Packing For Extreme Cold Travel Part 1: The Regular Stuff

“Seriously, you’re going to the Yukon in February? Won’t it be dark all the time? Won’t you FREEZE? I mean, literally FREEZE? You can die if you’re left outside for, like three minutes, right?”

“Yes, seriously. I am going to the Yukon in February. I’m super curious about what it is like to be in a place that far north in the winter. And also, I will be wearing a giant parka. I’ll have loaner gear.”

Sometimes, adventure travel means getting off the grid and diving into the backcountry. Other times, it simply means going to a destination when most don’t. A place like the Yukon – or anywhere in the far northern climates in February is an adventure indeed, and it’s totally doable if you pack the right gear.

For starters, you’re going to have to check a bag.

This isn’t easy for me; I’m a pathologically light traveler. But when your kit requires things like big boots or snow pants, you need more space. Suck it up. Pay the checked bag fee and revel in the fact that you’re not dragging a wheelie bag around the airport for a change. You totally have a free hand for coffee now. Crazy, right?Now, what’s in that bag?

The aforementioned big boots. Okay, you can wear them on the plane, and if your destination isn’t that far away and you don’t mind the hassle of getting in and out of them at the TSA checkpoint, go ahead and do that. But I packed a pair of Bogs (rated to -40F) and they served me well for almost everything I did. (I got mine from a hardware store in Forks, Washington, but you can get them anywhere.)

Loads of serious socks. I’ve got a whole array of performance socks, including some from Dahlgren (in alpaca, they’re super fluffy), Darn Tough Vermont (indeed darn tough, I’ve worn mine for over a year and they are showing very little wear and tear), Fox River (lighter merino), and a mess of other brands. Go with natural fiber blends and drop a little cash. Plus, pack more than you’ll think you need. Changing out your socks mid-day is really helpful towards staying warm. Even in subzero temperatures, your feet can get damp inside your boots. If there’s room, pack two pairs for each day, or be prepared to do some guerilla laundry.

Pro-tip: the crazy, dry climate and overheated hotel rooms mean that your socks totally dry overnight when you wash them in the sink.

The best long underwear you can afford. I’m a devotee of SmartWool (as regular readers will know) but I also recommend Icebreaker, Bergan’s of Norway and Ibex. If you have super sensitive skin, you may want to go with silk instead of merino wool, but I’ve found that the merino works just fine. Silk can be really nice for under jeans because it’s so light, but the extra warmth from wool … oh, it can’t be beat. PolarTec makes some heavy blends, but I prefer as much natural fiber in my kit as possible.

Shopping tip: this stuff is expensive. Places like REI Outlet and Sierra Trading post often have it in their online clearance sections, so go hunting. And really, drop some cash. You won’t regret it. It lasts for a very long time.

A down jacket. That critical poof layer. Loft. Fill. Whatever. All that jargon means that more poof equals more warmth. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a day or two when the temperatures pop up to a balmy 32F and you can shed the expedition parka (more on this later). Eddie Bauer makes an expedition line – First Ascent – that’s not too pricey, or you can drop some money on Patagonia. The nice thing about down is that it packs down to nearly nothing and you can always find room for it in your bag.

Outer layers that are water and wind proof. A jacket and pants, people. I kind of love my Outdoor Research pants; they’re super light and resist the weather – with long underwear they’re good for down to freezing temps. I have a very nice jacket from Westcomb, or hey, combine the down layer with the weather-proof layer and get a three in one – Columbia does a good job on these, but heads up, they run small.

A staggering amount of moisturizing products for your hair, lips and skin. In the extreme cold, it’s a little hard to stay hydrated for two reasons. The first: you’re just not aware of the dehydrating effects of the weather when it’s cold. You don’t sweat much, and you don’t get the kind of thirsty you get when you bake in the sun. The second: if you’re doing outdoor stuff, you really do not want to expose your more sensitive parts to the weather. You may end up thinking, “It’s okay, I’ll hydrate when we get back to the lodge. For now, I’ll pass on the water.” Your skin will pay. And once you get over the vanity of hat hair, what will really bug you is that your hair feels like straw. Drink up, and toss in the product. We already agreed that you’re checking a bag, so what’s the big deal?

Pro-tip: don’t be an idiot; throw in some sunscreen. You might not feel the sun cooking what little exposed skin you have, but it is, and it’s reflecting off the frozen everything.

A pair of sturdy, waterproof shoes: sometimes, you’re just going to eat in the hotel restaurant and you don’t want to go down there in your giant boots. I packed the admittedly kind of weird looking but totally appropriate Sole Exhale – they’re great on the plane, too.

Your usual travel clothing: odds are, in a place that requires an extreme cold weather kit, you’re going to do fine in jeans and a clean shirt. Throw in a nice sweater if you’ve got room. You’ll need a hat, gloves or mittens, and a scarf or neck gaiter in your pile of accessories. Err on the side of casual, and don’t overdo it; you’re probably going to spend most of your time geared up to the eyeballs in expedition gear.

