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Gear for -20 to -50 degrees?
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Aug H

Locale: Appalachia
Gear for -20 to -50 degrees? on 03/16/2013 22:58:01 MDT Print View

Hey everyone,

Just signed up -- figured you all here would know better than just about anyone else online.

May be spending next winter in Kazakhstan. The average temp in the winter will be -20 degrees C -- dropping as low as -40 F/C. I do light backpacking, but have always been in warm areas. I'll be out in the steppes for about a week at a time, and while not doing any intense hiking may be doing some hunting / backpacking / horseback riding.

I know basically nothing about cold weather -- the coldest place I've lived got down to maybe 10 F on the very coldest nights.

I assume I definitely want to go with down rather than something like the Arc'teryx Fission SV? It shouldn't ever be warm enough for rain to be a problem, but does anyone know if Patagonia is likely to have Encapsil down in something else come this winter? How does DriDown or the KUIU Super Down fare (I imagine the KUIU super down jacket is not warm enough alone, but heard rumors that they may release a greater fill jacket soonish).

As for boots, I have some goretex lined hiking boots but there's no way they'll be warm enough. Supposedly they'll have cheap and adequate boots in Kazakhstan.

I was advised to just get craghopper lined pants and layer them with base layers -- not sure if that'll be warm enough.

Would a down quilt/blanket be adequate? I'll probably be staying in yurts with stoves that produce at least a little heat.

Thanks for the advice and help! I hope I asked this in the right spot.

Edited by townmayor on 03/16/2013 22:59:00 MDT.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

This is a BIG question! on 03/16/2013 23:05:08 MDT Print View

The short answer is, if you need to ask all these questions it's time to hit a library.

I'll speak from my experience, though, which goes to -12.

First off, down is great, but bag condensation is a thing. Depending on how long you're planning on being outside or whether or not you have access to a cabin, you might need treated down or synthetic. Down has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio, but Synthetic is not too far behind. It's slightly heavier, but can be just as warm (in my experience). If you can dry out your down bag in a heated tent or cabin without it freezing, it's gonna be the better choice, but if not, you'll want some resistance to moisture. Inside a snow cave or tent, moisture builds up pretty quick.

Now, as for the legs, in temperatures like that you NEED insulated pants. Don't mess around- get insulated everything. Your gloves should have a synthetic or down fill. YOur pants should be like a puffy jacket. Your boots need to be insulated boots. Your socks should probably be pretty thick, too.

Take the temperatures seriously. This isn't the place for baselayers and wind pants, unless you'll be in a cabin all night.

You'll also need a full face mask, goggles, and a warm hat. I can go on and on with a laundry list of things. Insulated water bottle holders? A pot large enough to melt snow?

Best give us some more details, or ask more detailed questions.

Hope this helps!

Edited by mdilthey on 03/16/2013 23:06:15 MDT.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 03/16/2013 23:12:59 MDT Print View

While your there just ask Borat for his sister, who has a high R-value...

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: This is a BIG question! on 03/16/2013 23:15:29 MDT Print View

-50, that's colder than my ex fiancés heart, best checkout

Aug H

Locale: Appalachia
Re: on 03/16/2013 23:42:46 MDT Print View

Thanks for the quick responses! I think Borat's been exiled from his home land . . . haha.

I realize that there's a lot to learn / prepare for, so that's why I'm hopefully getting a jump start on figuring this all out!

Here are some more details:

During the night we will be in villages or with nomadic people -- the nomadic people have insulated yurts that they warm with stoves. It will be cold but nowhere near as cold as it will be outside -- so at night the most I'll probably need is for a few minutes outside before I scurry back into the yurt. So luckily I won't need to camp in -50 nights / snow cave, etc.! Do things like down bags need to be hung to dry or would it dry while I am sleeping in it (if we're in a heated yurt or building)?

We will be in the semi-desert part of the Gobi mostly, so it will be super dry.

We will have vehicles or animals when we travel long distances -- any treks or backpacking will be within a day and be ending at a village / city / group of nomads (I will be with locals and am not planning these treks on my own). At our stops we will have tea and food provided, but insulated water bottles (holders) are probably a good idea.

Is there a good way to determine which temperatures certain things are for? I've been mostly just trying to look at the warmest products by diff companies, since we won't be super active. So the warmest synthetics by patagonia / arcteryx / whoever else would be comparable and usable at temperatures this low? Will I definitely need to layer regardless of what I use, or will high-fill down parkas provide adequate warmth over a base layer for days at -20 C? Avg temp during the day will be -10 to -25 C. Should I be looking at nunatak, northface, phd? One friend mentioned Canadian Goose? We will stay in in during any blizzards/snow storms -- it'll just be a lot of frozen tundra and snow that has been sitting for months. snow fall will actually be pretty rare, but the snow obviously sticks around until spring.

