Some notes on gearing up. Those of us who did this trip last year definitely learned some lessons. I'd be surprised if there aren't other posts about this or that subject- I learned about cold weather cooking, digital cameras, layering strategies, all kinds of stuff. The idea is, those who are coming along but haven't done winter camping (or Adirondack winter camping) can be better prepared based on our experience.
Today I feel like chatting about sleeping gear- sleeping bags and accessories. I'm not the guru of this, others will have much to add if they choose to, but these are my thoughts and experiences.
Some people considering this trip might not currently own a sleep system appropriate for the temperatures we are likely to encounter. When selecting a sleeping bag, a general rule-of-thumb I like to use is, "Choose a bag with a comfort rating 10 degrees colder than the actual temperatures you are likely to experience." For this trip, our experience last year indicates this means a -30F bag. Sorry Bryce
Some testing I did last night bears out the "10 degrees colder" rule of thumb. I decided to test my Eureka Casper +15F mummy bag. The forecast looked encouraging so I set up to sleep in the pool house. I had a pretty good mattress pad working for me and there's no wind in the pool house. To mimic what I do in the field, I wore one layer of polypros, and a pair of socks to bed. I felt nice and warm when I went to sleep- I woke up later on however starting to chill a bit. The digital thermometer I had along read 22F and change. So I got up and was surprised to learn I had slept until after 5am (not too bad for a guy who wakes up at 4 all week long). Still, it seemed like when the temps dipped below that 10 degree threshold, my body slowly started chilling down- I wasn't dying or even shivering, just not 100% comfortable. Based on this test I'm assuming I could live through a night at +15F in this bag, given decent shelter- but I hope I don't have to because it wouldn't be fun. I don't know about you, but I want to not just survive the night, but be comfortable and get a decent night's sleep.
"But Festus, what if the temperature dips below -20F and I'm stuck in my -30 bag?" "What if I have a ton of camping gear but nothing rated to -30F and I don't want to spend the $$ on one?" Well, this is where being prepared comes in handy. If you have a larger rectangle bag, you can slip a mummy or rectangle bag inside it to create a layering system. If your sleeping bag is large enough, you can add a blanket or fleece bag inside it (I tried the fleece bag liner thing once and hated it, YMMV). You could try covering the outside of your sleeping bag with a wool blanket or bivy bag to extend the comfort rating. Don't wear too much clothing inside the bag if you can help it. It will restrict your circulation, and defeat the purpose of your sleeping bag. DO wear a hat- I wear a balaclava as I tend to remove a watch cap-type hat in my sleep.
If layering fails, the only option left is to add heat. Some folks will boil some water and turn a Nalgene into a hot water bottle. I like the chemical heat pad option- you can either toss a handful of the pocket-size ones in the bag, or get larger ones like these.
They give off heat longer than I'm likely to sleep. Although I have a -30 bag (which I bought AFTER our 2008 trip) I'll be prepared with enough chemical heat packs to warm up my sleeping bag and share if someone else needs them.
A quick note about sleeping pads. Two is one, one is none, right? What I've learned to like is, a cheap closed-cell foam pad under a self-inflating mattress. This creates an insulating "sandwich", doesn't take up a ton of room, and if the self-inflating pad gets brittle in the cold or otherwise fails, at least you have SOMETHING. Here is the self-inflater I'm using these days, it was cheaper than the cheap blue closed-cell pad from Wal-mart! Linky
For the 2008 trip, I overestimated the rating of the sleeping gear I had- a 30 bag layered with a 45 bag probably would have been ok for close to 10F but failed miserably when we got down to -17. Yes I lived but I shivered more than I slept- and had a fear of falling asleep and going hypothermic without waking up. The night of -17 was a long night. I had no backup plan- no chemical heat packs, no blankets, nothing but clothing layers which may have kept me alive but definitely didn't help me sleep comfortably. I was an unprepared ass- don't be that.
“What do you say we gather the camp elders; Be perplexed amongst friends?” – Al Swearengen (Deadwood)