'll still carry a tarp to cover my head when there's significant snow. I'm thinking of building a snow shelter that just covers my head.

2. Extra-sized sleeping bag?
My current sleeping bag is for 185cm people and I'm 185cm. (+/- 6ft). It's not too tight, but I can't fit anything else in there with me (except a jacket to snuggle with). I can return and replace it with the long size, but that's 15cm longer (0.5 feet). I don't know if this is a problem in terms of the time it takes to heat things up.

3. Transition in/out of the bag.
I'm a bit concerned about the in and out transitions. There are two issues I see:

At the moment, it's warm enough that I can handle brief exposure to the elements. However, if it's -25c, that might be very uncomfortable, and, done repetitively, dangerous.

Also, I don't want to get snow inside the sleeping/bivy bags. I can imagine some different ways of dealing with this, but I'd like to hear it from the experienced.

Any additional tips are welcome. Here are the one's I've read about already:

*1L pee bottle
*Nalgene bottle with boiling water covered with clean sock
*Clean wool socks
*merino bottoms/top

Edited by Dussault on 11/22/2011 10:39:54 MST.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Re: --25c: Pad + Bag + Tarp OK? on 11/01/2011 02:10:01 MDT Print View

A bit off-topic, but why are you hammocking near your university's campus? Trying to save on dorm fees?

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
j on 11/01/2011 04:56:33 MDT Print View

suggest you post this thread in the hammock section or head over to Underquilts are much more comfortable than pads, especially if you roll around. Consider a bigger tarp that reaches low to the ground with doors to block wind.

dont forget, hot air rises, use the natrual barriers to block wind/weather, remember that when your looking for a place to sleep.

Edited by isaac.mouser on 11/01/2011 04:57:58 MDT.

Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
:) on 11/01/2011 11:43:02 MDT Print View

There are several reasons why I do this. Two of which are:
*It allows me to save money.
*It's fun and constructive as a short-term experience (I'll end up buying a bus and insulating that).


Sorry, I wasn't clear. I'm not trying to insulate my hammock since sleeping bag + hammock + underquilt would be just too much stuff. I might do that, but for now I wonder if just a pad on top of snow, a tarp to block snow and wind, and a good sleeping bag are enough to be comfortable. A friend will lend me a three-season tent, so I'll also have this as an option.


Johnny Duke
(jd1987) - F
-25 on 11/02/2011 20:47:21 MDT Print View

-25c is pretty cold. I'm a Fahrenheit guy so that's -13F right? chilly. What kind of bag and what kind of pad are you using here? You will need to have a pad with a high R value or double up (or more) for your pad. And a really good bag to attempt to get away with just wearing a base layer inside the bag.

sorry i see you stated you had a -30c bag. In my experience with bags - the limit to what they are rated to is not comfortable just as a bag (some bags do have true ratings). You will probably want to wear more as part of your sleep system. Lots of heat leaves the head so a good hat and/or balaclava is smart.

When I camp in cold i wear my base layers, heavy socks, fleece pants, down jacket with hood up covering a fleece hat and/or fleece hoody. The hoody is like a giant neck gaiter that comes over the face and then can cinch closed when sleeping. I dont have the best bag, but I sleep toasty. I've also used a trash bag as a vapor barrier over my feet inside of my bag. This would also be good when you transition out of your bag because your clothes would already be all warm and toasty.

Also all these items I bought for under 35 each. Including the down jacket (costco). Not the sleeping bag obviously.

Edited by jd1987 on 11/02/2011 21:02:35 MDT.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Stealth Camping on 11/02/2011 20:52:25 MDT Print View

Fascinating. I believe your situation would definitely qualify as "stealth camping". Given the high cost of tuition, room & board, etc., if I were your age (assuming you're young), I might consider doing the same.

A grad student friend of mine "camped" in his lab--until he was caught! But during the that time he was able to use the athletic facilities (available to all registered students) to take a shower, etc. The only drawback was that he had to wait until everyone went home--usually late at night--before settling into his lab.

How do you treat your camp when you're away (at classes, etc.)? Do you pack it all up and take it with you? Do you stash it somewhere? Or do you just leave camp set up? Is your college in a rural or urban environment? (That'd be funny if you're hammocking in Central Park!)

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: :) on 11/02/2011 22:01:07 MDT Print View

OK Shane, now that we know you are asking about long term camping ...

