Winter Gear That Matter

The summer is around the corner,  but it’s time to look back at the Svalbard winter expedition for one final time. The focus is now on the gear I used during the trip.

On my final equipment list for the Svalbard expedition, I had 126 items. Some of the list’s items, which belonged to the category unnecessary, I removed during the planning phase. The removed items were most spare clothes and spare equipment. The rest of the equipment on the list was more or less important or necessary. Some equipment belonged to the category comfort, but those equipment contributes greatly to how you enjoy the journey.

You can download my equipment list for the Svalbard 2016 expedition:
Svalbard2016 GEAR (PDF)

Below I have listed the top 5 equipment that I experienced that contributed to how comfortable and successful the journey was. I would absolutely take with me these equipment again on a similar winter expedition.

Top 5 Winter Expedition Equipment:

1. Inflatable Mattress – Thermarest NeoAir All Season

A month before the Svalbard expedition, I did a short winter tour in Koli National Park. It was the first real winter test for my Thermarest NeoAir All Season mattress. I had used it several times in the summer, autumn and spring, but never in the winter. It was under that trip I concluded that it’s a thousand times more comfortable than a foam mattress and I was really rested in the morning. On Vatnajökull, for example, I slept directly on my Thermarest Ridgerest Solar foam mattress, and I remember that my arm got numb every night and my back hurt in the morning. It was easy to take the decision to bring the mattress to Svalbard. I like the mattress because it’s light, warm, comfortable and when deflated it doesn’t take much space. In the winter it is not good to inflate the mattress by blowing, because the moisture is collected inside the mattress and then freezes. Therefore I have a small battery powered electrical pump to the mattress, but to Svalbard I borrowed a pump sack from a friend, because the electrical pump is not so efficient. The pump sack worked great after you got used to it after couple of days. Under the NeoAir I had the Ridgerest foam mattress, just for safety’s sake, if the NeoAir would have gone flat.

2. Vapour Barrier Socks – Rab VB Socks

First some information about VB socks. The idea is to dress a pair of liners on your feet as base layer, on top of those these waterproof VB socks, and outside of those a pair of thick and warm ski socks, and of course the ski boots on top of that. In this way the moisture will not get through from the feet to the warm socks and boots, and that prevents freezing condensation and they hold heat better. These Rab VB Socks was the equipment that I was most skeptical about, but because the socks weighed almost nothing, I decided to take them with me. I had heard very good reviews about them, but I hadn’t had time to test them properly before departure. Once we set of skiing on Svalbard I decided to give them a try, and I was really, really surprised how well they worked. I was worried that the socks would cause chafing or blisters, but in the end I think they prevented that. Under the whole trip I got only a few small blisters under my big toes and a small blister on one of my heel. With some sports tape I easily fixed those problems. The ski boots and the thick ski socks were dry throughout the whole expedition.

3. Ski boots – Crispi Stetind GTX

Last year, during the expedition on Vatnajökull, I had a pair of ski boots (Alpina BC 1550) that weren’t so good. Actually they were horrible. I got some nasty blisters on my feet, which affected negatively my skiing. They weren’t waterproof at all, so I had soaking wet boots throughout the whole trip, except for couple of days I dried them directly over the cooking stove. In the early winter I bought a new pair of ski boots, Crispi Stetind GTX. I was first worried that I wouldn’t have time to break them in, but I had time to make a few ski trips with the boots before the expedition. In most of my shoes and boots I use custom made insoles, because it’s really difficult for me to find shoes that fits my feet. For some reason the insoles in the Stetind boots fit perfectly my feet, and they were really comfort. The boots are very steady and sturdy, but enough soft for skiing. The thing I like most is that they are waterproof! If you like to go uphill with crampons, the Black Diamond Contact Strap fits perfectly on these boots.

4. Devold Merino

Under a winter expedition you don’t change your clothes so often. Therefore you have to wear really comfortable clothes, especially for the base layer. I haven’t tried many brands of merino wool garments, but I have been really satisfied with the Devold Expedition brand. On Svalbard we changed our base layers once, except for our underwear that we changed more often.

