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Posted: 3/8/2017 8:34:49 AM EDT
I'm planning on heading out this weekend for a 1 night backpacking trip in Southern Ohio. When I originally planned the trip, the low was looking to be around 35*. Now it is currently foretasted to be 17* overnight. This may be pushing the limit of my sleep system. My bag is a Kelty Cosmic 20, with a Klymit Static V Recon Insulated pad. I am bringing my new tent for it's first night out, a Tarptent MoTrail. Setting it up in the yard, it is definitely a 3 season tent, very well ventilated.

I debated between ordering a sleeping bag liner or down throw to supplement, and ended up ordering a Black Diamond down throw. It looked a lot more useful than a sleeping bag liner for warmth. It was cheap so I would have to hesitation about using it sitting around campfire for additional warmth.  I have good baselayer, fleece layer and softshell (would prefer to sleep without softshell), and also bringing along a REI down vest, but still not sure if this is enough.

If I have to break out a mylar blanket to incorporate into my sleep system, would that go next to my body, or would I wrap it all the way around my pad/bag/throw combo. Which would have the greatest benefit?

Also, any other cold weather tips outside of piling leaves around tent or a Nalgene with hot water in bag?
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 9:41:43 AM EDT
Mylar goes on the outside, away from the body. 'Member it does not breath.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 10:02:40 AM EDT
sub zero wx requires specialized equipment. How much loft does that bag have?

The temp forecasts are usually for local towns, not the back country. It could easily by 15 in town and -10 in a low section between 2 hills as radiation cooling sets in after dark and the cold air flows down into a small valley along a river.

While loft traps heat, at sub zero temps, evaporation of moisture will cause a large amount of heat loss. Wearing a vapor barrier properly can prevent heat loss in sub zero temps.  Your primary survival piece of gear is your sleeping bag and system. It should match the worst conditions possible so if you must you can get in your bag and survive a storm or severe cold.

You need a layered system of dress starting with a good wicking layer head to toe and vent properly when exercising so you do not sweat. This usually means your skin will feel cold. When you stop moving you need to start adjusting layers as your body cools to keep from sweating but also keep from losing excess heat.

You can use added loft in throws, but if you get in your bag and the cloths you are wearing or the added insulation you are using compresses the loft of your bag or the added layers you will lose warm. It is all about the thickness of stagnant air that you trap around your body to include your matt. Uncompressed loft is everything. Not sweating is everything. The biggest problem people have in extreme cold is protecting feet and hands preventing prevent frost bite.

A 3 season tent will not trap heat. It will be the same temp inside as it is outside. Sleeping is all about layers and a 4 season tent that will trap body heat is part of that layered system. A good mountaineering / 4 season tent can be 20 degrees warmer inside if it is sized properly. I.e. a 2 person tent with 2 people in it.

Do not take winter backpacking lightly. Proper quality gear is essential. A winter bag should have a minimum of 8 inches of loft. Your clothes should wick moisture off your skin so it evaporates through your insulation layers and through your wind shell outer layer head to toe. No cotton. ever. You get wet and you will be in trouble.

I hope this helps.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 10:17:24 AM EDT
A mylar blanket will do 2 things. reflect radiant heat and trap moisture. trapping moisture preventing evapoaration is good in extreme cold if covered by enough insulation but it must be against the skin and air tight so you do not leak moisture into your insulation layers. 17 degrees is probably too warm for a vapor barrier layer to be of benefit and would just cause problems with moisture. A vapor barrier will prevent moisture from moving through your insulation and freezing in the sleeping bag causing loss of loft in extreme cold.

If it only gets down to 17 you would likely be fine with uncompressed 5-6 inch loft layer.

However you should have the equipment to survive extreme cold anytime while winter back packing, including a vapor barrier layer at least for your feet.  

If you have never been winter back packing before going by yourself has increased risk. You need to be prepared for injury and to survive for days. A broken ankle or leg will cause shock and the need for increased insulation and very slow movement. What might take 6 hours to hike in, could take 3 days to walk out or heavy snow without injury could cause the same. Always bring more food, more fuel, and more insulation than you think you need.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 11:08:52 AM EDT
also a 3 season tent will not support or shed snow like a 4 season tent.

Not trying to discourage you from going, just to be aware. I have done plenty of winter trips with 3 season gear. Doing that will definitely make you decide that if you want to be in the back country in winter that you. want to spend the bucks on winter gear :)

It really all depends on where you are going, how far in you will be going, and how much risk you are willing to take. I used to love the back country in winter by myself, but I had decades of winter skills before I started going by myself.

The only way to learn what you need or don't need is to get out there and have fun.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 11:11:37 AM EDT
Thanks for all your input Mach. I am set to go as far a baselayering goes. I will be bringing Beyond Clothing A1 & A2 baselayers as well as their A5 softshell (pants and fleece lined jacket). I wear a 700 fill down vest under the jacket for additional insulation. I will also be bringing midweight merino wool leggings as well as merino expedition socks for sleeping. Looks like the designated campsite is on a ridge versus down in a valley, and winds are only forecasted at 4 mph with no precip, so should be a pretty calm night. It looks like it is only a mile to a state highway, so if anything catastrophic happens, I'm not too far from help. It is southern Ohio, so nowhere near deep backcountry.

