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  1. #1
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    Default How Cold is Too Cold?

    The other day one of my neighbors, who is always quite puzzled by this hiking thing I do, asked me how cold is too cold?

    Of course there are too many variables to count, and so we talked about that for a bit. Is it sunny, blue skies, and no wind? I have had the time of my life on days like that with temps far below zero. Or is it cloudy, raining/sleeting/snowing, and blowing? I told her that I have been *very* uncomfortable and close to hypothermic in high 60-degree temps.* I also told her that anything over 75 is too hot, and that I do much less hiking in the summer.

    It was a fun and good conversation that eventually included half a dozen other interested friends. We talked about gear and and practice and Know Before You Go....*

    In general though, I said I can be comfortable and have fun day-hiking in pretty low temperatures, but that multi-day trips in those temps is a whole 'nother kind of beast. I can deal with nights in the [high] single digits, but haven't done more than two nights at a time; I think more than 3-4 days would be the limit of fun for me. Tipi Walter I am not!

    So just for the sake of conversation, what kind of temperatures and conditions are absolute No-Go's for you? Add whatever variables may apply!
    fortis fortuna adjuvat

  2. #2

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    Right now, my lower limit is -10* in decent weather, and that is simply due to sleeping gear. I can get that low with what I have. I plan to get the gear to go lower, but not this year. I probably wouldn't go out in those temps in rain though if I could help it. Snow is always a plus for me though.

  3. #3
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    I can be comfortable sleeping down to a few degrees below 0. However, the absolute worst part of being out in that kind of temp is the duration of the night. In my part of the world, it is dark before 5 PM in the woods. the little fire you can scratch up is not going to put out any more heat than a sparkler. So, it's a hot meal and into the sleeping bag at 5:30. (i am not a night hiker fwiw). Now I usually live by the early to bed, early to rise maxim but going to bed at 5:30 can make for a long night. on my last trip at this temp., I struggled out of my tent to take my usual nocturnal bathroom break. i thought it was 1 or 2 in the morning but when I glanced at my watch, it was only 8:30 PM. That is a long time to be in a sleeping bag.

    If the amount of daylight was switched between summer and winter, i have no doubt that winter and winter camping would be my favorite. i love the solitude...and the absence of bugs, mice, snakes and ticks.

  4. #4
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    +1 on day length. Getting dark by 5 and sunrise at 7:30am kinda sucks.

    I've done a couple of weekend trips with temps around zero-F at night. One of them I had a warm enough bag the other I froze all night. But that trip I woke up to the sun streaming into camp and warming everything up into the teens pretty quickly, and a warm cup of coffee and some oatmeal had me feeling great. But overall I think one or two nights is the limit for me for that sort of thing.

    I can handle down to freezing at night pretty much every night. Don't love it, but can handle it.

    Perfect hiking weather for me is 50 at night and maybe 70 during the day. And sunny With brief late evening showers to keep the springs running.
    Ken B
    'Big Cranky'
    Our Long Trail journal

  5. #5
    Registered User LIhikers's Avatar
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    My wife and I have done a couple of trips in northern MN where the morning temperature when we climb out of the bag is 25 degrees..........below zero!
    It's all about the gear and clothing in those kind of temperatures.

  6. #6

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    I like hiking in the serious cold. I hate camping in the serious cold. Been camped out in 20 below a few times. That was enough.
    Follow slogoen on Instagram.

  7. #7
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    I've gone to -35 F in the Adirondacks many years ago. The tip of my nose was chilly at night. I had the right gear and had taken a very useful winter class from the Adirondack Mountain Club. We had fun in the -10 F sunshine hiking around during the days.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

  8. #8

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    Whiteouts and storm fronts quickly dumping ft of snow with high wind gusts and -20*+ prevailing especially with exposure at higher elevations. No need for summiting Mt E or walking to the N pole on this persons lifetime bucket list.

    Some of the most memorable surreal times backpacking was in winter at night with snow breaking trail in the forest or in freezing deserts with snow. I really like the Colorado Plateau in winter. I gets me into a Mars feeling.

