Snow Camping = Frozen Face?

Miya

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I am calling upon all those who have snow camped or backpacked for your much appreciated opinions and expertise!

I finally got out and did my first snow camping trip! It has been a goal for the last two years. Since I purchased my Katabatic sleeping bag last year, I felt prepared.

I had an amazing time and cannot wait to go again! However, I don't know anything about snow...hiking in snow, falling in snow, playing in snow. Snow eludes me.

The second night that I was out was supposed to drop to 17 degrees, but also had unexpected record winds. I woke up with ice around my balaclava and neck of my quilt. I was waking up hating the moisture from my breath dampening these things and so I wasn't surprised that everything was frozen in the morning. I was just curious if this is preventable or just normal and should forever be expected?

I tried covering my mouth and nose with my balaclava, but uuuugh, hate the moisture.

Thanks in advance for your wisdom!
 

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Ugly

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I am usually a smartA but not wise...

I love my winter trips.

Condensation and water are normal and one of the main enemies in snow camping. You breathe out something like 1L of water during the night (I lose an extra liter drooling). Cold, dense air also has less energy so water condenses more quickly. So if the air is moist where you are, then you get even more condensation that then freezes or drips or even snows inside the tent. Some nights in the same location I have had zero condensation where previously it had been a problem. It just depends on the conditions.
Tent walls, outer sleeping bag, beards, buffs, etc will freeze up. How much they freeze up will depend on how much moisture is in the air. Breathing into a buff will keep your face warm and some moisture in and is much better than breathing into your sleeping bag.

Volume and Ventilation matter, so even though you will want to fully batter down the hatches and close the vents- and you may have to close them down if it is blizzard and blowing snow- you should keep the air flowing. You do not want those record setting winds just blowing through the tent, but if you open a vent the opposite side (aka leeward side) of the wind, then air will be pulled out by some aerodynamic mumbo jumbo effect that I cannot remember the name. You can do this by pitching one door opposite the wind and opening the door slightly for example, or opening a vent on the leeward side. This may also include opening the mesh of a double walled tent a little to pull out the damp air as the mesh remarkably cuts down airflow.

Another thing you can do is take your shoes/boots, put them in a cheap plastic bag- like a bread bag, then you can either put them in the foot of your sleeping bag (uncomfortable but will keep them from freezing), or I put them between my sleeping bag and my pad- laying on their sides heel to toe so they make a flattish square, and that way they freeze a little less. I am picky with who is inside my bag sleeping with me and usually it is just my camera, phone and puffy. You can use the puffy for example on your hips if they get cold when sleeping on your side, or down over your legs, etc.

Of course, here is where you can cheat. Managing condensation matters most if you are doing more than one night. If you are doing an overnight only, enjoy the night, care a little bit less about a little condensation, stuff everything back into the backpack or car, and go home and dry it out.
If you are doing a few days out, then a VBL can become your friend, as can a little sunshine to dry out the sleeping bag.
 

Jackson

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Okay I give. What’s a VBL?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
My guess is that it's something along the lines of vapor barrier liner. Basically a large plastic bag that fits inside your sleeping bag. It serves as a moisture barrier between you and the sleeping bag to keep the sleeping bag from getting wet from perspiration and breathing overnight.
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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Here's a recent picture posted by Mike Horn showing one. He and another guy recently completed a trek across the Arctic, and I followed along on Instagram. Looked frigid and almost always dark. Crazy undertaking.
86592
 

Miya

Because I am able.
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Joined
Dec 31, 2017
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1,181
I am usually a smartA but not wise...

I love my winter trips.

Condensation and water are normal and one of the main enemies in snow camping. You breathe out something like 1L of water during the night (I lose an extra liter drooling). Cold, dense air also has less energy so water condenses more quickly. So if the air is moist where you are, then you get even more condensation that then freezes or drips or even snows inside the tent. Some nights in the same location I have had zero condensation where previously it had been a problem. It just depends on the conditions.
Tent walls, outer sleeping bag, beards, buffs, etc will freeze up. How much they freeze up will depend on how much moisture is in the air. Breathing into a buff will keep your face warm and some moisture in and is much better than breathing into your sleeping bag.

