Thursday, March 28, 2013

DIY Ultralight Fishing Rod Case

Some time ago I noticed that Backpacking Light was selling an ultralight fishing rod case on their website. For some time now, I have been trying to come up with a lightweight, full size fishing kit. Unfortunately my fishing rod had come with a good, but very heavy case. Naturally, I got excited about the ultralight case offered by Backpacking Light. Unfortunately, they were out of stock, and continue to be so as of the date of this post. So, I set out trying to make my own. This was the result:


Next to the fishing rod case, you can see my lightweight reel and tackle. Together they make for a fishing kit of under 1 lb total weight, but that is for another post.

I made the fishing rod case from a fluorescent light tube protector. They are available in hardware stores, and come 4 or 8 ft lengths together with the caps you see above. The use of these tubes, as the name designates seems to be to place the fluorescent light bulb inside it for protection.

The tube I used is a bit over 1.5 inches in diameter. It is designed for fluorescent lights that are 1.5 inches in diameter, so that is how they refer to it in the hardware store. More specifically, it is the protector tube for T12 fluorescent lights. There are also tubes in 2.25 inch diameters, for the T17 fluorescent lights, but I was not able to find one.

The 1.5 inch diameter tube weighs 0.7 oz per foot of length. I used about a foot and a half for the above container, which came out to 1.0 oz. Additionally, each of the caps weighs 0.1 oz, for a total weight of the above fishing rod protector of 1.2 oz. Of course, the exact weight will depend on how much of the tube you use. I used a pair of scissors to cut the tube, which wasn’t a problem.

There are however some issues with the protector; some general, and some specific to my set up.

The general issue is that the protector is not terribly strong. While it has worked very well to protect my fishing rod so far, it is not as strong as the protectors you can get from your fishing equipment supplier. The tube is strong enough so that it will not bend in half without very large force being applied, and it will protect very well against branches and other things that may hit your pack while you are raveling in the woods. However, the tube can compress when pressure is applied, so it will not protect your rod is you do something like step on it.


The second issue is the one specific to my set up, and that is that the butt guide on the rod was too large (sticks too far out from the rod) to fit in the 1.5 inch tube. I’m sure that would not be an issue with some other rod models, but it was with mine (St. Croix 6 foot Travel Spinning Rod). Unfortunately, since I was not able to find a larger tube, I had to figure out a way to make it work. The solution was to use the flexibility of the tube to my advantage.

The solution was to cut out a small slot, just large enough for the guide to pop out from it when that section of the rod was inserted in the protector. To insert the rod, I pinch the tube so that elongates, and slide the section of the rod until the butt guide reaches the cutout. After that section is in, the other sections are inserted easily.


The result was a very lightweight and compact fishing rod case, certainly much lighter than the one that came with the rod. I was also able to find some sources on the internet that sell similar tubes in different diameters. You can see one of them here. I have not ordered from them, so I’m not sure how they match up.


Why bother with any of this? Well, it was important for me because just like with most other things I do in the woods, I want to be able to do it while backpacking through the woods over relatively long distances. I could easily end up bringing my fishing gear on a trip, and not using it because the opportunity did not present itself. Because of that, I need fishing gear that is as light as possible so that it is easily portable in that context.

I’ve also noticed while doing research, that many people who do the same thing, and reduce the weight of their fishing gear, switch over to Tenkara fishing. I wanted to stick to spin fishing since my knowledge is limited and I want to master the basics before switching styles. On a similar note, I decided to carry a full fishing kit (rod, reel, and tackle) instead of the hobo fishing kit that I have previously used on trips because I wanted to get better as a fisherman and practice different techniques.

And finally, I know very little about fishing when compared to most other people, so when I give any advise, please ignore it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Failed Summit Attempt of Mt. Everest and the Future of Alpinism

Last week I posted about the first successful summit of Mt. Everest by an American team. I also mentioned in the post that some have argued that the 1963 expedition marked the last expedition style mountaineering attempt.

