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Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues
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just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 10:13:37 MST Print View

Hi David, thank you for the further Ruff and Tunnel hood tips.

Hi Peter, yeah i figured as much, which is why i don't want to start too early or too late because of those very issues. Need enough daylight time to hike enough and not have -50 temps, but also don't want creeks, streams, etc unfreezing!

I honestly don't know what the best time would be to go. Starting in March is just a guesstimate and not a well informed one.

Cool, i will check out Jerry's K. site. Did you watch that youtube Arctic adventure that Ryan shared? Wow, two kind of clueless Aussies who didn't even know how to ski before hand....

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 10:38:53 MST Print View

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

I had a chance to watch this last night...and WOW, what a roller coaster. Was an odd mix of inspiring, eyberow raising, deeply touching, and downright painful to watch. Really cool that Gamme waited for them to finish together! That's the kind of stuff i love to see.

I think the reason why these guys succeeded in their crazy quest, beyond the reasons given by others in the documentary, was their sheer degree of love for each other (love strengthens you on all levels), and their very, very strong belief in that they could do it. Directed, focused positive thinking to the n'th degree. Strong Spirits and hearts.

It is kind of hard to believe that they set out to do this without even knowing how to ski before hand, and not being particularly cold weather acclimated.

More than a bit fool hardy, but any kind of subjecting self to extreme challenge is kind of fool hardy (from a purely material standpoint) even with practice and know how. To a lesser extent, i can sort of relate to that kind of fearless mindset, positive and enthusiastic attitude (even in the face of testing and challenge), and believing self can accomplish something though it might be hard or difficult.

If anybody had told me that it's not possible to learn how to drive a motorcycle quickly with virtually no experience before hand, and then take it through 20 miles including a lot of major city, highway, etc and i had believed them even to a small extent, i most likely would have failed, gave up, and gotten into an accident. Partly it was my lack of fear, and my strong belief that i COULD do it, and positive, optimistic nature is what facilitated forming that reality and end result.

Those guys are living proof that mind and Spirit can help one to transcend the physical to some extent, because by all accounts they could have easily given up or died. If they had different personalities, mindsets, but the same bodies and experience, they probably would have given up or died.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Cold on 11/04/2013 11:23:46 MST Print View

Watch "Cold" which was part of the Reel Rock a few years ago. It's a mini-documentary about climbing Gasherbrum II in winter. While you won't be dealing with the altitude, weather conditions will likely be similar (not all the time, but during bad weather) on a winter Alaska trip.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Cold on 11/04/2013 12:21:33 MST Print View

Will do Dustin, thank you for the reference.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
BTW... on 11/04/2013 16:51:06 MST Print View

I'd recommend as ESSENTIAL in sub zero temps, a sleeping bag VBL liner.

This item keeps your bag dry from your sweat ALL the time.

Without a bag VBL in these temps, down or synthetic, it will accumulate body moisture every night. It gains weight and loses insulating properties so that by day seven you are much colder at night and the bag is much heavier. (See Scott's ill-fated Antarctic pole expedition for the worst case scenario of this problem.)
Jus' sayin'...

***Be sure that liner is attatched at the foot of the bag and one tie at the side opposite the zipper to avoid a lot of frustration as you move around in the VBL.

Needless to say, VBL socks (over thin poly liner socks) on your feet are essential to keep your boot insulation dry. AND your insulating boot liners absolutely must be removed every night and stored in your sleeping bag. They can pe placed in stuff sacks to keep them from absorbing a bit of moisture from sleeping bag. But if you have the sleeping bag VBL the stuff sacks are obviously unnecessary.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/16/2014 15:19:38 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some thoughts on 11/04/2013 18:57:27 MST Print View

Hi Justin

> What's the coldest that you have used the above system down to?
Eh, probably not that far down in temperature - maybe -17 C.
What we get here in Oz is BAD weather - gales and snow with cold. Wind is the killer.

You have probably seen those delightful pics of female climbers in bikinis at Everest Base Camp - at the middle of a very still day without a cloud in sight? Yeah, right.

Thermals - mostly polypro, because that's what has been available here. Finding ANY good stuff is usually the problem for us.
Fleece - dunno actually - I bought the fabric locally and MYOG my own shirts. :-)
Trousers: Thinsulate bib&brace for really bad weather, but you can sure sweat inside them. Italian fleece cross-country trousers we picked up cheapish one time at an end-of-season sale: very good intermediate between the Thinsulate and the Lycra. Apparently they were not flashy enough for the resort bunch.

In sunny weather when you are working you can (and should) strip down as far as possible to avoid sweating. But when the wind blows I find it flattens the fleece on the windward side so you get a lot of chilling there: the insulation layer is then too thin. That's when a THICK COARSE fleece is useful, to just maintain the thickness of the layer.

You may also have seen the padded jackets worn by Tibetans in the snow. Dunno what the padding is, nothing wonderful I imagine, but it's the thickness which counts.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Extreme cold weather clothing systems and other related issues on 11/04/2013 19:05:12 MST Print View

> 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 will stick my neck out and say that it was a bad idea.

