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Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues
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just Justin Whitson
Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/02/2013 20:30:19 MDT Print View

Feedback welcomed, especially from those with experience.

Looking at my clothes and gear now, been thinking about what would be the best stuff to use for extreme cold backpacking.

Some ideas on clothes, separated into two parts, one system without VBL and one with. Actually, in either case i would bring a VBL, so perhaps active with out VBL and with would be better terminology.

Non VBL active clothes. Theorizing -20 F to -40 F or so. For torso. Wear my 55% merino and 45% nylon lightweight long sleeve shirt baselayer or Rab Meco long sleeve shirt. Directly over that would be the polypropylene fishnet baselayer. Directly over that would be my unique, super breathable Apex vest with insulation only in the front core area.

Over that would be my Nikwax Anaology pump liner, semi fleece hoody with 1/4 zip. Then my winter weight polypropylene high collar, 1/4 zip semi fleece. Last would be an extra large, more breathable, heavier dutier DWR treated nylon jacket of some sort. Something as breathable or a bit more breathable than the Brooks LSD II windshirt i have.

For head: thin, lightweight Merino-synthetic blend balaclava, then my polypropylene dicky style balaclava over that, then my hood from the Nikwax light semi fleece. Then hood from the nylon jacket, but with a ruff of some kind attached to it.

For bottoms: Lightweight, thin 55% Merino 45% nylon baselayer pants or the Rab MeCo baselayer pants directly on skin. Thin polypropylene baselayer pants over that, then my faux pas Nixwax analogy pump liner pants (nylon-spandex super roubaix style, inverted and DWR soaked cycling tights), and then my hybrid nylon shorts/epic bottom pants as the outer.

Socks: thin Merino synthetic long sock, homemade Nikwax analogy pump liner DWR treated semi fleece sock over that, thin polypropylene sock over that, and thicker polypropylene sock over that. More breathable, in between trail runner and boot footwear. Some kind of gaiter on top of lower pants/footwear to keep snow out.

For Camp use/inactive, take off the nylon outer jacket, and put on my wife's (but men's) large NB Fubu Down jacket and have slightly over sized down balaclava with partial, mini ruff.

Alternative VBL active wear in next post.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/02/2013 20:58:57 MDT Print View

Mukluks. When you can move the muscles in your feet and splay your toes, they are much warmer.

Edited by justin_baker on 11/02/2013 21:01:20 MDT.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Some thoughts on 11/02/2013 21:12:53 MDT Print View

I have experienced all temps down to and including -40 F/C. I love the cold but highly respect it.


BASE LAYER> polar weight polyester Cabela's long johns suit & thin poly sock liners & glove liners (polysster knee length knit boxer underpants beneath long johns or cut-off old medium weight long johns)

1ST INSULATING LAYER> wool ragg sweater
2ND INSULATING LAYER> medium weight fleece vest beneath Thermolite Micro jacket. Thermolite pants W/suspenders
fleece glove liners AND double layer fleece mitten liners
neoprene VBL sox beneath feltpac liners

SHELL> Gore-Tex mountain parkaW/hood and GTX ski pants
Gore-Tex mitten shells and glove shells (NEVER go into extreme cold W/O mittens)
Sorrel feltpac overboots (W/VBL socks i.e. thin, seam-sealed neoprene diver's socks over thin poly liner socks) VBL keeps felt liners DRY.

HATS/NECKWEAR> Knit wool "Peruvian style" hat with fleece liner, Turtle Fur neck/chin/face gaiter, wool balaclava hat for sleeping

Ski Googles, lip balm/sunscreen. SPF 50 + sunscreen

Lots of high calorie snacks!! and a wine bota of water beneath my GTX shell.

With this outfit, my parka hood up and tight and googles on I'd feel fine to -40F/C. Below that I would not venture outside for very long for fear of freezing my bronchial tubes. I do have a special air warming face mask if absolutely necesary.

BTW, to help your sleeping bag you can put your zipped up insulated jacket over the foot of the bag. If that's too warm just put your mountain parka shell over the foot. That also a bit helps and keeps melted frost (when your bag foot touches the tent wall) off the bag.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/29/2014 13:17:27 MST.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/02/2013 21:42:11 MDT Print View

Will check it out Justin. Most of the previous list is stuff i already have. Have heard that a majority of the Natives of the Arctic tend to prefer more modern, synthetic footwear now.

Alternative, VBL based active system:

For torso. Wear my 55% merino and 45% nylon lightweight long sleeve shirt baselayer or Rab Meco long sleeve shirt. Over that Stephenson VBL jacket. Over that Stoic Hadron anorak jacket with ruff on the hood, and over that NB Fugu jacket (most likely unzipped much of the time while very active). For camp/inactive use, would throw the Exped Dream walker Duo on top of it all (talk about that later in the sleep system).