Interestingly, the future of fair means alpinism would be marked by a much less known expedition that took place the previous year, in 1962. It was an attempt to climb Mt. Everest made by a team of four people, climbing without Sherpas, without permits, and without oxygen. The four men were Woodrow Wilson Sayre, Norman Hanseng, Roger Hart, and Hans-Peter Duttle. This American-Swiss team of amateurs managed to get to within 3500 ft from the summit before having to turn back.


At a time when mountaineering in America was little known, these four (what many at the time would consider amateurs), would take on the highest mountain in the world and come frighteningly close to conquering it. More importantly, they would do it in a way that the mountaineering community at the time considered impossible.

Just to give some perspective, in 1954, when Woodrow Wilson Sayre and Norman Hanseng applied to go on a winter climb of Mt. Washington, organized by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), they were rejected because they did not have sufficient experience. The two men’s response was to go climb Mt. Denali that year, and then plan a summit attempt of Mt. Everest. 



In 1962, pretending that they will be making an attempt at the Gyachung Kang mountain, the four men, carrying their own equipment and gear, snuck into China occupied Tibet, to make an attempt on Mt. Everest from the North, the route pioneered by Mallory and Erving in their failed attempt, and at that time still unclimbed. The men had no support, no Sherpas, and no oxygen. The Sherpas and government liaison who transported equipment in the forests, were left at base camp to wait for the team’s return, as they snuck into Tibet. In Sayre’s words, “We made three basic decisions in planning for Everest. We were going without permission, we were going without Sherpas, and we were going without oxygen.”

It appears that the team’s success was in part due to the progress in mountaineering occurring at that time. In his book, Four Against Everest, Sayre writes: “The usual reply to these drawbacks [lack of Sherpas] is to argue necessity… The loads are simply too heavy. Here is where the modern lightweight equipment has changed matters. I would guess that a climber fully dressed against the cold today is carrying 15 to 20 pounds less than his counterpart was carrying forty years ago; that is, his lighter boots, his down-filled parka and pants, his aluminum canteen, and pack frame, and innumerable other improvements, weigh 15 to 20 pounds less than what a climber used to need in order to stay warm. Mufflers and heavy sweaters snowball the weight very quickly. And incidentally, today’s climber is far warmer in spite of the lighter weight. Thus, if he carried a 30 to 35 pound pack, he would not really be carrying more on his person than a climber in the 1920s was carrying when he lifted a 15 to 20 pound pack. This means that today you have, as it were, a built-in Sherpa…


At 25,400 ft, 3500 ft below the summit on the North Col, out of food, and suffering from injury, the men decided to turn back.

Upon their return, they were soundly criticized by the mountaineering community for risking a spark in the Cold War by infiltrating the Chinese border, as well as for doing what was considered impossible.

Ironically, the style of alpinism used by Sayre and his team would prove to be the method of the future. Small teams of men, unsupported, and climbing by fair means, would become the aspiration of generations of mountaineers.

A good account of the expedition can be seen in an article by Maurice Isserman titled “Wired: Mad, Ill-Equipped, and Admirable: Everest 1962

Also, if you are able to find it for a reasonable price, as it is out of print, Sayre’s book, Four Against Everest is an excellent read.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Business of Being a Mountain Man: Eustace Conway vs. The Building Inspector

If you make a habit of following outdoor related TV shows, you probably remember Eustace Conway and his Turtle Island household from the History Chanel show Mountain Men. As he is described on the show, Mr. Conway has been living on his 1,000 acre property in North Carolina in what could be called a traditional manner. He claims that he lives off the land, hunting and growing much of his own food, that he makes pants out of buckskin and stitches his own wounds.


In a dramatic climax of the show, Eustace Conway had to fight with the government over unpaid taxes, riding into town on a horse to city hall. Many viewers at the time pointed out that the image of Mr. Conway being portrayed does not seem to align too well with the facts about him. It was quickly pointed out that far from being an isolated mountain man, foraging the forests for resources, Mr. Conway was running a rather profitable business. A visit to his website here, reveals a well organized commercial enterprise with a “mountain man” theme, involving, carriage rides, classes, summer camps for both children and adults, etc. Prices can range anywhere from $65 for a carriage ride, to $1400 for a two week summer camp. It seemed unclear what someone who is living off the land is doing with all that money, and in particular why he is not paying his taxes.

