If like me you're on a tight budget, and can't afford the luxury of different sets of camping gear for the different seasons, it's worth evaluating if you can layer your gear to make it work for summer and winter.
We are all different. We all have different tolerances to cold. Some sleep hot, some sleep cold. I seem to waver between both.
I wanted to do two things with my summer bikepacking gear, before venturing on a snowy hike and overnight snowy camp:
1) Was to see if I could fit it all in my Exped Lightening 60 liter Backpack, along with my snowshoes and snowfeet
2) Was to see how my summer camping gear fared in the snow
The results of this can be seen in this video
Here's what I did to carry out the test
It took three visits to the mountains to achieve my test snow camp. The first visit was to see how the land lies at Mount Buffalo, there was plenty of snow at Lake Catani on my visit, so I had planned my first snow camp to be there, alas, it wasn't possible in the subsequent weeks as the snow had melted. My second recce was to JB Plain, where there was plenty of snow, two weeks later there was still plenty of snow, so my third trip was my first snow camp.
The Answers - Part 1
The answer to question 1 was yes, it's a bit tight but yes I could get away with using my existing backpack, along with using a bumbag or similar to carry my electronics. I only had 1 day's food supply, so I need to be a bit more creative when packing!
What I packed for my Snowvernighter
Extra clothes; fleece, merino wool T shirt, woolly hat and buff
Hiking umbrella (leave out next time, I didn't need it)
Food and water, spoon, cooking pot, stove and gas, collapsible cup
Head torch and additional light
GoPro spare mounts and lightweight tripod
Tent, ground sheet, air bed, pillow, quilt, foam roll-up mat
Snowshoes and Snowfeet
The Answers - Part 2
I survived the night! but I was cold. I have no accurate data on the temperature outside that night, but in the village of Dinner Plain it was to be -5°C with feels like -10°C. Being a little higher and more exposed I think these would be the warmest temperatures I would have seen that night.
The cold transferring from the snow through the multiple layers of the groundsheet, tent floor, foam sleeping mat onto my blow-up sleeping mat was much more than I thought it would be. I was icy cold! I used my thin rain coat as an extra cover, and used my towel to lay on my blow-up sleeping mat as an extra barrier from the cold.
I had on underwear, a vest top, merino wool T-shirt, a fleece and a hooded down jacket, a synthetic beanie hat and a woolly bobble hat, thick ski socks, two pairs of leg warmers on my feet and ankles, long johns and insulated snowboard pants. I was inside a cotton sleeping bag liner with my quilt wrapped around me.
Looking at the R-value of my mat, it's not high enough for me in the snow, I think I need something like a minimum of a 6 I don't strap my quilt to my mat, I don't like it like that, I like to wrap it around me, if I had the dough I'd get a lightweight higher rated sleeping bag for snow camping. I've had a look online and here in Australia they are very expensive, so I've decided I will layer my gear to give the R-value I need. One thing that is strange is that the season rating for my quilt is 2.5, so I'm unsure how that sits with the comfort/Lower limit rating?
My sleep system ratings
Big Agnes Aircore Ultra Insulated Wide sleeping mat on foam mat R-value of 4.5
Sea to Summit Ember EBIII quilt rated -4ºC for comfort and -10°C Lower Limit with a season rating of 2.5 which I find a bit of a mystery!
Layering Action Plan
Get rid of the cheap foam roll, I've no idea of the R value of this but I'm sure it's negligible, perhaps 1 maximum.
Buy a Thermarest Z-Lite closed cell foam mat, with an R-value of 2.5, I'm sure it will increase my total R-value by at least 1 (approx. $90 AUD)
Use my cotton sleeping bag liner as a 'fitted sheet' for my Big Agnes sleeping pad, thus giving me two more layers of insulation from the cold, must be worth part of an R-value!
Buy a Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner this is said to increase sleeping bag warmth by a maximum of 15ºC (approx. $105 AUD)
Leaving behind the cruelty of down equipment
As I replace equipment I plan to move away from using down products, technology is progressing in this area, with much better pack-down-ability of synthetic insulation.
It wasn't until the last hour that my feel became cold, perhaps I will get some sort of sleeping booties
A suggestion was made to me was to fill a Nalgene bottle with hot water to use as a hot water bottle, trouble is they are heavy and I don't use one for water, perhaps there's a light weight solution around?
My quilt isn't very insulated on the body section, my torso was cold, perhaps I need to take a better solution for a fleece?
All these things are adding weight to my load and taking up space in my backpack, I will have to be inventive!
Until I can get out again in the snow, I don't know if my layering solution will work but considering I wasn't so cold that I retreated to my car, any improvement is going to help make a more comfortable night. Spending just over $200 AUD I hope is going to be worth it. A higher rated mat and sleeping bag would cost me at least $1000 AUD!
I'll keep you posted!
Sleeping Mat Rating - R-value
R-Values are an insulating material's resistance to conducting heat flow. You will find R-values listed for most sleeping mats.
It's important to note that R-values stack up i.e. a pads of 2.4 R-value will give you 4.8 R-value, so very handy!
Sleeping Bag and Quilt Ratings - International Standards
Your sleeping bag or quilt are likely to be listed with up to three ratings conforming to one of the international standards:
It also may be allocated a season rating.
Tent - Ratings
It's trickier to select a tent, there are a couple of ratings but there are lots of other considerations when selecting one. If I was on the market for another tent, I'd do my research within my budget range, then scour YouTube and Internet for reviews on that particular tent.
Ratings include Hydrostatic Head (HH) which is a guide to how waterproof the materials is. But that doesn't mean it won't leak at the seams and zips, so it's very important to read reviews
Season rating - often a tent will be categorized by which season(s) it's best used for, such as three season which will be good from mid-spring to mid-Autumn.
Things to consider when buying a tent:
How many people it's to accommodate
The seasons it's to be used in
Do you want a free standing tent
Do you want to use trekking poles to hold it up
Read lots of reviews!
Unfortunately, when I returned to JB Plain to test my new equipment, as listed here, the temperature was considerable warmer. Therefore any test was invalid. I was warmer, but not as warm as I thought I'd be. I used a different tent, the weather was not only warmer but much damper, the snow was very wet, and I used a tarp overhead as it was raining. You can see a video of my return to JB Plain here