Winter Camping Revisited

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DayTrip

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So I'm back on the "Winter camping" bandwagon after my non-start a few years ago. Still craving that Winter, near tree line experience and a dramatic sunrise/sunset. So I'm rummaging back through my gear and revisiting the hang ups from my initial "attempt". I feel like I have the tent and stove I want. What I am still baffled by is the sleeping bag and pad and what backpack can hold all this stuff.

So for people out there who Winter camp in a tent I'm curious about a few things:

1) How big/what brand is your pack?? (I use a ULA Circuit). I have tried repeatedly to cram my heavily compressed sleeping bag in my pack and it just engulfs 2/3 of the volume even highly compressed in a stuff sack (it is a synthetic bag, decided on largely by price, and which I really regret buying at this point but are comparable down bags really that much smaller?).

2) Do you use a foam pad with an air mattress or just an air mattress? Similar to my sleeping bag, I find my Winter foam pad to just be absurdly huge and cumbersome strapped down to the top of my pack (I don't have straps underneath on mine but it would be similarly ridiculous there too).

3) Curious what the base weight of your set up is, especially your "Big 4".

Any thoughts on the subject would be appreciated. Not sure if I should be looking for a bigger pack and/or a better sleeping bag and pad. Thanks in advance.
 
A Circuit is not going to hack it, I have one, its a great pack but its about 3000 cubic inches and rated for around 30 pounds of loads. I used to use a MSR Frostfire 6500 cubic inch pack. A friend used a Dana Terraplane (7000 cubic inch). One of the reasons I stopped most winter camping is the weight and volume of gear really slowed me down unless i had a pulk and did base camping. The other problem is unless you have written the big check to Western Mountaineering for one of their high fill power ultralight bags a typical synthetic bag eats up a lot of volume. I have a basic -30 Caribou synthetic bag for winter base camping and even with a compression sack it probably would eat up most of the volume of the Circuit. A closed cell foam pad it superior to any air filled pad. Realistically unless you are in a shelter on a hard floor your body heat and weight will compress the snow underneath so all you really need is R value.
 
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1) In winter I use a 74L Seek Outside Divide. Probably a bit overbuilt for most people but you won't find a more comfortable pack, especially for heavier loads and double especially for the weight. If you're happy with your Circuit, a Catalyst is the logical step up. My hiking partners all step up to the Catalyst in winter from Circuits but they stop being comfortable north of 30-35 lbs.

2) I use both a CCF pad (zlite sol) and inflatable (xtherm). Whether I put the CCF on top of or below the inflatable depends on ground conditions. My tent is floorless. The CCF gets strapped to the gear shelf below the stash pocket on my pack. Inflatable inside. I have 1 hiking partner who puts his CCF inside his Catalyst against the back and is able to fit everything else inside.

3) I have no idea what my actual BW is. I buy the lightest I can without sacrificing durability. Book numbers for my big 4:
Seek Outside Divide pack: 44oz
Seek Outside Cimarron hot tent: 49 oz
Xtherm + z lite sol pads: 29 oz
UGQ 0° Bandit quilt: 22oz
Borah UL bivy: 6 oz

If I'm running my wood stove it's another 43 oz to the tent weight but it saves me having to bring my Svea and fuel.

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Any thoughts on the subject would be appreciated. Not sure if I should be looking for a bigger pack and/or a better sleeping bag and pad. Thanks in advance.

I use a 80 liter pack which has a sleeping bag compartment on the bottom. I stuff my down bag into a compression stuff sack and compress it just enough to fit in the compartment so there's no stress on the zipper. I bring a Thermarest inflatable pad and a Evazote foam pad. The thermarest gets folded and put inside the pack, while the foam pad is rolled and carried outside on the bottom. My pack has places on the bottom for attaching straps and I tie my tent down there. Total weight for all my gear for an overnight is around 40 lbs. which also includes crampons, ice axe and extra clothing.
 
