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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 10:24 am 
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Joined: November 6th, 2019, 11:01 am
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Location: Toronto
I am looking forward to some solo winter camping soon and wanted to ask if any other winter enthusiasts could share with me their favourite pieces of kit and tips for camping in cold weather.

My first solo trip was a disaster so I learned a lot (ex. don't bring a jetboil, it won't work below -X degrees celsius, batteries dead in record time etc). I do not hot tent and do not want to get into hot tenting, I like being out in the freezing cold.

Weight is not much of an issue as I bring a pulk.

Here are my go-to's:
- Oil Lantern (new piece of kit, lights with batteries unreliable, should get 12 hours of nice light from a full 'tank') Being in my sleeping bag at 4:45pm is a bummer without some good light for reading.
- Waxed canvas tarp for ground sheet, stiff and thick gauge.
- Foam sleeping pad on top of tarp as 1st layer, cold weather Thermarest to sleep on as 2nd
- I sleep under a tarp or a pyramid tent, in heavy snow the tarp gets seriously weighed down and requires you to get out and knock snow off during the night. Pyramid tent best.
- Newspaper or birch bark for starting fires, not fun trying to get one going when you can barely light a match or flick your bic!
- Quality, large sized thermos that I load with boiling water before heading out. In -20, the water was not frozen 24 hours after heading out.
- Heavy duty tent stakes - cold ground needs a strong stake that can take the force of being hammered down.
- I bring finger gloves that I use when covering ground and setting up camp and another emergency pair for warming them up quickly (down mitts).
- Everything touching my skin directly is merino wool and I bring a pair of 'sleeping clothes' that double as dry 'emergency' clothes incase I get wet.
- Cold weather, gas stove - I am using the XGK EX by MSR, it is a beast.
- Ice 'picks' that hang around my neck for emergencies going through ice
- Cold weather sleeping bag with vapor barrier liner
- Boots for travelling and snowshoeing in and warmer boots for camp.

I am sure I forgot a couple of things, appreciate anyone else's insight into how to make the most out of winter camping.

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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 10:53 am 
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Joined: January 25th, 2004, 2:59 pm
Posts: 255
Location: Ottawa
I would skip the kerosene lamp. Does not really provide a lot of light, smelly and won't give you any real heat in your shelter. I use a small naptha lantern.

Sleeping system: you have a good grasp of the need for layers, however I would add an additional layer. Either one of those accordion style folding bubble/foam pads, or a layer of cardboard. Works very well.

Fire starting: Both birch bark and paper become less usefull when covered in frost. I bring a tube of Coghlans fire paste. Amazing stuff. I also use it to pre-heat the generator on my stoves.


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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 12:02 pm 
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Joined: February 17th, 2014, 11:51 am
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Seems like a good list to me.

On the thermos, I find a waterbag that I can put in my jacket pocket works well and a nalgene bottle that gets filled with hot water at night and tucks in the sleeping bag (with a wool sock over it) is a nice bonus especially when just getting in the bag. As it and the water bag stays with me in the sleeping bag it doesn't freeze. But then again you run the risk of leakage.

Speaking of leakage... can't understate how good a pee bottle is during the dead of winter nights. Selection of the bottle is important as you don't want to confuse your tea for your pee if you know what I mean. Also make sure it is sufficient volume - 700 mL is good enough for me but 500 mL doesn't have the capacity :) Now to avoid the nalgene tea vs pee bottle I usually buy a pee bottle at the store and dispose of it after the trip. It's always an interesting experience in Shopper's Drug Mart, holding a bottle of consumer drink up and thinking 'Will my penga fit in this?' :)

Alright enough of that talk. For winter thermarest make sure you purchase the right repair kit. The standard repair tape won't stick during the cold and the seam-grip silicone won't set. Thermarest used to sell these hotpacks glue kits that you soften by placing them in boiling water, then smear the heated glue onto your patch. This will set in the winter.