Well, I’m sure we’ll get some more entertaining developments with respect to his taxes in the next season of the show.

A more recent development has been that last Fall, presumably because of increased attention due to the TV show, state officials, acting on a tip, performed an inspection of Turtle Island, and promptly shut it down for not complying with a multitude of health and safety regulation. Some of the violations range from failing to meet building codes, to failing to provide proper sanitation.

Much of the bushcraft community has been in an uproar about this, and the issue has been framed as one where “The STATE” has come to interfere with this man’s life and stop him from living his simple, traditional lifestyle.

I generally ignore such drama, but I wanted to post on this issue as I feel it is being greatly mischaracterized.

Despite the assertions to the contrary, the state government is not seeking to stop Eustace Conway from living his chosen lifestyle. Turtle Island is his property, and he can live there as he chooses, even if that entails him sleeping under a tree. While Turtle Island is currently closed to customers, Mr. Conway continues to live there in his chosen manner.

The real issue here is that Mr. Conway is operating a business at the premises that is open to the public. The moment he starts doing that, he has to comply with health and safety regulations just like anyone else if he wishes to operate that business. 


If he is going to run a camp for children, and for that matter adults, and is going to have them live there, he can not house those people in buildings that do not meet safety and health requirements. If he is going to feed people at the premises as part of a commercial enterprise, then he has to comply with health and sanitation requirements. He can not circumvent those requirements, no more than a restaurant can circumvent health and sanitations standards by saying it specializes in authentic 19th century foods. It can serve 19th century food, but it still has to refrigerate its meat, sanitize its cleaning surfaces, and be free of rats. Similarly Mr. Conway can teach traditional living, but he still has to offer facilities that protect the lives and health of his customers.

It may in fact be the case that it is impossible to teach “true” traditional living these days because of existing regulations. I have to say, I am perfectly okay with that. There are certain aspects of traditional living I would happily give up, including dysentery, dangerous living and working conditions, high child mortality rate, and so on. 

Imagine that instead of the current headlines reading “Mountain Man Takes on Building Codes”, it read “After the State Department Failed to Act, a Dozen Children Were Killed in a Building Collapse at Turtle Island”. What would we be saying then?

Being a mountain man is one thing. Making a business out of being a mountain man is a different story. We shouldn’t confuse the two. All that has currently been shut down is Mr. Conway’s mountain man business, not his lifestyle as a mountain man. Making money comes with certain obligations. As Watauga County Commissioner Perry Yates pointed out, it is not Mr. Conway’s primitive methods, but rather his less primitive ones that are the problem.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Making an Improvised Pack – The Roycroft Pack

In recent weeks there have been several videos released on YouTube about an improvised pack design, usually attributed to Tom Roycroft. Both Mors Kochanski and Dave Canterbury put out such videos recently. It reminded me of a guest post I had done about two years ago for Brian’s Backpacking Blog. I thought I would share the post here with you. I also encourage you to visit Brian’s blog for additional valuable information.

Backpacking technology has come a very long way in a short period of time. It wasn’t too long ago that most of use were dragging around packs with frames made out of steel tubing and a main compartment made of 1/8 inch thick, just short of bullet-proof, material.

In a matter of a few decades, our packs have become exponentially lighter, allowing us to move faster, go deeper into the woods, and visit locations previously unthinkable.

So, you find yourself on one such adventure. For the past three days you have been pushing into the forest, with each day setting a new personal best for the number of miles traveled. The trail is becoming less and less noticeable with each mile traveled. And of course, that is when it happens; a rock gives way under your foot, you loose your balance, and tumble down the side of the road, right into a patch of huckleberry bushes. You get up and dust yourself off. Luckily you are just fine, but you can’t say the same for your pack. The bushes have ripped it to shreds; the contents of your pack littering the hill. For a moment you start to miss your pack from your glory days as a boy scout-the one with the triple reinforced external frame that weighed 8lb.

