Equipment is extremely important for adventures in the (extreme) cold. It may seem like a reckless thing to camp out on a mountain in snow after sweaty cycling that same mountain. But the key is gear and knowing how and when to use it. The cold becomes bearable and even comfortable when heaving the right stuff at hand and knowing the art of keeping it all dry.
What do you take with you when you go cycling in the midst of winter? And what is important to remember? This is a very extensive version for a somewhat longer expedition with some photos that I took in a basement of a hostel in Switzerland when I was cycling over the back of the Alps in winter.
With the temperature around freezing point I mostly cycle in a Löffler Evo Elastic Bicycle Bib Legging with a boxershort underneath depending on how cold it is. As a shirt I wear the Icebreaker 260 Zone Half Zip Shirt with a Northface fleece sweater with a full zip and a Buff neck warmer and mostly a cap for my ears to stay warm.
Depending on temperatures, I also wear gel cycling gloves, the Icebreaker Oasis 200 Liner Gloves (which wear out very quickly but are really comfortable) or the somewhat thicker Jack Wolfskin fleece gloves. I also wear Meindl Gor-Tex shoes which I use in the summer and in winter in combination with ticker smartwool socks.
When it is raining I put on the Berghaus Ridgemaster Gore-Tex waterproof jacket and some cheaper Quechua rain pants. I layer my shoes with Vaude waterproof shoe covers.
If there is a lot of snow or it’s really cold, I prefer to cycle in the Sorel 1964 Pac Nylon winter boots. After I put up my tent I change directly into a dry base layer Icebreaker 260 Tech Shirt and 260 Tech Legging. If necessary, with a normal pants over it and a Salewa fleece vest or a Patagonia down jacket.
In extremer conditions I also use a tick merino wool Buff and Gore-Tex winter gloves (prefably mittens). And to cycle in a snowstorm, I use snow goggles and a balaclava (pictured under camping and sleeping). If we’re talking about -40c it is nice to be able to replace the masks and you might use sports tape on your nose.
I don’t prefer particular brands, all things have been collected over the years. I often buy them at an outlet with a lot of discount or second-hand online. I do try to take the durability of the lifetime into account.
Campfire and cooking
For cooking I use the MSR Whisperlite International Burner with an MSR fuel bottle 591ml, an MSR alphine 2 pan set and to quickly boil water a handy Fox Outdoor lightweight whistling kettle.
In the dark I find my way with a head torch, the Petzl Tactikka Plus. With an Opinel Carbon pocket knife (a cheap pocket knife because I lose them all the time) I cut fruit or vegetables on a handy plastic plate. I made a small pine spatula in Switzerland and use it for cooking. With a stainless steel spork I eat the food from one of the pans or the plastic plate. And another smaller spatula I use for cleaning the pans.
I drink coffee with a coffee filter holder or a percolator and I drink the coffee and also tea in a collapsible cup. In a remote place I sometimes make a campfire with a small ax and a pull saw, which can be very nice, especially in the fall or winter. I collect birch wood on the way and dry it to light a fire in the night.
A shovel I take with me to clear snow in order to set up my tent in a thick layer of snow.
Camping and sleeping
As a four-season tent I use the Hilleberg Soulo (with footprint, pegs, guy lines). I sleep on an Exped SynMat 7 MW Sleeping Mat where I put an aluminum mat (or Z Lite SOL Sleeping Pad or the cheaper Bo-Camp Foam / Alu 190x60cm Sleeping Mat) underneath in extreme cold temperatures to reflect the body heat. As a sleeping bag I use the Cumulus Teneqa 850 Down Sleeping Bag with a comfort temperature of -15c. If necessary, I add the Sea To Summit Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner. I use the Inflatable Pillow Air Basic that after using a few time leaked air already so now I put clothes in the cover to sleep on. I use that bottle to urinate in, because when it’s -10c I really don’t want to get out of the sleeping bag when I’m comfortable in there. Just for one exception, the northern lights.
I also carry a pen to write in a diary and a book to read. The soft brush is there to wipe the ice off my tent and sleeping bag when packing in the morning. And a Susan Bijl backpack to use for walking in the city at a day of rest.
Toiletries, first aid and accessories
I put all first aid and toiletries in a Deuter Accessories Wash Bag. As first aid I bring plasters, iodine, bandages and pain killers. Wet toilet wipes, sudocrem, a toothbrush and toothpaste and possibly deo, although who actually use that on the road. Furthermore, a sewing kit is always handy to take with me.
As a handlebar bag I use the Apidura Handlebar Pack 14L Expedition and for accessories the Apidura Accessory Pocket 4.5L Expedition.
The rear bags are the Ortlieb Sport Roller Classic Pannier and for the Ortlieb Back-Roller Free 40l QL2.1 Pannier. On top of the rear bags, the Ortlieb Rack-Pack Bag L. All shitty expensive but they last for a long time.
I publish articles on this blog and edit and publish photos and videos on an iPhone 7 Plus. I prefer not to bring a laptop. I use JBL earplugs for listening to music and audiobooks and two XStorm powerbanks to charge the phone. For photos and videos I use a Nikon PowerShot G7X Mark II with two spare batteries.
On the bicycle
The Vaude cruiser frame bag contains a tire repair kit, spoke adjuster and some other tools for bicycle repair. The bicycle has a bicycle pump, a water bottle and a thermos for tea. In extremer conditions I would put two of those thermos on the bike.
The bike is a Kona Rove Al 2015 with an aluminum frame. Great bike, but I have a love-hate relationship with her. I prefer to switch to an iron Surly Long Haul Trucker. Who knows what the future will bring.
And last but not least
My passport when I cross borders, cash for the ferry and a debit/credit card for shopping. I had a So Cards card game to get to know people better but I gave it away. It’s also nice to bring extra Sorel inside shoes because they quickly get wet from the sweat of my feet.
Everything in these photos is actually my entire household, otherwise I have little of value than just a laptop. If you want to do this on a small budget, it’s possible but make sure you prioritize the right equipment. Gear is personal, I used to prefer simple and cheap, and now I prefer more the quality of things. I used a Eureka tent but switched to a Hilleberg because the Eureka was worn out after two years use and cycling veteran Nigel had been using a Hilleberg tent intensively for over seven years and it still was in a very good condition.
I can only advise myself and others to buy smart, second-hand, through outlet stores or even just do-it-yourself.
If you are looking for more information about camping:
- A simple packing list for a day of two hiking can be found here;
- Read here some more advice for staying warm when camping in cold conditions;
- If you have any specific questions please send me a message.