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I'm preparing for a (solo if I can't find anyone to go with me) hike on the Long Trail in Vermont. I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) starting in February, but Georgia is very warm compared to Vermont. The average temperature high in January is below 0F for much of the state. I'm hoping to hear from someone who has experience doing extended hiking and camping in temperatures that don't get above 0F and dip as low as -40F for weeks on end. I want to know how to be sure I can stay warm without taking way too much stuff, and some guidance on issues to watch out for. Here's my basic setup:

Staying Warm

  • 0F Feathered Friends bag
  • A merino blend sleeping bag liner
  • A merino wool base layer
  • Several synthetic base layers
  • Primaloft light jacket
  • Couple layers of gloves
  • Heavy wool pants
  • -40F Sorrel boots
  • Heavy wool socks
  • Aether shell
  • Silk scarf
  • Balaklava
  • Vaseline or fat to insulate any exposed skin
  • Wool cap
  • Fire paste
  • Vaseline soaked cotton balls
  • Multiple lighters and matches

Dealing with the snow and ice

  • 22" Snow shoes with teeth for climbing
  • Crampons for boots
  • Ski goggles
  • Ski poles

Communication

  • Lightweight dumb phone with long lasting battery and extra battery pack
  • Garmin etrek-20 GPS
  • PLB
  • Recco fitted gear

Food

  • Lots of fatty meats and cheeses
  • Carbs
  • Sugars

Do you think I am reasonably well prepared? What can I do to lessen my chances of dying?

  • How is your trip prep going? – orangejewelweed Jan 19 '15 at 15:05
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    the bag looks a bit light to me. It will be much much colder than that during the night. Count on -20F as a normal night temperature. – njzk2 Aug 12 '17 at 5:40
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Here are some pointers and questions:

Gloves: Layers are good. Have spares, as well as a set of mittens.

Wool pants: How water resistant are they? The greatest potential for problems would be from precipitation in temperature ranges from 32F down to +10F. You don't want frozen stuff melting into your trousers when cold.

Sorels: Is that -40F for active or sedentary? Mine are rated -40 when active. That could well be enough to get you through the trip, but if the bottom drops out, you might want the extra insulation.

Gaiters: Not on your list. Do your trousers go over the boot tops? I will hike all day in difficult terrain with just snowshoes and Sorels, but I get some snow in my boots. It's not a big deal for a day hike, but I end the day in a heated car driving home to a hot shower. You will want to minimize the amount of snow in your boots.

Snowshoes: 22" is quite small. It should be okay for a packed trail, but you will end up breaking trail. Most of the way, I would venture. At 220#, closer to 250 with gear, I have 35" shoes. Depending on your weight, 27" - 30" would be minimum.

Crampons: Overkill, in my opinion. You have crampons on the snowshoes. Perhaps pack some sort of ice creepers for when you over going over icy rock.

GPS: My Garmin has more bells and whistles than the eTrex, but I do know that I get about 15-18 hours of life out of warm batteries. The GPS should probably go with your emergency gear, not be in daily use. You will be on a well known trail. I suspect it is easy to follow. Maps will be a better use of space than spare batteries.

Fatty meats: Sardines packed in oil. You may even learn to like them ;-)

~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~

Instead of a backpack consider a sled.

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    While the sled is a great idea it may not be very practical with the terrain for the northern half of the long trail. – ppl Dec 31 '14 at 18:00
  • @ppl Does the trail ascend & descend sharply? – orangejewelweed Jan 1 '15 at 2:59
  • Yes--lots of ups and downs, including hand-over-hand climbing in some places (not too different from the AT in Maine). The trail is blazed but in winter will not be easy to follow; especially when travelling through USFS Wilderness Areas, one can expect minimal trail-maintenance, lots of blow-downs, etc. – ppl Jan 1 '15 at 22:13
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    NE mountains and winter often have long sections of ice in which lightweight crampons would be much safer/faster than snowshoe crampons. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Jan 6 '15 at 15:34
  • Sue: Thanks for cleaning up my answer. It is more readable. I kept 'breaking trail' as it a a common figure of speech. – orangejewelweed Aug 15 '17 at 14:32
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For an extended trip, one of your problems will be the accumulation of moisture in your insulation.

I would definitely get some kind of vapor barrier layer for your sleeping bag and at least try some vapor barrier socks. It is very important that you test your gear for a couple nights before you head out. Better to make your mistakes in the back yard than 10 miles from shelter.

Insulation from the ground is also important. I would recommend using two pads for your bag if at all possible. The higher R number you can get the better.

Do you have a windproof layer for your legs? IMHO, there are much better choices than wool pants these days. Wool outer garments are relatively heavy, dry slower than synthetics and don't provide much if any windproofness. If you really expect -40F, your sleeping bag is a bit on the light side, a pair of primaloft insulation pants would both help extend the range of the bag and provide useful insulation around camp. I would also want a thicker insulation layer than a single light primaloft jacket. Maybe add a vest as well, or get a warmer jacket.

Also, a double layer sock system works well and you definitely want a backup pair of socks. Your feet and hands are the first to suffer in the cold and it can become impossible to do what you need to survive when your hands stop working. I can highly recommend these socks.

http://www.techspun.com

Put a lot of thought and care into socks/boots/gloves/mittens.

One other thing to keep in mind is the historical January Thaw in NE. Constant cold is tough, but IMHO the hardest to deal with is when you get storms near the freezing point. Generally, when it's very cold you don't get much snow. But when you do get snow it will warm up enough that some kind of waterproof layer might be required. The alternative would be to simply hole up during storms and wait out the weather.

Take every chance possible to dry out your gear.

You don't list what you intend to use for shelter and cooking. A small snow shovel can make a huge difference in creating a comfortable winter shelter. Snow is both an insulator and building material.

This book has lot's of great tips for winter camping.

Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book

Lastly, while Vermont is not known for avalanches, you will be traveling in the terrain and season in which they could occur. Getting some basic education in avalanche hazards ( even just a simple slopemeter check ) would be advisable.

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