5. Durable spoon – Sea To Summit Alpha Long Spoon

The Sea To Summit Alpha Long Spoon is the best spoon when you are eating directly from freeze dried food bags. Because of the length of the spoon, it is easy to get all the way to the bottom of the bag. One more thing is that it’s really durable. I hadn’t thought much about this feature, but in harsh expedition conditions it’s proved to be an important feature. To Svalbard I had with me one Alpha Long Spoon and two Light My Fire Sporks. I use Sporks when eating in the tent. Both of my Sporks broke into two pieces. The total amount of broken Sporks in our three person tent, during our expedition, was four! Well, the cold temperature and the frozen food may have had something to do with the breakage of the Sporks, but now I understand why some spoons are made from strong aircraft aluminum alloy. Maybe I will til the next expedition get a Spork Titanium? The cons of the aluminum or titanium spoon is that it’s not Teflon friendly.

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The Alpha Long Spoon compared to the two broken Sporks.

 

If you are interested in the winter clothing, I have written a separate blog post about Layers For the Cold.

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Layers For The Cold

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Here are some tips on how to dress for cold weather. It is the layer on layer method that I have applied. I take into account clothes that I have experience of and that I think has worked well in cold weather. I have divided the subject into four main topics:

1) base layer,
2) mid layer,
3) outer shell layer (including accessories)
and
4) the outer insulation layer.

Below you’ll find detailed explanations and photos about the different layers.

1) Base layer

The idea of the base layer is to keep you warm and dry. Therefore I use merino wool underwear. The merino wool absorbs moisture without feeling wet on you. Merino has also antibacterial properties, resulting in reduced body odor, so you can wear the garments for multiple days in a row. For winter conditions I use a relatively thick base layer: The Devold Expedition two-layer wool underwear. I like the zip neck model so you can ventilate more easily if it gets too hot. I also use merino on my feet. In the picture I have Lorpen’s Merino Liners as base layer.

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2) Mid layer

The mid layer is usually made from fleece or wool. The layer works like an insulation layer. The idea is to keep the warm air close to your body. It’s good if the clothes have a tight fit, because it prevents the air from escaping from your body. I use a Tierra jacket and trousers made from Polartec® fleece material which are great for this purpose. On my feet I have Bridgedale Summit socks, that are designed for cold environments and they are mostly made of wool.

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Continue reading “Layers For The Cold”

DIY Pack Pouch

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Voilà! Here’s the final product: A box shaped pouch (medium size), so you can keep better track on your stuff in your backpack.

To pack things right when you are hiking or tour skiing, is completely a science of it own. Especially when you are going on a tour with a backpack on your back, it is good to think about how and in what you pack your stuff. You should have good order in your backpack to avoid going crazy trying to find something you do not know right where you’ve packed it. Waterproof pack bags with roll closures are good, but it’s hard to keep track of things in the bags, especially when the bags often tend to have small openings. It often happens that you have to empty the entire bag to find something, for example a headlamp. To keep a little better track of the smaller things I have come up to the following solution: Smaller things can be packed in box shaped pouches, that are sewn from a thin, lightweight fabric and has a long zipper, so you can see what you have in the bags without emptying them. I’m not a pro at sewing, so you can try this project safely!

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The box shape will keep your stuff in place, and you can easily access all the stuff without emptying the whole pouch. This is the large version.

I purchased the fabric from Eurokangas in Tapiola. They had a big box full of different kinds of outdoor fabrics, so I had lots of options. I chose the fabric that seemed lightest but yet strong. From the same shop I got also the zippers.

Note: Depending on the fabric it can become more or less difficult or easy to do this project. I tested first with a fabric that had a plastic layer on one side, but it caused problems because the sewing machine did not pick up the lower thread, and therefore sewed empty. I tested with many different settings, needles and threads, but I did not get it to work. I do not know if the reason for this was the sewing machine or the fabric, or perhaps the  sewer’s lack of experience…. With an other fabric, without the plastic layer, it worked just fine. You can use which measurements for the pouches that you want, but here’s the measurements I have used for the fabric:

Small:  32 cm x 19 cm    Medium: 42 cm x 26 cm    Large: 60 cm x 40 cm
The zipper has to be at least as long as the shorter side of the fabric.