For gloves they suggested mittens over gloves, but that was it. I assume I can find insulated gloves from all the normal outdoor wear companies? For socks -- are we talking smart wool or something under insulated boots? or are there down-insulated / synthetic socks that I should be looking at instead?

The hats that most people wear just seem to be those fur hats that you see stereotypical soviets wearing (with the fold down ear-covers and stuff). The main thing that we were warned about is getting jackets/pants/socks/baselayers/technical gear before going. Our time in the super cold will be limited but I'll be experiencing it a little. Most traveling will be during the day (10-

face masks: something like a baclava? Will a jacket with a hood work?

I only plan to do treks that involve sleeping outside when it's much warmer (30-40 F nights and 70-80 F days -- sorry I keep going back and forth, just parroting what I've been told and I'm not super efficient at switching between the two yet! ;-p)

Is there a particular book or place to get this sort of information (not sure if you were mentioning the library in jest! haha). I am going to check out now.

What other information would be helpful from my end? Thanks again, everyone. I realize I'm asking a bajillion questions, so feel free to just direct me to something like wintertrekking!

Edited by townmayor on 03/16/2013 23:47:43 MDT.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
VBLs on 03/17/2013 00:37:34 MDT Print View

The first thing I would look inot are vapour barriers. If you are using down overtime your sweat condenses and freezes within the down and kills the loft of the garmet. A vapour barrier prevents any moisture from getting into your down layers. Now if the Yurts get above freezing and allow you to dry gear than you would not have to worry about it as much. But the real enemy in these conditions is moisture from your body. I dont go backpacking in these conditions so take my advice for what its worth.

I grew up in Saskachewan, Canada where we would get a week of weather a year with highs of -30 C and the coldest temp I have ever been outside in was -50 C. Based on this I would offer the following advice.

Layer everthing - it doesnt take much movement to generate a lot of heat. The difference between moving and standing still is huge. So be able to adapt.
No exposed skin - walking at -50 creates a wind chill. All skin needs to be covered.
Keep dry - sweat makes you colder.
Insulate your legs.

As for what to wear -30 C (-20F) is not that cold. While active I dont think you need down. I would probably go base layer, VBL, R1 equiv, 300 wt fleece, Shell. For static times add the warmest down jacket you can find. Now I really only dealt with these temps in an Urban enviroment so try to find a way to test your gear before you go. If not possible bring extra layers as it is easier to subtract than add.

For gloves I go with a thin liner glove with a fleece miit that the tops open to reveal your fingers so that when you need dexterity your hands and are always covered and your fingers have a thin layer over them. Over top of this layer big warm synthetic shells look at hunting gear or snowmobile gear for ideas for mitts.

Boots I dont have a good solution for as I cheat and toss in the chemical heat packs which is good short term but im not sure how practicle in kazickstan

David Dawson
(skierd) - F

Locale: Where I may roam
Arctic tips on 03/17/2013 02:35:47 MDT Print View

I moved to Fairbanks, ak from Maryland this past April and just got through my first winter mostly. Same as you, I never experienced anything colder than 10*f until I moved up here. It got as cold as -55 here for a few days and stayed around -30 F for about 2 months.

Do not mess around in this kind of weather. -40 is brutally cold and you have to be prepared for it or it will kill you.

You need good boots. A lot of people up here who are outside all day wear bunny boots. Funny looking and heavy but about as warm as I gets. At least a few big gear companies make true arctic boots too. You see a lot of down parkas, heavy carharts with heavy fleece, and insulated bibs up here in winter along with thick wool or fur lined hats. Plus base layers underneath. You need a good hat and scarf and/or balaclava mor than anything else except maybe boots.

If its only -10 to -15 out, I'm usually ok for a couple hours wearing medium weight base layers, a hoodie, a middle weight own jacket under a snowboarding shell, and heavy fleece lined pants. My boots are only 300g thinsulate lined but with wool socks my feet stay warm enough so long as I stay active. If I sit around too long, 30mins tops, I start to get chilled.

I also don't know if I'd expect to find good gear there... Be prepared before you leave. Maybe try Alaska first before Kazakhstan ? Or at least check out and see what people who spend long times out in the arctic wear, such as the iditarod an Yukon quest racers, trappers, Mounties, military, etc

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: gear on 03/17/2013 10:01:34 MDT Print View

When I lived in that kind of environment, my favorite gear was a well-chinked log cabin and a good wood stove!

Robin T
Re: Gear for -20 to -50 degrees? on 03/17/2013 10:15:26 MDT Print View

For temps of -40 and colder just go with the warmest of everything you can find. When it that cold its not the time to find out that your clothes isnt warm enough.