Volume and Ventilation matter, so even though you will want to fully batter down the hatches and close the vents- and you may have to close them down if it is blizzard and blowing snow- you should keep the air flowing. You do not want those record setting winds just blowing through the tent, but if you open a vent the opposite side (aka leeward side) of the wind, then air will be pulled out by some aerodynamic mumbo jumbo effect that I cannot remember the name. You can do this by pitching one door opposite the wind and opening the door slightly for example, or opening a vent on the leeward side. This may also include opening the mesh of a double walled tent a little to pull out the damp air as the mesh remarkably cuts down airflow.

Another thing you can do is take your shoes/boots, put them in a cheap plastic bag- like a bread bag, then you can either put them in the foot of your sleeping bag (uncomfortable but will keep them from freezing), or I put them between my sleeping bag and my pad- laying on their sides heel to toe so they make a flattish square, and that way they freeze a little less. I am picky with who is inside my bag sleeping with me and usually it is just my camera, phone and puffy. You can use the puffy for example on your hips if they get cold when sleeping on your side, or down over your legs, etc.

Of course, here is where you can cheat. Managing condensation matters most if you are doing more than one night. If you are doing an overnight only, enjoy the night, care a little bit less about a little condensation, stuff everything back into the backpack or car, and go home and dry it out.
If you are doing a few days out, then a VBL can become your friend, as can a little sunshine to dry out the sleeping bag.
OK, just making sure this is pretty normal and I should accept it.

The winds were unexpected, and I didn't stake down my guy lines. So my tent was ON me most of the night haha, but I think opening up one side is definitely a good idea. I want to get some of that moisture off of my face!!

Thabks for all the information!
 

regehr

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but doesn't it get all clammy and humid inside the VBL? not sure I could cope with that.

had a couple of colder-than-expected nights on a trip last March and condensation from the lid of my bivy bag kept dripping down onto my face, argh!!!!
 

Perry

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but doesn't it get all clammy and humid inside the VBL? not sure I could cope with that.

had a couple of colder-than-expected nights on a trip last March and condensation from the lid of my bivy bag kept dripping down onto my face, argh!!!!
I agree it could be pretty icky but the secret seems to be thermal regulation so you don't sweat much. The gist I think is to keep your insulation layers, whether that be a sleeping back or clothing layers, dry and functional. Have a read of that Skurka blog post. He delves into all this pretty thoroughly.
 

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Titans

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@regehr - were you close to the river that time?

@Miya - on the last trip we also quickly learned to open the vents in the tent just a little bit on the very cool nights, it helps. Also best not to cook inside the tent, avoid having wet things inside the tent and avoid tent spots in damp river valleys.
 

Wanderlust073

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but doesn't it get all clammy and humid inside the VBL? not sure I could cope with that.
Never heard of putting a vapor barrier inside a sleeping bag, but maybe things are different when you’re camping in the artic LOL. Laying a barrier on top of the bag to keep it from wetting out I have heard of.
 

Ugly

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Never heard of putting a vapor barrier inside a sleeping bag, but maybe things are different when you’re camping in the artic LOL. Laying a barrier on top of the bag to keep it from wetting out I have heard of.
Sorry was typing in haste before going out for lunch. Yeah, VBL is just that, but if you put it on top of your bag your body moisture just hits the barrier and doesn't escape, so you get a wet bag, like when you have a bivy that does not breathe well. Or like the time I thought I would try to keep my feet warmer by putting a garbage bag over the footbox of my sleeping bag...

I don't really like them, yes @regehr you can just end up feeling clammy or depending on what you are using it is just noisy. In my mind I just picture Stillsuits from Dune... let's reclaim all our water.

I have tried different things as a VBL in the sleeping bag before, and it does save the sleeping bag from a lot of moisture, but you are still breathing, so without ventilation you are not far from where you started. Since I do overnighters mostly, I have abandoned them, but still talk to some people who swear by them.

As well, when I was using two sleeping bags I used to put the synthetic inside the down, but I was wrong. If you have a syn on the outside it gathers the moisture instead of the down... genius.
 