For head: Would keep the thin merino synthetic blend balaclava, and polypropylene dickie balaclava. Plus the Stoic down hood with ruff. Not sure if that would be enough for inactive. Most likely not, so might keep the down balaclava with partial ruff.

Pants: Probably wouldn't go with the VBL for pants, but keep the same system from the first post. For inactive use for both first system and this-- Would probably bring some backup, homemade breathable Apex insulatetd pants with a breathable, 1.9 oz nylon ripstop shell and 1.1 oz breathable nylon liner, all soaked in DWR.

Feet: thinnish Merino-synthetic blend sock with VBL sock over same, and a thin polypropylene sock over that. In between trail runner shoe-boot, that is completely water proof and moderately insulated, slightly over sized to allow a bit extra room even with sock layers as per Justin's suggestions.

Forgot hands in the first post. I would probably go with VBL in either case for hands, with thinnish Merino-synthetic blend glove liner like Rab MeCo underneath. Over the VBL, polypro glove liner and then lofty fleece mitten with palm grip and soak treated in DWR. For both, have backup very warm down mittens (don't have yet).

Edited by ArcturusBear on 11/02/2013 21:43:15 MDT.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Some thoughts on 11/02/2013 21:49:18 MDT Print View

I also like the cold, though i don't have extreme cold weather experience like yourself. When i was up in AK this early summer, talked to a guy originally from MA living north of Fairbanks in a small town (don't remember the name). He said that oddly, the very dry, very cold weather they have in the winter didn't feel that much colder than the more humid/damp winters of New England (to him at least).

Thank you for posting your gear list.

Curious about this, " I do have a special air warming face mask if absolutely necesary"

Care to elaborate what this is, what it does, etc?

Edited by ArcturusBear on 11/02/2013 21:51:07 MDT.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Some thoughts on 11/02/2013 22:34:17 MDT Print View

Reading the winter trekking thread that Justin B. shared on another thread, seems like my active systems may have a bit too much insulation?

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Re: Re: Re: Some thoughts on 11/03/2013 09:07:17 MST Print View

I recommend watching "Across The Ice" which was part of last years Banff mountain film festival if you haven't already:

I'm not sure on temps you would face in the brooks range in winter vs antarctica in summer but there are some cool gear shots. Note the big warm (over?) boots using non standard ski bindings and the fact they are shuffling along in full parkas.

I don't have much experience bellow 0F so I can't weight in on your system too much but for my use (Montana Winters), yes it would have too much active insulation and not enough booster insulation. I did a bunch of research when we moved out here and there are some great winter gear lists available on this site and various blogs:

Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic

Mike Cleland (NOLS Ski Instructor in the Northern Rockies):

Ididarod on Snowshoes:

My own list for day backcountry skiing in warmer conditions (>0F) including time on windy ridge lines and the fact I am a wimp compared to any of the above individuals:

(This year i am experimenting with capilene 4 and neoshell hoping for better wind protection for less weight)

You may be looking at needing an order of magnitude more warmth then any of these based on the remoteness, length of the proposed trip and colder mid winter conditions. You can't just sleep until you are cold and then start moving again like some of the adventure racers do and you will need to somehow dry things etc.

You also need to consider how much glacier travel (crevasses) and avalanche terrain you will encounter.

FInally in your other thread you mentioned the idea of a heat reflective tent. There was a reflective cuban fiber available a few years ago in some tents but it had durability issues:

Hopefully something like it will return at some point.

Edited by ryanbressler on 11/03/2013 09:10:04 MST.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Re: Re: Some thoughts on 11/03/2013 19:39:21 MST Print View

Wow, thank you very much Ryan for all the links and info. Should keep me busy for awhile.

Yeah, i would be using a SOL P.E. type "space blanket", but i wouldn't expect it's durability to be great. However, since it would on the inside of the tent and not taking any load to directly itself, and since they are so cheap and light and i would carry a backup, i'm not too worried about it not lasting long though i generally don't like using throw away materials.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/03/2013 20:20:46 MST Print View

Skurka's winter travel history could provide some perspective here.

His Sea-to-Sea hike had him in Northern Michigan, Northern Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota from mid January to late March. Afterwards he was very up front about the fact that her couldn't have done that without "angels" who provided indoor overnights at least once or twice a week. That allowed him to dry things out.

His conclusion was that he did not have an A-game for extended winter travel. His response was to spend a winter working on both skills and gear and then returning to northern MN in January for 385 miles in 16 days to evaluate his status.