Here are the steps and pictures for the project:

Continue reading “DIY Pack Pouch”

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger

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Do you travel to areas where there is poor cell phone coverage? Have you thought how you in an emergency get help to those places, without any reception? Well, here is one option for you: SPOT.

You can get a SPOT for under 200€, but you also need a trace service to get your SPOT to work optimally, which costs around 100 € per year. You can get the older SPOT model less expensive, eg Marinekauppa.com sells the older model for 99 €.

Continue reading “SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger”

Bergans Trollhetta 3

A NEW UPDATE! Scroll down. (10.5.2016)

Scroll down for a an update on the review (1.3.2016)


6.11.2015

I bought a new tent! At first I had difficulties to choose which tent I was going to buy. I’ve had my Jack Wolfskin Eclipse II dome tent for several years, and I have actually been quite satisfied with it. The biggest issue has been the weight. It’s quite a small tent but weights up to almost 4 kg! It´s the poles that have the most weight, because they are heavy glass fiber poles with rubber coating. On the last trip to UKK it also made clear that the tent isn´t so good in any wind.

So, I wanted following features in my new tent: 1) lighter than 4 kg, 2) wind proof, 3) roomier, 4) the feature that the rain fly is attached to the inner tent when pitching the tent, so the tent keeps dry when pitching in rainy weather.

I first looked at some models of Hilleberg tents, but sadly my economy didn’t give in. At the XXL store they have Helsport tents, quite similar to Hilleberg models, but a little bit cheaper. I actually for a long time considered buying a Helsport tunnel tent. Then I found the Bergans Trollhetta 3 tunneltent at the same store. It was half the price of a Helsport tent, weight around 3 kg, the vestibule was roomie and the tent was made for three persons! At first I was a little bit skeptical because the tent was cheap compared to other tents, but I thought I would give it a try. It was at first difficult to find any information and reviews about the tent, but then I discovered that the tent model is called Bergans Rondane 3 in the U.S. and in some other countries. The previous model for the tent was called Bergans Compact Light 3, and it’s quite similar to the new one. I found some good reviews about the tent, and it was clear that the tent also was wind proof.

Bergans Trollhetta 3
http://www.bergans.com

I think that the three-person tent is perfect for two persons, because on long trips it´s nice to have that extra room when sleeping and spending time in camps in the evenings. And of course it´s nice with a bigger vestibule so you have a bigger shelter when you cook and a roomie place to store your equipment over the night.

More specs and opinions about the tent come later when I have had time to pitch it for the first time.


UPDATE 1.3.2016:

The Bergans Trollhetta 3 tent was with us to Koli on a winter adventure. Here’s a quick review:

It was easy to set up, and with snow pegs in the short ends, we got the tent firmly standing on snow. When we pitched the tent the temperature was 0°C or warmer, and the snow was pretty loose. During the night it had snowed and the tent had a a layer of wet snow in the morning and also the rain fly had become looser. We got the tent tight by tightening the guy lines. Inner tent hung still a lot, and it was hard to get tense.

In the evening the temperature had dropped to below freezing, and when we tightned guy lines for the night I noticed that the loop that the guy line runs through had frozen solid so that half of the guy rope became loose (see picture). The tent was held tense until the morning because the loop was still frozen, but if the weather would have become warmer the rope would have dissolved and the tent would have lagged together.

As previously mentioned, I’m super happy that I chose the three-person tent, because it is really crowded for three persons, but perfect for two. But if you have all your stuff in the big vestibule, there is enough room for three persons. In the foot end, there is not much space, either sideways or upwards, so here you easily kick the inner tent against the rain fly. If you’re tall, the length of the tent can be a problem. If it’s snowing, the heavy snow can push the rainfly against the innertent, and your feet cam accidentally push the innertent against the rainfly.

We had both of the ventilation open when we slept, and in the morning there was only a little frosty condensation on the inside of the tent. So in winter conditions the tent’s ventilation works apparently fine. In the summer the dark color of the tent can cause it to be too hot in the tent during calm weathers if the sun shines directly on the tent.

