Cold weather/High altitude camping part 1 of 3
As winter approaches us there are a few things we must change about our pack out and preparation for camping or backpacking. Number one is its going to be cold and with that brings a whole new dynamic to our kit shall we say. The first thing i would like to address is the difference in staying warm on the trail while hiking or climbing vs staying warm at camp. Nothing beats wool plane and simple natural wool i prefer merino wool products such as smart wool and even the store brand products. I will usually wear a 250 weight long sleeve pullover if I’m on the trail with a 100 or 150 weight t-shirt underneath just incase i need to shed the long sleeves. At camp if i know I’m going to be in areas so cold that the chances of rain fall is zero i will use down that has some sort of wind/water proof outer shell such as Pertex Shield EX that is both waterproof and breathable but not quite as heavy as Goretex. When i comes to warmth vs weight ratios it is number one however if there is a chance you will run into rain a quality synthetic is the better option although you give up some weight savings. Ether way you look at the two its a trade off.
Sleeping pads designed for cold weather is arguably one of the biggest deciding factor on wether you sleep comfortably or freeze… Anything with a R value above 4 will be good in the winter for most people. I use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm with a R value of 5.7 and have literally slept on a frozen lake and kept warm. In my opinion there are three components that you do not go cheap on number one is proper fitting boots next is sleeping pad and third is your sleeping bag. As far as boots all i can say is buy the ones that fit you properly not what he internet tells you to buy. And chose the boot that fits the climate you are going to be in. For example don’t use a desert boot such as the Lowa Zepher GTX on Mt Whitney in December, something like the Asolo TPS 520 GV Evo is a better fit. I own both and both are amazing boots but they are not interchangeable as far as environment goes. And if you are not allergic always wear wool sock in the winter, wool is naturally anti bacterial and will keep you warm even if your feet get wet.
Not all sleeping bags are created equal. That being said buy the best that you can afford. But i will warn you that a $50 Coleman zero degree bag is NOT the same as a $700 Feathered Friends or Western Mountaineering zero degree bag. One has a survival rating and the other is a comfort rating Im sure you can guess which one is which by the price. Down is always going to have the best warmth to weight ratio however if you are going to be in a place that you have a good chance of getting it soaked then synthetic is a better option. Down also requires more maintenance than synthetic. I have been using strictly down for five years now (Feathered Friends Ibis) and will probably never purchase another synthetic bag. But i don’t mind the maintenance and it has a waterproof shell so i don’t worry about water ether but all that comes with a big price tag. Again i can not stress enough buy the best that you can afford in this department because your life could very well depend on it.
Tents for the winter are one of the most overlooked things we should change. At least if you are going to be in any kind of harsh wether like heavy snow fall or high winds. At high altitudes those things could change almost instantly and with very little warning. If you are at low altitudes most three season tents will be sufficient however i think it is better to be safe than sorry in this department. I always use a four season tent if i know there is a change of snow or high winds. Now this is where i kind of stand right on the line between heavy duty and light weight. The tents i use for the forth season (winter) are not your traditional 4 season tents. I use several different four season tents the first two are ultralight tents manufactured by Tarp tents out of Seattle Washington by a man named Henry Shires. If I need a somewhat freestanding tent i use his Scarp 1 and if i can just set up camp and hang out i use the the Stratospire 2 both of these are ultra light (under 2.5 lbs) yet surprisingly durable. I have had both in 40 MPH wind gust and they worked perfect. My last resort tent (because of its weight) is the Eurika K2 XT now this thing is a bomb shelter if you ever watched Discovery Channels Everest: Beyond the limit you will have seen several of them at camp 4 slightly above 26,000 FT if that gives you any indication of how tough it is. That one i have had in sustained 60 mph winds. And to this day after 10 years of use the only thing to damage it was a hungry squirrel haha.
Cooking at altitude or in wind poses a unique issue in its self. After my first time trying to boil water at 13,000 ft i learned a very important and hard lesson about the lack of oxygen haha. There are many lightweight backpacking stoves on the market. They are like sleeping bags and are far from being created equal. There are two many of them for me to talk about them all so will talk about the two i have intimate knowledge of. If you are staying at relatively low altitudes the Jet Boil system is a very good system. Mine served me well for 12 years that is until i started climbing higher than 10,000 ft and trying to set up base camp for a early morning summit. I now use the MSR Wind burner it is essentially the evolution of the Jet Boil (they actually got sued by Jet Boil because it was so good) as the name would elude to it performs very well in high winds (probably the best on the market) I have also tested it at 14,000 ft and it performed flawlessly. Stay tuned for parts two and three from Kit fox Outfitters. Part two we will cover snow and ice specific equipment. Like us on Facebook follow us on Instagram. Oh yeah and get the Fox out there.