AFAIK, his next documented extended winter travel was the first couple months of the Alaska-Yukon Expedition. But even with all the experience he's had he was at a village of some sort at least twice a week during the winter phase of that trek.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
breath warmer on 11/03/2013 20:40:14 MST Print View


GOOGLE "air warming masks" and go to PSOLAR masks. I have one of these for sleeping in sub-zero temps. The copper mesh in them warm incoming air.

P.S. Newer versions may have a better heat sink material. They DO work and the fringe benefit is losing less water from the drying effect of cold air. That means you're not thirsty as heck at 2 AM.

And you'll be glad to have this or some covering over your nose as a very cold nose is so annoying that you lose sleep trying to warm it.

Edited by Danepacker on 11/04/2013 16:54:07 MST.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/03/2013 21:22:20 MST Print View

Hi Jim,

Interesting references. There are some major differences between Skurka and myself besides the obvious ones ;) He seems to be obsessed with speed, records, huge distances, and the like. I'm not, though in my own way i like to challenge myself.

Also, i don't understand that if he was backpacking in N. Michigan, N. Wisconsin., N. Minnesota and the like, why he didn't bring a small titanium wood stove and tent sent up for it?

Perhaps because he is so obsessed with speed and efficiency? Yes, it would have taken some more time, and be a bit heavier, BUT if there is any woods around, one has the option to dry your stuff out well.

However, i don't know about the Brooks Range as far as amount of woods and trees. Might be a lot different.

Anyways, i've also decided that if i'm going to do something like this, i will do it later, like starting in March because of amount of daylight and less severely extreme cold temps.

Re: dying (since it's a very real possibility with even a lot of pre training, etc), the ONLY problem i have with dying, is the hurt it would cause Becky (not to say i have any kind of death wish, because i don't). However, she is pretty tuned into the nonphysical side of life, and would be fairly aware of the much lighter me, and would handle something like that better than most. We don't have any kids. If i had kids, i probably wouldn't even think about doing something like this.

just Justin Whitson
Re: breath warmer on 11/03/2013 21:23:27 MST Print View

Thanks for the tip Eric, will check it out.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/03/2013 21:25:00 MST Print View

Justin, it's 2013. There is no reason you would ever need to die on a trip like this. There are these things called personal locator beacons.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/03/2013 21:49:12 MST Print View

Not sure how much good that would do someone in the Brooks Range during inclement weather. Imagine it would take some timmmmmmmmmmmmme to get to someone even with a locator.

Sure, would work fine for most places in the continental U.S. I did some research into the coldest places in the U.S., and International Falls Minnesota was ranked just below Barrow AK. It would be a lot cheaper and easier to go there instead of Barrow or the like for any kind of practice runs. Don't cha know.

Edited by ArcturusBear on 11/03/2013 21:50:22 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Some thoughts on 11/04/2013 02:08:42 MST Print View

> Reading the winter trekking thread that Justin B. shared on another thread, seems
> like my active systems may have a bit too much insulation?

I'll assume sub-zero snow conditions. Several utterly different conditions to be dealt with.

Calm weather and moving: the heat you generate will do most of the work. A thermal base layer, (100 weight) plus a 200 wt shirt should be enough. If it's sunny, you could even get around in green Lycra ... and yes, I do have a (green) Lycra top as well. Watch out for the UV levels.

Light wind and moving: really all you need add is a windshirt of some sort - with a good DWR. I have an EPIC jacket I often use for this. A light fleece ski hat is good, often with the hood over it.

Bad weather, poor visibility, slow movement: an extra fleece layer is needed under the windproof layer for two reasons: you are not generating as much heat, and you need the extra fleece thickness to keep up the insulation thickness on the windward side.

Stationary in good weather: maybe the second fleece layer is needed, depending on the sun.

Stationary in bad weather: not a good idea! Get into shelter, out of the wind!


Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 07:25:58 MST Print View

Skurka ... He seems to be obsessed with speed, records, huge distances

True. But perhaps I assumed from your other thread about a winter version of KG's 1000 mile Brooks Range trek that you were interested in SOME distance and speed.

why he didn't bring a small titanium wood stove and tent sent up for it?

Well, hot tent winter camping is a whole different ballgame and does not lend itself to covering much daily mileage. It takes a lot of time to cut enough wood to keep a tent at "drying warm" temps for any length of time ... even if you are a human chain saw.

And then, Skurka also says that he needs a LOT of sleep to maintain day after day after day of hard trekking. I don't know if he's atypical in that regard or not.

starting in March because of amount of daylight and less severely extreme cold temps.

The daylight is a a sure thing and less severe cold a good probability ... less severe as in -30F sometimes not -50F.

Another thing about "Skurka in MN winter version 2.0" His technique included re-evaluating his clothing vs weather vs exertion balance 3 to 4 times per hour. It is a delicate balance. He was following trails and was spending fewer brain cycles on route finding and risk avoidance that you will have off trail.

