The Winter 'Low Down'

Staying warm in sub-zero temperatures when camping, or in unheated mountain huts, in the middle of winter does not mean you have to take your heavy down jacket or half your closet.

Down is definitely the way to go if you are in extreme temperatures but, in the past, it was bulky and heavy. Today’s down is lightweight but still keeps you warm. For the past few years, I’ve been using Mont-bell down products, and I haven’t had any problem staying warm during my winter adventures.

There are more high-end options out there but, for the price, they have some good gear. I’ve been impressed with the Mont-Bell Ultra-light inner down jacket and pants. They are the first things I put in my backpack on any multi-day winter adventure and even some day trips.

The jacket weighs in at just 200 grams and the pants are 190 grams. Both roll up to the size of a 350-ml. pet- bottle, and you wouldn’t think something so light would keep you so warm, but it does.

A few years back, I was at a winter outdoor leadership course in the Hidaka Mountains, one of the coldest places on Hokkaido. One night in mid-February, the temperature got down to -30 C. Nearly everyone on the course had a hard time that night, but I happily did not.

I wore a three-layer system; a thermal base layer, a mid-fleece layer and my outer shell. Once the sun went down and the temperature dropped, I put my lightweight down layer under my outer shell and was nice and toasty.

Most people were in their tents and sleeping bags fighting the sub-zero cold, while I was out enjoying the beautiful winter night sky. The inner down jacket and pants are exactly that, inner wear, but when I’m in a hut with temperatures around -15 C to -20 C, I can usually get away with only wearing the inner wear. Just be careful around sharp objects; one trade-off to ultra-light gear is it’s not very tough.

No question, keeping your feet warm in sub-zero temperatures is one of the hardest things to do. I use the Mont-bell Windstopper Down Foot Warmers (booties) and after a hike, I towel off the down and pour on some baby powder before putting on a dry pair of thick, woolen socks and the booties. One thing I like about the down foot warmers is you can wear them outside if necessary.

Finally, my Mont-bell Ultra-light Super Stretch Down Hugger Exp. sleeping bag hasn’t let me down yet. For a four-season bag, it’s lightweight (1,590 grams). One thing I’ve noticed is many people don’t cocoon themselves in their bags, then they complain they were cold or their bag wasn’t very good. In extreme temperatures, for any bag to work, you must cocoon yourself in and pull all the chords tight so there’s just a small hold for your face, keeping your body heat in.

I hope this helps you to stay warm during your winter adventures.

Word from the Pig