Other folks have mentioned the need for a well insulating pad ... R5 seems to be the minimum needed for "real winter camping" and -25C falls into that realm. I'm sure there's variability in blue foam pads but the moderate cost 3/8" thick blue foam that REI sells is said to offer R1.4 insulating value ... 3 of those might be OK if your -30C bag has synthetic fill (offering some insulating value on the bottom). 2 blue foams plus a ridgerest would be warmer. There are other (more expensive) options providing more insulation.

Another concern is moisture accumulation in the bag. Here's a story told by Will Steger about his Arctic Polar Expedition. The Artic climate is relatively humid (as humid as real cold weather can be). Their synthetic bags were quite beefy, I don't know the starting weight ... almost certainly less than 20lbs though. They weighed 60lbs at the end of the trip due to accumulated moisture which froze every day ... they spent hours each night just warming them up (using body heat). He used a vapor barrier liner (from the Warmlite folks) on a later Antarctic traverse with good results. That experience is corroborated by Andrew Skurka's experiences. He's quite up front about the fact that his winter camping skills were inadequate for his Sea-to-Sea trek (was in Michigan, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota during Jan, Feb and Mar) and that he could not have made it through that stretch without being invited indoors a night or more often two nights per week ... allowing him to dry things. He returned to MN a couple years later to test more highly developed skills in his UL in the Nations Icebox trek. He made extensive use of vapor barrier clothing and vapor barrier bag liner on that trek. The same ideas served him well in Alaska in 2010.

Concerning tent vs tarp ... you can get pretty good protection from a largish tarp (10x10 ft) if pitched snug to the snow and open only on the downwind side. However I might be inclined to accept the offer of a tent if it has solid fabric walls (not mesh). However, I don't recall reading about your locale ... if you are in an area that gets a lot of snow there could be problems with the tent supporting the load during a heavy snowfall.

Whatever you choose to do, I'm sure we'd all like to hear what you tried, what worked well and what didn't.

Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
Re: Stealth Camping on 11/02/2011 22:03:22 MDT Print View

I go to McGill, Montreal, and as you see from the following map, there are plenty of great spots nearby, especially for hammocks.,+Montr%C3%A9al,+Qu%C3%A9bec,+Canada&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=45.506903,-73.579795&spn=0.008542,0.021136&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=39.456673,86.572266&vpsrc=6&hq=Mount+Royal+Park,&hnear=Montreal,+Communaut%C3%A9-Urbaine-de-Montr%C3%A9al,+Quebec,+Canada&t=h&z=16

Edited by Dussault on 11/03/2011 08:07:42 MDT.

Jeff J
(j.j.81) - F

Locale: Oregon
Trouble? on 11/03/2011 00:42:07 MDT Print View


If I was you, I'd remove such specific information from your post. I don't know how likely you are to get into trouble if someone from your school found out you were doing this, but better to never find out.


Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Dryer. on 11/03/2011 07:51:11 MDT Print View

"Another concern is moisture accumulation in the bag. Here's a story told by Will Steger about his Arctic Polar Expedition. The Artic climate is relatively humid (as humid as real cold weather can be). Their synthetic bags were quite beefy, I don't know the starting weight ... almost certainly less than 20lbs though. They weighed 60lbs at the end of the trip due to accumulated moisture which froze every day"
All true, but the solution is for these Arctic Explorers to stop in at a laundromat and toss their sleeping bags into a dryer.

Chris Jones
(NightMarcher) - F
Blog on 11/05/2011 04:41:54 MDT Print View

Heh. Shane, you should start a blog chronicling your nomadic student life. Could be a big hit among the adventurous yet frugal-minded student crowd...

Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
Re: Blog on 11/22/2011 11:01:56 MST Print View

Hi everyone. Thanks for the replies. I've been thinking about the topic and I rewrote my first post/thread title to cover the problems I'm dealing with now :)

Chris, I've set up a website at It's still in the making, though. I definitely think that a lot of students, as well as older people with low paid jobs, are making a mistake in associating sleeping outside full-time with poverty. There are people for whom this would be wiser than working extra hours, compromising food, or getting in debt.

Also, you're right about the "frugal-minded students", and even non-students. I don't believe that frugality ought to be pursued at the cost of comfort/happiness, but that a materially minimal life can enhance both happiness and frugality. For example, there are plenty of people who work significantly more hours than we used to as hunter-gatherers because they treat as necessary what is at best a luxury (i.e.: having a summer climate inside your house when it's freezing outside. People can just keep some layers on inside, get a down blanket, and save money on heating.)

