M Spring Snow Trekking Gear List

by Ryan Jordan

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Article Summary:

In January of 2004 I published a winter trekking gear list that focused on a camping style that depended upon sleeping in a snow cave. The "weight-saving" idea here is based on the premise that because the temperatures inside a properly built snow cave remain relatively warm, one might be able to sneak by with more conventional three-season clothing and sleep systems.

Having used this approach on many winter treks since then, I can vouch for its validity, but warn against a caveat, one that I learned the hard way while camping high in the Bridger range a few years ago.

On that trip, where I was carrying a sub-10 pound pack (base weight of gear sans food and water), I encountered blizzard conditions with high winds, and nighttime temperatures that dipped to ten degrees (F) below zero. By the time night fell and it came time to dig my snow cave, I was fatigued from battling the wind all day, and on a severe blood sugar deficit from exerting myself over the course of a long day with an inadequate intake of calories. My poor condition led me to build a snow cave in a location that wasn't conducive to proper construction (e.g., entrance below the sleeping platform), and I spent a long and very cold night in it.

So my caveat with the approach of using three-season gear for winter snow cave camping is that on long, hard treks, you simply may not have the energy, or time, at the end of the day, to select a good location or to take the time required to construct a proper cave that will keep you warm enough if the mercury dips low.

That leads me to this gear list.

My hope for this list is to provide a framework that adds a little bit of safety margin, while still allowing you to pack a sub-ten pound base weight.

I'm calling this version a "spring snow trekking" gear list because the style is better practiced by the inexperienced in late winter / early spring conditions, and offers a much greater margin of safety than trying a kit like this in the dead of winter.

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