The following was posted on 11/29/2004 going into the winter months at Camp Sacajawea. It is being copied here, so it can be read in future months and years when winter rolls around again. This section was updated on 9/12/2006 with some additional information.
With winter now upon us (even if we have a few weeks until it’s official), and with Christmas right around the corner, now is a good time to think about your non-costuming clothing and your gear. For most KR folks, the most important thing is your clothes, since during the winter months only a few lone nuts sleep outside in the elements. But a good sleeping bag and pad will make your early spring and late fall events at Hickory Run much more comfortable and safe, and are worth looking into if your clothes are in order. When it comes to clothing and gear for the outdoors, the price tags can get quite high. However, the difference in the money you spend will be noticeable in everything you do, and worth the investment in the long run.
For clothing, you want some solid insulation to layer beneath your costume clothes, as well as warm socks to keep your toes attached to your feet.
To get you through the typical KR winter, I suggest a combination of a mid-weight bottom and a mid-weight and an expedition weight top. Make sure that all three are made from synthetic fabrics such as MTS, Polypro, or Capilene (my personal favorite), or from Merino Wool (a recent offering in this department of clothing from Patagonia). You’ll find that the ability to wear one or the other of your tops, or combining them in the worst conditions, will give you a great deal of flexibility in terms of managing your temperature. Although the bottoms are mid-weight, you’ll normally only want to wear them when it’s cold enough to be wearing the expedition weight top – this is due to the activity level at KR, which typically is such that if you’re outdoors, your legs are moving. The advantages of these clothes are many, but chief among them are their ability to wick moisture and keep your body dry, and the fact that they are incredibly light and flexible. You will not have to change out of these thermals, no matter how much you sweat, because they will rapidly dry in place, and continue to insulate effectively while wet. Mid-weight thermals are generally affordable, but an expedition weight can run you from $40 to $70 – hence why I suggest getting just one and wearing the hell out of it at each event.
As far as socks go, anything made of Merino wool is the way to go. Socks can be expensive, but warm, dry feet are a very happy feeling when it’s 20 degrees out and snowing. You can also get sock liners if you want, which are generally made of a moisture wicking polyester and help move sweat away from your feet faster than a wool sock can by itself. But don’t go layering socks much beyond that, if at all, since multiple pairs of socks can restrict the flow of blood to your feet, and that will make them colder rather than warmer. Good socks go for anywhere from $8 to $18 a pair. One tip I learned after making fast work of several pairs of wool socks is that when you launder them, turn them inside out. One year after learning this fact, I can attest that this makes a big difference, because for the first time in many Septembers I don't have to go out and buy new wool socks.
For sleeping bags and pads, a warm weather or three season bag is ideal for KR uses, and a pad is really only a plus at Hickory Run events.
Sleeping bags are principally divided into two types, synthetic and down, with down being the overall superior bags, but with synthetic offering a good value. For KR, a synthetic bag is probably the way to go, with a +35 or +40 rating, the rating being the lowest temperature in degrees Fahrenheit at which the average person is comfortable in the bag. If you frequently get cold at KR, then a bag with a +20 rating might be more your speed – though these bags can get mighty swampy in July and August. Generally you will find that there are few options at the higher ratings. But once you get down to +20 category and below, there are a multitude of bags available. Expect to pay between $60 and $200 for a good quality sleeping bag, depending mostly on the rating you’re looking for.
In the sleeping pads department, you have air mattresses at one end, and simple foam pads such as the Ridge Rest or Z-lite at the other end. The in-between options, such as the Therm-a- Rest line, are generally expensive, but if you like something easy to pack and setup, yet comfortable, they are worth the money. Generally, in cold weather, you should have a foam pad of some kind, even if you’re using an air mattress. At KR, however, we seldom encounter conditions where this would matter. During the winter months, we have the benefit of bunks with mattresses, and at Hickory Run the emphasis should be on comfort and ease of use, as the insulation qualities won’t matter. Foam pads and air mattresses both fall in the $20 neighborhood, with hybrid options like the Therm-a-Rest going anywhere from $50 to $200. I've tried all of them, and I can say that the foam pads are scarcely better than sleeping on the hardwood bunks and air mattresses are a pain to set up and prone to springing leaks. Therm-a-Rest or some of the new competing brands (REI has its own line now) is the way to go; the pack easily and small, they set up with minimal fuss, and they're comfortable.
Below is a link with some general advice from REI on all the above items and on other gear. There’s a lot more detail in these articles, but just bear in mind that KR has peculiar circumstances, as I’ve attempted to explain here, that you should consider when reading this advice. Not everything you read on REI will be 100% applicable to how you will wear or use the items at KR, in other words.
As far as where to buy, I’m a big fan of REI, but most of you are not as of yet blessed with having an REI store near you. EMS is generally a decent second, and beyond that there isn’t much out there that I’m aware of. You can shop REI online, and their outlet site (which is available from a tab at the top) has great deals on a lot of stuff, though usually in the most awkward of sizes. It’s worth keeping an eye on the outlet site, though, because I’ve scored some major bargains before, including my beloved Patagonia Synchilla thermal that I got for about $40 below regular. REI is also a co-op, meaning that REI is not a for-profit corporation. You can get the full details of becoming a member and what benefits that offers from their website. Also worth checking on is the Patagonia website (www.patagonia.com), which has an web specials section that often has some good bargains. Patagonia is the finest outdoor clothing you'll find, and scoring a good price on something from them is guaranteed to bring you much wintertime happiness.
- Matt White (Fogrom)