“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing” – Sir Ranulph Fiennes
I have been doing a little research on winter camping and biking. I have read a few blogs and watched a few YouTube videos. Full disclosure I have never winter camped a day in my life and I actually am pretty sure I have an allergy to cold weather. Anyways, the recommendation about anything in life is never follow the advice from someone who has never successfully followed their own advice and/or speaks from personal experience. That being said; what I am actually attempting to do here is to gather my own personal notes together in an attempt to have a place of reference for myself to go to. If any of my research is helpful to others or any of my research needs some public critiquing then I have created a place for that here.
I have limited winter biking experience. I use to bike back and forth between home in Hamilton ON and work in Burlington ON (about 22 km’s one way) all year round including winter for the last 6 years. At the time it was pretty simple logic. If I can’t bike between Hamilton and Burlington in the winter then I might have a problem biking across the Andes some day. At the time crossing Canada by bike during the winter was not on my radar.
This blog post is not meant to be an exhaustive resource on winter camping or winter biking by any means. I have simply taken a few notes down for reference and am sharing my research. Obviously during my winter ride I will expand on my notes and experiences.
1) Layer up. Ideally three layers; a base layer made up of a wicking material such as merino wool or some form of synthetic material. Bottom line you want to be able to pull moisture (sweat) from your body. In the winter the worst thing that can happen is excessive sweating; which can very quickly lead to hypothermia. So use a base layer, mid layer and outer layer. As you cool down or warm up you add or shed a layer. Don’t wear cotton.
2) Vent moisture. In the interest of preventing excessive sweating do your best to be able to vent any moisture from windproof outer layers. So ensure that your windproof outer layer has plentiful venting options, including a full-length front zip, armpit/leg zips and adjustable cuffs.
3) Drop your pace and control exertion. This is a little bit repetitive regarding the avoid sweating at all cost advice. But unlike the specific instructions how to prevent sweating, drop your pace and controlling your exertion should probably be a mantra that you remind yourself many times an hour to do. You don’t need to remind yourself to layer up or vent moisture no differently then you need to remind yourself to put socks on in the morning. But when you are pedaling for hours and hours this is important to remind yourself of this advice many times an hour.
4) Protect extremities. Keep your hands, feet and face warm at all costs. Once they are frozen it can be difficult to warm up in the middle of nowhere and these are the parts of the body that get hit with frostbite the quickest.
5) Don’t stop (for long). Fairly self explanatory but a good reminder to help maintain a constant temperature and not go from warm to cold unnecessarily.
6) Protect your eyes. Snow has that brightness factor that can cause snow blindness. Protect your eyes appropriately with wraparound sunglasses with UVA/UVB filtered lenses. Some advice I recently received is make sure that your sunglasses fit close to your face to prevent sun light from getting in. (Reflecting up into your eyes). I also plan on getting a pair of ski goggles. The ski goggle advice I got was not to spend less than $130 on ski goggles. Cheap goggles will be very uncomfortable for all day riding and they won’t vent condensation properly.
7) Get Fueled Up. Your body will burn more calories to keep your core warm, as well to keep your legs pedaling. If you can keep snacks in an inside pocket so they don’t harden or freeze all the better.
8) Notes on water. And keep hydrated. Fill up water bottles whenever possible from a tap. Melting snow is a lot more work and time consuming than one realizes. Thermal wrap your water bottles if possible. Store water bottles upside down as water freezes from the top down, and by stowing bottles upside down the bottle tops are less likely to freeze shut. Don’t fill water bottles to the very top; allow some room for the ice to expand. Just make sure your bottle lids are screwed on correctly and won’t leak. Possibly store water bottles in snow drifts to utilize the snows insulating properties. This will prevent (or substantially reduce) freezing.
I think for the winter ride I will travel with my camel pack also and keep it under my winter clothing to keep the water from freezing. I am not sure if this will work the way I hope it will and may abandon this idea if it does not work. On a side note it was brought to my attention that the hose that you access the water from via the mouth piece will freeze pretty quickly.
8) Winterize your bike. Clean and lube your drive train after every ride. Use a synthetic winter lubricant/degreaser. Make sure cables are well-sealed and uncontaminated. You don’t want brake cables freezing up on icy roads. Drop your tire pressure a little for better traction in snow, slush or on wet roads
9) Notes on Winter Camping. Assorted notes and suggestion that I came across. I will test many things out to determine what works and what does not.
Fluff up and shake air into sleeping bag. This helps trap more warm air inside and increases the barrier between the person inside the sleeping bag and the cold air outside. Protect down sleeping bags in particular from getting wet at all costs. Avoid breathing into the sleeping bag while sleeping. Avoid no matter how tempting as it introduces moisture into the sleeping bag and down doesn’t work when it’s damp. For the same reason, squash all the air out of your bag as soon as you get up in the morning in order to expel body moisture. I plan to experiment sleeping with a winter face mask on in attempt to keep my face warm.
Dry out your sleeping bag every chance you get such as at hostels or if you are invited into someone’s home for the evening or night.
Take a 15 minute walk before getting in the sleeping bag to help warm up.
Place a lighted tea light candle into your shoes or some fire-proof base in the middle of the tent or put it into a glass Jar/Mason Jar with an open top. This can double up as a hand warmer. This is controversial advice as fire and tents don’t mix very well.
Keep a dedicated pee bottle in the tent with you.
Bring a small sponge to mop up condensation/melting snow. Helps keeps tent walls and your sleeping bag dry. I actually purchased one of those folding wash sinks for my boots so my boots can stay in the tent with me verse out in the cold. The purpose of the sink is too catch any snow or melting water from the treads of my boots.
Newspaper can be used dry out wet shoes or boots or gloves. Just stuff the wet object with newspapers and let it sit overnight in your tent. The paper will draw out a large amounts, if not all of the excess moisture.
Compact and pack down snow for tent site and if possible let snow settle and refreeze for 1/2 hour.
Fill water bottle with hot water to preheat sleeping bag and sleep with bottle between legs.
Use a separate set of clothing for sleeping. Sleep in fresh clean clothes.
Position your tent where the sun will rise. A spot that offers exposure to sunrise will help you warm up faster.
It’s pointless bedding down if you’re already freezing. Crawling into your sleeping bag cold is a sure way to shiver all night long. Do 50 jumping jacks. Go to bed warm. Go to bed after eating.
By emptying your bladder, your body needs to use a little less energy to stay warm
Winter nights are long, so make sure your headlamp, GPS and cell phone batteries are new or fully charged. Lithium batteries perform well in cold weather.