Wanderlust073

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Interesting. I would have thought waking up wet in freezing temperatures would be courting hypothermia. I guess it is so dry here I’ve not experienced condensation inside the bag, only a layer of frost/ice on the outside. I look forward to never putting all this to the test :)
 

Perry

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I do like the approach of sleeping in a down bag then topping it with a really light synthetic bag or quilt... say 40 degree or so. The theory is the moisture will pass through the down bag and out the synthetic. Worst case is it condenses in the synthetic layer because it’s the cold layer. Synthetic can more easily be dried during the day and still keep your down dry.
 

Ugly

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OK, just making sure this is pretty normal and I should accept it.

The winds were unexpected, and I didn't stake down my guy lines. So my tent was ON me most of the night haha, but I think opening up one side is definitely a good idea. I want to get some of that moisture off of my face!!

Thabks for all the information!
The tent being on your face is also the volume issue... not enough volume to get the moist air up and away from you...

Snow staking can be a challenge, but if the snow is not powdery, which I doubt in CA, then make a deadman type anchor.
There are lots of ways, but here is one popular solution that I am sure I will butcher explaining. Maybe I should make a video.

Take a stick, even as small as a pencil if the snow is cold and dense enough. Then take some piece of guyline or paracord and tie it in a hitch around the stick. The guyline has to be long enough to still loop up above the snow, but find where the corners of your tent will be, move out the distance you want to stake from the tent, and then make a hole in the snow 5-6" deep and perpendicular to the corner of the tent (I use the edge of my snowshoe or snow shovel). Bury the stick with the guyline sticking out of the snow, stomp it down, or even pour a tiny bit of water on the stomped snow and then finish doing something else before putting any weight on the guyline (like stomp down more on the tent site). The snow will freeze and give you something to tie the tent down to.

I do not recommend doing this with your actual stakes because come morning, it is rough getting the guyline back out, better yet the stake.
I also will use larger, thicker stakes in the snow, but the deadman is better as you do not have to wrestle the stakes out in the morning. I lost a stake in the Needles in the mud cuz it just broke when I tried to dig it out after a couple nights in the teens.
 

Miya

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The tent being on your face is also the volume issue... not enough volume to get the moist air up and away from you...

Snow staking can be a challenge, but if the snow is not powdery, which I doubt in CA, then make a deadman type anchor.
There are lots of ways, but here is one popular solution that I am sure I will butcher explaining. Maybe I should make a video.

Take a stick, even as small as a pencil if the snow is cold and dense enough. Then take some piece of guyline or paracord and tie it in a hitch around the stick. The guyline has to be long enough to still loop up above the snow, but find where the corners of your tent will be, move out the distance you want to stake from the tent, and then make a hole in the snow 5-6" deep and perpendicular to the corner of the tent (I use the edge of my snowshoe or snow shovel). Bury the stick with the guyline sticking out of the snow, stomp it down, or even pour a tiny bit of water on the stomped snow and then finish doing something else before putting any weight on the guyline (like stomp down more on the tent site). The snow will freeze and give you something to tie the tent down to.

I do not recommend doing this with your actual stakes because come morning, it is rough getting the guyline back out, better yet the stake.
I also will use larger, thicker stakes in the snow, but the deadman is better as you do not have to wrestle the stakes out in the morning. I lost a stake in the Needles in the mud cuz it just broke when I tried to dig it out after a couple nights in the teens.
I staked down my tent with sticks!! Haha, I felt pretty cool.
I just didn't stake down the additional guy lines because I wasn't expecting wind so crazy. Then of course, I didn't want to get out of the tent and mess with that. I just kicked up my legs whenever it was real bad, to keep the tent off me.

Because it was 60ish during the day and below freezing at night the sticks were nice and frozen, it took me a good amount of time to hack my sticks out of the snow LOL.
 

Miya

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@Titans I made sure to not bring anything wet in my tent nor track in snow (tried not to) haha. I saw that tip in a YouTube video lol
Good advice! I did not cook inside the tent, but in the future I probably would have.
 

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