Staying Warm &VB Clothing-Longish
Robert Sheneman (rsheneman@PPPL.GOV)
Mon, 13 Nov 1995 11:38:31 -0500
Following the thread of cold weather clothing and staying warm, Paul Brown
and I have been conversing off-list about this topic. He was particularly
interested in vapor-barrier type clothing and my suggestion that he
experiment with different ideas before using them on a trip. At Paul's
suggestion, I'll share my $0.02 with the list. I've added some background
info. [in brackets] to help folks follow the conversation. This is by no
means the definitive word on vapor barrier clothing, keeping warm, etc.
I'd certainly like to hear what others have to say.
******************* Extracted Text *****************
I'm sure you've got a pretty good handle on winter camping, but my
experience comes from a number of years with backcountry skiing, ski
mountaineering, snow&ice climbing and other cold weather activities (my
hands and feet are still a little sensitive after a brush with frostbite).
I think what you're trying to achieve with plastic bags is the vapor
barrier effect. This is where a thin vapor-proof layer is placed near the
skin and insulative clothing is worn on top. The theory is that a) much
water and heat is lost through evaporation, and b)by reducing the
evaporation you reduce the heat loss. It works very very well in really
cold situations. The key, in my experience is to get the vapor barrier
close to the skin. I've used a thin polyolefin or polypropylene sock
inside the vapor barrier and then wear heavy wool socks outside. Be
careful of wrinkles in the bag as this can cause blisters. I'd experiment
a few times when out for the day before banking on anything too much for a
winter camping trip, and _always_ carry spare dry socks.
Also, much of the heat loss from your feet is through the sole of boots
that are too light (nothing different than your sleeping bag situation).
Finally, be very careful not to make to boots too tight, you need all the
circulation you can get down there when the mercury plunges.
BTW, I think a vapor barrier system also works very well for sleeping in
extremely cold weather.
******************* Follow-up Message *****************
I've tested various clothing options when shoveling snow, walking the dog,
sledding with the kids, or otherwise close to home in a cold setting. Day
trips are also good time to try something new. This enables me to
fine-tune the layering without risking myself on a backcountry trip with
unfamiliar gear. Your proposed approach sounds okay to me [....as an
experiment I might try a latex glove on one hand under my mittens and a
plastic bag on one foot under my sox and see if I notice a difference...].
I've not used latex gloves myself, so can't really tell you from direct
experience. The use of thin liner socks helps to avoid the feeling that
your feet are swimming in sweat.
I think my vapor barrier socks came from Campmor or maybe REI. They're
very thin neoprene rubber with a fairly comfortable fleece lining. They
fit snugly so I don't have to worry about blisters. Again, I caution
against trying to cram extra socks (even VB type) into boots that are too
tight. My winter boots have a felt liner (I always carry spares so they
can be changed out when wet). Ski boots, etc. are sized to fit over the
appropriate socks. My cold weather clothing system consists of synthetic
long underwear (weight varies w/ expected activity level, temps, etc.),
fleece or pile mid layers (vest, jacket, and pants, all w/ vent zippers),
and Gore-Tex top layer (wind/water protection). I've moved to the
synthetics because of their performance to weight ratio. They also dry
quicker (NOT NEAR THE FIRE!) and keep you warm even if wet. Rather than VB
gloves, I usually wear thin thermax or polypro gloves, then either wool or
fleece mittens, and some sort of outer shell mitten (Gore-Tex or similar).
This gives flexibility in the layering and dexterity as required (try
working a camera or surveying instrument with big mitts on). I recognize
that this type of outfit is pricey, but I think you can assemble a similar
outfit without spending a fortune. It's really a matter of what your needs
and budget are
The sleeping bag liner is thin coated nylon. It's made by North Face and
fits inside my mummy bag (700 fill goose down with a Gore-Tex outer layer).
The theory here is to protect the down insulation from vapor on both the
inside and outside and to allow any moisture that does get in to evaporate
through the Gore-Tex (driven by the temp. differential). Needless to say,
this arrangement is not on the cheap, nor is it appropriate for everyone
(probably overkill for most folks, but vital in a snow cave or
high-altitude bivouac). It is really warm and about as lightweight as I
could make it for the temps encountered. I wear thermax long undies and a
good thermax hat to sleep in. If it's really cold I'll include the fleece
pants and vest, but the danger is that they become too wet to wear the next
day. I take the gloves in with me too, but most other clothing will go
under the bag. I use both a ThermaRest and a thin closed cell pad beneath
my bag if its really cold (also more comfortable on tired bones). We also
keep smaller pieces of closed cell foam to sit on, put the stove on, etc.
To tell the truth, I also have a synthetic fill bag which gets a good bit
of use, because the system described above is too warm for some trips (even
in "winter"). I've tried a number of different systems and found the VB
liner best in really cold weather (single digits and below), and a good
synthetic fill bag better in moderately cold temps. I don't really have a
good explanation for this, but I suspect it's because I end up feeling too
"clammy" in the VB liner when it's warmer. No good idea why.
I tend to agree with much of what was posted about staying warm (especially
NOT sending a kid back to bed without determining the situation and getting
him stabilized first), taking a leak just before bed, and having
water/snack readily available. I often store water bottles inside my bag
(double ziplocked), because when you've got to melt snow and fuel is
scarce, you don't want to waste any. I use white gas exclusively during
backcountry trips, especially in cold weather, and only have a propane
stove for "car camping." I think one of the biggest dangers with sending
the kid back to bed is turning him off from winter trips all together. As
a young scout I spent some very cold miserable nights feeling sorry for
myself before getting it together with the help of a great ASM. He showed
interest in me, and that made a big difference in my entire scouting
BTW, I like Jim Sleezer's post about educating the parents (and boys) at a
fall meeting so they can be better prepared for cold-weather trips. We
used to do those kinds of pre-trip demos and give handouts for many kinds
of trips (backpacking, caving, canoeing, ski touring, rock climbing, etc.),
a practice that I took with me when president of my college Outing Club. I
think it's all part of Being Prepared.
Let me know if I can share more...sorry about the length, but I hope it
Yours in Scouting,
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City