Good stuff on the snowshoe boots and winterboots. I find that mucklucks are bulky and overkill for snowshoeing and you don't need the insulation value while actively snowshoeing but it helps to have a -100oC mucks when standing around camp. Vapor barrier socks are also really good addition both for your snowshoeing boots and mucks. It keeps your boots from getting all stiff due to freezing of accumulated water in them during the night. Bring you wet socks (inside the vapour barrier) with you in your sleeping bag and usually your own body heat drives off the moisture over the night (best with synthetic bags as the down will soak up that moisture and hold onto it getting heavier throughout the trip).

Folding snowshovel is very useful for clearing a tent pad in deeper snow and I find it works better than snowshowes, especially if you have to chip away at ice ridges formed from freeze/thaw events. It doesn't hurt to have one of these shovels to help dig your vehicle out after returning to your entry point either.

Larger pot for melting snow. It sounds like you tend to rely on home brought water which does save a lot of fuel if you keep the water in liquid form. However, I inevitably end up melting snow for a lot of my water needs. A large pot (3 or 4L) is useful for this because snow has such a low density it takes a lot of volume and several pot refills to get that 1L of liquid stuff. I also try to make sure the pot is robust enough to use on the fire as well as the stove since you inevitably have a fire going in winter and why not use that heat source for more than looking.

Wood processing - full size buck saw or a 22" trailblazer style (18" is a bit small for winter) and decent sized axe capable of splitting larger rounds. No less than a boy's axe but I prefer my Gransfor's American Felling Axe for winter camping. Wood prep is one of those activities you spend a lot of time doing.

Sleeping beleclava, separate from your day one is nice for the night. Anti-fog ski goggles can be nice but that is a luxury. On tent stakes, I often find that snow stakes work better (just cut a stick, tie in the center and bury it parallel to the tie; tamp down and let the snow set).

Hand brush for camp. Always nice to brush off snow from your clothing before entering the tent, and brushing loose snow from inside the tent if you have a tent floor or tarp.

Snot rag...in your pocket. It gets a lot of use in the winter.

Thats about all I can think of at the moment.


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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 12:10 pm 
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Joined: November 6th, 2019, 11:01 am
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Location: Toronto
Great feedback MikeD and kgd. I have not tested my oil lantern yet, so I will remember your advice! The pee bottle is a must-have, no doubt. I use one when it isn't winter it is so convenient! Big pot, great idea! I have a smaller Zebra, will get a larger size. I have sleeping balaclava, thin gloves, toque and neck warmer most of the time, I also wear thick wool socks and down booties in my bag. I haven't tried the water bottle in the bag but that sounds nice, my bag is a mummy cut and it is pretty tight when I am layered up with sleeping clothes. I usually get bad dead arm in the winter because I am a little too snug. I do bring a small, lightweight shovel, thanks for reminding me. I bring a saw and I bring a hatchet but this year I have the Scandinavian Forest Axe from Gransfors that I will bring, deadly sharp. Great idea about the thermarest repair kit, that is something I do not have and I should.

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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 1:05 pm 
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 11:21 pm
Posts: 1141
Location: Burns Lake, BC
Hey jbrave, I hope you're ready for all this.

I'm a pulk winter camper as well. I'll go through your list with additional thoughts as well.
Full disclosure... I'm a hot tipi guy now and will never go without, but I did 25 years of your described cold tenting.

Batteries: Take lithium when you do need them. I use them for my Spot device (never without) or GPS (when needed).

Oil lantern: I used a lamp oil insert in my Candle Lantern for ever. Great for reducing condensation in a tent and general light duty light. I've since switched to LED head lamp with lighting options (different levels of light, SOS features, red and green night lights) and is much cleaner in every way.

Ground sheet: I always skipped the ground sheet tarp and instead took two or three extra Evazote sleeping pads. Less weight and much more versatile (can use for sleeping and laying around camp). Though I wasn't in an open tarp too much, even then I used them as ground sheets.

Foam sleeping pad: Pay the money for an Evazote pad instead of the less expensive Zotefoam. Much more durable and much warmer.

Fire starter: I always collect Birch bark when travelling to additionally add to the already going fire, but will alway have homemade or commercial fire starters for lighting with just a spark. You'll always get sparks from a frozen or an empty Bic lighter. I do also carry a Light My Fire flint and striker combo.

Thermos: You're bang on with that. I would add a one litre insulated (use a piece of your Evazote pad) Nalgene bottle. It will keep drinking water thawed and allow you to have a hot water bottle for your sleeping bag. Bonus is thawed water for your morning routine (washing, coffee/tea, or liquid needed food).

Tent stakes: sure if you can see the ground, otherwise learn to use branches as snow anchors and stomp out an extra large tent pad and hanging out area.

Glove: What you have is perfect. I would add a pair of durable full leather mitts for extra cold, emergencies, or just pure comfort.

Extra clothes: Bang on again. I always bring a wool poncho. Like Clint wears. Sleeping clothes in a Silnylon waterproof storage bag.

Stove: Bang on for the duties required. I switched to a Trangia with a homemade Caldera Cone for a peaceful noiseless way of heating water. You do have to pre-warm it but I think it's so worth it.

Ice picks: Maybe if you feel better about it. I always take collapsable trekking/ski poles that help me for all the walking and if I did go through the ice I've always thought I could choke up on the base and use them just like your picks.

Sleeping bag: I'm a fan of two sleeping bags. One -10c (850 down) and one -5c (Hyperloft synthetic) on the outside layer. I did try three (bivy sac on outside at -38c) but had a claustrophobic attack in the middle of the night. Never again.
I'm not a fan of the vapour barrier unless it's an emergency. A wet bag is scary out there.

Boots: Gortex hikers for walking (I have hot and sweaty feet) and Sorels or high top moccasins for camp. I also wear two layers of socks. Wigwam poly liners for the skin and wool for the outer.

Add on's...

A must for me is an Environmental Firebox. Like the kind Bill Mason promoted.
I've made close to 30-35 of two different sizes when I was selling them. They're very ease to make with galvanized flashing, drill, hammer, and rivets. (be sure to burn off the galvanization before using as it's toxic while burning off!)
Large party is 12"x 18"x 8" and personal or lightweight is 9"x 12"x 8". Once you try one you'll see what I mean. They use a fraction of the fuel, you can move them while they're going, you can bunk them up on two sticks laying down for use on deep snow (your fire doesn't melt down into the snow) or on saturated/flooded ground. The heat they throw is very directional so they're perfect to have in front of a three sided pitch with a tarp. They also collapse to an 1 1/2" thickness when travelling. Fuel is plentiful and free. No scaring of the Earth.

Goes with the stove...
A folding hand saw. Bahco is my choice for small and light.
A grill that fits across the firebox. I'm a Purcell Trench fan.
MSR Alpine one litre pot for endless and free hot water on the firebox. Fire's already going, so why not?
Insulated work glove to handle the firebox and gathering wood.
Long handle tongs for handling food and burning wood

I'm an Exped Downmat fan. The biggest and best for me. I'm 6'3" and like to sleep comfy. Evazote pad(s) underneath.

I always carry a thin Merino toque (for sleeping and super cold temps) with a Seattle Sombrero falling rain/snow hat.

Rope for pulling the pulk is OK for flat terrain but crossed poles to a pulling harness makes things WAY easier.

A collapsible shovel is a must as well. Spend the money for lightweight and durability.

Sorry about the super long post... I'm stuck at home and obviously need an outdoor release!
Hope any of this helps.
Ted

Edit to add: Thanks kgd, I don't know how I could forget my dedicated pee bottle! A must.
Another one you remembered is a good pair of sunglasses. Another must.


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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 1:35 pm 
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Joined: November 6th, 2019, 11:01 am
Posts: 68
Location: Toronto
Canoeheadted, excellent advice! Those pads look nice and wide as well as thick, I will try and find one. I actually got a great one recently from Savotta - https://finn-savotta.fi/en/products/sleeping-mat/ but that was more for summer and fall.

I have a Garmin Inreach, I am not sure if the batteries are lithium, I will check. I never turn it on unless it is an SOS in winter and I always leave with a full charge. I wonder if warming it on my person before turning it on in an emergency is smart?

