If you haven't already, please make sure to read my introduction to this series of posts related to my full 2014 season selection of gear and clothing for backpacking. It gives a lot of relevant background information and details regarding all six of these gear lists in general.
These two gear lists cover the coldest weather conditions I plan on experiencing throughout winter and early spring, and cover what I consider to be "frigid" and "very cold"--both of which fall under the 4 season category for me. Also note that these temperatures also reflect the lowest predicted temps (i.e. typically at night and at dawn) in weather forecasts for a given trip. I personally define these terms as follows, and the final weights are listed for the restless:
Frigid = -15 to -9 C / 5 to 16 F
* On trail - BPW 4708g / 10.4lbs, CW 3276g / 7.2lbs
* Off trail - BPW 5017g / 11lbs, CW 4079g / 9lbs
Very Cold = -8 to -3 C / 18 to 26 F
* On trail - BPW 4264g / 9.4lbs, CW 2824g / 6.2lbs
* Off trial - BPW 4573g / 10lbs, CW 3134g / 6.9lbs
Please feel free to check my math and let me know if I have made a mistake. It's easy to make mistakes when dealing with so many numbers.
4 Season general pros: No bugs, chance of full trail shelters very low due to less people, dry--or at least dryer than temps that stay above freezing--usually always snow around to melt for water (water filter stays home).
Cons: Need to have lots of good, warm clothing as well as very insulated sleep system (all of which will add lots of extra weight), not much sun as it goes down much earlier--though hiking through moonlit snow is a lovely experience.
First, let's cover the items that don't really change for these temps/locations before moving on to the more nuanced gear choices:
Backpack - Zpacks Arc Blast 52, plus two hip pockets, 515g.
Food bag - Silnylon waterproof roll top bag (Sea to Summit), 33g.
Clothing bag - Cuben stuff sack with duct tape repairs, 12g.
Diddy bag - Ziplock bag, toothbrush, 15ml toothpaste, tea candle, spare batteries, spare mini-clip, paper clips, string, spare bottle cap, toilet paper, sunblock. 140g.
First Aid and Repair Kit - Ziplock bag, gauze, band aids, butterfly strips, triple ointment, rubbing alcohol, pen, paper, mini-bic lighter, mini-sewing kit, 3 doses paracetomal, 3 doses ibprofin, duct tape, sleeping mat patches, 1 tea bag, 1 pack sugar, mini-bottle super glue. 120g.
Small Essentials - Compass, mini-LED light, lip balm, whistle, tiny bottle of concentrated biodegradable soap. 50g.
Wallet - Photo of family, emergency contact information, ID card, bank card, transportation card, small waterproof Cuben pouch (Zpacks). 20g.
Water bottle - Recycled Bramhölts (Swedish fruit juice brand) #2 plastic (the best kind, Google it) one liter bottle. 47g.
Ground cover - Cut up garbage bag, 42g.
Pillow - Small DIY job, 35g.
Knife and sheath - Mora Bushcraft Forest, more robust knife in case I want/need to process wood for fire. 143g.
Headlamp - 90 lumens max LED light (Black Diamond), plus batteries, 93g.
Map - Waterproofed and trimmed, approximately 20g (this can vary slightly, but not by that much).
Rope - Mostly for hanging food bag, 42g.
Trekking pole - Aluminum, 180g.
Cell phone - For emergencies, say goodnight to my children, clock, 100g.
Camera - Simple point and shoot Panasonic, plus battery 212g.
Glasses - It's nice not to see all fuzzy. 18g.
*Note: If there is a lot of snow, say over 20cm or so, I will add a generic pair of rain paints (DriDucks knock offs) for 165g to any of my 4 season kits. This is rare where I normally hike and plan on hiking this year, however, so I won't factor that in--but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Total so far of "the constant gear," most of which is base pack weight (BPW): 1822g / 4lbs--things like the trekking pole and glasses are technically more like "clothing worn" items, but I will just include them in the constant BPW. At times I will put them in/on my pack anyhow. Clothing worn (CW) to be covered below.
The Frigid Gear Lists
This is as cold as I am willing to go. And for the record, yes I have spent the night out in these frigid temps before. It's not as often as say, my 1 season days in the summer, but I have put in a solid amount of winter backpacking and plan on continuing to do so on occasion. I will admit that trips in these temps are generally shorter, around 1-2 nights out, as it takes a lot more energy out of me to deal with these conditions.
The obvious variable is where we begin: clothing. In the photo below are all the tops I bring/wear on frigid trips:
Right to left, which is also order of layers from outside going in:
Generic rain poncho - Similar to DriDucks type material. This is to keep any snow off me and my pack, also a good wind stopper if there are strong winds. 166g (BPW).
