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Winter Backpacking on My Mind

Training for Winter Backpacking
Training for Winter Backpacking

I’m already thinking about winter backpacking and have been out on a few training hikes with a heavier pack during the past two weeks. It’s always a shock for me to go from a 10-12 pound summer pack to a 25-35 pound winter pack and as I get older I’m finding I need more time to adjust to the increased weight.

Some of the projects I have in store for this winter are:

  • Building igloos for overnight camping on top of a few 4,000 footers such as Mount Hale and Mt Zealand with my new Grand Shelter’s ICEBOX – I love watching the stars from the tops of mountains in winter.
  • Co-leading a few Appalachian Mountain Club winter hiking and backpacking trips as part of the Boston Chapter’s Winter Hiking Program. This is starting soon, so be sure to sign up!
  • Switching to my old Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus backpack to see what design mods I need to make it into a winter pack. I’m intrigued by the design problem of creating a sub 2 pound winter pack capable of carrying 40 pound loads and I’m interested to see how far one can push an ultralight design for winter use. This might involve cutting off mesh or sewing on a few more attachment points to the MP+, but I feel it’s already pretty close to what I need when used with its aluminum stay.
  • Getting my winter backpacking and mountaineering gear list under 25 pounds: swapping out my 4 pound winter pack for a 24 ounce Mariposa Plus helped, but I also just scored a pair of CAMP XLC Nanotech Crampons (16.6 ounces) to replace my Black Diamond Sabertooths Pros (41.6 ounces), saving even more weight. I’ll publish a full gear list in the next week or so when I get a chance to document it.
  • More experiments using a soft shoe system for winter, including Forty-Below’s shorty overboots and a vapor barrier liner instead of mountaineering boots. I’ve already started testing insulated trail runners like the Salomon Speedcross 3 CS to go with them.

That’s just a sampling of what I’m likely to do this winter, which never seems long enough somehow.

What about you? What are your winter backpacking or hiking goals?


  1. I ran across an interesting pair of winter trail runners while browsing the ASICS website. I don't think they are insulated, but they have replaceable spikes. They probably are not appropriate for the meat of winter, but look good for the fringe months. When I first saw them, I immediately thought of you. I know there has been a hike or two I have been on where these would have come in handy.


  2. I tested the La Sportiva Crossovers last year and they had optional (semi-permanent) screw-in titanium studs. In the end, I concluded that they were a good way to destroy my wooden floors and really piss off my wife. They're probably good for people really interested in running on ice, but I'm not a runner and perfectly happy to get along with lightweight crampons or microspikes.

  3. Looking forward to building igloos.

    This is from back in the day…



  4. I posted a question to Igloo Ed last winter about how the icebox would work in NE since all of the demos are in the Rockies or Minnesota.

    He replied that our typical wet snow conditions are ideal for "packing the box" and that it is the dry snow that needs more technique.

    I have a long term goal of a winter Pemi traverse from Zealand CG to Lincoln Woods TH via Shoal Pond, Carrigain Notch, Hancock Notch, and Cedar Brook Notch. A few well placed and well stocked igloos would really enable me to do it.

  5. I'm looking forward to some things this winter as well. I'm signed up for EMS Winter 101 already in December, so I'll be looking to get right into using mountaineering boots, crampons and an ice axe. I have a snow claw I haven't used on the trail. Curious to see how much time it takes 2 people to build an emergency mound shelter. Like you practiced, we made a few at home last year in the yard. On my last few hikes I've been increasing the weight of my pack in anticipation. After doing the 48, there are some certain peaks, such Owl's Head, that I'd like to do in the winter. That igloo tool looks pretty good. Tom, I love your idea of a Pemi Traverse with stocked igloos, that would be sweet!

  6. Going to the Winter Camping Symposium in Minnesota this weekend where I will be torn between refining my kit for "hot tent" camping versus "cold tent" camping. Actually trying to merge them so maybe hot camping can be more lightweight. Unlike in the mountains we have the option here to haul stuff on a toboggan, but as I get older I have my limits.

  7. Tom/Dan – I'm definitely on board with multi-day traverses, but I'm not sure one really has enough time to build an igloo each night and hike, unless you're willing to build after sunset. Still the thought of a multi-day base camp near Carrigan Notch sounds pretty sweat. Ice fishing maybe?

  8. Last weekend I attempted a weekend winter hike. Unfortunately, the cold won and ended up coming home a day early. I had a 15 degree bag, sleeping pad, hammock, rainfly, goretex jacket, fleece jacket, gloves, hat, 2 sets of thermals. I was fine during the day, but at night I couldn't keep the toes warm. Even with a 40 pound pack, I still lacked something to make it bearable. I plan on trying it again in late December. Hopefully an extra pair of socks will do the trick, but you never know. Also, I'll have my Tenkara Ito by then and hope to catch some fish on that trip as well.

  9. A hammock can be really cold under 50 degrees. What kind of insulation were you using behind your back? Would you consider coming to ground for winter?

  10. My thought is to build the igloos over the course of a few closely spaced day hikes and then use them on the trip. It would require the right stretch of weather. I would still bring winter gear since no way to know if igloos are still intact. I agree that the base camp is a much more practical plan.

    I used my hammock last winter at -7 deg ; set up a little past Black Pond along the bw to Owls Head. I used two underquilts and a nested set of sleeping bags. Winter hammocking is possible but means a lot of insulation. I need to use a pulk to bring all my gear.

  11. Around here (AZ), most people rig a down underquilt beneath the hammock to avoid this problem(locally obtained from a guy who makes his own gear). Yes, it does get cold in the high country here.

  12. Charles: take a nalgene, bring a liter of water to almost a boil, put it in the nalgene, out it in your quilt's footbox before going to sleep, when you get in, move it to your femoral artery region. This should help keep your legs warm when your gear is just not quite warm enough.

    I'm currently researching the quilting @ -20F issue. I've talked to a few folks who do it, mostly in the upper midwest (MN and such). It's possible, the difficulty is that wind below the hammock easily saps heat. Two things that help are a tarp that doesn't allow much wind to pass below (or any to pass through, like the Hennessey Monsoon or Hammock tarps. Many people do a 4" baffled UQ and sleep with their down clothing as well, to save weight.

    We'll see. I do love sleeping in a hammock, but if it means I have double the weight for my shelter/sleep gear I'll just tarp it up (or igloo!)

    I found this:
    for the dog, just too bad the classes probably don't let him come along…

    and I just got some BD Mercury Mitts that I've read decent cold weather reviews about.

    Interested to see what you find for your footwear!

  13. MY Winter Hammock Set-up for sub-zero temperatures

    – JRB 10×11 Tarp – set up with 10 ft ridge line so that sides extend to ground and the front and back flaps form doors, like an A-frame pup tent

    – JRB UQ weather shield; acts as a wind block to reduce convection losses

    – JRB Hudson River UQ and JRB Old Rag Mt UQ

    – MARMOT Helium down 15F bag nested in BA Encampment syn 15F bag

    – JRB BMBH

    Another method that is very popular is the Peapod concept, refer to http://hammockforums.net/

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