New Snowshoes

After 22 years of use I finally wore out my Atlas 1033 snowshoes.  I don’t feel too bad about it, in fact, I am a little proud of the fact I have worn them out.  Last year I wore out the deck wrap on the tail of the right shoe and got it repaired at a shoe repair shop.  This year the wraps on the left snowshoe wore through as did the rivets holding the binding and crampon to the aluminum frame.  I shipped them out to Mountain Soles for repair, but they are running 1-3 weeks for repair orders and I expect shipping to/from will likely take another two weeks.  Spring seems to be knocking at the door, so I decided to get a pair of comparable snowshoes and ordered a pair of Serrate 30 Snowshoes from REI.  I opted for the 30″ size as a comfortable medium; I was concerned that 36″ would be too long and cumbersome.  Most of my snowshoeing is in snow of medium depth or traveling over a previously packed trail. Sunday, following Eric’s AAU tournament, I got to try them out.

One big difference is that single pull bindings have developed in the past 20 years.  My old bindings had three separate nylon straps to tighten while the new ones have a single pull for the front two straps.  My size 13 insulated hiking boots just fit with the heel strap let all the way out; unfortunately  I don’t think the binding will stretch much.  I covered a couple of miles on a familiar trail up Pen Bonc Hill.  It was sunny and felt warm – I ended up wearing a baseball cap for eye shade and just a windbreaker over my long sleeve shirt.  At the top of the hill I pulled on a fleece and sat for 10-12 minutes enjoying the near lack of sounds – only the breeze rustling the leaves of a few small beech trees.  After a bit I stomped home.


You might be a WinterCamper if

You might be a WinterCamper if……weekend weather forecast calls for freezing temperatures and additional snow so you pack an extra tarp, spare wool socks and go anyway because they know you have the whole place to yourself and it will be glorious….

Read the full list here.


Quick Overnight / Broomstick Lake

Matt & I exchanged emails about our desire to get out for an overnight camping trip.  We settled on Broomstick Lake, about an hour’s drive for each of us.

Our initial plan was to meet Saturday afternoon and camp Saturday night, but with no one else joining our trip we discussed the possibility of meeting Friday evening for the short snowshoe hike in.  We met at the trailhead at 5pm, hiked up hill to a level knoll and set up our shelters and gathered wood while it was still light.  I brought my Black Diamond Hilight tent and Matt brought two tarps which he set up using bent over branch.  In the morning he reported there was more a slope to his site than originally assessed.

We managed to find dry standing wood including a two flat chunks of pine that served as a base for our fire and a dead ash that yielded logs approximately 8″ across.  Matt’s chain saw was handy for cutting the larger logs.  Our fire lasted for hours.

As I got the fire going Matt set up his stove and heated water for our dehydrated meals. The fire, meals and waning light all coalesced around 6:20.  We sat up around the fire and talked until 8pm when we decided on an early turn in time.  We received 2-3″ of snow overnight and I heard it repeatedly slide off the tent during the night.  We were awake a little after 6am, packed up and headed home.  I was back home by 8:30 and had the rest of the weekend.


Building a Reflector Fire

A reflector fire is really any fire that has some sort of flat surface behind it to direct the heat back out past the fire. This surface is erected behind the fire and pointed, for example, at the face of a tent, lean-to or other shelter.

This back reflector can be made out of a few large slabs of bark, several logs laid against supports and stacked upon each other to form the surface. Rocks can also be used but just like those used to ring a fire, make sure they do not contain moisture. That trapped moisture can be heated to where it’s like a steam engine with no release valve. Exploding rocks can send shrapnel and shards flying in every direction!

Lay some logs on top of one another against the sloping back. Form a rectangle on the floor at the base of the slope as your fireplace. By lighting a fire in the middle most of the heat will be reflected back to the front of the fire, making cooking easy. Be sure that you build it so the ‘grate’ or fireplace faces the wind.

A good reflector close to the fire will help reflect the heat back towards you. Not only this but it helps to draw the smoke upwards instead of getting in your eyes. You can use this to your advantage by also reflecting heat into your shelter.

Notice when we discussed campfire location I recommended that you did not make a fire up against a large boulder or tree stump. Build the fire away from the rock/stump and place a reflector on the other side. As the rock reflects the heat onto your back, the reflector warms you to the front.

If there are no ‘natural reflectors’ simply build several reflectors of your own and place one behind you, then one on the other side of the fire.

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Space Blankets

First developed by NASA in 1964 for the US space program, space blankets consist of a thin sheet of plastic coated with a metallic reflecting agent which reflects up to 97% of radiated heat.  Many campers have a space blanket in their emergency kit, however, few have ever used one.

Space blankets are not blankets.  We usually think of a blanket as something that will insulate from the cold air – you can fold up a wool blanket and place it on the snow, sit on the blanket and for the most part your posterior won’t get overly cold. Conversely, space blankets offer near zero insulating properties and conduct cold or hot temperatures very efficiently.

The purpose of a space blanket is to reflect heat back towards the source of the heat. If you are very cold a space blanket alone will do little to help reheat you.  If, however, if you are producing heat (e.g. a marathon runner at the end of a long run)  a space blanket will significantly slow down the rate at which your radiated heat dissipates into the environment.  If you find yourself stranded in a blizzard you can use a space blanket to slow the rate of heat loss but it won’t do anything to heat you up after you’ve spent 2 hours wandering around.

Space blankets have drawbacks:

  • You can never get a space blanket folded up like they were before you opened them.
  • Light weight space blankets tear easily and may be single use.
  • Space blankets are loud and can crinkle through the night.

So what good are space blankets then?

  • Space blankets are inexpensive, light weight and packable.
  • Space blankets are multi-purpose; serving as a clothing, a shelter or signaling device.
  • A space blanket can be used as a emergency poncho or wind jacket.
  • Space blankets can be used as a emergency shelter.  They can shed rain/snow and offer a good wind break.
  • A space blanket can be used under a sleeping bag as a ground cloth.
  • Space blankets will reflect the sun’s energy away from you and provide shade.
  • A space blanket makes a good emergency signal flapping in the breeze and reflecting sunlight.
  • A space blanket can be used as a heat reflector in back of a camp fire to direct heat from the fire.
  • In a first aid situation a space blanket can be combined with a traditional blanket to maximize the reheating of a victim much better than either used by themselves.

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Survival Kit

I have a survival kit that I take on canoe trips and some adventures.  On our latest winter camping venture we got talking about doing a ‘survival overnight’.  The idea would be to camp out overnight with minimal gear.  How minimal was the topic of most of the discussion.  Doing the trip somewhere safe where someone could bail out if necessary was another discussion.

A starting point for an overnight survival kit would probably include most of these items.

A water tight plastic Ovaltine bottle to store 16 items.

  • Four fire starters: box matches, a Bic lighter, Fire Steel fire starter and matches with an emery board in a pill prescription bottle.
  • Two fire tinder sources: cotton balls swabbed with Vaseline and WetFire tablets.
  • Alcohol hand cleaner (can also serve as fire starter)
  • Iodine water treatment tablets
  • Micro cordage
  • A Leatherman Squirt multi-tool
  • A whistle
  • Compass
  • Toilet paper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Emergency poncho
  • Emergency space blanket

Everything fits inside the bottle and stays dry.

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