You can see the list of gear I took on the Equipment List page here. I’m no expert, but here’s a list of things I learned and did.
Duct tape is your friend – tape up any exposed metal that you will be touching regularly. Metal sucks the warmth from your hands! Things like pan handles, flasks, mugs, shovel handle, bike frame, brake levers etc.
- I used half oil/half cleaning fluid in Rohloff hub (as advised by Rohloff) but still found that below -20C the resistance was noticeable. Any colder and I would think that a higher ratio of cleaning fluid to oil would be better, but it would be best to see what Rohloff recommend.
- The handlebars were very cold to touch when starting cycling and I wonder if you could wrap them in something insulating to help.
- Perhaps taping up pedals would have helped with preventing cold feet when cycling.
- Schwalbe’s Ice Spiker Pro tyresworked great and never felt like slipping or sliding even on Norway’s icy E6 highway. Even pushing up steep slippery slopes in Tromso the tyres held firm and it was me who struggled to stay on my feet!
- The sheepswool saddle cover was brilliant – stopped my backside getting cold on my Brooks leather saddle. Highly recommended. After 3 weeks it’s pretty worn though…
- The shovel was incredibly useful for digging out snow for when we bivvy’d out and made a snow bunker to sleep in. Although stomping the snow worked best for clearing a space when we pitched tents.
- A great tip is to dig a trench besides where you sleep (i.e. in the porch/vestibule of your tent) – it has a dual purpose of the cold air (being heavier) sinks into the trench, keeping your sleeping area just a little bit less cold and also it’s great for enabling you to sit up properly in your tent / on your bivvy with your feet in the trench while cooking etc – it’s much more comfortable.
- The snow ankkors from Alpkit were not as effective as Shanes snow stakes which could easily be buried in the snow to secure them. The ankkors would work better in sand I think. The snow was just too powdery. Burying dry bags filled with snow also make great anchors.
- I had a Light My Fire knife and fire-lighter, which worked great for both uses. A fixed blade is much easier to use than a folding one when wearing gloves. The fire-lighter consistently lit the petrol in the stove. Since it works when wet/cold, it negates the need to carry matches/lighter (both of which need to be kept dry). On a longer/more remote trip I’d take a spare fire light (and safety matches for good measure).
- There is much debate as to the best sleeping system. I went with a vapour barrier inside my Cumulus down sleeping bag inside a bivvy bag. All to keep the down bag dry. I loved my -40C rated bag, although mostly I was too hot and had to sleep with it unzipped. Only on the coldest nights without the tent was it comfortable throughout the night. The coldest night was only about -30C so I didn’t get to test the bag to the limit. It was great to know that at the end of the day, however cold and miserable you could feel, you would be warm and dry and cosy in the sleeping bag.
- The emergency bag I used as a vapour barrier split after a few nights and had to be duct taped up.
For a longer trip I would consider investing in something more hard-wearing. Otherwise, it worked as expected – I slept sweaty but was warm. By wearing baselayers and socks, the sweat-factor wasn’t that unpleasant. Although when you get out of the bag in the morning it’s like a sauna with all the hot air escaping into a cloud of steam!
- The Alpkit Hunka XL bivvywas a perfect size for the huge down bag and it worked great on the nights when we didn’t bother with the tent.
- On the final couple of nights I didn’t use the vapour barrier bag and it was noticeable how much the down got damp. My bag was sufficiently over-rated not to matter, but Shane said he felt a little cold on the last night. So without the VB you’d need to be able to dry out the bag regularly.
- Another option would have been a synthetic bag, which works even when damp, but they do weigh a lot more.
- I filled the sleeping bag stuff sack with anything I wanted in the sleeping bag (to stop it freezing) with me – including toothpaste, moisturiser, phone, gloves, socks etc). My pac boot liners I also slept with and I used my down jacket as a pillow.
- The self-inflating Thermarest plus z-lite foam mat worked well to insulate from the ground and has the added benefit that if the thermarest ‘breaks’, you still have one mat that works.
- 2 pans are a good idea so that you can cook food and melt snow simultaneously.
- Shane made some pan cozies from reflective insulating material from a DIY store – they were great for slowing down the rate at which cooked food got cold.
- The multi-fuel stove with unleaded petrol burned well. Gas doesn’t burn well when very cold.
- Take a repair/maintenance kit for your stove, and spares if on a longer/remote trip – o-seals and plastic parts are susceptible in the cold
- Thermos: flasks for water are best. If using water bottle, Nalgene is best due to wider opening but you still have to take care not to let water freeze if full (as difficult to then melt). Hot water in the thermos won’t freeze, even overnight, but the Nalgene will unless you sleep with it (I didn’t like to and ended up only using my flask).
- Camelbaks: Wearing a camelbak is one way to stop water freezing (using your body warmth). I didn’t use one because it was too tight under my waterproof and I know I sweat a lot and it would make it worse. Shane had one but soon gave up on it because of water freezing in the tube and blocking it occasionally and of water in the bag freezing when he took it off at the end of the day but didn’t empty it immediately.
- Worth having two bottles/flasks in case one freezes or breaks.
- Alpkit’s padded stuff sacs worked a charm to protecting cameras, cables, batteries and SD cards
etc and I’m sure helped keep out any moisture when I brought the bags inside and they warmed up (so long as I kept them closed).
- Batteries run down very quickly when cold, so I kept the DSLR camera batteries on me and loaded
them into the camera (which I kept in the handlebar bag) when wanting to use it. The compact I had on me anyway.
- When bringing electronics inside, be sure to keep them in a bag until they are near room temperature. Otherwise air moisture condenses on them and may lead to problems – with the camera, the lens fogged up very quickly.