The weather just through me for a loop, as when I started planning it was a 35* low forecasted with 50s during the day. Now its 40/17*.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 11:21:52 AM EDT
20f bag should hold to 17. With your base layers etc 
I've done 24bin a 32 rated bag with base layer..watch cap..dry socks..gloves. on a issue thermal rest  zero issues.
Last cold trip was 20+..15-20moh wind. In a down 20f rated bag.
Only difference in set up was I used a bivy  bag due to the wind (tarp camping).
Going lower..I'd use a liner.
Or as you posted the down throw.
I have one of the black diamonds. It's now part of my sub 20 kit.
Not that we get that here alot but I layer everything to cover all weather.

And always put your dry kit on before bed.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 12:56:31 PM EDT
OP -

You sound pretty well set up to me.

Wear some layers in your bag. I would use the Mylar as top layer.

You didn't mention it, but a fleece hat make a lot difference. Something like 90% of heat loss is thru the head and neck.

This Jan, we snow camped at the Grand Canyon. We had 15° bags with pretty similar gear, to what you have listed. Weather - snow on ground and pissing pretty good. Couldn't see 200' the whole time  (entirely missed the canyon view after a 2 day drive - had an excellent time though!)  No problem sleeping warm. Had a 3 season tent -> you need to knock the snow off it when you get up to piss.

Have fun and give AAR if you want!
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 1:12:17 PM EDT
If your bag alone isn't enough, wear more on your body.  Base layer + thermals + beanie + mummy bag, and in similar temps, I end up hanging my head out of the mummy bag to keep from overheating.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 1:18:53 PM EDT
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 2:09:39 PM EDT
Thanks all! Maybe I'm just over reacting as I have never been out that cold before. Only one way to learn and gain experience is to do it tho!

I'll be sure to post an AAR and if I have service some pics when camp is up!
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 3:13:55 PM EDT
Try to sleep naked in your bag, or at most use your base layer.  Your direct body heat will warm up the bag faster.  Throw the clothes that will be closest to your body in the bag with you.  This will allow you to put on some warm clothes in the morning.  Don't take up to much space in the bag,  it will actually make it colder.  Cut some pine boughs and set them on the ground under your tent.  One of the things that will freeze you the fastest is direct contact with the ground.  I like to sleep with a fleece cap and socks on, because as already mentioned you lose a lot of body through your head, and extremities like hands and feet will lose heat first.  I cold weather camp a couple times a year, whether ki want to or not.  The coldest it was when I camped was -22.  17-20 degrees isn't too bad.
Link Posted: 3/8/2017 10:41:47 PM EDT
I camped in the cold (25ish) for the first time in a long time last weekend.
Only problem i had were my feet the first night and my nose. my damn nose was cold!
Link Posted: 3/10/2017 6:09:09 PM EDT
I'm adding two last minute additions to the pack. A small pack saw and a flask of Jim. One will help with bigger fire and one will warm my insides!

Plan is to hike 13.8 to camp and get in around 4pm to set up. Then 8.8 miles on the way out, and hopefully home Sunday afternoon. Still calling mid teens for the lows.
Link Posted: 3/10/2017 10:31:14 PM EDT
Probably obvious, but don't sweat while you're hiking or you'll freeze when you get to camp.  
Link Posted: 3/11/2017 4:44:27 PM EDT
Send me a IM! Lived in North Dakota for 4 years -30 deg days and -60 at night. I found the best gear!

Wool is your friend! Alpaca is one of the best I can tell you the best wool but mittens I bought for my wife cost me $300 for my wife.

I know if hooded sweatshirt that are made of wool heavy wool I wore them in -60 deg with just a t-shirt under it.
Link Posted: 3/12/2017 12:28:59 AM EDT
You will probably not be comfortable but you will be OK.

I used to go tent camping one weekend a month, every moth of the year in Boy Scouts. Most people had cheap Coleman sleeping bags and we all had $50 tents. Nobody died.

The thing that helped most was a constant effort to stay dry. Do not work too hard and sweat, do not let vapor accumulate in your tent overnight etc.

My favorite tip is that a nalgene bottle filled with hot water takes the chill off of a sleeping bag before you get in there at night.
Link Posted: 3/13/2017 3:48:40 AM EDT
just a heads up.

drinking makes your blood move closer to your skin, that is why it makes you feel warmer. It does however make you lose heat faster in cold weather.
Link Posted: 3/13/2017 8:49:01 AM EDT
Bring a 2 liter soda bottle with you and fill it with hot water before you go to bed. Put it inside the bad for additional warmth . You'll be surprised how much it helps.
Also, try to wear two pairs of loose wool socks, when you sleep. Pack some "Handwarmers" in between the socks. This will keep your feet from freezing. Usually feet get cold when sleeping in a sleeping bag at very cold temperatures, no matter how good your sleeping bag is.
Forget the mylar survival blankets. They trap moisture. You don't want any of that, believe me.
Link Posted: 3/13/2017 2:25:51 PM EDT
AAR Thank you for all the tips

Well I got back yesterday and everything went good. The trail was alot harder than I was expecting and being my first time out for the year, I dialed back from what I was expecting to do. Still ended up doing 17 miles total. Did ten miles on Sat hiking from 9 to 2, with a half hour lunch break. Sunday I left camp at 10 and did 7 miles back to the car, and was back about 1245. I thought for sure I would be the only person out, but ended up being 4 other guys out (Two solo and a pair together). Every single one of us said we thought we would all be alone.

As far as the cold weather, it did dip into the teens, but I was actually hot in bed except whatever part was exposed in the opening of my sleeping bag. Since i was in camp at two, I spent two hours processing firewood, and quite a big pile. I burned most of it till 10pm, but left enough for small morning fire. I had a great fire going at night, but I was actually warmer in bed. I also spent some time whittling extra tent stakes, so I could get the sides of my TarpTent as low to the ground as possible. I then piled leaves along the edges. I know I cut airflow alot because I had quite a bit of frost on the inside underside of the roof. I did end up doing what the poster above me did. I feet were layered with thick wool sleeping socks, hand warmer on top of foot, then regular hiking sock. Over my sleeping bag, I went ahead a threw my fleece lined softshell over the feet box of my sleeping bag, then covered the whole area with the down throw. For $30, I think that thing is a lifesaver.

Few things I learned:

Even a raging fire doesn't have much of a heat bubble when it's that cold. Warmest place will be in the bag.

I think subconsciously in the night I pulled my neck gaiter over my entire face cause it was cold from sleeping bag opening. I woke up and it was soaked from moisture. Don't do that or do it for only a short period of time.

I went to bed with gloves on, ended up taking them off. Was warmer when my hands could be next to body.

Don't worry as much. You will survive. Have confidence in your gear and ability to improvise, and have fun!

I had to warm up my fuel canister next to the fire. It wasn't functioning hot enough when cold to boil water. I meant to sleep with it in my bag overnight, but forgot. I did have my phone and Anker charger in my bag with me to keep the batteries warm.

Saw+Knife > Machete. I brought a small saw and a 6" blade. I was blowing through wood fast and quiet while two other campers where hacking away with machetes. I was cutting 3 to 4" limbs quickly and batoning them. I eventually let the other guys borrow the saw, they were thankful. I brought a Stanley Mini Utility saw. It has a 10 inch blade and weighs 4.6 ounces, lighter and bigger than most backpacking saws.

Unrelated to cold weather camping...I can't wait till my new Granite Gear Crown2 pack gets here. My Kelty 44 doesn't fit me at all! Torso length is way to short for someone 6' 4". All the weight is on my shoulders and hardly on my hips.
Link Posted: 3/13/2017 4:28:06 PM EDT
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Few things I learned:

Even a raging fire doesn't have much of a heat bubble when it's that cold. Warmest place will be in the bag.
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Good AAR and glad you enjoyed yourself.  This is really the only way to build confidence and expand both experience and skill.  Cold weather really reinforces modern gear along with proper thermoregulation by managing conductions, convection, radiation and evaporation.  You get a chance to see first hand how those affect you in colder temperatures.  

As to the fire, about the only warming advantage is using a reflective wall and if sleeping close to the fire, covering your sleeping bag with a wool blanket to avoid damage from sparks.  Cold camps with the right gear are just more efficient and comfortable, but that fire before bed along with your favorite spirit really warms the soul...alcohol isn't recommended for more severe situations, but if you can manage the effects, it's a nice night cap

Link Posted: 4/11/2017 10:09:33 PM EDT
Man o man, @opusxKC and I have had our share of these type of misadventures.

A GOOD insulated air pad (I've used Exped now for years), a wool watch cap, and a hot water bottle and pee bottle, these things make cold camping doable.

Also, for COLD camping stoves, white gas is best gas.  Svea 123 for the win if backpacking, it isn't light but it is simple and reliable.  Alcohol and canister stoves are great, in a season that isn't winter.

A heavy pair of wool socks for sleeping in, if you get cold feet like me.

I can say that at 36 years of age, with many many nights spent in a sub freezing tent, the best technique is a big double sleeping bag, and a naked woman with you.  Also, wait til its warmer.  And take a car.  And a cooler full of real food.  And cast iron skillets.

Basically I'm saying that winter backpacking is stupid.  We've had some near misses with cold weather injuries as well, so keep a hard eye on your hydration level.  It is a very good test of your survival skills, because going to sleep when its below about 50 degrees outside can become a survival situation very quickly if hypothermia sets in.  Its something that we should all know we can do.
Link Posted: 4/18/2017 9:44:54 PM EDT
Odd trick for cold feet--wear a thinner layer for your legs.  Your legs can radiate a lot of heat and warm the lower part of your bag.
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