Running jacket/windbreaker - A size larger (XL) to be able to wear over all the other layers (aside from the poncho, of course). 207g (CW).
Down jacket with hood - Montbell size large, plus Cuben stuff sack, 296g (BPW).
Synthetic vest - Generic brand, used for years now and love it. Gives good insulation plus room for arm movement. 190g (CW).
Alpaca sweater - Bought this in Peru several years ago, and it remains my all time favorite sweater. It is heavier than other options, but for me it makes up for it in excellent warmth and comfort. 485g (CW).
Base layer - Merino wool top, 227g (CW).
Down pants - Custom Cuben fiber (previous owner claims it was made by Goosefeet Gear, I bought used from online classifieds) one size larger to wear over pants and/or base layer bottoms, plus stuff sack, 150g (BPW).
Thick wool socks - These are the warmest socks I've ever had, and ought to be for 100g (CW).
Synthetic socks - Thin tube socks, very warm for their weight but not as breathable as my other synthetic socks, which is why I only use them when it's frigid now. 26g (CW).
Synthetic hiking pants - Generic, durable, cargo pockets come in handy for gloves and such. 365g (CW).
Base Layer - Merino wool, 196g (CW).
Underwear (not pictured) - Silk boxers, 50g (CW).
Shoes (not pictured) - Leather Converse All Stars, 1040g (CW).
Here is what it looks like most of the time with my frigid layers. In the picture below on the left is when I am hiking, and my down jacket and pants are packed away. On the right is when I am in camp or bunkered down in my sleeping bag--and if I'm still cold I can also add my windbreaker on top. I am standing a bit bowlegged to show that in spite of having so many layers, I am not very restricted in my arms and legs, and thus have good freedom of movement. This was an annoying issue when I had heavier, thicker, more traditional layers in the past. It's not only uncomfortable hiking when you're all puffed up like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, it's heavy and not as efficient as a solid set of lightweight layers.
Note the puffy mittens, which brings us to the rest of my frigid clothing:
Synthetic hood and mask - Cold Avenger, warms up the air you breath plus keeps your head and face warm, 129g (CW).
Down mitts - Black Rock Gear, also can be worn on feet inside of sleeping bag, and while I am hiking when stored in my vest pockets they add additional warmth to torso. Oversized so they fit over gloves. 40g (CW).
Leather gloves - Generic, I actually bought them at the supermarket, of all places. Durable, so that it's not an issue if I want/need to collect and process firewood for a fire, and decent warmth. 100g (CW).
Scarf - Merino wool Buff. Still one of my favorite articles of clothing. 55g (CW).
Down hat - Black Rock Gear, warm stuff, 33g (CW).
Wrist gaiters - Keeps drafts out, pretty warm for the weight, 33g (CW).
Next is sleep system, and note that I my air mat is flat simply because I didn't feel like blowing it up for a few pictures:
Down sleeping bag - Marmot Plasma 30, plus stuff sack 650g (BPW).
Synthetic sleeping bag - Häglofs Lim 50, used as bag liner for down bag, can also be used as a makeshift extra layer when unzipped and wrapped around torso like a cloak, plus stuff sack, 480g (BPW).
Inflatable sleeping mat - Neoair Xlite regular, R value 3.2, 369g (BPW).
Foam sleeping mat - Ridgerest Sol, R value 3.5 (R value 6.7 total with Xlite), trimmed to 2/3rds length, 335g (BPW).
Next is my 4 season stove system. After a few winters of being frustrated with alcohol in the cold, I have switched to Esbit for these temps. I was pleasantly surprised when I weighed my Esbit kit picture below (swapped out my alcohol stove for a Ti Wing stove), as it weighs exactly the same as my 3 season alcohol cook kit of choice.
Esbit cook kit - Everything in the picture plus a STS HA Alu spoon (not pictured) and minus the fuel comes out to an even 200g (BPW).
On trail shelter - Hobo tarp, simple plastic sheet, which is really just a back up shelter. When I go out on marked trails in frigid and very cold conditions, I take extra time to plan my trips so that I can take full advantage of trail shelters and cabins. But of course it's a good idea to have a back up plan just in case for only 240g (BPW).
This brings the grand total of my "frigid" gear list for on trail use to:
BPW 4708g / 10.4lbs, CW 3276g / 7.2lbs
7984g / 17.6lbs total for everything minus consumables.