  9. #9

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    I grew up on smaller freshwater lakes in southern NJ Pine barrens. They would freeze in winter. I used to sleep out on the ice cowboy camping. I admit I was falling down drunk a few times. The expansion cracks booming and vibrations were the eeriest. The weirdest were animals like foxes or whitetail out on the ice crossing the lakes at 2 a.m. stopping in close to see who was the other animal out on the ice.

  10. #10
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    Hiking (or more often backcountry skiing) we did in any temperature and condition nature provided, which could be down to -25įC (-30F), high winds or blinding snowstorm.
    Mandatory to have a safe spot, a tent, shelter or alpine hut as a goal for the end of the day.

    I just hate to idle around in damp clothes in chilly weather for hours, can't stand that.
    The nights are really long in winter, you spend 12+hrs in the bag, no way around here.

  11. #11
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    Iíd say Iím very comfortable in my bivy at -10. Could push 10 or 15 more with all my current layers and most likely be fine but like everyone has said itís those long lengths of time in your bag. Boiling water and your eyelids are freezing every time you blink or walking Around to stay occupied. Better bring a bottle to wiz in when itís that cold.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  12. #12

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    My standard answer is that I have the skills and the gear but not the motivation . I think others nailed it with the comment that its the length of the nights rather than the temps that keep me from doing multiday hikes. Right now in my part of NH whne you add in shadows from nearby mountains ts dark for 16 to 17 hours out of day. Its definitely harder to stay warm when inactive and at best I can sleep 7 or 8 hours so that is lot of downtime.

  13. #13
    Garlic
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    I have the same discussion with my bicycle commuting friends in Denver. Every year I commuted, my temp threshold went down a few degrees due to changing clothing and getting experience. I ended up being able to cycle in the single digits F. Cycling can be tougher than hiking because of the extra wind chill, and the exposure of fingers and toes.

    I've been out on a ski trip when it gets as cold as it ever gets in the US, -28F. That was almost disastrous when the Vibram sole on my boot got brittle and broke.

    A group of friends has a traditional New Years Day climb of James Peak with a bottle of sparkling wine. It's fun to pop the cork at 13,000'. We don't have a temp limit, but wind and snow can turn us around. One clear day in the minus 20 F range a couple in the group were too macho to wear a face mask, and ended up losing skin on noses and cheeks.

  14. #14

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    Same as above.
    Depends on activity planned and conditions
    And duration of cold

    Winter camping is not winter hiking is not something else.

    Hiking... Night temps not that important, but i like days to be sun and around 30+ for high. Thats going to go in hand with overnight temps to 10F or so usually. Its nice to know you can look forward to warming up during day. Overcast, wind, cold all day ..every day....sucks imo for hiking.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 12-12-2018 at 09:10.

  15. #15
    Some days, it's not worth chewing through the restraints.
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    Winter is perfect for night hiking, though. Snow-covered ground on a clear moonlit night... you can see your way without a headlamp just fine. It's quiet unlike any other kind of quiet.

  16. #16

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    When you can’t feel your extremeties?

  17. #17
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    Cold and calm...up to -10 no problem, lower if active, lower if nested in your sleep system (so long as I get a warm PM meal)
    Cold anything below 25F + wind >10mph bundle up use a good shell otherwise or it's miserable
    Cold anything below 45F + wind + any rain plan on being miserable, add a really good rain shell it's tolerable, learn to love it.
    Last edited by wordstew; 12-12-2018 at 12:32.

  18. #18
    Registered User Tennessee Viking's Avatar
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    When you water bladder freezes within a couple hours.
    ''Tennessee Viking'
    Mountains to Sea Trail Maintainer
    Former TEHCC (AT) Maintainer
    Falls Lake Trail: 2011

  19. #19
    Registered User LittleRock's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Tennessee Viking View Post
    When you water bladder freezes within a couple hours.
    Yes. And your shoes get covered in ice/snow, and they're so stiff you have great difficulty getting your feet back into them in the morning, and your electronics stop working...
    It's all good in the woods.

  20. #20
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    For me, it's not about temps but snow. The more snow, the more fun it is for me to get out in it. Without the snow, I'm getting less interested in cold-weather camping all the time. I had commitments that prevented me from getting into the mountains ahead of Diego, but that's the kind of thing I like to do. I go out to Colorado every spring, too, for some backcountry snowshoeing/camping.

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