You quickly shake those thoughts out of your head. There is no need for such drastic measures. A little bit of improvisation will do just fine. After all, worse case scenario, you can just gather the contents of your pack into your poncho or tarp, and sling it over your shoulder. There is however a way that you can make the trip back home a little bit easier. With just some minimal effort, you can put together a very serviceable backpack for the trip home.

Gather three branches. They should be just thick enough so they don’t bend too easily. Arrange them in a triangle on the ground. The triangle should be large enough so that when the bottom side is placed at hip level, the top corner sticks just over your shoulders, and the remaining two corners protrude on either side of your hips. Mors Kochanski recommends that the two long pieces measure from the tip of your fingers to your armpit, and the short piece from your fingertips to your elbow. That will vary depending on you and the type of load you have. I like the bottom piece to be a little longer than that so that the intersections between the pieces, which can be uncomfortable, are away from my body.


Make some crude notches at the places where the branches meet.


Using some string, or even remains from your pack, lash the branches together. You should now have a strong triangular frame.


Take the shoulder straps from your, now retired, pack. If they are sawn together at a central point, do not try to separate them. If they are independent straps, tie them together. Place the tied shoulder straps over the top corner of the triangle.


Then wrap them around the two branches and pull them through the frame. That way they will hold the weight of the pack without you having to tie them individually to the frame. Then tie the bottom part of each strap to the corresponding corner of the frame.


The result is a pack frame, ready for use. This is a good time to adjust it for fit. Loosen and tighten the straps until they feel comfortable. Some basic knowledge of friction knots will go a long way here.



Now that the frame is ready, we can start working on the pack itself. Pull out your poncho or tarp, and place it on the ground. Arrange your gear on top of the poncho.


Now, fold the bottom of the poncho over the gear.


Then fold the sides, and then the top. We are now ready to connect the pack to the frame.


For a small pack, one that is going to be somewhat smaller than the frame, I like to create a net on the frame so the pack is supported. To do that I simply tie a rope in the center of the bottom branch, and then do a cris-cross pattern going up the frame. The exact design, or for that matter how you tie it makes no difference. As long as there are ropes going back and forth, it will work just fine.


Then place the pack on the frame and repeat the same tying process over the pack, lashing it to the frame. Again, the exact pattern does not matter.


The one thing I like to do is to not tie the top of the pack, but rather simply tuck in the top flap under some of the ropes. That will allow the pack to be opened so you can get to the contents while you are making your way back home.


And here is the finished pack.


If you take some time and adjust the straps, it will be almost as comfortable as an old ALICE pack. Let’s not fool ourselves here. We tend to be very trend sensitive, and there has been talk about this type of pack in recent weeks as if though it is the next great innovation in backpacking technology. It is not. I would never consider heading out into the woods with this type of pack instead of a proper modern pack. For me this is an emergency technology to be used when the need arises.

As they say, knowledge weighs nothing, but a pack with a steel frame weights 8lb. Well, they don’t say that, but they should. Some know how and improvisation can allow you to leave the weight of that bomb-proof pack behind, and trust that on the rare occasion where the need arose, you would be equal to the task.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wood Trekker Social Media – Google Reader Update

By now you guys know that I am horrible when it comes to dealing with computers, or even answering my email for that matter. The only reason why I have been able to keep this blog going is that Blogger offers a very easy template for posting. However, I still know almost nothing about any of the details of how any of this works.

As a result, when people in the IT world decide to mess around with things, it makes life very difficult for me. Recently Google announced that they will be shutting down their Google Reader service that many people use to subscribe to blogs, including Wood Trekker.

What does that mean to you?

Well, if you have no idea what I am talking about, it probably doesn’t matter to you. If you get to the blog through a book mark, a search engine, or some other means, then this probably does not effect you.