For off trail use:
Deluxe Hobo tent - Plastic sheet plus space blanket on the inside, doors, a rope, and a Ziplock bag to hold it all. If I am going out in the middle of nowhere, I need to have a good and flexible shelter. With this shelter I have the option of having a campfire next to it in order to warm it up inside. Both the simple Hobo tarp and this shelter don't require stakes, as I can use rocks or logs to anchor it down to the ground. Both shed snow very well due to their shape when pitched in an A-frame. Replaces Hobo tarp--minus 240g, plus 470g (BPW).
Cotton military trench coat - If I have to climb through thick woods, to protect my clothing from damage (especially my down jacket!) I swap out my synthetic windbreaker for this old school coat I got over a decade ago at an army-navy store. Not sure where this coat originated from, but the place I bought it from had a lot of German gear, so maybe there? Anyhow, not only is this armor against rough woods and also fire/embers, it also offers not bad warmth and good wind protection. And because temps are so low, the whole "cotton kills" thing is not really relevant, as it's the outer layer and liquid water is hard to come by in such cold. Replaces windbreaker--minus 207g for the windbreaker, and add 1010g (CW).
Extra compass with signal mirror - For peace of mind mostly, but just in case it's good to have. 79g (BPW).
This brings the grand total of my "frigid gear" list for off trail use to:
BPW 5017g / 11lbs, CW 4079g / 9lbs
9096g / 20lbs total for everything minus consumables.
The Very Cold Gear Lists
These conditions are mostly for years when winter is milder, or spring and fall are colder, or more normally early-mid spring and mid-late fall, or if I am traveling in more northern parts of the country. While pretty dry due to the cold, during the day it can be much warmer and thaw things out, making for a small risk of getting wet. Thus small considerations are made to deal with this, but even in the unlikely even of being totally soaked, there is enough to prevent and remedy hypothermia. Plus the down sleeping bag has triple protection from getting wet while in the backpack.
First the "the constant gear" noted above, which is BPW 1822g / 4lbs, and CW to be covered shortly.
We begin again with the tops:
Generic rain poncho (not pictured) - 166g (BPW).
Windshirt - Montbell Tachyon Anorak, not bad water resistance yet breathable, fits nicely over the rest of the layers if needed, 75g (CW).
Down jacket - 296g (BPW).
Synth vest - 190g (CW).
Synth fleece - Generic, fuzzy, warm and fairly light layer, 272g (CW).
Base layer - 272g (CW).
Synth hiking pants - 365g (CW).
Wool socks - Quite warm, 63g (CW).
Synth socks - A bit thicker than the ones I use in the frigid list, but oddly not as warm, yet much more breathable. 36g (CW).
Synth windpants - Light, breathable, can be worn under pants and over base layer, 138g (BPW).
Base layer - 196g (CW).
Underwear (not pictured) - Silk boxers, 50g (CW).
Shoes (not pictured) - Leather Converse All Stars, 1040g (CW).
Alpaca hat - Bought in Bolivia, keeps head and ears toasty warm, 75g (CW).
Synth glove liners - 35g (CW).
Leather gloves - 100g (CW).
Scarf - 55g (CW).
Alpaca socks - Sleep socks, also bought in Bolivia, 45g (BPW).
Down bag - 650g (BPW).
Silk bag liner - 100% pure silk baby, Barry White albums sold separately. Can also be used as makeshift layer wrapped around torso like a cloak, 145g (BPW).
Air mat - 369g (BPW).
Foam mat - Standard camping store generic mat, R value roughly 1 (R 4.2 total with Xlite), trimmed to 2/3rds, 193g (BPW).
Stove and shelter:
Esbit cook kit - See above, 200g (BPW).
Shelter - Hobo tarp, 240g (BPW).
This brings the grand total of my "very cold" gear list for on trail use to:
BPW 4264g / 9.4lbs, CW 2824g / 6.2lbs
7088g / 15.6lbs total for everything minus consumables.
For off trail use:
Deluxe Hobo tent - Replaces Hobo tarp--minus 240g, plus 470g (BPW).
Thick synth jacket - Generic, tough, hooded, slightly water resistent, insulated, 100% nylon. Armor, warmth, and wind protection. Replaces windshirt and vest. Minus 75g for windshirt and 190g for synth vest, add 575g (CW).
Extra compass w/signal mirror - 79g (BPW).
This brings the grand total of my "very cold" gear list for off trail use to:
BPW 4573g / 10lbs, CW 3134g / 6.9lbs
7707g / 17lbs total for everything minus consumables.
* Last edited 30/01/14 - Did some finishing touches on some minor formatting, fixed a small error in my math and double checked the rest of my math and it should all check out. Also decided to just include my glasses and trekking pole in constant BPW just for pragmatic reasons--didn't feel like having a whole separate constant CW figure, as I'd also have to include other things like underwear and such.