Read also the comment section below.


UPDATE 1o.5.2016:

Here is a new update of the tent. This time the tent’s fabric is in focus. I pitched the tent on a hot day and the tent looked perfect. The fabric was tense and there were no folds or loose facric. It was over 20°C and the sun shone straight on the tent. Inside the tent it was even warmer. A little too hot. Although I had all the vents open and the door open, it felt as if the air was kept really still in the tent, although there was a slight breeze outside. So this is not a cool summer tent, mostly because of the dark tent fabric.

In the evening, when the sun went down and the humidity rose, the tent began sagging together. In the pictures you can compare how the canvas reacts. Now this is just the difference between day and evening. At the night it was even more loose. I also wonder how the canvas then reacts in rainy weather if the fabric stretches this much only of relative humidity.

Project: Aluminium box

Project Aluminium box began when I few weeks ago hatched out of me the following: ” How hard can it be to a build a box for two burners?”. You can by boxes that are made specially for this purpose, but they costs nearly 150 €! Sure, it also would be possible to rent a box for the trip. Dad promised nevertheless to help with the construction. He did not know for sure what he had settled in on. So the project started! The result, which was better than expected, you can see below. Somethings is yet to be fixed, so it is not completely finished.


Photo additions to the post: This is how the finished product looked like:

 

MSR XGK EX

A Trangia  with gas works great when the temperature is above freezing, but causes problems immediately when it gets colder. Nowadays you can find wintergas, but I’m not convinced that it would work flawlessly in tens of degrees below zero. Now I have in front of me a multifuel burner: the MSR XGK EX, which actually works with which liquid fuel whatsoever – everything from automotive gasoline to jet fuel. I use Neste’s 4T -petrol, which you can buy in 5l canisters, for example from K-Rauta. It’s much cheaper than the “real” fuel that you can purchase from outdoor stores. The idea is that you can travel around the world and get the burners to work with the fuel that is available in that area you are in. XGK is in all temperatures reliable, and it’s not called in vain for the world’s most reliable outdoor kitchen. Earplugs can probably still be in place, especially if you’re going for hours to sit next to the kitchen in a small space; the burner sounds like a jet engine! It’s difficult to cook food that need less heat during cooking, because the burner has no fine adjustment of the flame, it works with the principle on/off. For melting snow this is no problem!

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In order to have the kitchen in the tent (Yes, I know it is against all tent manufacturers’ advice …), it’s good to have a box to keep the burners in. In the box, made of aluminum, the burner with fuel bottle, and the necessary pots take place. If the kitchen for some reason could flare up, you can close the lid and throw out the entire package in the snow. Most boxes have space for two burners and fuel bottles. When one is in use for melting snow, you can use the second to warm up and dry up the tent. So yes, it is possible to get things dry in the tent. For safety’s sake you should only take your sleeping bags in the tent when you have switched off the burners. At night it becomes cold, but a good sleeping bag can handle it well. I started today to plan an aluminum box for two burners. I have now the measurements done, so will see if it gets to produce one.

The Paris Pulk Sled

A Fjellpulken fiberglass sled costs nearly 1000 €, but you can get a sled much cheaper than that. EraPro Paris Expedition is a plastic sled which works well for some purposes, and you can buy one for under 60 €. You can find them for example at Varuste.net. In Sarek, I pulled around one, with Fjellpulkens parallel drag, and it was perhaps not the most optimal in mountain conditions. For glacier skiing it should be perfect, because you mainly ski on a flat surface. I got an own Paris sled which I have equipped with rope drag. I have drilled some holes in the sled, and attached a rubber band for holding the load in the sled. To get the luggage in shelter, I have a big bag that is as long and wide as the sled (Snowsled Expedition Bag). As harness I use the basic Fjellpulken harness, which I have equipped with a chest strap.

Arctic expeditions often uses tunnel tents, because the shape can handle the wind and the tents are easy to roll up into a large roll that is attached on the sled. Today i attached straps on my sled, which can be used just for this purpose. The straps also keeps the stuff in the sled steadier in place. Bauhaus had 25 mm straps and fitting clips for the purpose. The result below: