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Winter camping kit

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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Winter camping kit

Postby oleander » Mon Feb 01, 2016 7:41 pm

I'm taking an overnight winter camping class soon. (Morning classroom instruction, followed by a 2-ish mile backpack on snowshoes or skis to overnight out on the snow.) Though I'm a highly experienced 3-season backpacker, I have almost zero experience camping on snow, except in early-season (May-ish) conditions.

I'm sure I'll pick up a lot of what I need to know during the morning classroom session, but we need to bring a full snow-camping kit with us and that means I need to research and acquire some things in advance. Hence my questions.

- Snowshoes or skis? I've gone snowshoeing once and cross-country skiing a few times. I'd probably just borrow snowshoes because I happen to have some I could borrow. Otherwise, I'm not sure on what basis I should make my decision of snowshoes vs. skis. Snow conditions? Steepness of terrain? Etc.

- Tent. I have a very sturdy dome tent that can stake down to the ground without letting wind in. It's rated 3-season, but one reason why I originally chose it is that some reviewers said it worked for them in 4-season conditions. But just to be skeptical, I thought I should ask what I need to look for if I'm evaluating winter worthiness of a tent.

- Stakes. Do I need a full set of snowstakes? The little itty bitty summer ones I have won't be up to snuff?

- Snow shovel. We're supposed to bring one, but what would I be looking for? A foldable one, I suppose? There is a lightweight, cheap little one called the Snow Claw; is that not enough? We'll be building snow shelters and so on. I'm very into going as light as possible in my summer kit, but I don't want to cut corners either.

- Boots. I backpack in trail runners. I've snowshoed in a pair of gore-tex trail runners and they worked perfectly. Is there a reason I should reconsider? It's true that when I went snowshoeing, I probably never took the shoes out of the snowshoes, so they wouldn't have been fully tested.

Oleander
Last edited by oleander on Tue Feb 02, 2016 1:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby rlown » Mon Feb 01, 2016 8:09 pm

guess the first question is what the terrain is for a choice between snowshoes and skis.. If you already have both i would lean for skis as long as you have skins for the uphill stuff if appropriate.

next point would be to get some nice snow stakes for your tent in case of wind: http://www.rei.com/product/358111/smc-sno-tent-stake

As for shoes.. go with boots (I say that because if your conditions are unconsolidated, you will hate it in trail runners), and some nice after ski down booties with cordura and insulation. I had a pair of those every time i used to go out winter time, and it was very pleasant. http://www.rei.com/product/804541/rei-d ... ies-womens

Gaiters are a good idea as well.

Get a cheap shovel. Not like it's an expedition.

my 2 cts..
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 01, 2016 9:43 pm

Is your sleeping bag and pad rated sufficient for winter? Particularly is the pad designed to be used on snow and is it big (wide) enough. A leg hanging over in summer is not a big deal, but if any part of you is off the pad and you are camped on snow, you will get very chilled. One item I always bring in winter is a balaclava or my detachable down hood to sleep in.

I second the boots and be sure to have warm camp booties. High gaiters too. I have done a lot of serious winter backpacking/climbing (all in Wyoming or Colorado high altitudes and temperatures varied between about 10F days and minus30F nights. We always had muklucks. That may be overkill for your purpose. We were out for 2-3 weeks at a time. Be sure your stove and fuel is a winter mix and easy to use. Never pick up a aluminum fuel can or without gloves! Again not sure what temperatures you are talking about. I always had gloves and mittens. Impossible to do anything in mittens but they are nice at night.

If it is going to be always, day and night, substantially below freezing, you really do not have to worry about waterproof clothing or rain fly for a tent. I usually ski in a light windbreaker and prefer wool base layers (wool breathes better for me). No need for a rain jacket- soft shell jackets work very well. If, you think there is any chance of rain, then you will need a rain jacket and pants.

I always had insulated pants. Down pants are great - get the kind that zip on with boots on.

I also bring a small square of ensolite - a sit pad. If you take a break you do not want to sit on the snow.

Not gear, but be sure to fully unlace boots at night so that you can still get your feet in even if they freeze solid. It only takes a short time skiing or snowshoeing to warm then up and then you can re-lace and tighten.

Keeping feet warm is very important. I would take extra socks or whatever it takes to assure you always have dry warm feet.

Goggles or sunglasses designed for glacier travel or snow. Most regular sunglasses will not do. You need to have protection from the sides of the glasses as well as the front.

If you usually get up at night to pee, a pee bottle is nice to have. I have actually peed in a cooking pot in a pinch. When you cook you boil water in the pot so it is not as gross as it sounds.

Go heavy on fats in food. Fats keep you warm at night. I used to put a spoon of butter in my hot coca at night. Since it is cold you can bring stuff like bacon and butter.

Have a water bottle that you are sure will not leak, because you may have to sleep with it.
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Feb 01, 2016 9:44 pm

Insulated, waterproof boots are my usual choice for powdery snow, since while snowshoeing you get piles of snow on top of the boots and it just sits there making your feet cold through the tongue. And melts, so the waterproof part makes sense. If skiing, your boots will need to match the ski bindings. If you don't know how to backcountry ski (or at least downhill ski), and don't want to mess with falling down a bunch of times, go with snowshoes. You will fall if you can't ski.

You can however use trail runners by putting bread bags over your feet -- layer a liner sock inside, then the bag, then the wool sock. Keeps feet dry enough. Take extra dry socks along. Know that snow will soak your pants/socks without waterproof gaiters to keep most of the snow from your socks, regardless of the waterproofness of the shoes.

Instead of buying snow stakes (if you aren't committed to winter camping) pick up sticks off the ground or break them off dead downed trees, and loop guy lines over them, then bury in snow like a deadman anchor. Breaking the sticks when you dig up your guy line totally doesn't matter. I am assuming they will not take newbies in foul weather, where a serious anchor is a necessity to battle wind. Snow shoes and even a shovel can make a decent snow stake.

If you are doing serious digging, the Snow Claw will kill your back. (I have one. Sometimes I take it to set up as a snow anchor or to sit on.) Something with a good handle that allows you to shovel without bending completely over is better for serious digging. Metal is best for long term use. Plastic can get brittle and crack and leave you with less effective shovel -- or just a handle. If you are serious about snow camping a light aluminum shovel that can be telescoped or has a removable blade is best. A good shovel also gets your friend out of a collapsed tree well, or an avalanche, a whole lot faster -- and fast is essential if you are in that situation.

Take a couple pieces of ccf -- one for sitting in snow or other cold wet surfaces, one for spreading foil on to use as a base for your stove. Insulating a stove from snow can mean the difference in effectively boiling water and a sputtering, never-boiling waste of fuel. Canister stoves are totally do-able at very low temps if you have a small plastic saucer/plate with some cold water in it, in which to put the canister.

My typical winter day hike clothes are a midweight base layer with rain pants -- for long trips, I use snowboard pants with full zip over the base layer. And on top I have a long sleeve wool shirt over the base layer, followed by a fleece of light to mid weight, followed by a windbreaker or (if traveling through trees laden with fresh snow, that will be sliding off all day as it melts) a rain jacket. A warm hat that covers the ears or a sun hat, or both. Glove liners plus warm fleece gloves plus the waterproof shell glove. A completely dry changeover of clothing including underwear in the pack to sleep in -- DRY clothes including socks makes a world of difference, when it's below 20F outside and crystals form on the inside of the tent at bedtime. Heavy duty trash bags are, IMO, indispensable for winter. You can use them for keeping your pack from getting frozen to the snow at night. Put boots and socks and other damp clothing in, and stuff it down there under your feet inside your sleeping bag, so you're not needing an ice pick to put on the boots in the morning. (You learn that one really well in SAR -- frozen boots one time, trash bags forever.)

Winter tents are for me one season tents -- I use a GoLite Shangri La 3, no mesh inner, that can be guyed out well and a snow wall built around the outside with the bottom edge open for ventilation, and then if there is sufficient snow I dig downward -- a shelf to sleep or sit on, as cold air sinks. Floorless and ventilated means I can use a stove inside. A 3 season tent can be used if you are willing to wake up all night every so often to knock falling snow off, in moderate weather. In a real howling snow storm of significant duration you need internal guylines as well as plenty of extra outer ones and good snow anchors, some provision for ventilation and preventing entry of spindrift, and an indoor toilet -- but you ain't there yet. You won't go so far out and won't be out for a week. If it's breezy dig yourself a wall around it, and keep things ventilated but protected.
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby rlown » Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:03 pm

it's an overnight trip and in a group. Lots of good tips, but still, overnight. we did this as boy scouts at 13. Yes we were dumber and colder then, but.. still, just overnight.

All good points though.

Oleander, where are you going?
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby Fly Guy Dave » Tue Feb 02, 2016 8:33 am

A good set of snow stakes is a small investment for having a tent that will stay put versus one that could blow away in a strong gust of wind. If your shelter is a snow cave or an igloo, I would suggest you sleep in that. I've done that a number of times and you'll be better protected from the elements in there than in a tent. I would also suggest that someone brings a snow saw. Snow shovels are mandatory, but if you want to make any kind of structure that you can use, a snow saw is hard to do without. Bring plenty of fuel too. It is surprising how often you'll be melting snow just to keep yourself hydrated.
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:46 am

rlown- yes you can "survive" an overnighter. This trip is part of a winter camping class. I suppose the purpose of the class is to teach you how to equip for more than an overnighter. The overnighter is just the first practice session.

I have a stretchy fleece "union suit" bib type base layer with a full zip crotch. This is really nice for longer trips for women. If you are in deep snow or powder, and have to pee, and you are in a group, you can just squat and pee right there in your ski tracks, with skis on. Plus it is nice not to have to bare your backside at night. Not that you need such now, but if you get into serious winter camping it is a good piece of clothing.

Almost there brought up a good point about "wet" winter conditions. If temperatures are around freezing in the days, you will get pretty soaked so water repellant-proof outer layer is good to have. Local conditions here in California are usually the wet kind. My experience has been in super dry, super cold conditions, which are actually easier to deal with.

In the past, I have actually used my skis to stake out the ends of my tent. Another suggestion cited by others (I have not used it) is bring stuff sacks, and stuff them with snow. I would not trust this with the end stakes, but good for sides.

Good quality sunscreen and lip protection. You do not need as much as in summer because only your face is exposed, but the snow reflection can be intense, particularly after March.

I assume you will end up with a winter equipment list from your class. Be sure to share that with us!
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby oleander » Tue Feb 02, 2016 1:29 pm

It'll be somewhere at Lake Tahoe. I'm told that the camp is below treeline, in a "highly protected" (not too exposed) area.

Mid-March timeframe.

The class is put on annually by the Tahoe Rim Association. I've heard good things about it. For those interested, the 2016 class is filled up, but there is always next year.
Last edited by oleander on Tue Feb 02, 2016 1:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby maverick » Tue Feb 02, 2016 1:35 pm

Very surprised that they did not list the gear requirement specifically, instead of leaving it up to first time winter campers, are you paying for this class? :\
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby oleander » Tue Feb 02, 2016 1:46 pm

maverick wrote:Very surprised that they did not list the gear requirement specifically, instead of leaving it up to first time winter campers, are you paying for this class? :\


They did post the required gear list. And they are requiring that we send in a photo of our tent setup. They seem professional and have run the class for several seasons. In a few cases, the gear list was lacking in specifics, such as how to choose a snow shovel or how to choose between skis and snowshoes. They do make themselves available to answer our equipment questions in advance, so I'll be on the phone soon. But I like posting here because I'll get multiple seasoned opinions on a new sport for me rather than just one opinion on the phone.
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby Hobbes » Tue Feb 02, 2016 6:28 pm

If you're looking for a pair of boots, La Sportiva & Scarpa seem to be the two favorite "light" alpine boots (3/4 shank) suitable for the Sierra. When Schmalz & I did the Whitney MR last year, both guides were wearing these (mens):

http://www.sportiva.com/products/footwe ... evo-womens
Image

Later in the year when I was hiking up Shepherd, I passed a group of 3 who were being guided up Williamson - the guide had the same La Sportivas.

Scarpas appear to be aimed at people with wider feet. I tried on (indoors) at least 6 different pairs of LS & Scarpas (from AMZ with free shipping & returns) before deciding on these (mens):

https://www.scarpa.com/charmoz-pro-gtx-womens
Image

As a basis for comparison, I moved from a really wide NB trail runner to a really wide Altra Lone Peak 2.0 for regular backpacking. The Altras are the shoes I wore when I did back-to-back 30 and 32 mile days on the PCT last spring. (They are also what I run in every other day).

I've got around 150+- miles on the Scarpas, including a 12 miler in the Canadian Rockies (where I saw a woman in a pair as well) and a few 7-9 mile days in the local mountains. I absolutely love these boots because they fit almost as well as my Altras. The La Sportivas I tried (multiple sizes) were all just a little too tight.

The reason I got the boots was to be able to open up a bit more winter/alpine conditions. To that effect, both boots are designed to be able to use clip-in crampons as well - you can see the rear lip in each photo.
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Re: Winter camping kit

Postby hjldennis » Wed Feb 03, 2016 12:41 am

I am no expert by any means, but here are my few cents. We had our first couple outings with mixture of 3 season gears, and it is definately doable, but with less comfort. We backpack with 2 small children, so I am more cautious with everything. Now our winter set up is almost complete. I think a solid 3 season tent should be good enough. I am sure the guides won't take you up to a windy and exposed area. I think you should take a adjustable light weight shovel. It's good to have on any winter outing anyhow. We take one shovel and one snowclaw as a secondary tool. I think good boots and gators are must. I have la sportiva which is a good all around boot, but this winter I wore an inexpensive insulated boots (since we weren't doing any sort of difficult climbing), and they were much more comfortable (but i put it on luxury item column). Good sleeping pad (high r value) and of course sleeping bag (we use 0 degree double quilt). In addition to insulated air pads, we take ccfs like z-lite to sit on or to use as a floor mat in front of the tent. They are very useful. At night we slip them under the air pad. For tent stakes, we use cheap yellow plastic stakes and bury them in T, and they work great (and surprisingly light weight). Down booties are very nice but a luxury item, I think. Definitely a plus especially if you are doing more than an overnight. We have feathered friends with over boots, and it's my wife's favorite piece of winter gear. Also very helpful when my son wakes me up to go in the middle of the night. But then again, a freezing boots for a couple minutes won't hurt anything either. Did the guides recommend a saw? If you are digging alot, a saw is much easier. You should take extra fuels since it takes alot to melt snow, and it's good to have Nalgene full of hot water to bed. I think we use more than double the fuel during the winter.

I am sure I missed many items.

Hope for no wind and enjoy your trip!
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