Read Ranulf Fienne's book Mind over Matter on crossing the Antarctic UNsupported. They wore very little, and their outer layer (windshirt/smock) was breathable cotton ventile.

Shackleton's men in the Antarctic wore 'sledging suits' - very similar, made out of cotton or flax canvas. One lot had to make them on the spot when they lost their supply ship.


Edited by rcaffin on 11/05/2013 22:53:59 MST.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
old school on 11/04/2013 21:35:13 MST Print View

Roger and others mentioned older techniques. Cotton and wool.

If that interests you, take a look at this site:

These hearty people camp and hike out regularly on the Canadian shield (a bit cold 'eh!. Sorry..could not resist ;) ) and espouse cotton anorak's, simple fleeces or even wool sweaters, wool pants and tend to not use more cutting edge clothing.

They do hot tenting, but cold tent as well.

A little different (esp since they are about fires at night vs making distance), but I think some of the techniques they use are directly applicable to what some people may wish to do in the winter.

For myself, I've gradually adopted wool pants, a simple fleece jacket, an unlined wind breaker and a wool shirt over my base layer while ski touring. All because of what I've read on this site. And it works well.

Personally, I think it is not cold per se that is the problem in winter. It is moisture.

Highly breathable clothing that let out the moisture while moving is wonderful.

Now, I can't claim to be out consistently and multiple days in -20F weather so YMMV. Our Canadian friends OTOH....

Edited by PaulMags on 11/04/2013 21:38:36 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: old school on 11/04/2013 23:40:03 MST Print View

+1 on breathable clothing.

I find that 0F to 20F in Alaska or New England is easier to dress for than skiing in 30F to 40F in California. When there won't be any liquid water for several months, any precip will brush off and if you manage to not sweat too much, breathable clothing works well. Until there's a wind, and then you put on a shell.

When I saw "old school", I was expecting a dissertation on caribou (for leggings and mukluks - the original "hollofill"), beaver (makes great mittens) and wolf (for ruffs because breath doesn't freeze onto it).

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
really old school on 11/05/2013 06:45:20 MST Print View

A mix of pre-Colombian and Voyageur-type clothing would definitely make an impression. :)

Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: old school on 11/05/2013 10:48:05 MST Print View

Another wintertrekker fan here.

"For myself, I've gradually adopted wool pants, a simple fleece jacket, an unlined wind breaker and a wool shirt over my base layer while ski touring. All because of what I've read on this site. And it works well."

Me too, for dry cold. I use a Swedish army cotton anorak and heavy wool (Codet-style) pants sometimes, although I've decided that all of this is better suited to when average temps are around 0F or below because of the weight and bulk.

My footwear for the same temp range is "mukluks" made from Tingley rubber overboots and mukluk liners/insoles, worn with neoprene vapor barrier socks. (Thanks to Eric B for the great idea on the VB socks.)

Edited by AndyF on 11/05/2013 10:49:42 MST.

just Justin Whitson
Re: old school on 11/05/2013 19:54:26 MST Print View

Thank you for the further info Eric and Roger. Definitely am considering and weighing all advice carefully and methodically.

Hi Paul and Andy,

Yeah, i've been reading the winter trekking site. Justin B referred it to me awhile back. Pretty interesting--i'm guessing these guys have a better innate cold tolerance than myself, because i doubt i could wear as little as them and be comfortable unless i'm using some kind of meditative type techniques to compensate.

Living most of your life up in Canada might have that effect. I remember when i was younger, didn't eat primarily vegetarian, and lived up in MA, and worked manual labor jobs--had a MUCH better cold tolerance.

Yes, i like wool pants, have several, though none of the really thick and heavy duty ones. I like the wool-poly pants i have. I've soaked the bottom halves (lower thight down) in Nikwax DWR, and they work quite nice in the snow (not that we get much in VA :(

Old school, man, i got lot's of Linen in my wardrobe, can't get more old school than that. Older than even wool use i think. Maybe i should use and mod my thrift store Linen Sport coat into a outer coat..

Edited by ArcturusBear on 11/05/2013 19:59:13 MST.

Mitch Chesney
(MChesney) - F
Based on observed experience on 11/19/2013 12:38:44 MST Print View

I've built my system on a combination of what I've experienced in the Sierras, Michigan's UP, and Minnesota's cold spells. Then I compared with what guides were suggesting on Denali and Everest and came up with the following:

---- top ----
Icebreaker 150-weight wool LS crew neck
Icebreaker 200-weight wool LS crew neck (thumb holes!)
Icebreaker 260-weight wool LS zip-neck (thumb holes!)
(optional) USMC expedition-weight polypro LS zip-neck (cheapest option by far)
Patagonia R1 hoody (thumb holes!)