For jacket i would recomend these:

Wolff-Wear expedition jacket: as far as i know the warmest non custom down jacket in the world, 2 layers of down, 800fp and 830g of down in size L.

RAB Expedition: 2 layers of down and extremly lofty, great hood and the best down collar of all the jackets ive seen. top quallity down.

Fjällräven Thermo 2: Expensive but a verry warm jacket. 2 layers of down, 900fp down, 600g of down in size xl. Top quallity jacket.

FF rock and ice and MH Absolute zero should work also.

For pants FF 40 below pant or RAB expedition.

For gloves i recomend Hestra or Black Diamond. get the warmest they got. get a glove with a thiner liner and a thicker shell.

For boots i like Sorel. Just make sure to get it a size or 2 up. if they fit tight they wong be as warm.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re:"Gear for -20 to -50 degrees?" on 03/17/2013 10:24:47 MDT Print View


For daytime moderate to high activity levels you can be comfortable by layering something like Patagonia's R1 base layers; Polartec 300 fleece jacket; Polartec 300 vest; and a moderately breathable wind shirt like the Houdini.

None of the parkas you mentioned are adequate for being relatively inactive in day-time lows of -10C(-4F) to -25C (-13F). Any of the following, or similar, parkas would be ideally suited:

-Valandre Sirius Jacket
-Eddie Bauer Peak XV Down Jacket
-Feathered Friends Frontpoint
-Marmot Greenland Jacket
-Outdoor Research Maestro

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Antarctica issued gear on 03/17/2013 10:32:13 MDT Print View

U.S. workers for the Antarctic program are issued some pretty serious clothing. I also brought some of my own stuff, which sometimes worked better. Here's a photo of several of us setting up tents on the sea ice on a -25* F windy day. It's always windy on the Ice, and the windchill is horrific.

I'm on the right, wearing the Canada Goose Expedition parka (best I've ever worn, and I even bought one after I returned) over a polypro base layer + 200 wt. fleece pullover, as well as my OR windblock balaclava and 300 wt. Gore-tex OR brimmed hat with full ear flaps. The pants are issued 300 wt. fleece bibs with an outer shell of wind blocking nylon, worn over a pair of polypropylene long johns + 200 wt. fleece pants. And the above-mentioned bunny boots, which are quite clumsy but warm. My Windstopper 200 wt. fleece gloves were not really warm enough, and GTX overmitts were essential (but had to be taken off to set up the tent, for better dexterity). We always took a couple pair of hand warmers if we would spend the day out on the ice.

But realize that for everyday apparel, at work indoors, I would just wear a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans, with GTX running shoes. The red parka would suffice to get me from the dorm to the mess hall, and on to the clinic where I worked. Or for any quick dashes from building to building, where I wouldn't be outside for more than 10-15 minutes.

Setting up tent

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Gear for -20 to -50 degrees? on 03/17/2013 10:44:47 MDT Print View

Kazakhstan - if you plan on camping -- I assume you will be signing up with some outfitter -- and not going it all alone? In lieu of buying crazy expensive gear (esp. bag) for one crazy cold winter (meaning one or two trips) -- outfitters usually provide gear -- certainly tents and bags -- and maybe shoes too. And their gear will be suited for the climes they operate in. I highly recommend that you first choose the hikes / outfitters -- read up on what's provided or not provided -- before you shop for any expensive gear pieces.

Aug H

Locale: Appalachia
Re: re: on 03/17/2013 11:20:03 MDT Print View


This is all super helpful information! Need to run through it now :-)

Ben 2 World: I will have shelter during the winter, so luckily (for me, given my inexperience in the cold) won't be camping during the coldest part of the year.

I will be working w/ people out in tiny villages and nomadic groups, so I mainly need to be able to trek / horseback ride during the day.

Edited by townmayor on 03/17/2013 11:21:41 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Buying at the Right Place on 03/17/2013 11:56:31 MDT Print View


I see. Getting yourself properly clothed and equipped from home will be very expensive -- as the gear would be viewed as "expedition" -- with price tags to match! If your body size fits the norm -- I would suggest looking into buying locally -- where 'crazy winter' clothing to us is just everyday clothing to the locals -- and priced accordingly. Maybe budget a few extra days in Astana to do your shopping. But research ahead of time, of course.

Edited by ben2world on 03/17/2013 11:58:00 MDT.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Gear for Kazakstan. on 03/17/2013 13:42:13 MDT Print View

What dates will you be there? How long?
Climate, Astana:
Almaty is, I think, warmer.