And then there was Roman Dial's response when Skurka was feeling "small" in the Brooks Range ... "You're not on the Appalachian Trail anymore!"

Not trying to discourage you from this trek ... just suggesting that you spend time fine tuning technique and making it instinctive before going off to a truly remote area.

Edited by jcolten on 11/04/2013 07:26:35 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 08:59:27 MST Print View

It's good that you mention a ruff on the hood - it helps slow the wind and therefore retains more heat around your face and head. A tunnel hood is the other component of an effective system. Neolithic goggles and face mask, if you will, but actually superior because a tunnel hood and ruff don't fog or ice up. They do limit peripheral vision, but well-designed ones fold back in stages giving you more visibility in less extreme conditions.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 09:32:42 MST Print View

as pertains to northern alaksa trips and when to start : if you are there when it's all frozen, that's cool. if you are there when it's all melted, that's cool too. there is a very nasty bit in between, a transition if you will, that makes travel awkward in many annoying ways.
it is neither fish nor fowl, but wet, cold, hot, deep water, no dry spots, too warm to freeze, and a jolly good time to be in a cabin cleaning traps and such whatever mystic things northern folks do in transition seasons.
just trying to cross a creek in this period is an exercise in arctic Fun.
A. - you are up past your ankles in freezing water, still standing in grass, looking out over an expanse of moving wet, and out there somewhere .. is the creek.

or ...

B. - you have plowed thru the snow laying in the creek's groove, and you now find that the water is not running inthe bed of the creek but on top of a thick bed of rotting ice that lays on the bottom. you can walk across this on snowshoes, and peter thinks that's a stupid way to die. or, you can plow thru it, hammering a trench as you go.

there are hundreds of these creeks in the Brooks. so, its lots of fun !

between Kristen's glorious trip, and the interest in recent threads like this, it has inspired us to dust off/update the manuscript of "how to walk across alaska" and will be posting it on my site pretty soon. lots of tips on how to succeed in summer northern travel, etc.

Real Cold : also great info at Jerry Kobalenko's site on man hauling and gear. Jerry, with his vast arctic experience is a big fan of those looser mukluks type footwear.
Muffs rock. if i was a real guy and still went real places, by god, i'd have one.

warmth is the solution to not freezing to death, not a plb. a plb is a device to transfer responsibility to somebody else.


just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Re: Re: Some thoughts on 11/04/2013 09:38:02 MST Print View

Hi Roger, good points, thank you for the reply. I've experienced about -20 F, not including the moderately strong wind, while walking around outside for most the day (this was in Quebec City. I know it doesn't compare to living and surviving outside in the wilderness, especially not for an extended period). In any case, i would have be ready for even colder temps and more fierce winds potentially. What's the coldest that you have used the above system down to?

When you're talking about fleece, are you talking solely about polyester based fleeces? If so, do you use polypropylene (half/partial fleeces) at all for insulation layers, or have you? Thoughts?

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 10:05:50 MST Print View

Hi Jim, i do appreciate the concern and feedback, and yes to some extent i guess i am concerned with speed and longer distance. If one can find a relatively flat path through the range, and if one is on cross country skis, and not experiencing a lot of white out conditions (it doesn't seem to actually snow that much in that area), i think going at a moderate pace (not near super human Skurka speed), it could get done relatively quickly--maybe around 50 days or so (provided i get my body into really good shape before hand)?

Re: hot tents, wood stoves. Yes, having a hot tent/woodstove set up and having used it, as well as supplementing my house heat with a wood stove in the winter, i'm well aware the work and time involved--a pain the butt and probably much, much more so if you're cold, tired, hungry, and/or stressed. However, there are also ways to maximize that (occasional) warmth, such as setting up IR reflective liners inside your tent.

But i don't think one would need to use it that much, and part of Skurka's problem was that he was constantly using a VBL while active, and so his baselayers etc were constantly getting wet. I've considered just using a partial VBL for sleeping where i have to worry about such wetting out a lot less. I realize that clothes VBL allow one to be more efficient with bringing less insulation, etc, but personally i think dry, dry dry and breathable is more the way to go because of the very issue that Skurka had. (i would still bring VBL clothes as a backup, and in any case use it for hands).

Anyways, about the hot tent and woodstove part, i suppose it's a moot point because it doesn't seem like there is enough woods in the Brooks range system to begin with, and would be pointless bringing. But, i could see it as helpful in some areas of places like N. Minnesota, N. Dakota, N. Montana, etc, and the extra weight would be less of an issue if you have an efficient pulk system. My titanium woodstove is one of the Seek Outside ones, and it's a bit of a pain to set up. With a pulk, i would probably just leave it set up in it's assembled form (well obviously not with the pipe attached!).