On February 8, 2019, five Dads traveled from Madison, WI to the Sylvania Wilderness, using Inuit technology to enjoy -28° F (-33° C) temperatures and four winter days of silence, beauty, and adventure. It was awesome. This 12-minute movie is our story.
Resources & Notes
Picture sources: Eric U, Eric S, Donal. Video taken on iPhone SE.
In his 20s, Jake participated in a 60-day trip across part of Labrador led by Garrett and Alexandra Conover who collected native traditional winter travel technologies in a book for the rest: Snow Walker’s Companion. Jake has since participated in many other winter trips. This experience and knowledge gave us all more confidence that doing a trip like this would be safe.
Dave and Kielyn Marrone, founders of Lure of the North, have taken on the work of the Conovers for a new generation and represent a great resource for videos on trekking, making gear, homesteading, etc. They also offer gear, kits, workshops, training, and guided experiences.
For an amazing movie about people in Siberia who make their living as trappers using mostly traditional technology, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, is recommended (for rent on iTunes). Thank you, PW.
Dinner: Ginger and Carrot Soup; Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper Chocolate; Caramel and Salt Chocolate, Red Breast whiskey
Breakfast: Spinach, caramelized onion, garlic, Parmesan, and Monterrey jack cheese omelettes, bacon, hash browns, tea or coffee.
Lunches were individual and consisted of trail mix, Kind bars, Go Macro bars, summer sausage, cheese, crackers, sardines, yogurt covered almonds, gorp chunks, chocolate or peanut-butter covered pretzels, tea, and more.
Dinner: Chicken poblano pepper soup/stew; Corn tortillas fried in bacon grease; Bullet Bourbon
Breakfast: Fancy oatmeal: brown sugar, coconut slivers, walnuts, strawberries, tea or coffee
Dinner: Pakora with mango chutney, Thai curry with tofu and cauliflower, naan with butter; Woodford Reserve whiskey.
Breakfast: Fancy oatmeal: blueberries, brown sugar, walnuts, tea or coffee
Lure of the North is an excellent resource for recommendations about what clothing to pack, how to pack a toboggan, personal gear list, and personal packing. In our case, Jake gave us a run-down on what we would need and the lists below are embellished versions of what he recommended.
- In general, no cotton. Instead, bring wool or synthetic fabrics
- Snowshoeing footwear (mukluks work best, but whatever you have)
- Spare liners for mukluks or boots
- Rubber boots or waterproof footwear (These over spare boot liners will work). This provides an option for rain, for accidents if mukluks get wet, and are also nice to have as a slip on option for going in and out of tent (no boots in the tent)
- Ski goggles (not necessary, but nice if it is really cold)
- Anorak or windproof shell.
- Three top layers (e.g., 3 wool shirts to maximize versatility; Empire Wool and Canvas Company)
- Warm parka (or other warm coat) in its own stuff sack. Best to pack this to be accessible on your sled
- Long underwear
- Pants. Jake and Eric U had wool pants and just wore these over long underwear. These pants are inexpensive and did the trick as an extra layer between long underwear and 3-season REI pants.
- Couple pairs of thick socks (e.g., best socks you can buy?)
- Warm hat
- Good mittens (choppers are best, with spare liners)
- Wind pants
- Snowshoes (and bindings that work with your footwear). Modern ones are better for hills and grip. Classic ones are better for the lake and “float” better. Also, the bindings are comfortable with hands-free entry and exit (with a little practice)
- Toboggan or sled (make sure it has a harness or some comfortable way to haul). We used one of Lure of the North’s toboggans on the trip and it performed like a champ (their personal service was also excellent).
- Ski gear
- Sleeping bag(s). Multiple bags for more warmth if you don’t want to spend the money on a dedicated low temperature winter bag. (See below for discussion of insulation as a function of loft to calculate how many inches of loft/insulation you need for likely trip temperatures).