Edited by Dussault on 11/22/2011 11:15:22 MST.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Dirtbagging it - winter style on 11/22/2011 11:14:45 MST Print View

Shane: There's actually an American lifestyle known in climbing circles as "dirt-bagging" and I'm not being derogatory about it; climbers who claim this as a badge live out of a tent, van, and/or pickup truck perfecting their avocation until they can get seriously sponsored (or give up). That's summer - rural California, Utah,etc... I've read where old time downhill skiers did it to avoid expensive condo rentals, etc... until the resorts got wise, thus there's no car-camping near most resorts during ski season nowadays. I've read some ski magazines where a few still live out of their 70's style vans, however. Not sure any of this helps backpackers as we use homes/cars/etc.. more as basecamps to launch our getaways from cars, homes, work, school, SO's, Black Friday, loan sharks, etc...

In terms of students, stealth living has been around for awhile. 20 years ago (gadz!- y'all are old), I knew of one grad student who lived in his van on the campus parking lot while finishing up his dissertation (one of those frozen in winter/broiling in summer great American prairie universities).

Wish I could be more help but most of my winter adventures end up in front of a fireplace with a shot of Maker's mark, though (ADD) when I first get up to southern Colorado/northern NM for snowsports, it's usually too late to get a hotel, so I winter car-camp (overnight) using an Exped Downmat 7 or 9 at my secret location - only known to the mother ship. The next couple nights are in a room, with jacuzzi, fireplace, and bar to sooth my aching muscles and oft wounded ego.

(ed: ADD)

Edited by hknewman on 11/22/2011 13:34:12 MST.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Re: Dirtbagging it - winter style on 11/22/2011 12:29:19 MST Print View

I have had 5 friends who camped through part of college, tho some of this was occurred about 25 years ago.

One at the Evergreen College in Washington lived in a teepee.

One at UC Santa Cruz who lived in plastic shelters in the Redwoods.

One who lived in a tent up a canyon along the Truckee River while going to UNR.

And the most interesting of the batch, two who shared a Teepee on National Forest Lands and went to school in Flagstaff. These two took out a mining claim and spent a small amount of money each year to improve the claim to keep it. Thus they could legally stay on the claim. The improvements usually consisted of hiring a backhoe to dig a new outhouse pit.

All used the library for studying, gym for showers. All but the UNR grad student used
bikes for transportation.

Perhaps you could find an Occupy Group to stay with?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Urban camping alternatives on 11/22/2011 13:05:35 MST Print View

I have some experience here. But a little more expensive.

Option 1:

Live in a storage unit; you know those garage looking complexes. You have to be stealth going in and out. Some have electrical outlets so you can use an electric heater. Don't plug into the ceiling light fixture though, heaters generally pull up to 1500 watts. The other heating option is a LPG catalytic heater, very efficient but they deplete 02, so you have to leave the door open a little at the bottom. An Olympic Wave 8 would be perfect, but you then need a 20# LPG tank. Now buy a porta potti. You can find them really cheap at big box stores, or you can get a stool with a plastic bag to capture your waste. Your storage unit will be warm enough to get out of your bag and do your business with a small heater. However they are heavy full, so you need to be able to haul it somewhere for disposal. There was a time I could live well for $40 a month rent. Not sure what they go for these days. You can also build a little shelving unit for cooking and storing your stuff. Materials of choice are discarded cinder blocks and wood. Plus you can sleep on a cot with your insulated pad for luxury sleeping. In nasty weather you are guaranteed to be dry and warm. And it is a quite place to study and read.

Option 2:

Small pop-up trailer. This requires a tow vehicle. I lived in one for 18 months. In the US, there are places you can camp for free, but there are time limits so you have to move around. Wave heater and porta potti again. Coldest temperature I dealt with was 5F in Flagstaff.

Think out of the box, both of these are box shelters :) but the living arrangements are much more comfortable although more expensive.

Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
Re: Urban camping alternatives on 11/22/2011 16:26:49 MST Print View

David, I hear the parc that's being "Occupied" is a fun place to be at, but I don't want to bet on them staying throughout the winter, and I don't want to sleep there every day. Thanks for reminding me of at least going to see what it's like — I keep pushing it off.

Nick, my long-term plan is to buy a $3,000 half-size bus (which at first is like a tent o nwheels) and, over time, modify it so that it has insulation. I'm going to start the permit-obtention process this winter (which, unfortunately, costs something $1,000 due to mandatory lessons, and takes I think 1 year 1/2 before I can drive independently).

As for stealthy stuff: I can do this on campus, and I have many friends that are always willing to let me bum over. That's what I'll do if I can't handle sleeping outside. However, I have a craving to know if it's possible to sleep outside year-round while being safe and comfortable.