Which we’ll talk about in Part II: “Packing for Extreme Cold Travel Part II: The Hardcore Stuff

[Photo: The Yukon River near Dawson City. Courtesy the author, Pam Mandel]

Hipster Hats that Make Me Happy

We’re no Portland or Brooklyn, but dude, you can’t swing a cat in Seattle without hitting a 20 something in something tweedy, a vest, maybe, and a flat cap. The thing is, you need a good hat in this town, it’s not totally impractical to protect your melon from the relentless drizzle that dampens our spirits and waters down our Americanos. As much as I try to mock the bearded skinny jeans what on earth is your day job and did you think about how that tattoo is going to look when you are 50 plus all that bacon is bad for you set, I can’t argue with a good hat. I just can’t.

Which is why I left the house in a Tilley Endurable Ivy Cap. I joined the hipster masses and you know what people said? “Nice headwear!” The other style I tried, the Tec-Wool, got the same response. What did I say? I said you can’t argue with a good hat. No one even tried.

Here’s what I like about the Tilley winter caps. They have quilted lining and tuck away low profile ear flaps, so they’re really warm and get warmer when you pull the ear flaps out. There’s a secret pocket in the top where you can keep your bus pass or your marching orders or that love letter that really appeals to your brain. They’re made of a very water resistant wool and they keep their shape when you smash them in your backpack with your laptop and your refillable coffee canister and all the other stuff you carry around. There’s a little cinch strap inside so you can adjust the fit — a nice touch. Both caps come in a tweedy brown or a textured black that’s really a very dark charcoal gray. And I think I mentioned, they look great.Both caps are $76.00, a pretty penny to drop on a hat, but they come with a lifetime guarantee which includes — get this, insurance against loss for two years. You’ll need your receipt or registration form, so don’t lose that too, and if you can prove you bought a hat, Tilley will replace it. Really. I asked, twice, because I didn’t believe it the first time. The lifetime guarantee will outlast hipster fashion, I promise you.

These things are great for wearing out and about around town, to the microbrewery, while shopping for artisanal cheeses or smoked meats, or heading to a knitters meetup, but they’re also great for travel to blustery cold places where you just need to be warm. Want one? Measure your head (they come in multiple sizes) and to the Tilley website.

Oh, and yes, that’s me in the picture. I look like a freaking hipster. I don’t care.

Gift Guide for Cold Weather Adventurers

Tis the season to give (and okay, get) good gear. And in the northern hemisphere, tis this season to not give up on playing outside, on traveling even though it’s cold and rainy or cold and snowy or just plain cold. Help the cold weather adventurer on your gift list by giving gear that extends the season. Here are a few picks, all field tested by Gadling gear heads, that make adventures easier when temperatures drop.

Vacuum mug: You’ve got dozens of these kicking around the house too, but how many of them keep your drink hot for four hours, or more? Stanley’s vacuum mug is the bomb. Not only does it keep your coffee at tongue burning temps, it’s nearly impossible to spill, it’s designed to fit in the water bottle cage on your bike, it’s got a grit guard for street spray, it’s top notch. Bike commuter, cross country skier on your list? Get them this. About $26.00.

Warming insoles: Warm feet go a long way towards having a great day out in the cold. No matter how great my shoes, how excellent my socks, I still get cold feet. I really dislike those throwaway single use chemical warmers. There’s an alternative. Thermasoles heated insoles are rechargeable and last for about eight hours, a full day of playing outside. Your giftee might think they’re dorky at first, but one use in wet and cold and oh, it’s all gratitude. About $99.00.

Merino wool underwear: My all purpose packing list includes merino wool long underwear, regardless of climate and destination, great outdoors or urban winter. There are a bunch of brands, SmartWool, Ibex, Icebreaker… I’m not brand loyal, but I am materials loyal. Get merino for your beloved (or yourself) and you’ll have a base layer that lasts for many years. Between $75.00-$100.00 per piece and totally worth it.Snowshoes: Your hiking friend gets cranky when snow curtails the season? Put them back at the trail-head with a pair of snowshoes. There are dozens of brands — look for bindings that are easy to work in gloves and cleats that won’t get choked with snow and ice. I like MSR’s Lightning line and the recreational snowshoes from Crescent Moon. Up to about $200.00.

Down sweater: When you add a down sweater to a rain proof shell, you get to extend your temperature range to “Man, it’s cold out!” Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line is a great choice and not too shockingly priced. Patagonia makes a pullover version that packs into a tiny stuff bag, that’s a bit pricier. A great gift for travelers in transitioning seasons, a down sweater takes up very little room in the pack. From $85.00-200.00, depending on the brand.

