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I spent a lot of time researching and trialing my gear to see what would be the best setup for the Frigid Infliction (read race review here). This was my first time doing a winter adventure race and second time doing any adventure race, so my gear choices may change in the future as I gain more experience. I will share with you the good and the bad… what worked well and what didn’t. Most of the gear I used is stuff that has treated me well during other winter adventures.
Water system: Camelbak Classic Hydration Pack
I’ve always had difficulty trying to find a water system that works for me in the winter. Camelbak hoses freeze almost instantly in cold weather, even when using an insulated hose. I’ve even tried blowing the water back into the reservoir so that it is just air in the tube, and that doesn’t work either. I can’t drink out of wide-mouthed bottles without spilling it all over myself, and narrow-mouthed bottles freeze up quick.
Dale and I came up with a great solution to this problem, and we tested it all winter while preparing for the adventure race. What we did was wear a small backpack that was just big enough to hold a 2 liter reservoir and then wear that backpack underneath our jacket so that our body heat kept it warm. You keep the hose inside your jacket as well, except when you take it out to have a drink. Every once in a while the hose will freeze in really cold temperatures if it’s near my zipper, but I’m generally okay, especially when I blow the water out of the tube. I heard that many people’s water bottles froze during the extra-frigid Frigid Infliction this year, but we didn’t have that problem.
A few notes: Wearing a backpack underneath a backpack is not a nuisance at all. I did my entire training with this system, and it’s a system I really like. Also, I have not had luck with knock-off brands of CamelBak. Going cheap might result in a leaky reservoir, and that is no fun.
Backpack: Osprey Stratos 36
I didn’t buy this bag specifically for adventure racing. It has been my go-to backpack for many of my outdoor adventures, and this was the backpack in my closet that I felt would be best suited for the Frigid Infliction. It was big enough to hold what I needed (including my boots), has a stow-and-go system to quickly attach your poles to your backpack without taking it off, and the side straps were perfect for attaching my snowshoes to the outside of the pack (or cross-country skis if you are silly and decide to go bushwhacking with them…). Osprey is a reputable brand, and their backpack hasn’t let me down yet. They have another backpack I’m interested for summer adventure racing called the Osprey Talon 22. I like it because it has a special attachment for you bicycle helmet on the outside.
Compass: Silva Ranger CLQ
This compass is great. It has an adjustable declination, clinometer (to measure angle of inclination), and a mirror to enhance accuracy when sighting on distant landmarks. I wouldn’t go super cheap on a compass because certain features like adjustable declination will make a huge difference in your accuracy.
Altimeter: Suunto Core Crush
I was told that an altimeter can be super helpful for adventure races, so I did some research to find the best one I could that wasn’t too expensive. If you go on Amazon, you can find a bunch for less than $50, but many of the reviews said they were junk. I ended up splurging a little bit for the Suunto Core Crush. I like this watch because it doesn’t have a GPS (which isn’t allowed in adventure races unless you hide it in you pack for the sake of looking at it later). The battery life is 6 months to a year thanks to the lack of GPS.
I’ve heard good things about Suunto watches, and the Suunto Core seemed to have the most accurate altimeter based on my research. At first, my altimeter was off by a few hundred feet, but after calibrating it twice it was almost spot on. This was so helpful when we were bushwhacking and needed a general idea of how much higher we needed to climb. The watch face is a little big, but the silicone wrist band fit my wrist perfectly.
Snow boots: Salomon Snowtrip TS WP Winter Boot
I love these boots! This is my third year using them as a winter boot, and they are so comfortable and easy to walk in (men’s version here). They’re also super warm, yet I never seem to overheat in them. I’ve had good luck with Salomon footwear in general. Some features I like about this boot are:
It has a wide toe box. One thing I can’t stand is when shoes are compressing my toes too much.
My foot doesn’t move in them. My boots are snug, but not overly tight, and my feet don’t slide and jam into the front of the boot when I’m going downhill.
They “roll” when you run. I find it hard to run in a lot of snow boots because they’re so clunky, but the sole of these boots are rounded in the front and back, allowing you to have a more natural running gait. I’ve never been comfortable running in snow boots until I got these.
They’re lightweight. Yay!
Foot traction: Kahtoola Nanospikes
These things are awesome! I bought my nanospikes the day before our race, not knowing how they were going to perform. They ended up being perfect for me because they were lightweight, allowed me to run comfortably, and gave me some grip on the ice. When we were off trail going up steep slopes, I would have been better off with microspikes to get some better grip, but I wouldn’t change what I did because of the running factor AND weight factor.
A few years ago I read an article from Mountain Tactical Institute about boot weight and performance. I still think of it to this day, and it is one of the reasons I chose the lighter weight nanospikes over microspikes. This is what the article had to say:
One pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.
It takes 4.7 to 6.4 times as much energy to move at a given pace when weight is carried on the shoe vs. on the torso.
One pound on your feet means 5% more energy expended.
Every one percent of your body weight makes you six seconds slower per mile.
I’ll take the lighter gear please.
Snowshoes: Tubbs Sojourn
I’ve had these snowshoes for a long time (11 year to be exact). There’s no specific reason I bought them other than the fact that Tubbs is a reputable snowshoe company and this specific model was the cheapest I could find. The only issue I had with these during my training what that the binding would snag on the front part of the snowshoe every time I took a step. It was terribly annoying, but it was also an easy fix. All I did was cut the decking a little wider so that there was more space to clear the binding. After that, the snowshoes worked great and strapped on quick, which was great for transitions.
Tubbs doesn’t make the Sojourn anymore, but I imagine the Xplore snowshoe is very similar.
GPS: Garmin Fenix
I had this stuffed in my bag during the adventure race since we aren't allowed to use GPS's. It did a great job tracking us, has an altimeter, and has a longer battery life than most GPS watches (up to 50 hours with the GPS on, and longer with it off). It is a little big, but other than that it has treated me well for many years.
My layering system
I have a pretty good system for staying comfortable in the cold. My base layer is always a tight synthetic layer like the Under Armour Cold Gear long sleeve shirt. Next up I wear a half-zip fleece because they are lightweight, warm, and never seem to take on much water or sweat. Even when I take my fleece out of the wash it feels dry, and I think that's an important quality to have in winter apparel. Outside of my base layer and fleece was my Marmot Dena Jacket. I almost wore my “Everest Jacket” (Mountain Harwear Nilas) instead of the Marmot Dena because it was so cold, but I was sweating in it just walking across the parking lot. Everybody has a different layering system that works for them. Dale prefers wool instead of a synthetic base layer, but it’s all a matter of preference.
On my lower half, I wear fleece spandex underneath a pair of Columbia snowpants that I got at T.J. Maxx.
This was a tough race to pack food for because I needed to bring items that wouldn’t freeze. These are some of the things I packed that worked well:
Wella bars – These are peanut butter and almond butter bars, and were pretty much the only bars I had that didn’t freeze up on me.
Chocolate – Yay! I prefer ones that are sweetened with honey.
Trail mix – I usually get my trail mix in bulk at our Natural Living Center, as long as it doesn't have artificial sugar in it.
Dehydrated fruit – fruit leathers, dried apricots, raisins, etc.
These are foods I love as trail snacks but didn’t quite work out in the cold
Mamma Chia squeeze – I actually brought some of these with me and kept them in my pockets so they wouldn’t freeze. These are one of my favorite trail snacks.
Things I might consider bringing next time
Homemade dehydrated snacks – It’s cheaper, and you waste less plastic.
Homemade chocolates – Again, it’s cheaper, and you have control of the sweetener you use. I prefer honey.
That’s all! Happy trails!