I bought the vapor barrier specifically to prevent my bag from getting wet! The footbox of my sleeping bag in the morning is usually the most frosty area and I assumed it was because my feet were too cozy with the down booties on. I haven't used it yet but I was going to put it inside my sleeping bag to prevent heat/moisture from escaping into the down bag. Won't that work? I don't want to learn my first night out in cold weather.

I got some new boots for my snowshoes, Danner powderhorn insulated because my snowshoes would not fit over my large warm boots, they are also super heavy, I hope this will be good for getting to camp where I will switch into the big lunkers.

I also just got myself a single 'fire glove' for handling pots/pans over the fire, good call!

I have a Pelican 60 and I drilled holes for lashing down gear along the sides and I usually lay everything into my canvas tarp, wrap it like a burrito and then lash it down tight. I have ropes for now that I either tie around my waist or sling around my shoulder, after my first experiment carrying all of my gear and waking up the next day to legs that would not stand me up, I eagerly equipped myself with the pulk.

I also have homemade firestarter, they are so fun to make, and I always bring a few in my first aid kit. They burn for about 15 minutes uninterrupted and are waterproof. Wax encapsulating a vaseline-covered cotton ball in an egg carton cube. Scrape the wax off the top when ready to use and light the exposed cotton ball and voila.

I bring an auger for ice fishing but I haven't caught anything yet.

If anyone has a good solution for keeping your backside warm when sitting down in a chair, I would like to hear it. My clothes, when compressed seem to offer little warmth and sitting in a chair ice fishing gets real tough in windy weather.

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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 2:01 pm 
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Joined: March 23rd, 2006, 11:21 pm
Posts: 1141
Location: Burns Lake, BC
jbrave, you're absolutely right about the sleeping bag and the vapour barrier bag. I meant to say that your wet clothes are scary out there. Especially your sleeping/emergency clothes.
I also use the empty sleeping clothes Silnylon stuffsack bag around my sleeping bag footbox if it's touching the outer tent or is exposed to the weather.
The heated Nalgene bottle goes near my chest before bed and get's thrown down to my feet for the night. I've only had very little condensation on the outer layer of my synthetic bag in this Silnylon stuffsack.

Though the lithium batteries will still work when cold, it's better to keep the unit closer to you body as then condensation won't be a problem when you do go to use it. Or if the charge is lower, this will help.

The Evazote pads are available in thinner thicknesses as well. I take a 1/4" bivy pad along with the 1/2" ones. For just what you describe. Ass pad, chair pad, laying down pad, something for a, hopefully never needed, splint pad.

For ice fishing, we're back to the firebox. Imagine having a fire out there that doesn't melt into the ice and you can move it around to suit the weather condition or your requirements.
Search this site or Google it to see what I'm talking about.
Look up Canoeheadted and Environmental Firebox.
Flip your pulk up on it's side for a windbreak as well.


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PostPosted: October 20th, 2020, 3:58 pm 
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Joined: November 6th, 2019, 11:01 am
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Location: Toronto
Hmm so instead of a damp bag I will wake up covered in damp clothes, further testing obviously needed. I made a dyneema groundsheet that looks more like an open envelope, the first 2-3 feet of my bag's footbox is enclosed in the groundsheet - I usually use that in rainy conditions under a tarp and I've tried it in winter as well. That firebox looks very cool, nice job, that would be amazing on the ice, I am too lazy to make one though! Maybe I can find something online that is similar. Cheers!

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PostPosted: October 21st, 2020, 7:53 am 
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Joined: February 12th, 2008, 6:01 pm
Posts: 459
Location: North Bay, Ontario
Hi,
I have used vapour barriers in sleeping bags before and did not wake up in wet clothes. This may vary by person of course, as the amount of moisture a person puts out seems to vary quite a lot. It is a different "feel" that a lot of people don't like, but it does make the bag quite a lot warmer because you are not losing heat through evaporation.

I don't use them any more because I normally use a hot tent and it is easy to keep your sleeping bag dry. But while cold camping, it is nearly impossible to do so and the bag inevitably picks up moisture with every use. A vapour barrier helps a lot.

I suggest you try it out. It isn't for everyone. One of the best systems I used was simply to wear very light nylon rain gear to bed. Worked well.

Kinguq.


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