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1. Osprey Exos 58 (60L±). This pack is designed to be lightweight and therefore lacks strength in certain parts of its construction. However, it has held up very well so far hauling heavier winter camping loads (liquid fuel, snowshoes, etc). Additionally, I use a Big Agnes 0° down bag (650 fill). I find this bag compresses down to about the size of a large basketball. Whereas, prior synthetic sleeping bags were closer to a beachball in volume!

2. I use exactly the same method as JoshandBaron: Zlite SOL foam pad (short) and a Neoair Xtherm (reg), both by Therm-a-rest.

3. Base weight? I'm not sure, I only weigh fully loaded packs. Winter overnight trail weight is usually around 35-40lbs (maybe more!) including a liter or two of water.


I would recommend considering a down sleeping bag. 0° works for me most of the time, I add a silk liner and possibly a booster 40° down bag or quilt (Sea to summit Traveler or BA Pluton) if needed. Unfortunately, the quickest way to solve most gear issues is money, which may or may not be in limited supply.



Good luck and stay warm!
 
You've seen my setup in the field. I have an 85L Osprey something-or-other (Aether? Probably aether.) I got a -20 REI-branded down bag that was pretty reasonably priced to start with, then on sale, then dividend...only way I could afford it in grad school, that's for sure. Anything below 0 in a synthetic gets really rough; they definitely don't pack as small. Unfortunately it does seem like reasonably priced down bags are out as you're always paying for treated down these days.

I use self-inflating pad plus a very thick but light ALPS mountaineering closed cell foam pad. That rides outside the pack; really the only way to go.

I have no idea on base weight, dry weight, or wet weight, since if I weighed the damn thing I'd just sit down and watch TV instead. It does depend a lot on e.g. if I bring the full four-season Trango or a three-season tent.

Realistically, solo winter backpacking is a fool's game. I can squeeze it all in with the 85L, but barely, and I can even manage to get it on my back and walk a little bit. Two people make life a lot better than you'd think; even sharing stove, tent, shovel makes a big difference. I still don't want anything smaller than the 85. Short and skinny people might get away with slightly smaller.
 
Thanks all for the input. I guess I need to dig my old Kelty backpack out of the garage and if it has no mice living in it see how that works. I think it was an 80L pack and while very comfortable it is really heavy. I think 6.5 lbs or something crazy like that, which is kind of a big weight penalty right out of the blocks. It was one of the first overnight packs I bought some years ago.

Sounds like the sleeping bag is going to be the biggest issue. May have to just solve that problem with my wallet if I'm going to be serious about the project.
 
1) In winter I use a 74L Seek Outside Divide. Probably a bit overbuilt for most people but you won't find a more comfortable pack, especially for heavier loads and double especially for the weight. If you're happy with your Circuit, a Catalyst is the logical step up. My hiking partners all step up to the Catalyst in winter from Circuits but they stop being comfortable north of 30-35 lbs.

2) I use both a CCF pad (zlite sol) and inflatable (xtherm). Whether I put the CCF on top of or below the inflatable depends on ground conditions. My tent is floorless. The CCF gets strapped to the gear shelf below the stash pocket on my pack. Inflatable inside. I have 1 hiking partner who puts his CCF inside his Catalyst against the back and is able to fit everything else inside.

3) I have no idea what my actual BW is. I buy the lightest I can without sacrificing durability. Book numbers for my big 4:
Seek Outside Divide pack: 44oz
Seek Outside Cimarron hot tent: 49 oz
Xtherm + z lite sol pads: 29 oz
UGQ 0° Bandit quilt: 22oz
Borah UL bivy: 6 oz

If I'm running my wood stove it's another 43 oz to the tent weight but it saves me having to bring my Svea and fuel.

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I love the Circuit and I've loaded up to 35 lbs on Winter day hikes and Summer overnights and I find it very comfortable even for a long day.

I am curious on your choice of quilt and bivy. Is the bivy to push the comfort rating lower or is it just a waterproofing thing because of the floor-less tent? The reason I ask is because on one of the Instagram accounts I follow they do a weekly "guess my base weight" picture and I noticed that one person had a down sleeping bag and an emergency blanket nestled inside the bag. I know that is commonly done to prevent moisture from getting into the down from the inside but that got me wondering what kind of hacks are possible so that maybe a higher temp rating bag could be paired with a bivy or liner to save weight and space.

