Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras.
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Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 20:08:13 MDT Print View

I've decided to get serious about winter camping this winter. I've done some light winter camping with some snow and shoulder season type weather but I've never done deep snow stuff with snowshoes.

I will probably be camping 6-9 thousand feet starting at lower elevations for my first few trips. Probably going to be doing stuff in yosemite.

The big question I have is how warm of a sleeping bag I need.

What kind of night time temperatures can I expect at 6-9 thousand feet in winter in the sierra nevada mountains? I have no idea what to expect.

Also, how many ounces of down fill power should I be looking for in a bag?
I tend to sleep on the cold side.

Will a floorless shelter that provides 360 degrees of protection (like a duomid) be sufficient or will I need an actual 4 season mountaineering tent?


Thanks!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 20:18:25 MDT Print View

An old anecdote:

A few of us had organized a beginner-level winter trip for January 1979, going to Westfall Meadow in Yosemite, which is around 7100 feet elevation. I believe that all of the group members were on cross country skis. In advance, we told the beginners that they needed to have sleeping bags good for +10*F, ordinary summer backpacking gear, and good layers of wool or synthetic clothing. I carried in a big 4-person pyramid tent for four of the beginners to use. It got cold that night. At sunrise, everything was frosty, and the temperature was around -10*F.

--B.G.--

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 21:26:58 MDT Print View

A recent anecdote:

I bought a zero degree quilt for winter trips in the Sierra. It was luxurious for winter camping.

After reading about synthetic over-quilts for winter use I also made a quilt with apex 2.5. When combined with my 20 degree quilt it is warm and works great at protecting the down inner quilt from wetting out. In hindsight, I would have just used my regular 20 degree summer quilt paired with the myog over-quilt and not purchased a zero degree quilt that was expensive and sits in the closet most of the year.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 21:28:56 MDT Print View

An anecdote that's not too recent, not too old, but just right.....

I once went camping in the winter. It was cold. The end.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 21:34:53 MDT Print View

Okay, now I'll actually try to be helpful.

RE: Will a floorless shelter that provides 360 degrees of protection (like a duomid) be sufficient or will I need an actual 4 season mountaineering tent?

If you're camping in deep snow, a floorless shelter is fine, and in some ways kinda nice. Bring a shovel and you can dig down into the snow to keep the wind at bay, and dig one side deeper to create a bench of sorts (just don't roll over and fall into it during the night....).

David Gardner
(GardnerOutdoorLD) - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 21:39:34 MDT Print View

Hey Justin,
I skied the Winter Sierra High Route in the winter of 1992. For tents we used a combination of 8'x8' four-sided floorless pyramid tents erected over 2-3 ft. deep square dugout floors and using the snow bricks removed from the floor areas to make 2 ft. walls around the base of the tents about 6" outside of the dugout area. We used ground sheets on the floor. There was a 2 ft. wide trench/doorway which we closed off with a Hefty bag hung from a ski pole. The center of the pyramid was held up with 4 adjustable ski poles coming up from the corners and meeting in the middle. We used our skis for stakes. We fit 4 people each into 2 tents. We hung our canister stove a couple of feet down from the crossing ski poles at the center. The tent only weighed about 4 pounds, so it was 1 lb. for each person. Which was darn light back in the day before silnylon and cuben and all that.

I think this kind floorless arrangement works well if you're willing to carry a collapsible snow shovel and do the work of digging out the floor area. Just sitting on the snow a floorless tent will be worthless in the wind. So if you don't want to do a lot of digging, go with a double wall tent with a floor.

On the same trip I used a Feathered Friends sleeping bag with a Gore-Tex shell rated to -20* F. I absolutely recommend a sleeping bag with a totally waterproof shell, as it is your ultimate survival cocoon. If you can't get the tent up in time before a storm, or if your tent gets trashed or lost, or if there is lightning striking around you and you don't want your tent poles to act like lightning rods and you're wet and cold, you can strip your wet clothes and crawl into your bag just about anywhere, even if you can't find a flat spot and have to hunch up next to a boulder or between some rocks, and survive. I have had to do this at altitude a couple of times when a thunderstorm struck while we were above 11,000 ft. One time we even slept all night through a snow storm, and woke up with a couple of feet of snow over us. We slept on our sides so the opening in the sleeping bags were not facing straight up, and every 1/2 hour or so we would have to reach out of the hole with one arm to brush away snow for a breathing area.

BTW, if you know how to ski at all I think you will have much more fun on telemark or randonee skis with climbing skins. They climb as well or better than showshoes, they float much better in soft, deep snow, they can be used as tent stakes, they can be lashed together with ski poles in between to make a rescue sled, and they are much, much more fun when you turn around and head downhill.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 21:41:11 MDT Print View

The necessary gear for winter camping in Yosemite varies a lot depending on what you are trying to do.

If you camp inside a snow shelter, you are carrying the least weight. The Sierra Nevada method for constructing a snow shelter dictates about a pound or two for a flat shelter tarp for four people. That also requires one to four shovels. This also requires deep enough snow to work with, and it requires enough time to construct the shelter.

If you camp inside a full snow cave, then you can get by with the very least weight. If you construct it right, the temperature inside will be within a couple of degrees of freezing, so a super sleeping bag may be unnecessary.

A four season mountaineering tent is mostly necessary in a high wind location. I have slept under some pretty flimsy shelters in Yosemite, and hardly anybody bothered to bring a big four season tent. The flimsy shelters tend to collapse under the weight of a big snow dump unless you are willing to shovel the snow off every hour or so. That gets demoralizing if you are trying to sleep.

