Well, here is my post trip report (gear test) for my first winter camping experience. Refer to this thread:
My plan was to snowshoe from the Mammoth Mountain Inn (at the base of the ski slopes), up the road (closed for winter), towards Devil's Postpile Nat. Monument, and then north along the ridge towards San Joaquin Mountain. That plan did not come to pass, due to weather conditions. The two days before my arrival, and the first day I was there, Mammoth got dumped on. Words can hardly do it justice, so let me explain it this way. I saw a snomobiler who had gone a few feet off the road and buried his vehicle. When I put on my snowshoes (rated up to 250 lbs), with no pack (I weigh 170ish), I sunk to my thighs even with the snowshoes on. Hiking for 3 1/2 miles with a 45 pound pack and 4 feet deep powder just wasn't going to happen. Haha
So instead, I found a spot in the woods off of Hwy 203 (the scenic bypass leading from Mammoth north towards June Lake), where the snow was not as deep. I just went back far enough in from the road not to attract attention (the green tent was handy in this regard).
So in the end, it was a great, easy experience as far as lessons learned and what worked and what didn't. Elevation was roughly 8,200 feet, nightime temps were 21* F, and no wind. Here's what worked:
The two sleeping pads that I was told were a common combination for cold weather camping worked great (plus I already owned both, which made it nice). I used the normal Therm-a-Rest inflatable pad on the bottom and the Thermarest RidgeRest on top. I felt the heat from the pads the entire time. The system worked great.
My new Hilleberg "Tarra" tent. To say that I'm in love with my new tent would be putting it mildly. At 9 pounds, and about 8" by 20" packed size, it is a beast for backpacking, but I knew that when I bought it. It will be my go to tent for motorcycle touring, family camping, and winter camping. I'll use something smaller and lighter for true backpacking. The green color blended in great against the pines, and the yellow interior was bright, roomy, and very livable. The whole tent just oozes quality.
The Grivel Air Tech Evo ice axe/ hammer. A lightweight tool, with a T-rated shaft, this is my new mountaineering tool. Do I really need it? Probably not, but then again it is cool and I've always wanted an ice axe, so I talked myself into buying one. Primarily, I thought it would come in handy as a lightweight hammer for pounding stakes into hard ground in warmer weather. But I've got to say, it was worth it's weight in gold when it came time to dig my snow stakes (set deadman style) out after they'd become buried in rock hard snow the next morning.
What didn't work was my lighter. I've always been a believer in bringing two types of ignition source. Thank goodness I did. The butane lighter didn't work after repeated attempts, even after warming in my pocket. Luckily, I had my back-up magnesium block and flint firestarter which fired my stove up instantly.
My 0*F sleeping bag, a Kifaru "Slick" bag, was about as I expected, so I shouldn't really blame the bag. I've always been a very cold sleeper, so I bought the 0* bag in hopes that I would be comfortable to about freezing. It likely would have worked fine at that temperature, but at 20* I was a bit chilly. And this was inspite of wearing thermals, regular clothes, and even my ArcTeryx softshell inside it.
As more comes to mind, I'll add it to the review, but that's it for now. I'll throw in a couple pictures for fun:
Vixen, my Belgian Malinois, in the Hilleberg Tarra:
A shot of the tent interior:
And some photos of the area...just outside the hotel the family stayed at:
On the north end of June Lake loop, looking towards Parker Lake: