This is my second year doing this winter trip to Sweden where we snowshoe across frozen lakes, pulling all our gear and food on homemade sleds.
As you can imagine space and weight are at a premium, not just for the aircraft flight but also having to pull all this kit with you when out on the ice. This kit includes two tents, two stoves, medical kit, safety gear, food for 11 days and of course all our personal kit. So, choosing kit to take or leave is a real fine art. Also packing this kit into as small a space as possible is an art form in itself. Thankfully with the help of my Snugpak 40L Dri-Sak’s, I was able to sort my gear into relevant sets and with the air valve on the dry bag, I could expel all the air and compress these down really small for packing, knowing they would be kept dry inside. Most of the Snugpak gear I took comes with its own stuff or compression sack that really helps with the packing too.
We start our trip from Nordic Discovery in the village of Kloten, Sweden. Our host for the first night is Mikael, who owns Nordic Discovery. He lives here year-round with his wife Rosario and he knows the area like the back of his hand, he is out every day walking, biking, canoeing, skiing, skating or on a skidoo. So, when we arrive and sort ourselves out, we always have a safety brief with Mikael about the conditions on the ice.
Our first morning we set out with temperatures of about -19°c, which may sound cold but to be honest we could have done with it being colder as the snow is firmer and less wet at lower temperatures, making it better for pulling heavy sleds. Mikael leads us out onto the ice while pointing out areas to avoid and what to watch out for, his knowledge is invaluable. Camp is always established early on the first day of hauling so we can get things sorted and squared away. Mikael leaves us at our first camp and returns home.
First job is to get the accommodation up, then the stoves installed and firewood and water gathered so we can get warm and start to prepare for the evening. It’s all go out here in these conditions, you must get vital jobs done otherwise you will at the very least not be comfortable and at worst could die. When the important tasks are done, we look to getting our sleeping gear sorted. I knew I would be warm as I had brought my Snugpak Softie Antarctica sleeping bag again and it’s a beast of a bag, big in size and abilities. It doesn’t pack down as small as some bags but then it’s rated down to -30°c and that’s one hell of a bag. To sleep on, I had brought my Snugpak Antarctic mat, again I had this last year and its ability to insulate you from the cold ground are amazing, but as it is only thin, it doesn’t give much cushioning, so this year I also brought the Snugpak Basecamp inflating mat with built-in pump. This is a cracking bit of kit, very lightweight and packs down very small. Once this was inflated, I put it on top of the Antarctic mat and that was my sleep set up almost sorted, apart from the pillow. For this, I used the stuff sack that the sleeping bag comes in and stuffed it with my Snugpak Softie jacket. My clothes would go in there too when I went to bed. Sorted. Getting a good night’s rest is very important to allow you to function correctly and safely out here.
In these temperatures and conditions, it’s very important to stay warm but it is as important not to overheat and start to sweat as this can be dangerous. So layering of clothing is vital and very important to keep on top of. If you stop, you put a layer on, moving off or doing a physical activity you take a layer off. The combination I like to use, and it worked well this year just as well as last year, was a Merino Base Layer and the Snugpak Venture Pile Shirt as my next layer. This is what I would wear when pulling the sled, felling dead standing trees, cutting logs or splitting wood. If we stopped or the weather got worse then I would put my Snugpak Pile Shirt over the top of these two layers. This would keep me warm and dry in bad weather when doing less strenuous activities or if just out snowshoeing without the sleds. With its side zips, it is very easy to slip on and off over other layers, or vent if you start to get too warm, making this ideal. The hood is also a welcome addition to pull up over my Snugpak Fleece Beanie to keep my ears and neck warm. The thumb loops on the cuffs are also a great asset as you can slip your thumbs through to increase the warmth on the wrists and backs of your hands. One of my favourite features is on the Venture Pile Shirt with the chest pockets and the large pocket that holds my thermal brew mug perfectly. Can’t beat having a brew safe and secure but always to hand.
If we stopped in the wind or we were going to be stationary out in the woods or on the ice for some time, an additional layer was required to keep in that vital warmth. For this I would put on my Snugpak Venture Pile Shirt over the top of all the other layers. The Venture Pile Shirt was also my pillow at night and close at hand, should I need to nip out of the tent to answer a call of nature. It’s a great coat and packs down small in its stuff sack, but offers a great amount of loft when put on.
Keeping your feet warm is extremely important out here, the cold can suck the life out of your feet without you knowing. Footwear wise, the best I have found are winter moccasins or mukluks, rather than modern rubber boots. Having many insulating layers in your footwear is very important and these should all be removable so they can be dried out is required. Merino Wool Socks are a favourite of all the team and my Snugpak Merino Socks were great, I had a pair on every day. (That’s not the same pair all the time, just in case you were wondering).
Keeping moisture away and keeping your kit dry is very important. After a day out in the woods with constant wet snow coming down, I had been wearing my Snugpak Pile shirt as an outer layer and although I was nice and warm, I could just feel the damp starting to come through at the end of the day. So I was very pleased with how fast the shirt dried out when hung in the warm tent overnight. I was convinced I would have to wear something else, but in the morning it was dry to wear. Great news. Next year, I think I will swap out my Snugpak Venture Pile Shirt for my Snugpak Torrent Jacket as this is totally waterproof and it would have been ideal to wear on the really wet days. I just need to get a stuff sack for it like the softie and pile shirt.
I hope I have given you an insight into my trip and how well the Snugpak kit worked. I do have a bit of a reputation for giving kit a hard time and testing it to destruction, but I can honestly say that I am still pleased with all my Snugpak gear and as yet I haven’t broken it or worn it out. It’s all still going strong, even through all the abuse and extreme conditions it gets put through. A big thanks to EVERYONE at Snugpak for the excellent kit and helping keep me safe and warm.