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]

Gadling Gear Review: Bergan’s Osen Down and Wool Jacket

Sometimes, when I look at the price tag on a piece of gear, I think, “Really? It’s made in some factory in Asia, there’s not that much material to it, and really? REALLY?” Other times, I’m lucky to get to try out something super nice and my reaction is different. It’s more along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s expensive and I totally get why. And I really don’t want to send it back now that I’ve seen it.”

Bergan’s of Norway’s Osen jacket fits that category. The wool and down, water resistant jacket (available in both a men’s and a women’s cut) is one of the nicest things to pass through my hands for some time.

This isn’t your typical “poof” layer – it’s a combination of a wool and polyester blend on the sleeves, shoulders and waist with a down torso and collar. It looks great – the women’s cut makes sense; it’s got a bit of shape to it and the bright, contrasting zipper pulls are in a cool neon green on the jacket’s dark blue. Add a rain shell to this and you are set for just about any weather.
Everything about the way this jacket is made speaks of attention to detail. The collar is lined with microfleece so it’s not itchy or cold on your chin when it’s zipped up all the way. The pockets are big and they zip the right way (you’d be surprised how often this is not the case). The finish work is immaculate; the seams are all folded over and sealed and there are no loose edges or threads. And the sizing is right – something that’s increasingly rare in women’s outdoor gear.

The jacket was missing two things I’ve come to appreciate in this kind of gear – pit zips and a two way front zipper – but it’s still nicer than many a jacket that’s been in my test queue.

The wool/poly mix is a nice alternative to the usual slippery nylon shell you get with your typical down jacket. It gives the jacket some alpine formal style. I wore the Osen jacket out and about a few times and always got compliments on it.

The Osen jacket will set you back $329. The line doesn’t seem to have wide distribution in the U.S. yet, but check with your local mountaineering store or use the Bergan’s “Find a Dealer” link provided on the site.

[Image courtesy of Bergan's of Norway]

Gadling Gear Review: Brooks Range Mojave Waterproof Down Jacket

Brooks Range Mojave waterproof down jacketAnyone who enjoys cold weather adventures probably already knows that down is the best insulator for keeping us warm when the mercury begins to drop. Lightweight and comfortable, down can be used in a variety of products that help us enjoy the great outdoors, even in extreme conditions. But the material has a major flaw that has, at times, limited its usefulness in the past. When down gets wet, it tends to clump up and lose its loft. Worse yet, in cold conditions wet down will freeze solid and become practically useless. That has all changed with the introduction of a revolutionary new water repellant down called DownTek, which is just now making its way into a number or new products.

One of the first products to hit the market that uses DownTek is the new Mojave Jacket from Brooks Range Mountaineering, a company that specializes in creating gear for extreme environments and activities. The jacket features 800+ fill wrapped in durable, weather resistant fabrics and includes an attached hood and high-quality zippers designed for use in cold, wet conditions. In short, it is the perfect jacket for mountaineering, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or nearly any other cold weather activity.

The Mojave was built with active outdoor enthusiasts and travelers in mind and its design reflects this. Some down jackets can be overly bulky and hamper movement, which makes them less than ideal choices for some of our more active pursuits. But Brooks Range knows that its customers are looking for products that will allow them to hike, backpack and climb without restrictions so their products are built to support those activities. The result is a jacket that performs amazingly well while still providing nearly unrestricted motion while on the trail.Of course, all of this doesn’t mean very much if the jacket, and more importantly DownTek, doesn’t perform as advertised. Fortunately, that isn’t an issue here, as the Mojave provides everything you would expect out of a down jacket and so much more. The water resistant fill is simply a revolution in terms of cold weather gear, making this garment far more versatile and reliable than similar products that don’t use this new type of down. Better yet, the same process that makes the down fill water resistant also adds anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, ensuring that even after it gets wet, the jacket remains clean and odor-free, something that any traveler can appreciate.

Those aren’t the only qualities that will make this jacket popular with travelers heading to cold weather destinations. In addition to the Mojave being very warm and comfortable, it is also highly packable. Unlike similar products from competitors, Brooks Range has created a jacket that can be compressed down to a relatively small size so at to not take up much room in your luggage or backpack. That is much appreciated by those of us who like to travel as light as possible without compromising on the performance of our gear.

It isn’t often while testing a product that I realize it is a significant leap forward in terms of performance, but that is exactly what the Mojave represents. DownTek gives this jacket, and the other products that it is being used in, properties that standard down simply can’t compete with. It does add a bit to the price tag of course, but as far as I’m concerned, it is worth every penny. The Mojave costs $299, which isn’t dramatically more expensive compared to similar products without the water-resistant down, but it is more expensive nonetheless.

If you’re the kind of person who wants a down jacket for keeping you warm while you run errands around town or shovel the sidewalks in front of your home, then a standard down jacket may completely fulfill your needs and expectations. But if you happen to be an active outdoors enthusiast or traveler, you shouldn’t settle for a product that doesn’t perform as well as it could. With the Mojave you won’t have to make those compromises and you’ll have a jacket that will keep you plenty warm and dry no matter how bad the weather gets.

A Nearly Perfect Mid-Layer: Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt

Patagonia Ultralight Down ShirtMy travels take me to places with unpredictable weather, alpine regions where the temperature drops 20 degrees when a cloud crosses the sun, or coastal zones where the wind comes of the water and it’s not as warm as I’d like it to be. I’m big on the standard platitude of dressing in layers for travel — but I’ve become increasingly exacting over what, exactly, those layers are.

Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt
is an almost perfect middle layer if you’re going to be someplace where the temps can drop or change. For starters, it’s super lightweight and packs down — in its own stuff bag — to about the size of a coffee cup. Or a grapefruit, a big one. You can find room for this in your bag. The shirt is warm, windproof, and water repellent — you will need a hard shell in heavy rain, but a little drizzle or heavy fog won’t soak you. It’s cute, with waffle-y stitching and detailing at the cuffs, collar, and waist. And it comes in good colors — fog (gray), cerise (a pink/red), black, and prickly pear (a springy green). Patagonia makes a down shirt for guys, too — they get a dark blue instead of the cherry pink, and the stitching is in a checkerboard pattern rather than the zigzag pattern on the women’s model.

It wears like a sweatshirt — it’s got a half zip so you pull it on over your head. The fit is good, the sizing seems fairly accurate (a big problem with a lot of outdoor wear, I’ve found). With a good base layer (I like merino wool) and a rain shell, you’re set for a very broad range of conditions, and you’re still packing very light.The only flaw worth mentioning is the lack of pockets. I’d have liked a kangaroo pocket in front or slash pockets in the side or… something, anything, a place to stash a few dollars, the car keys, or to tuck my hands when they’re a little cold. A pocket could do double duty as the stuff sack, as well.
This is an expensive piece of clothing — 250 USD — so it’s not for those prone to sticker shock. I have Downlight Sweater with a full zip down and pockets from First Ascent that retails for almost 100 USD less than Patagonia’s down shirt. It doesn’t have the style that the Patagonia piece has, but for space, the difference is negotiable. Given a choice between the two, I’d go with the full zip with pockets. If Patagonia’s version had pockets, it would be a much tougher call.

Regardless of what style you decide to go with, some kind of lightweight down layer is a useful addition to your travel wardrobe. Get one that works best for you.

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)