I can't imagine a scenario where I'd ever be out below 5-10 deg F overnight so if I could push lighter gear in some way it would be beneficial. I know the OR Gore Tex Bivy I carry for emergency use in Winter definitely substantially increases temps inside. I've tried it in my yard in -30 deg F temps wearing just the clothes I'd have on a normal Winter hike and it was quite comfortable, albeit only for 30-40 minutes. But it really isn't convenient or practical to use inside a tent because of its design. I have to do some experimenting in my backyard with the various bags and liners I have when it gets colder.

Lastly, a wood stove?!?!? Serious style points for that. :)
 
Just 800fp down is going to be a step up from even the most efficient synthetic fills. I come from the quilt world so I'm not sure what options exist for bags, but 800 is a significant cost savings compared to 850 or 900 options for quilts. I think you'll still be pushing it trying to fit things into a Circuit. I'm curious what folks are carrying that it barely fits in an 85L pack, though.
 
I am curious on your choice of quilt and bivy. Is the bivy to push the comfort rating lower or is it just a waterproofing thing because of the floor-less tent? The reason I ask is because on one of the Instagram accounts I follow they do a weekly "guess my base weight" picture and I noticed that one person had a down sleeping bag and an emergency blanket nestled inside the bag. I know that is commonly done to prevent moisture from getting into the down from the inside but that got me wondering what kind of hacks are possible so that maybe a higher temp rating bag could be paired with a bivy or liner to save weight and space.

I can't imagine a scenario where I'd ever be out below 5-10 deg F overnight so if I could push lighter gear in some way it would be beneficial. I know the OR Gore Tex Bivy I carry for emergency use in Winter definitely substantially increases temps inside. I've tried it in my yard in -30 deg F temps wearing just the clothes I'd have on a normal Winter hike and it was quite comfortable, albeit only for 30-40 minutes. But it really isn't convenient or practical to use inside a tent because of its design. I have to do some experimenting in my backyard with the various bags and liners I have when it gets colder.

Lastly, a wood stove?!?!? Serious style points for that. :)

The bivy is for drafts and staying on the pad. I don't know why people futz with pad straps for quilts. I use quilts because that's what I already have for the hammock and haven't found a reason to switch to a mummy on the ground yet.

The wood stove is a game changer. My tent is a 4P/2P with stove. The size has been great for social trips where 3 of us can hang out before retiring separately for the night. Wood processing can become tedious but what else are you doing for 16 hours of darkness? It warms you twice!
 
The bivy is for drafts and staying on the pad. I don't know why people futz with pad straps for quilts. I use quilts because that's what I already have for the hammock and haven't found a reason to switch to a mummy on the ground yet.

So you put the quilt and pad in the bivy bag or just the quilt?
 
So you put the quilt and pad in the bivy bag or just the quilt?

Everything in the bivy. I don't zip it up completely, just to where the zipper makes the turn across the chest. The headnet keeps my pillow secure.
 
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Everything in the bivy. I don't zip it up completely, just to where the zipper makes the turn across the chest. The headnet keeps my pillow secure.

OK. I have been thinking about this exact set up. I figure on Winter hikes I have an extreme puffy and down pants in my pack for emergencies anyway so if I combined that with a quilt it would be a pretty good system. Do you wear jackets and stuff in your set up or just your normal sleeping clothes (i.e. a hat and your base layers or whatever)?

As a follow up. on the quilt do you have a sewn in footbox or drawstring? My initial thought was I don't like the drawstring but then I started thinking about whether or not I'd have boots on or down booties or something so maybe that isn't a bad idea. Any comments on the quilt design? I'm guessing a lot of people are going to quilts because most of the sites show 8-10 week lead times other than EE's Revelation stock model (2-3 days). They have a 0 deg F model for $350, which is quite a bit less than the sleeping bags I was looking at.
 