- Thermarest and/or closed-foam cell pad
- Head lamp and extra batteries
- Day pack
- First aid kit and trauma kit (designed to handle major bleeds as from an ax injury)
- Pocket knife and/or possibly a bigger knife for working with wood (e.g., creating fire sticks or shavings to start a fire)
- Means to start a fire (safest if we each are carrying the bare minimum of dry matches)
- Emergency hand warmers (I don’t always bother with these, but I have found that throwing a few in seems to make my wife happy, which seems useful)
- Bungees or ropes to tie all your stuff securely into your sled
- Tarp to cover your stuff on sled
- Thermos (nice to have hot drinks when you’re out for the day)
- Lip balm & sunscreen
- Water bottle (this can be kind of tricky as it will freeze in deep cold). Option a) use an insulated thermos for cold water. Option b) use something that you can hang around your neck and keep inside your clothing.
- Dishes and utensils (enamel mugs are nice because they can go directly on the stove for heating hot drinks).
- Any kitchen gear that you need beyond the basics
- Duffel bags that contain all your stuff and are easy to pack on your sled
- Bandana for wiping glasses and/or no fog cloth
- Map and compass
- Toothbrush & floss (floss doubles for repairs, but with toboggans you can pack a little weight so more robust repair materials are ok compared to backpacking)
- Face mask
- Toilet paper and hand sanitizer
- Lure of the North recommends a separate set of sleep clothes consisting of socks, long underwear, and long-sleeve top
- Extra batteries for phone/camera
- Book, playing cards, etc.
- Canvas tent with hang lines and clothes pins and/or large safety pins for drying clothes
- Ice chisel for getting water from lakes or rivers
- Slush scoop
- Axe (Gransfors Bruks Forest Axe is famous and expensive; Hultafors is an upper end alternative but less expensive then the Gransfors Bruks; Lure of North suggestion)
- Snow shovel
- Repair kit, including wire
- Basic kitchen gear, including pot dedicated to boiling and holding drinking water, pots to cook, spatula, knife, containers to wash dishes in
How thick should my sleeping bag be?
Ray Jardine’s formula (book) for figuring out insulation needed for a given temperature is the following:
Effective Temperature Rating (ETR)=100-(40*inches of insulation). So, Inches of insulation needed = (ETR-100)/-40. Note: You need zero insulation at 100° F and this increases by .25″ of insulation/loft for every 10 degrees lower in temperature.
This formula gives you something you can measure and test yourself, thus becoming less reliant on the temperature ratings advertised by sleeping bag makers (even if accurate initially, they will change as a bag loses loft). If I applied this formula to my personal sleeping bag situation in Sylvania, I would have brought sleeping bags to achieve 2.875″ of loft. However, I took more insulation than the formula suggests because: (1) I wanted to make very sure I wasn’t cold and (2) I’m a cold sleeper. So, I used the bags below with about 3.65″ of loft (plus, I had my parka that I could’ve worn to add another 1.5″ of insulation). With all bags zipped up and nested inside each other (but without the parka), I was warm and cozy for a -28° F night in Sylvania. Note: We did not have the wood stove running at night, first, because that would require someone to keep stoking it all night (small fire box = lots of refueling), and second, because we were plenty warm without it.
|Sleeping bags||Insulation (“)|
|North Face down||0.75|
|Big Agnes down||0.9|
I can now make Ray’s formula more accurate for me based on the fact that I was comfortable with 3.65″ of insulation at -28° F. My ETR formula is calculated with basic algebra as follows: -28 = 100-3.65x, So, 3.65x=125, So, x=128/3.65, So, x=35. So, the formula for me specifically is probably something like this: ETR = 100-(35*inches of insulation) OR Inches of insulation needed = (ETR-100)/-35. So, for example, if I am planning for a -40 degree night, I would need about 4″ of insulation. Another way of putting this is that I need about 14% more insulation than Ray Jardine does or am a 14% colder sleeper than he is. The following is a chart of various ETRs and the insulation needed based on both formulas:
|ETR||Ray Formula (“)||My Formula (“)|
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