This isn't just about the challenge, though. I am, for example, interested in the idea of a basic income guarantee as an alternative to the welfare system we have now. One of the problems with the basic income guarantee is the means by which it can account for shelter. If it's possible to safely and legally sleep outside, I believe this problem can be accounted for. It's a non-issue, say, in California, but in Quebec sleeping outside isn't something that people believe is possible to do year round. Clearly, it's possible, but I want to know is how comfortable it is.

Here's a brief description of Friedman's proposal:

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Urban Stealth on 11/26/2011 13:02:38 MST Print View

I live in NYC and have done my share of stealth camping in the area.
I have even done it in the city limits on city park land a few times, once on snow in an open area. A fence blocked the view from the only path in the area.

People tend to stay on paths at night, especially in the winter.

One friend lived for many days in the well patrolled Central Park. He would hang his hammock very high in a tree, above the eyes of the police who patrol the park.
He did this to prepare for a mountaineering trip he was going on.

Stealth camping can be easier in the colder months because of the shorter days and less people out and about at night.

Don't stay too many nights in one place.

If you get caught, tell them you are testing your camping gear before an upcoming hiking trip.

Some great places to stealth have also been discovered by homeless people. Not a good choice if you want to get a good nights sleep.

Shelter color - White is invisible in snow. Black is invisible at night. Other colors are probably fine except on clear nights with a bright moon.

A small flat tarp can be stealthier than most shelters because you have more pitch options and can be adjusted to your terrain.

A hammock can stand out unless you plan on climbing up high with it.
But a hammock can be good to hang under a pier, deck or other areas that are out of view of the public.

I agree that a vapor barrier of some sort would be a requirement of winter camping in Montreal.

Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
Gore-Tex Bivy & Breathability on 01/16/2012 14:24:49 MST Print View

Hi again :) So, I've dealt with -25c and slept well. I didn't choose the best sleeping bag for me -- it's warm, but a bit too small and I think the Canadian military bag would have been better since a detachable hood would allow me to shift from back to side sleeping without either breathing into my hood or moving the entire bag (which is uncomfortable, + it creates temporary cold spots). But I learn with mistakes -- perfectionism must be kept in check.

This said, I'm here because I'm slightly worried about something. I use a US military bivy made of Gore Tex. It has side zip plus hood that holds in place with velcro. I currently keep the hood on all night because it's warmer this way (and I still need to get myself a balaclava). This creates condensation, but it doesn't trouble and I can dry my bag at school. What worries me is probably just in my head: one of the best parts about being homeless is breathing the fresh air every night. I now prefer sleeping in a backyard than on a couch. But now that I need a bivy, I feel like the air I breathe is being reflected back at me and I worry about breathing extra CO2. This is worst when, to keep my nose warm, I put a blanket on my face (yes, balaclava!).

Now, my meagre understanding of physics suggests that as long as there's a small opening in the bag -- and there's a pretty significant one -- I should be OK. But I need a confirmation.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Breathing on 01/16/2012 14:47:22 MST Print View

I never could keep the top of the bivy near my face because:
A) The moisture/ice that forms
B) The feeling like I was going to suffocate

I either use a mesh top bivy or have my head outside the bivy in a balaclava or equivalent. This requires a tarp(or tent) over me, which I would always use in the cold. Not only to keep the rain and snow off but to block wind and reduce drafts, adding warmth and comfort.

It also allows the use of a bivy that is more breathable, which by reducing the condensation is also warmer than a Goretex bivy.

Edited by brooklynkayak on 01/16/2012 14:52:25 MST.

Shane Dussault
(Dussault) - F

Locale: Montreal
Reporting back on full-time winter stealth camping! on 03/05/2012 10:54:27 MST Print View

So, the school paper wrote on an article and I figured I'd link it up here. I note that I regret not getting a barrel bag + hood instead of a mummy bag since I'm a pretty restless sleeper and I end breathing inside the hood.

Also, as the article notes, I shouldn't have gone for a gore-tex bivy, but something more breathable -- the cut on my bivy is also problematic since it has a one-size zip (I thought both sides), which means that either I leave it very open, or the goretex hood has to cover my face. I sleep better without the hood.

Thirdly, I have an Exped Downmat and, while I find that it's very comfortable (when it's not at full inflation, which I don't really need), I've had to deal with holes (at the short sides of the rectangular, which surprisd me). This is an annoyance to deal with during school.

Finally, while the value of low weight gear can be high, it's easy enough to hide my gear that weight wasn't as important a factor as I imagined it to be.

Edited by Dussault on 03/05/2012 11:08:56 MST.