On a recent trip I made some silly mistakes, and I have now come to some obvious conclusions.
On this trip I was trying out my new backpacking clothing options, and while I was checking how well my choices were working, I was slow to make changes when things weren’t. And that was a problem.
When I set out on the trail, it was 46°F and windy, so probably somewhere in the late thirties taking into account the windchill. All I was wearing was my hiking kilt and a sports shirt. I quickly realized I needed something to keep the wind off, so I put on my rainjacket to act as a windbreak. After an hour of hiking, my legs, below the knees were warm, as were my feet. However, my thighs, arms, hands, chest, and ears felt cold. I stopped and swapped my windbreak for my puffy down jacket. I was disappointed that I didn’t instantly feel warmer. I spent a lot of money on that jacket. I expected better results.
Once I’d arrived at my campsite I set to filtering some water. At the time it struck me as odd that the water felt warm, but I thought nothing else of it. With camp set up, I changed out of my trail clothes into my baselayers. I put on my hiking pants and my puffy jacket and made a hot drink and meal. I was still cold though.
I originally planned to pack my 40°F top quilt, along with my 10°F underquilt as a defense against the predicted cold wind. At the last minute, I changed out the 40°F top quilt for my 10°F quilt and fitted the winter cover on my hammock. I’m glad I did.
The seasons are moving on, and it’s getting dark early, I was in my hammock reading shortly after seven. I kept my puffy jacket on (with the hood up) and put gloves on too. I was still cold. By nine-thirty, I’d given up trying to read and turned in for the night still feeling cold. In the middle of the night I woke up feeling far too hot. I had to get out of the puffy jacket, vented my top quilt, and fully opened the air vent in the hammock cover.
What was going on?
Over the next few days I thought long and hard about what had happened.
- Firstly, and obviously, I’d waited far too long to put on a warm jacket when I hiked in. I ended up being very chilled. The fact that the creek water felt warm should have immediately set the alarm bells ringing.
- Having bare legs is fine, but I was losing all the heat my leg muscles were generating. I should have switched to pants, or put on my baselayer bottoms.
- My concern about my gear not performing properly was unfounded. Insulating jackets and quilts can only keep you warm if you are generating warmth in the first place. It was only after my body started metabolizing the food I’d eaten and generating heat that I finally warmed up.
- It’s taken me a long time to realize that my weight-loss regimen has come back to haunt me. I’ve lost around 26lbs, and I don’t have as much easy to metabolize fat on me for my body to consume to keep me warm. Nor do I have the fat on my body to insulate my core—a double whammy. Not only that, but without the extra padding, my backpack is no longer as comfortable as my bones now poke into it.
- Up to now I have typically hiked with an estimated daily calorie deficit of 400-800 calories per day – more than an additional two-serving Mountain House meal. I need to review that strategy.
What to do?
Now I’m carrying a lot less body fat, I need to be much more careful about getting chilled while hiking, and much quicker to layer up. I need to have some calorie-dense foodstuffs on hand, peanut butter, coconut oil, etc.
Fortunately, if I decide that I need it, I can get better padding for my backpack, which will help with my pokey hips and other bones.
As I plan to do a lot more winter hiking this year, I need to sort this out. My plan is to be comfortable, whatever the weather. I have a lot invested in extra insulation and clothes for winter backpacking and camping so I’d better see to it!