No sooner did I set my annual mileage goal than a series of weather events left my area snowy and icy. I’ve managed a few fat bike rides and one 30-ish miler on gravel – but conditions are more conducive to cross training. My friend M and I have been hiking with microspikes as a way to get outside for fresh air and conversation. It’s been lovely.
A few weeks ago, my friend Jeanette mentioned she wants to do a winter overnight. The idea is we would fat bike, snowshoe, or hike in to a lean-to; ride/hike/snowshoe the trails; overnight at the lean-to; and head back the next morning. Immediately my brain went to all the Insta-Worthy shots that get posted.
My next thought was Yes, I want to do this followed by I hate being cold and my warmest sleeping bag is rated in the 20s. Honestly, that first photo above sold me on finding a high-quality winter bag that wouldn’t necessarily get a TON of use, but when it did get selected from the gear closet it would keep me toasty and not a Laura popsicle.
I did a bunch of reading and connected with my friend Jana who is a Winter Hammock Camping Queen. She dislikes being cold as well and helped me look for pre-loved bag options that would keep me toasty. She found a Western Mountaineering Puma GWS Expedition on eBay that I bid on and eventually won.
Is this bag a bit …. much? extra? expensive? Yes, yes it is. But I was so excited when it arrived in the mail. The loft blew me away – I knew this was going to be an excellent heirloom-quality bag that can support adventures for me and future generations (as long as they are shorter than 6’0″).
Fast forward to telling my friends and coworkers about it and their immediate thoughts were “you are insane” and then “when are you going to use it?” The weekday forecast was more snow, rain, and then a flash freeze but the weekend was going to be sunny, clear, and cold with lows in the single digits. Perfect testing conditions.
- Heavy blue tarp, folded in half
- Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 with rainfly held out on the sides by rocks, vent open
- cheap foam sleeping pad (R=2?)
- REI 3.5 self-inflating sleeping pad (R=6)
- Western Mountaineering Puma GWS (rated to -25)
- Nalgene with boiling water
- Smartwool midweight baselayers (top and bottom)
- Defeet Woolie Boolies
- REI silk sock liners
- Trailheads fleece hat
- Additional clothing stuffed into bag in case I needed additional layers (thermal pull-on pants, 850-fill down puffy jacket, wool liner gloves, fleece gloves)
- phone, spare battery, medications
How did it go?
I was a little concerned at first because I was VERY warm at the beginning – mostly because I kept my pillow and sleeping bag inside before crawling into my tent for the night and the Nalgene at the toebox was giving off significant heat. Under camping conditions, I expect I would have had to crawl into the bag to warm it up and be chilled for a bit. Everything I’ve read says to crawl in with just your baselayers on to get the bag warm and not trap heat in your layers.
That being said, I did not need my additional layers at all and even took off my wool liner gloves to avoid overheating.
I was curious how condensation would play out. I cinched the hood around my face and draft tube around my neck which kept all my warmth in the bag. I woke up a few times in the night to move around and noticed the outside of my bag where I had been breathing was damp. By morning there were tiny ice droplets around the top bag, ice crystals on the mesh part of my tent and lamp. Science!
I slept as well as I usually do when camping, which is lightly and frequent waking to sounds. My backyard is apparently a wildlife superhighway, with plenty of sounds throughout the night.
At 7am, my back was hurting from sleeping on an overinflated sleeping pad so I crawled out and went inside to my warm bed for a few hours of restful sleep.
Overall, a big success! It was amazing to be able to be outside, crisp air against my cheeks but warm and snuggly inside my sleeping bag. The thick tarp folded in half was a key upgrade from my footprint as you can see where my body heat melted the ice on the deck below the tarp.
Next time I’ll put everything outside and have morning coffee outside before heading back in, to better simulate actual camping conditions.