OK. I have been thinking about this exact set up. I figure on Winter hikes I have an extreme puffy and down pants in my pack for emergencies anyway so if I combined that with a quilt it would be a pretty good system. Do you wear jackets and stuff in your set up or just your normal sleeping clothes (i.e. a hat and your base layers or whatever)?

As a follow up. on the quilt do you have a sewn in footbox or drawstring? My initial thought was I don't like the drawstring but then I started thinking about whether or not I'd have boots on or down booties or something so maybe that isn't a bad idea. Any comments on the quilt design? I'm guessing a lot of people are going to quilts because most of the sites show 8-10 week lead times other than EE's Revelation stock model (2-3 days). They have a 0 deg F model for $350, which is quite a bit less than the sleeping bags I was looking at.

I wear a hooded puffy in addition to the usual heavyweight baselayers and heavy socks.

I have a sewn footbox on my 0°. I have a drawstring on my 40° quilt that I will stack with my 0° in extreme cold but don't recommend a drawstring for a 0°. A draft collar is nice to have, as well as shockcord that runs in side channels to cinch the quilt around you more snuggly. A wider quilt is typically wanted for ground use. Those lead times are pretty typical for quilts across all manufacturers these past few years. If you haven't checked out Warbonnet's Diamondback it's worth a peek. Lead time closer to 3 weeks.
 
I wear a hooded puffy in addition to the usual heavyweight baselayers and heavy socks.

I have a sewn footbox on my 0°. I have a drawstring on my 40° quilt that I will stack with my 0° in extreme cold but don't recommend a drawstring for a 0°. A draft collar is nice to have, as well as shockcord that runs in side channels to cinch the quilt around you more snuggly. A wider quilt is typically wanted for ground use. Those lead times are pretty typical for quilts across all manufacturers these past few years. If you haven't checked out Warbonnet's Diamondback it's worth a peek. Lead time closer to 3 weeks.

Ok. I haven't check the Warbonet yet. The UGQ company looked like a really good quilt. If I do go this route I think I'm gonna take the time and order exactly what I want versus just grabbing anything. Early March would be a good time frame for my target weather anyway. Thanks for the detailed info!
 
I have a -30 Eddie Bauer down bag. Its overkill. Used it down to -10 comfortably. But, as you said, it fills a pack pretty well. I've also used two quilts, or if you add my girlfriend, three quilts. We each carry a closed cell z-lite and I carry an exped Hyperlite synmat duo. She'll carry the two person 20* Enlightened Equipment Accomplice and I'll carry a 30* Feathered Friends quilt I got from one of Phil Werner's raffles and an EE 30* Prodigy. We stack them. Theoretically its good to 0* stacking quilts, I think.

All stuffed into a Seek Outside Unaweep 6300. Its on the small side for a Winter bag, but all kinds of stuff can be strapped to the outside of it.

for some reason, the pics aren't loading for me
 
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You could use your Kelty 80 liter pack and buy an inexpensive down bag like this one: https://www.sierra.com/marmot-5-f-r...f/?filterString=sleeping-bags-and-pads~d~208/

With your emergency down jacket and pants, you should be fine for camping down to zero degrees or so. Later, you could try to find a lighter pack to save a pound or two.

That is a pretty affordable bag. I should probably recheck the clearance stuff on the various sites to see if I can get lucky. The Kelty bag was looking pretty rough and is gonna need a decent cleaning before it's usable. No evidence of mice at least so I should be able to rehab it.
 
I just attempted winter hammock camping for the first time up in the Whites this past Monday. I got a 0 degree underquilt which combined with my 20 degree Kelty was more than enough for the 20 degree temps I encountered. In fact I was quite warm so that bodes well for future colder trips. Too bad my tarp and knot skills are rather dreadful - that's the next thing I need to work on. There was snow late in the night and my tarp wasn't set up correctly to deal with it. However overall I was pleased with my efforts and wish you all luck with your winter camping adventures.
 
I tried hammock camping several years back (Summer not Winter) and I just couldn't get the hang of it. Probably didn't hang the hammock right and I didn't like being off the ground and away from gear the way it would normally be along side me in a tent. Good luck with it. Seems ideal for the Northeast.
 
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