Great winter boots: I’m crazy for my Bogs, they’re great for stomping around in the snow or on cold beaches, they keep my feet warm and dry. Teva makes super cute insulated boots that are great for city wear in cold or wet places. If your giftee is more of the back country kind, try Keen’s Summit Country, recommended and field tested by fellow Gadling gearhead Kraig Becker. Up to $200.00

Four season sleeping bag: If the adventurer in your life doesn’t quit camping when the seasons turn to snow, a good winter bag is something they want — need, really, so they sleep warm when they’re sleeping out. GoLite’s Adrenaline Four Season Mummy was also field tested by Kraig (on Everest, no less) and he swears by it. $475.00

Photo: Snowshoeing in Altaussee, Austria. Courtesy of Nerd’s Eye View

Gadling’s cold weather gift guide

Patagonia Wanaka jacket coat cold weather gift guide winter Gadling gadlingChristmas is less than two weeks away (and Hanukkah wishes are now being expressed belatedly), and that’s still plenty of time to shop for all of your favorite people. We’ve already covered the best gifts for outdoor travelers and the top luxury travel gifts, so this time around we’re focusing on people who embrace winter.

You know the type: the adventurers who see snow and can’t wait to get outside to enjoy the season. OK, these gifts are also for people who barely tolerate a cool breeze and just need some gear to help them survive the next three months.

However, don’t have to simply survive winter. You can enjoy it – and look good – with the right gear. So, bundle up, pour some hot cocoa into your favorite travel mug (we’ll get to that shortly) and head outside. We rallied the Gadling troops and put together a list of our favorite winter gear. This is Gadling’s cold weather gift guide.

Mike Barish

I love the Patagonia Wanaka down jacket (pictured above). There’s nothing I hate more than someone in a fashionable pea coat complaining about the cold. Maybe if they dressed properly, they’d be comfortable. On the flip side, so many warm coats are just plain ugly. Unlike all the bubble jackets you’ll see everyone wearing every winter, the Wanaka is a down jacket that actually looks good. It manages to combine fashion and function by looking sleek while packing 600-fill down inside. ($349 at Patagonia)

I also never leave the house without my Dale of Norway knit cap. Dale of Norway gear is beyond warm and I could probably wear nothing but their knit cap and still be comfortable outside. I haven’t been able to find my exact hat online (my girlfriend picked it up while she was in Norway) but you can shop for their gear at high-end sporting goods stores and sites such as Amazon and Zappos. ($49 on Amazon)

If you like to take coffee (or, if you’re like me, hot chocolate) with you, then you’re going to want to carry it in Klean Kanteen’s insulated bottle. It will keep your beverages hot for an astonishingly long time. (Starting at $22.95 at Klean Kanteen)

Grant Martin

icebreaker realfleece aspiring hood winter gear gift guide GadlingOur well-traveled editor is a big fan of the Icebreaker 320 RealFleece Aspiring Hood. He’s sung its praises previously and continues to enjoy Icebreaker equipment. The merino wool keeps you warm and doesn’t absorb odor. Great for when you’re breaking a sweat on the slopes, chopping wood or just building a snowman. ($200 at Icebreaker)

Darren Murph

Leave it to our favorite Engadget Associate Editor to recommend the Recon-Zeal Transcend goggles with built-in GPS. As he noted on Engadget, these goggles are “equipped with a Zeal Optics’ frame design with a micro LCD display, which appears to hang approximately six feet in front of the user. That head-mounted display provides real-time feedback to the wearer, including speed, latitude / longitude, altitude, vertical distance traveled, total distance traveled, a chrono / stopwatch mode, a run-counter, temperature and time.” Wow. ($399 or $499 depending on model at Zeal Optics)

Scott Carmichael

For someone who lives in Chicago, Scott sure does hate winter. Maybe that’s why he recommended Zippo’s new hand warmer. It might look like a classic Zippo lighter, but you won’t see any flame coming out of this hand warmer. It uses Zippo lighter fluid to provide hunters, skiiers and Chicago commuters with portable warmth when their fingers start to go numb. ($19.95 at Zippo)

Kent Wien

gadling gear guide winter arc'teryxGadling’s resident pilot loves Arc’teryx gear (so much so that he let us use a picture of his lovely wife, Linda, modeling some of her favorite pieces). Linda highly recommended her Beta AR jacket and Strato fleece. According to Kent, “You’ll be drawn in by the colors and schemes, and hooked when you see the functionality (pockets everywhere). And then you’ll likely take a step back when you see the price. But if you take the plunge, you’ll probably be hooked on their products for life.” ($450 and $175, respectively, at Arc’teryx or much cheaper on Amazon)

Alex Robertson Textor

Alex loves Fox River Socks’ Red Heel Monkey Socks. According to Alex, “Fox River Socks manufactures the original Rockford Red Heel monkey sock, and apparently every pack of socks from Fox River comes with monkey sock instructions. I love these socks for their warmth and feel during winter.” ($12 at Fox River Socks)

