Stay Warm: What works for me
Staying Warm: What works for me
In 2008 I started my Thru-Hike in January. I used a hammock and I went pretty darn light; especially for a winter hike with temperatures in the single digits and some wet/cold nights. Often I see hikers on forums preparing for a hike wondering about what clothing to wear and what gear to take. To me it is more about how you use what you carry than just a simple list of stuff to pack. So here I go trying to explain things again...
Before I get too deep into the meat of this, I have to say something: Clothing is the hardest area to recommend people "what to take". We all have different levels of comfort and endurance. I have seen people at home in shorts when there is snow on the ground, and I have seen people bundled up when it is in the 50's. I tend to believe some of that bundling up can be attributed to not knowing how to use clothing to your advantage, and a desire to be as comfortable outside as you are inside. Many people in the modern day go from one climate controlled area to another and never adapt or learn to deal with the weather - especially the cold.
I'll also mention (after saying that) that I do not expect my outdoor clothing to make me warm and toasty all the time. If you are hiking in bad weather this is pretty unrealistic expectation. Especially considering you have periods of heavy exertion followed by periods of total immobilization. Your body will compensate for one which can affect the other.
So getting past the expectations of comfort and allowing that we all have different levels of comfort and endurance, I'll move on.
Set a base:
I'll also add that I carried a spare set of socks and underwear. I tried carrying some camp shoes, but never used them so I ditched them. What I did in camp was pull out the foot beds and unlace my shoes all the way - walking around Gangsta' style. Back when I first started backpacking we would bring running shoes for camp anyway. Save yourself some weight.
Example wind clothing:
If you are doing like I do, then when you stop for a break you have a warm, dry base layer you can don quickly when you stop. Which comes to my next point.
It is easier to STAY WARM than it is to GET WARM, REMEMBER THIS!
When you stop, if you haven't overdressed while walking, then your skin and clothing is relatively dry. Your body is probably comfortable at this point with the heat your are generating. BUT it will go away faster than you think. As soon as you stop, start getting out some warm layer(s) to add BEFORE you cool off. Once you cool off, your body takes time and energy to try and warm up, but if you put them on as quick as you can you save that heat you are now producing.
This is the perfect place to remind folks about the acronym COLD:
For me, t
Example base layer:
Here is where I see aspiring Thru-Hikers falling flat. Often their next layer is another level of base layer. Fleece is nice, but for me, nothing beats puffy insulation. You can debate between synthetics and down, but either way they both loft better and provide more insulation than the same weight of fleece. That is why we call it the puffy layer
Think about it: a
Example puffy layer:
I also get asked all the time about my feet in the cold weather using trail runners. I found that most of the time when I was walking, just the ankle length running socks worked just fine. The only times I needed more were in the driving cold rain, and in snow - especially when walking in knee deep melting snow. The ice water was torture. But the solution was Gore-Tex socks. think about this: if Gore-Tex is such a great fabric for hiking, why aren't all hiking clothes made from Gore-Tex? The fact is you sweat in that stuff even though it is breathable. I use the same philosophy for my feet: Gore-Tex socks when you need that extra protection.
I also found Gore-Tex mittens to be useful in some some heavy, cold rain. My rain pants were on me almost all of the time when hiking in cold weather because of the wind break they provided. I also LOVED my Packa because I didn't need to mess with taking a jacket on and off with a pack every time the weather changed. The Packa had the nice ability to stay on the pack with the hood, arms, and front available for a quick slip on while walking when needed.
Example rain gear:
Conclusion on clothing:
As you can see, what you carry on a southern AT winter hike can weigh fairly little. All the clothing I carried in my pack for winter (unless I put some on to walk) only weighed about 5 pounds total.
Hammocks on a winter Thru-Hike:
Using a hammock in the winter I had a philosophy similar to my clothing. I think the main difference is I didn't have a base hammock that served for my year round use. I had one hammock that was for any season without bugs, and kept another back for when the bugs came out. So that said, I will describe my hammock system in reverse.
My total winter package was a homemade hammock similar to the Ed Speer hammock. It was a basic piece of fabric from the Wal-Mart remnant stack with some climbers accessory cord, some Hennessy Tree Hugger Straps, and a pair of careeners. I figured while it was winter I didn't need to fool with bottom entry plus layers of insulation and a bug net that didn't serve much of a purpose.
For overhead protection I had an Etowah Outfitters 6'x10' tarp. In hindsight I should have had a larger tarp, and since I got off I have changed over to an Etowah 8'x10' tarp. To hold it down I carried 4 stakes, and I made more or used available vegetation when the weather required.
Underneath I had a Jacks 'R Better No-Sniveler with a Jacks 'R Better Weathershield. I laid on my own double layer pad. Over me I had a Hungry Howie quilt and in bad weather I augmented it with the top Jacks 'R Better Weathershield and my clothing.
So, the total base weight of my hammock and shelter at the start looked something like this:
That means my total weight for sleeping system and shelter was just a hair under 6 pounds. Compare that to a person with a solo tent at ~2.5 lbs, a 20F bag at ~ 2lbs, a Thermarest at about 1.5 pounds. So really no difference from someone carrying a "normal" packing system.
There was never I time I wished I had more or wanted to go to ground. At most, one morning I got up a little chilled to find it was ~6F. I put on the puffy layer and went back to bed in my hammock to warm up.
When I came back to the trail after Spring Break, I had gotten rid of some of my stuff I was rarely using at all in winter and hadn't needed for about a month by then. When I came back it looked something like this:
As you can see, I got rid of the Weathershield. Other than that, everything was working like I needed in the worst of weather and I didn't even need all that. I often slept on just my pad with the JRB No Sniveler on top, the HH Quilt still in the bag as a pillow. Total weight was under 5 pounds.
I had to get off the AT before I got to this level, but I hike a lot using the gear I've listed below. At this point I switch back to my Hennessy for bug protection and even find at night that this is too warm a set up.
Now I am in the low weight level - 4 pounds and a hair. Compare that to a tarp tent at 1.5 pounds, 30F bag at 1.75 pounds, and a light pad at .75 pounds. Still compatible to a "normal hiker".
Hopefully this helps you look at doing winter weather on the southern AT with a new perspective. The only time I ever felt like I needed more was during a snowstorm in February outside of Erwin, TN. But I made it just fine with a cool story to tell about how it is sometimes better to be smart than hard, and I've added about 1/2 pound to my winter rig since then for added comfort - mostly for a bigger tarp and wider top quilt.