The people who will be effected are the ones who get blog updates from Google Reader. If you are not sure what that it, Google Reader is one of many e-readers that allow you to subscribe to blogs (the post feed from the blog) and then have the links and updates compiled in one location-the reader. You could have subscribed by manually adding the RSS feed to your reader, or by clicking the “Join this site” button in the “Followers” box on the side of the blog. Well, it is this feature that Google is disabling. If you use Google Reader, and you want to continue getting the feed, you will need to take some steps.

When will it happen?

Google Reader will stop operating in July 2013, about three months from now. If you use the service, that gives you an opportunity to switch services.

What should I do?

What you should do depends on whether or not you use the service. Like I mentioned above, if you get to my blog through a link, book mark, or a search engine, then you can keep doing what you are already doing. The blog itself is not going anywhere. Currently I have 265 subscriber, but get on average 3000 visitors per day, so it looks like most people already use means to visit the blog other than Google Reader. 

If you use Google Reader, and want to continue to use a similar service, you will need to change to a different reader.

I need to change to a new reader. How do I do it?

As I mentioned earlier, I am frighteningly incompetent when it comes to dealing with computers and tech related issues. However, I really value you guys as readers, and I appreciate that you continue to visit my blog despite my obnoxious style of writing and abrasive personality. So, I figured I would try to provide a solution so those of you equally technologically unsophisticated can give it a try.

Step One: Notice changes to the blog

I have made some minor changes to the blog itself, so you can more easily get to the information. The first change is that I have added a “Subscribe to Wood Trekker” box on the side of the blog, right above the “Followers” box, which I imagine will be gone once Google Reader is discontinued. If you click on the “Post” box, you will see a few readers listed with which you can subscribe to Wood Trekker.


I have also added a Google + box, where you can follow Wood Trekker on Google +. It can be seen on the side of the blog as well. As always, I still have the box allowing you to follow Wood Trekker on Facebook.


Step Two: Select a new e-reader

There are many readers out there which will provide the same function as Google Reader. I decided to use NetVibes because it is the first one listed in the post subscription box I mentioned above. All you have to do is sign up. When you get to the initial NetVibes page, click “Sign Up” in the upper right hand corner.


Once you have created you account, which requires just an email address, you can log in.


You can switch between the above view and the “Reader” by clicking on the “Reader” tab. The picture below shows an empty reader with no subscription.


If you are just interested in adding one or two subscriptions to your reader, then you are almost done. The only step left is to go to Wood Trekker, or any other blog of your choice, go to the “Subscribe to [Wood Trekker]” box, and select NetVibes out of the drop down menu.


Once you have created a NetVibes account, and have subscribed to the blog using NetVibes, you will be able to get the feed from the blog whenever you log into your NetVibes account.

Step Three: Transferring numerous subscriptions

If you are like me, you use a reader because you follow way too many blogs, and it is hard to keep track of them otherwise. If that is the case, it would be extremely time consuming to re-subscribe to each blog individually. Fortunately, there is a solution. In effect, you will have to download the feed from Google Reader, and then transfer it into NetVibes, or any other reader of your choice.

The first step is to go to Google Takeout. If the link I have provided here does not work, just use the search engine to look up “Google Takeout”. Once you have signed into your Google account, you will see a screen with al of your Google services.


From the options at the top of the page, select “Chose services” and then from the listed options, select the “Reader” tab.


Once you have selected the “Reader” tab, click on the “Create Archive” button. A box showing the progress of putting together the “Reader” file will appear.


When you see that the file is 100% created, click on the above box, which will take you to another window showing the created file. On that page, click the “Download” button, which will download the file in zip format in the your download folder.


Go to the downloaded file, and unzip it. Once that is done, it is time to go back to your NetVibes account. From the menu, click on “+Add Content” and then on “Import”.


When you click on import, select “Chose File”. That will open a menu, asking you to locate the file you wish to import. Find the downloaded and unzipped file from Google Takeout, and keep opening the folder inside the file until you find the one titled “Reader”. Inside the folder there will be a file titled “Subscriptions”. Select it and press “Open”.


It will take a few seconds for the magic to happen, but once the feeds are imported, your reader will look something like this:


All of your feeds should now be there. If something is missing, you can add it manually or just by re-subscribing to the blog. Going forward, the new posts from each blog should appear in your new reader.