Laurel Miller

Laurel gushed about her Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket. “It’s microlight (9 oz.), compresses to the size of a softball, 850 plus fill power goosedown, and it’s gotten me through a winter in Telluride (including skiing, which I usually won’t do in down), and mountaineering in a blizzard on the world’s highest active volcano in Ecuador. I wore a waterproof shell over it in that instance. I’ve slept in it on camping trips, and have generally abused the hell out of it and it’s still maintaining it’s loft, and is in perfect condition (albeit a bit grubby). I got caught in a Seattle rainstorm yesterday wearing it, and it still didn’t soak through. It’s the ultimate traveler’s/backpackers jacket, and great for women like me who are perpetually cold, but don’t want to wear a bulky jacket or loads of layers.” ($260 on Amazon)

Kraig Becker

Perhaps no one at Gadling knows more about outdoor gear than Kraig. When he recommends products, we all listen. He’s a big fan of the Outdoor Research Alti Gloves. “A good layering system is only part of the answer for staying warm. You’ll also want something to keep your hands and head warm too. For the hands, I recommend a pair of Alti Gloves from Outdoor Research, which are designed for technical climbing in extreme conditions, which means they’ll also keep you warm on the slopes, during a winter hike, or any other winter outdoor activity.” ($150 at Outdoor Research)

Kraig also recommends layering in the winter, including starting with PolarMax Base Layers. “These base layers come in three varieties; warm, warmer, and warmest. Most Gadling readers will probably be very happy with the “Travel Weight” option, which is light weight, but still very warm. For colder weather outdoor adventures, such as backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, jump up to the “Mountain Skins,” which are high performance gear for the active cold weather traveler.” (Starting at $19.99 at Sport Chalet and other sporting goods retailers)

Lastly, Kraig loves the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Hangfire Hoodie. “Their Hangfire Hoodie is an amazing piece of gear that works great as an outer layer jacket in cool weather and an insulating layer in under a shell in cold weather. It is form fitting, but designed to move, making it easy to be very active while not limiting motion. It also looks great and is just as comfortable for use around town as it is in the backcountry. I highly recommend this one!” ($99 at Eddie Bauer)

Annie Scott

Annie loves the feel of cashmere and recommends White + Warren for all of your cashmere needs. That said, when it’s time to be practical with a pair of gloves that keep you warm and let you use your iPhone, she has other ideas. “Tec Touch gloves let you use your iPhone and other devices with your gloves on.” (Starting at $20 at 180s)

McLean Roberts

I recently invested in a pair of Pajar Davos boots. They’re the perfect winter weather wear – not so much gear as they are a fashion statement that actually keeps you both warm and comfortable … Think more apres ski in Telluride or Aspen than anything else. Made of real fur and lined with sheep, these sturdy and comfortable boots are both waterproof and durable, boasting a sturdy rubber liner at the bottom that prevents slipping. Oh, and they aren’t Uggs, so people won’t make fun of you. Okay, they might…I look like I’m wearing a small animal on my foot, but at least I’m warm.” ($350 at Jildor Shoes)

Melanie Nayer

gadling winter gear guide stanley flaskWe’ll wrap things up with the wise words of one of our editors:

I love winter. The idea of bundling up in warm sweaters, cozy scarfs and mittens and cuddling by the fire after snowshoeing through the mountains is a perfect way to celebrate the season, in my opinion. But when it comes to the best winter gear, I simply have no idea. I take whatever is warmest from my closet and layer it on, but when Mike asked us to submit our favorites I couldn’t ignore his request.

A good flask and a little whiskey go a long way. I couldn’t tell you what brand my snow boots are or what layer of warmth my ski pants are tagged, but I can assure you a little Johnny Walker Black can warm you up nicely on a cold winter’s day.

So very true. Melanie didn’t recommend a specific flask, but we’ve long had our eyes on this handsome model from Stanley. It holds eight ounces of your favorite warming liquid and you’ll never lose the cap. ($20 at Stanley)

Photo of the Day (12.13.10)

photo of the day new york cold

Cities are not really that much fun in the winter. Winter is meant to be enjoyed in the mountains, in warm rustic cabins or, for those who are averse to the cold, on the beach in the Caribbean. Other than some quaint holiday decorations, cities are pretty devoid of winter perks. Snow turns black pretty quickly, slush makes walking around difficult and buildings create wind tunnels. All in all, winter in cities kind of sucks.

As we hunker down for winter, this photo by Flickr user Mike GL has me planning for ways to get out of New York City at some point over the next few months. Simply enduring wintery urban life doesn’t sound all that fun when I could be snowshoeing someplace way more scenic.

Taken any great winter photos during your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.