Mountain Hardwear Effusion softshell (for activity during the day)

Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man pile fleece jacket (when active/sweating or temps go above freezing)
MontBell Alpine Light Down Parka (when extremely cold or sedentary)

Mountain Hardwear Epic hardshell

Feathered Friends Volant parka (extreme cold and wind)

---- bottom ----
Smartwool PhD midweight calf-high socks
Wigwam wool (scratchy, but warm) oversized sock
Icebreaker mid-weight wool leggings (3/4 length)
USMC expedition-weight polypro long johns
REI Acme Schoeller fabric softshell pants
(WTB: insulated pants, but I stay active enough during the day I don't need)
no-name Goretex 3-layer hardshell pants

---- head -----
Coal wool beanie with fleece liner (very comfortable)
Wool balaclava (was leaning for windproof but never needed)

---- hands ----
I've yet to figure this out completely but I make due with a pair of lightweight running/camp gloves from Target, The North Face Apex windproof gloves, and a no-name Primaloft mitt. I always keep a backup glove in the pack.

Edited by MChesney on 11/19/2013 12:41:38 MST.

Will Elliott
(elliott.will) - F

Locale: Juneau, AK
Q on 11/23/2013 01:45:11 MST Print View

My dad used to trap in 40 and 50 below in what is now Denali Park.

Two pairs wool socks
1-2 mukluk liners
Two felt insoles

Long underwear
Wool pants
Down pants or wind pants

Wool shirt
Wool shirt
Down Parka
Wind parka with fur


Wool mittens
Insulated mittens
Mitten shells with fleece back.

Foam pads
Down sleeping bag
Canvas tent
Collapsable wood stove


Nothing non breathable. Nothing constricting. Nothing expensive. The spandexification of outdoor sports is counterproductive here. Good luck and have fun!

Will Elliott
(elliott.will) - F

Locale: Juneau, AK
Q on 11/23/2013 01:54:21 MST Print View

So, updating that to current gear:

Wool boxers
1 piece fleece suit (OR, etc)
Softshell pants
Down pants
Puffy vest
Wind shell
Down jacket
Down parka
Liner gloves
Medium mittens
Polar mittens
Fur ruff

You'll be fine! VBL should probably go in there somewhere if you can't dry your stuff.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Based on observed experience on 11/26/2013 22:25:43 MST Print View

Thank you Mitch and Will for the further info and suggestions.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Layers at -20F/-29C on 01/06/2014 07:51:55 MST Print View

Last night I went out for a bit.
Conditions -20F/-29C, very little wind.
Torso layers:
Merino fishnet baselayer
150g merino base layer
Nikwax analogy jacket (comparable to 'midweight base layer with a plain microfiber shell)

Powerstretch tights
Nikwax analogy pants (equivalent to midweight base layer and plain microfiber shell)

Thin headband
Mid weight smart wool balaclava
150g merino hood, removed after 20 minutes.
Nikwax analogy hood (equivalent to midweight base layer and plain microfiber shell)
Coyote ruff
Goggles with foam nose shield added and foam covering removed from top and side vents.

I was too warm, had my pants zipped down from thigh to knee, and would have unzipped further, except for deep snow.
Torso was about right, just a tiny bit warm, could be dealt with by zipping and unzipping vents.

My big problem though, is that even these uncoated shells were soaking wet from condensation on the inside.
Minor issue was the goggles iced up slowly, after about 45 minutes, but with the ruff flipped forward I was ok without them too.

So, I'd say your original layers would be much to warm, even close to -40f.

Edited by Tjaard on 01/14/2014 14:32:30 MST.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Layers at -20F/-29C on 01/12/2014 22:27:11 MST Print View

Hi Tjaard,

I expect you are probably correct about that.

Not directly related, but maybe worth a mention: I was recently out in some near 0 degree weather, and got it to a nice sweet spot with my active layers. For legs, regular grid fleece baselayer pants (like R1 i think) and then very thin/light no name nylon windpants.

Top, Pat. Cap. 4 hoody for baselayer, homemade Apex vest with 2.5 oz insulation only in the front and very breathable 1.1 oz nylon ripstop shell/lining in the front with a polartec powerdry fabric on the back. And Brooks LSD II windjacket.

My arms got a wee bit cold at times, but not too bad. I had to keep the windjacket mostly unzipped most of the time. For hands, just Rab MeCo glove liners, layered over with Polypropylene over sized glove liners (i really love this combo).

The hood from the Pat. Cap. 4 hoody and the hood from the UL windjacket was enough for my head with at times moderate wind (up to 20 mph or so).

Makes me think that 20 degrees less, and i probably would have just needed another thin long sleeved shirt for the top, bottoms probably stay the same since i have good tolerance in my legs, and maybe a light/thin Polartec Power dry high efficiency balaclava for my head.

So yes, i was probably way over shooting originally.

Edited by ArcturusBear on 01/12/2014 22:28:39 MST.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Inuit sunburst hood/ruff for extreme cold and wind. on 02/23/2014 18:31:23 MST Print View

Here's a paper comparing a traditional Inuit hood and fur ruff with the military tunnel hood. The sunburst hood pattern is better in windy cold conditions.

The military tunnel hoods work pretty well here (windy cold hilltop in Mass). The hoods with synthetic ruff are cheap and easy to find as military surplus. One of my prized possesions is a Canadian surplus older hood with fur ruff; it's a nicer design and the fur works better.