I hope this has been of some help. It’s the best I could figure out from my limited understanding of the subject matter. For more detailed explanation, you can visit the write up by LifeHacker here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The First Successful Summit of Mt. Everest by an American – A look 50 Years Into the Past

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first successful climb of Mt. Everest by an American. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the first summit of Mt. Everest by the Western Ridge.


We are all familiar with the first ever successful summit of Mt. Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in the 1953 British expedition. Understandably, much less is known about the first successful American expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest. Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Mt. Everest along with the Sherpa Nawang Gombu (nephew of Tenzing Norgay). In the same expedition, Dr. Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld completed the first successful summit of Mt. Everest using the Western Ridge. I wanted to make this post so I can share some photos of the expedition. A good account of expedition can be found on the National Geographic site here.

Picture 015









Many have argued that this summit attempt was perhaps the last expedition style climb to be made, involving large teams of climbers, Sherpas, and gear to be progressively carried to higher camps. The expedition approach has made a comeback in recent years since Mt. Everest has become a tourist attraction, and expedition style guided climbs have become the norm. In a recent interview, Jim Whittaker discussed the differences between climbing Mt. Everest 50 years ago and doing it now. You can see the interview here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bear Grylls Safety Instructions

I was emailed about a video with the above title. Knowing Bear’s approach to the wilderness, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the video was actually quite funny, and intended to be so as well. It was made by Air New Zealand for their airline safety instructions.

It more or less pokes fun of the way Bear approaches situations in the wilderness, and applies his tactics to airline safety. It is worth a look.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Winter Backpacking and Bushcraft Gear

Over the past two weeks I have been trying to give you a list of my backpacking and bushcraft gear. I have done the posts in the order that I have because each subsequent post builds on the prior ones. In order to understand my winter gear, you will need to look at both my clothing and my three season gear.

My Three Season Backpacking and Bushcraft Gear

My Three Season Backpacking and Bushcraft Clothing

My Winter Backpacking and Bushcraft Clothing

As with my clothing system, my winter gear is in large part composed of my three season gear with some alterations and addition. If you remember, the base weight of my three season gear is 14 lb (6.4 kg). However, before I get into the details, let me give you a bit of background on my gear selection process and philosophy regarding winter backpacking.

When I wrote about my winter clothing, I mentioned that for many people winter seems to be a time of restricted movement and limited travel. One of the reason I gave for why I believe that to be the case is the clothing systems currently employed. Another obvious reason however is gear selection. People seem to resign themselves to the fact that being out in the woods in winter requires more gear, and just let themselves go. Winter backpacking or bushcraft seems to be a code word for turning a man into a pack animal. I don’t believe that to be necessary, and a lot of what I have tried to do with my winter gear has been focused on avoiding this problem.

For me reduction in weight is not simply important for the obvious reasons, i.e. you can move more easily and travel deeper into the woods, but there is also a secondary, related reason. When the weight of a set of gear increases beyond a certain point, people naturally look for ways to get around it. One of the ways is to use devices that can supplement mobility. The most obvious one is a sled or pulk that you can pull behind you. This allows you to increase the amount of gear you can comfortably transport. My focus on reduction in weight has allowed me to avoid such devices, because while useful, I find them very restrictive to mobility in the woods. While a sled makes the load easier to move, it significantly restricts where one can go. In a more mountainous terrain, mobility with a sled becomes very limited despite the ease of movement.

For similar reasons, I have stayed away from skis. While they are a great tool in certain types of terrain, and a very skilled skier can use them effectively in many ways, ultimately, they limit where one can go. Having to backpack with skis strapped to a pack is something I never want to repeat.

So, to summarize my approach, just as with my clothing, my gear is centered on mobility. I want to be able to go wherever I want in the woods, whenever I want, and for as long as a chose. My gear is centered around allowing me to do that. Now, on to specifics:

Temperature from 32F (0C) to 0F (-18C)

As with my winter clothing, my winter gear is divided into two groups. The first set of gear is designed for temperatures from 32F (0C) to 0F (-18C).