--B.G.--

Bily Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 22:27:05 MDT Print View

"On the same trip I used a Feathered Friends sleeping bag with a Gore-Tex shell rated to -20* F. I absolutely recommend a sleeping bag with a totally waterproof shell, as it is your ultimate survival cocoon"

er... as far as I know there is no such thing as a totally waterproof sleeping bag.
First, think of all that baffle stitching. Is that seam sealed... doubt it. And then, the zipper. Is that a waterproof zipper... doubt it. Not to mention there is a huge hole for your head to pop out of... just sayin'

Billy

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/12/2014 23:02:45 MDT Print View

> recommend a sleeping bag with a totally waterproof shell, as it is your ultimate survival cocoon.

That could be a really bad idea. REALLY bad - if the 'shell' means the outer case. A waterproof OUTER shell means that all that moisture you emit during the night will collect INSIDE the down and freze. After a while, you are going to be very, very cold.
On the other hand, a Vapour Barrier LINER will stop any moisture frm getting into the down in your bag. That can be a good idea if it is cold enough.

> If you can't get the tent up in time before a storm,
Then either you have been behaving in a silly manner, not taking due care, or you have the wrong sort of tent for the mountains (which happens a lot). With the right training or knowledge, you can pitch a good tunnel tent in a howling storm (>100 kph) quite easily. But don't try that with a pop-up! See the following:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/tunnel_tents_part1.html
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/tunnel_tents_part2_2012.html
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/tunnel_tents_part3_2012.html

Cheers

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/13/2014 06:05:43 MDT Print View

Justin,
I used to do a lot of winter snowshoe trips in the Sierra and I would expect to have temperatures at zero or below, especially if you get into higher elevations. If I were doing it today I would likely use my normal 20 degree quilt with VBL, a very good pad, xtherm and a bivy. In addition I carry my normal clothes capable of insulating while hiking and possibly an additional foam pad. Combined I have had this setup down to zero and slightly below.

A great place to head in is at Independence on the east side. You get into some very cool terrain in very short order.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/13/2014 10:58:00 MDT Print View

So I think I'm getting a good 0 degree bag. I can get a great deal on marmot stuff through my work so it's not a huge investment.
Right now all I have is a summerlite.
I might also get an in between shoulder season quilt.
The quilt + 0 degree bag could be combined for really ridiculous temp drops.

Edited by justin_baker on 08/13/2014 10:58:43 MDT.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/13/2014 11:06:07 MDT Print View

If you're like most people (myself included) and you're just gonna do 1-2 trips per winter of at most 2-3 days each, you might not need an insanely warm bag. The winter weather forecast does a good job of predicting temperatures over short periods like that. You probably aren't gonna head out there if the forecast is for -20F lows and 5F highs. Not that I have a lot of winter camping experience (I think I have 5 nights under my belt) but I've been very comfortable with a sleeping bag with about 20 oz of down in it, plus a 5oz down parka. That would be the equivalent of like a 5-10F bag. I think with a 0F bag you'll be more than covered.

In fact you might want to instead look at getting something like a 20F quilt - that way you can use it over your Summerlite for winter camping, and use the quilt for shoulder season stuff where the Summerlite might not be quite warm enough. That way it won't be a waste of money if you find out you don't like winter camping and won't sit in your closet quite so much. Don't forget about adding more ground insulation too. In the winter I add a 3/4 length z-lite to my NeoAir x-lite and that has worked well so far.

Definitely let me know if you wanna do a winter trip!

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/13/2014 11:51:21 MDT Print View

I've done plenty of winter in Ohio, West Virginia, and the UP. I've used double wall tents (BA Copper Spur) and floorless shelters (SL3 and inner-less Scarp 2). This year, the simplicity of a bivvy really appeals to me. Preferably eVENT, but I might lug around a heavy GoreTex military one just for the low cost (in money that is). Definitely an option to consider!

karl hafner
(khafner) - MLife

Locale: upstate NY
wintering backpacking on 08/13/2014 14:09:01 MDT Print View

I agree that skis can be more fun. If you don't ski don't start here to learn. Re: bags I have -30 bags -20 bags 20 degree bags and 32 degree bags. I almost always now days take the 32 and 20 and combine them with a liner (vapor barrier if below 20) and find it more than warm enough. that gives more options. If i am really concerned I'll add a bivvy sack. As long as your out of the wind any tent etc will do. Yes snow fall must be taken care of in most tents. Even 4 season ones can need to be cleaned off more that once at night.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Some questions about winter camping in the Sierras. on 08/13/2014 21:08:27 MDT Print View

Andy, I know you've posted that you like making fires in winter.
I've heard that those military goretex bivies shed light sparks pretty easily, so that's a plus.

Mitch Chesney
(MChesney) - F
Don't forget the pad on 08/14/2014 05:40:26 MDT Print View

The expectation is your sleeping bag is rated (assuming it's a name-brand known to be conservative in their ratings - Western Mountaineering, etc) to 10-20F colder than the expected nightly low. of course storms can drastically reduce the temps below even this 'buffer zone' but the adage has proven true most times.

You want to really look at your sleeping pad, though, because even if my WM Puma is rated to -25, a single Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Deluxe is going to leave me frigid in 10f temperatures. Either double up on the equivalent of a RidgeRest Deluxe (now remodeled as the SoLar) or get a winter-rated inflatable pad (r-value > 5) atop a CCF pad.

As for determining the temperature, I always check the NOAA mobile app as well as http://www.mountain-forecast.com/ for elevation-specific reports on various mountains.

Edited by MChesney on 08/14/2014 05:44:28 MDT.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Bivies and fire on 08/14/2014 07:52:35 MDT Print View

"Andy, I know you've posted that you like making fires in winter.
I've heard that those military goretex bivies shed light sparks pretty easily, so that's a plus."

Good to know, thanks!