The mountains can be colder. I was told that Khan Tengri (7000m) gets to -40F=-40C in summer (like climbing Everest but much further north). I imagine the Altai Mts can also be very cold at lower elevations.

Don't assume you can buy the gear you need in Kazakstan; ask the trip organizers or local people. My info is out of date, but when I was there in Moscow you could buy top quality Western gear at very high prices, but nothing cheaper. Local manufacturing of outdoor gear had stopped by then (1996).

Be prepared to dress in layers. I suspect that the temps will not often be -50, so you may not want your gear to work only at extreme temps. Depending on what you're doing you may want gear that is more durable than UL gear. Wool pants and shirts might make sense. Will you need sturdier gear for working with horses or working with the local people?

Mittens not gloves: probably some thin wool or fleece gloves, then wool/fleece mittens in layers with a sturdy OR goretex overmitt. For horses, maybe leather gloves with wool liners.

Yurts can be reasonably warm; traditional ones are made from felt. Poorer people use canvas tents which are quite a bit colder.

The Kazakh people I met were very friendly, helpful and fun. If you're lucky they will not offer you Kumiss (fermented mare's milk yoghurt).

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Gear for Kazakstan. on 03/17/2013 14:23:36 MDT Print View

"The Kazakh people I met were very friendly, helpful and fun. If you're lucky they will not offer you Kumiss (fermented mare's milk yoghurt)."

They will. And along the way, the Russians will offer you pure chunks of fat to chew on -- and they won't take "no" for an answer either! Surprisingly good with both vodka and beer. :)

And if you have time, consider flying into Moscow -- and taking the train the rest of the way. The culture and interaction you get from train travel in that part of the world is priceless.

Edited by ben2world on 03/17/2013 14:27:48 MDT.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Other Stuff on 03/17/2013 14:49:12 MDT Print View

Here's some things that haven't been mentioned, but are pretty important:

1. Glove system:

You're gonna want at least two, but up to three or four, pairs of Polartec or Wool liner gloves. These you can switch around when your hands sweat into them (and they will), and they'll let you do things like work buckles and straps without exposing bare skin. On top of that, you need a really good insulated and waterproof mitten. You could use gloves, but mittens are warmer because your fingers are together.

2. Glacier Glasses:

Sun reflected off of snow into your eyes can cause blindness. Regular glasses can let light in at the sides. Check out Julbo's Glacier Glasses, or similar. Easier to wear than goggles, and they'll protect your eyes with flaps on the sides and nice, wide lenses.

3. Baselayer

Your baselayer is a second skin in the winter. BPL did comprehensive tests, and no fabric came even close to Merino Wool on odor management. I wear Merino Wool for 5 months out of the year. Get a good midweight merino wool baselayer and some merino wool socks and wear 'em all winter.

4. Batteries

Your phone, flashlight, headlamp, radio, camera, and laptop will die if you let them get cold. They'll work later, but if you're out in the field you can't use your phone. Keep that stuff in the inside pockets of your jacket if you want them to keep working in the cold.

About VBL's (Vapor Barriers)

Try and test this before you go. If the temperature isn't cold enough in the yurt for a VBL, you'll be stewing in your own sweat all night and that is pretty gross.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Gear for -20 to -50 degrees? on 03/17/2013 14:52:14 MDT Print View

One tidbit: get a tunnel hood. The work very well to reduce the wind past your face and hold slightly warmer air around your head/face.

One answer to your Q about face masks: neoprene ones work well down to about -20F.

One big concept: Any culture in cold climates has learned to stay in on really cold days. Yeah, maybe a record cold temp is -40F or -50F, but those aren't traveling days. Heck, depending on engine type and fuel specs, they aren't even flying days. So come prepared to be outside at -20F or -30F but bring a good book for colder days, no one will be going out.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Batteries on 03/17/2013 15:36:06 MDT Print View

Max is correct--regular alkaline batteries lose their output below +30* F (some of which can be regained when they warm back up). For AAs and AAAs, take only Energizer lithium cells--they'll work great down to -40. They're lighter than alkalines, but expensive.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: on 03/17/2013 22:05:36 MDT Print View

> During the night we will be in villages or with nomadic people -- the nomadic people
> have insulated yurts that they warm with stoves.
In that case I think you can assume that conditions inside will be quite tolerable.

> Do things like down bags need to be hung to dry or would it dry while I am sleeping
> in it (if we're in a heated yurt or building)?
> We will be in the semi-desert part of the Gobi mostly, so it will be super dry.
Once again, I think you can assume that the residents would have all the same problems and the same solutions: keep the interior warm enough.
As the air is so dry I don't think you will need to worry about condensation.

I would plan on getting some locally-made clothing as well as whatever down gear you might take. It would stand to reason that it would work (good stuff anyhow).