The gear that I use for this temperature range is nearly identical to that used for my three season backpacking with one change, and one permanent addition. To that I add some other items depending on the terrain I am likely to encounter. All of the gear is carried in the same pack, the REI Flash 62 that I use for my three seasons backpacking.

To begin with, please take a look at my three season gear here if you have not already done so. The one change that I make is to replace my MSS warm weather Patrol 32F (0C) sleeping bag with the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF sleeping bag. It is rated to 0F (-18C) and weighs 2 lb 7 oz. It is filled with premium 850 goose down and has a micro fiber shell. The shell is water resistant and light, but not as tough as those made out of Gore Tex. As you can see, the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF weighs only 1.7 oz more than my synthetic warm weather bag, and it interestingly compresses down to the same size. That is the reason why I can still use my three season pack for most of my winter backpacking.

The one permanent addition I make to my three season gear to convert it to winter backpacking in addition to the substitution of the sleeping bag is to add the Patagonia DAS Parka. I store it in the front floating pocket where it gives me easy access. If you have not read my post on winter clothing, you can do so here. It would make a lot more sense. The DAS Parka weighs 1 lb 13 oz.

I also usually bring a piece of closed cell foam pad to sit on. It weighs  2 oz.

And that’s pretty much it when it comes to converting my three season gear to winter use for temperatures down to 0F (-18C). I replace the sleeping bag with a warmer one, and I add a jacket. Everything else stays the same. The total base weight of my gear with this set up increases to 16 lb 0.7 oz (7.2 kg). That is the set up I carried on my last trip to Echo Lake. You can read about it here. It will be sufficient for most winter outings in temperatures down to 0F (-18C).


Now, under certain conditions, I may need to add some extra items to facilitate mobility. I may bring one, all, or none of these items depending on the terrain I am about to encounter.

The first item is my snowshoes. As I mentioned earlier, I do not like skis because I find they limit where I can go. I have had much greater luck with snowshoes, and my love for them has increased exponentially since I got a good pair. The snowshoes I use are the 25 inch MSR Lightning Ascent. MSR’s Ascent series are designed for backwoods travel. They have multiple straps in case some of them get damaged, and they have fairly aggressive crampons built into the frame which allow for travel over steep terrain. They also lock the shoe in very well so there is no lateral movement. Compared to regular strap bindings, this greatly reduces snowshoe overlap. The pair of snowshoes weighs 3 lb 15 oz. They are heavy, but worth their weight in gold when you hit deep snow.


The next item is my crampons. I have two different sets that I use depending on the conditions. I don’t always need or carry crampons, but when heading to elevation, or expecting icy terrain, they are a must. A few years back I dislocated my shoulder in the woods because I didn’t have my crampons. I try not to make the same mistake again.

If I am expecting just light crampon use, I bring the Hillsound Trail Crampon Pro. These are what I would call approach crampons. They have relatively mild spikes, flexible frames, and universal attachments that can fit them onto just about any regular backpacking boot. They will not work well with very soft boots like PAK boots. The pair weighs 1 lb 7.9 oz. There are lighter options like microspikes, but I like the more aggressive crampons, and the anti-balling plates, which prevent snow accumulation on the bottom of the crampons.


When serious crampon work is needed, I pull out my rigid boots, and my full crampons. I use the Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro crampons. They are fully automatic and require that the boots be designed to work with such crampons. They are a general mountaineering crampon with horizontal front spikes, instead of vertical ones for ice climbing, although they perform very well in that role as well. I have been very happy with them. The pair weigh 2 lb 1 oz. Either set of crampons requires a crampon bag (at least I require it), which I made myself. It weight 6 oz.


And of course, when I use crampons I need my ice axe. I currently use a 60 cm Black Diamond Raven Pro as my general mountaineering axe. I have been making some modifications to it this winter, but I’ll leave that for another post. The ice axe weight 15 oz.


Now, this is definitely everything. The only other items are clothing that may come in and out of the pack depending on conditions. You can see my posts on clothing for the details. In the weight calculations here, I am including the weight of the DAS Parka in the pack weight because it stays there for most of the time and certainly when I am moving. Assuming that I am carrying all of the additional gear; snowshoes, the heavier Black Diamond set of crampons, and the ice axe, the total weight of my pack for the winter gear for temperatures above 0F (-18C) is 23 lb 5.7 oz (10.5 kg). This is the gear I carried on one of my January trips this year. You can read about it here.


Temperature below 0F (-18C)

When the temperatures drop below 0F (-18C), then some larger changes are required.


Specifically, three changes occur. The first is that I once again switch to a warmer sleeping bag. I replace the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF 0F bag with the Western Mountaineering Puma MF. Just like the Antelope, the Puma has 850 premium goose down fill and a microfiber shell, however it is rated to –25F (-32C). It weighs 3 lb 7 oz and is quite a bit larger when compressed than the Antelope. I am sometimes asked why I don’t just get an extremely warm sleeping bag, something rated to –40F (-40C). The answer is that the warmer the bag is the exponentially larger it has to be. That small increase in insulation leads to a large increase in weight and volume. Using your shelter, sleeping bag and clothing together can get you into those temperatures without the added weight and volume (unless you are on Antarctica).

The second change is that I replace the Patagonia DAS Parka with the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Peak XV jacket. The jacket is much warmer, and correspondingly heavier and bulkier. It weighs 2 lb 6 oz. For more information see my post on winter clothing.

Because of these two changes, my gear now becomes too bulky to fit into my REI Flash 62 pack that you saw earlier. With the larger bulk I need to switch to a larger pack, the Gregory Palisade 80L. It is a significantly heavier pack at 6 lb 3 oz for the medium size and has a 80L volume. The added weight translates directly into comfort as it does with most Gregory packs. Even with the heavier loads, I have always been comfortable wearing it.

The only other change I may make depending on exactly how cold the weather is, is to replace the Kovea Spider stove with the MSR Whisperlite International. Together with a repair kit and a 22 oz bottle, the MSR Whisperlite weight 1 lb 7 oz. It is quite a bit heavier, but worth the weight when you have to melt a lot of snow.


So, for this second set of gear designed for very cold weather, the total weight, assuming again, snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, jacket and the MSR Whisperlite stove replacement, is 28 lb 13.4 oz (13 kg). Now, that is quite a bit of weight. To that you have to add fuel, food and water. Even so, with two litters of water and three days of food, the weight should still be about 37 lb. It is heavy, but still quite portable over long distances and varied terrain. This is the gear I carried on my summit attempt of Mt. Washington. You can read more about it here.


Of course, this last weight represent the extreme weight of my gear, with me bringing tools for every terrain I might encounter at very low temperatures. For the average person doing winter backpacking, most of that gear will not be needed. If you just look at my winter gear without crampons, snowshoes, etc, for temperatures above 0F (-18C), then the base weight would be 16 lb, 0.7 oz (7.2 kg).

I hope this has been of some use. The above represents what i would call my bushcraft and backpacking gear, which allows me to move through and stay in the woods. If I am out for more specific pursuits like fishing, hunting, or ice climbing, more items will be needed.

Edit: I forgot to mention in the post that for winter backpacking, I remove the Sawyer Squeeze filer from my gear. Filters freeze in winter and can get damaged easily. During winter I melt and boil my water from snow, or use purification tablets if I am in an area devoid of snow. Therefore, you can remove 5.0 oz from all of the weights I listed above. I also replace my collapsible Platypus bottle with a collapsible Nalgene bottle. It is the same type of folding bottle except that it has a wide mouth opening like regular Nalgene bottles. The wide mouth prevents it from freezing over as quickly as a regular Playpus bottle.

I also add a second Nalgene folding bottle as a pee bottle. Getting out of a sleeping bag at night in cold weather is not a good idea. You lose huge amounts of heat and have to spend a lot of energy afterwards to reheat the sleeping bag. So I guess, you can add the 5.0 oz back to the above weights. :)