Choppers and Mittens

Gloves provide a covering for individual fingers, but wearers do not derive much benefit from natural body heat. While gloves have separate coverings for four fingers and the thumb,  mittens have one covering for all of the fingers  and one for the all important opposable thumb. Mittens thus provide a pocket of warmth over the four fingers, but wearers often suffer from a lack of dexterity.

If keeping all  fingers warm is a priority during winter activities, mittens are usually considered preferable to gloves. If hand mobility is a priority, then gloves provide much more articulation than mittens.

Mittens are generally warmer than gloves (given the same material) because gloves have a higher surface area than mittens (due to the fact they have individual fingers). This means that the heat from your body dissipates into the air more quickly and it feels colder.

Double-layer woodsman’s mittens (known as choppers and mittens) have been a winter staple for generations. They’re tough enough for chopping wood, hunting, ice fishing and outdoor chores, and great for sledding and cold-weather hikes.

Traditionally the outer shell or chopper is made of strong, supple leather that resists wind, wear and water.  The mitten insert provides insulation and warmth. The mitten inserts should fit inside the choppers and give a loose fit when your hands are inside. A tight fit cuts off the circulation of warm blood and can lead to frostbite and other cold injuries.

Shown below are three variations of choppers and mittens.

Below is shown a traditional style consisting of a rugged leather chopper with a hand knitted mitten insert.

Shown below are lighter weight deer hide choppers with a loose fleece mitten insert.

Finally, the choppers below are made of a waterproof Gore-Text shell with wrist closures and dense fleece mitten inserts.  These choppers are longer with cuffs that extend to mid-arm.

One advantage of choppers and mittens is the ability to substitute various mitten inserts as mittens get damp due to sweat or to increase hand warmth.  For extended outings I recommend carrying at least two full sets of wool mittens.   In a pinch you can also substitute  extra wool socks for wool mitten inserts. Below is shown a thick fleece mitten insert.

Finally, one can also use a hybrid system with light glove liners inside of choppers.  This enables the choppers to be removed when increased dexterity is required, yet keeping your hands covered.

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P-38 Can Opener

The P-38 can opener is pocket-sized (approximately 1.5 inches, 38mm, in length) and consists of a short metal blade that serves as a handle (which doubles as a flat-blade screwdriver), with a small, hinged metal tooth that folds out to pierce the can lid. A notch just under the hinge point keeps the opener hooked around the rim of the can as the device is “walked” around to cut the lid out.

The P-38 is easily used. First the cutting point is pivoted to its 95-degree position from its stowed, folded position. Then, for a right-handed user, the P-38 is held in the right hand by the flat long section, with the cutting point pointing downward and away from the user, while also hooking the edge of the can through the circular notch located on the flat long section next to the cutting edge. The can is held in the left hand, and the right hand is rotated slightly clockwise, causing the can lid to be punctured. The can is then rotated counter clockwise in the left hand, while the right hand rotates alternatively slightly counterclockwise and slightly clockwise, until the can has been rotated nearly 360 degrees and the lid is nearly free.

The lid of the now opened can is lifted, most often with the P-38 cutting edge, and the P-38 is wiped clean, and the cutting point is rotated back to its stowed, folded position. Left-handed users simply hold the P-38 in their left hand, with the cutting point aimed towards themselves, while holding the can to be opened in their right hand, while also reversing the sense of the cutting hand movements just described.

One rumored explanation for the origin of the name is that the P-38 is approximately 38 mm (1.5 in) long. U.S. Army sources, however, indicate that the origin of the name is rooted in the 38 punctures around the circumference of a C-ration can required for opening.


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More Quinzee Instruction

Who needs a tent for winter camping? Ottawa Outdoor Magazine provides an illustrated, instructional article “How To Build A Quinzee” by Allen Macartney covering what is a quinzee, digging a hole and filling it in, snug in any temperature, customizing the domicile, and cautionary notes.

hut1 hut2

If you are interested check out the article here and read WinterCamper’s Guide to Winter Camping.  You will be a Quinzee Constructor Extraordinaire.

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Peaked Mountain

Peaked Mountain, (Latitude: N 43° 43′ 42.74″  Longitude: W 74° 08′ 58.70″) elevation 2919 feet, is a modest sized mountain located north-west of Thirteenth Lake.  It is very steep sided which affords great views of the surrounding forest, lakes, and mountains, including the high peaks.  The trailhead is at the parking lot for public access to Thirteenth Lake.  The lot is reached by taking Thirteenth Lake road off of NY route 28 north of North Creek.

In 2000 Matt, Jim and Brian followed Brian’s lead as he bushwhacked from the parking lot to the summit of Peaked Mountain on fiercely cold day and were rewarded by fantastic views.  That trip was done as a day trip over Martin Luther King Weekend.  In 2002 the  motto “Its the journey…not the destination” was born.  Matt, Jim, Mark, Len, Rob and Jason pitched their tents in the hopes of climbing Peaked Mountain but the group got a late start and were thwarted from achieving the summit of Peaked Mountain. For this venture Matt, Skip and Jim met in Speculator for breakfast and were leaving the trail head by 10:30am.  The trail head log book was full.  We followed turkey tracks on the trail that paralleled the west side of 13th Lake for .85 miles.  The sun was shining with partly cloudy skies and the lake was open water without ice.


We turned northwest along the outlet of Peaked Mountain Pond.   Here the trail ascends ~600 feet for the 2.6 miles  from 13th Lake to Peaked Pond. This is a pretty walk alongside numerous cataracts and water chutes.


A short way into the ascent we passed the junction to Hour Pond.  The bridge across the stream provided a scenic backdrop that was irresistible for the photographers.

As we climbed the trail we followed canid tracks that we believe were from a fox.  As we neared Peaked Mtn Pond there were several stream crossings as we bore off to the NE skirting Peaked Pond.

We bushwhacked around new beaver ponds that showed a lot of recent activity.


We found a suitable campsite to the NE of Peaked Mtn Pond and took a break for lunch to discuss our options.  By this time the skies had clouded up and light snow squalls flurried around us.  Since the primary purpose of climbing Peaked Mtn was to witness the view we debated the merits of continuing our hike or waiting until Sunday morning when the weather forecast called for clear sunny skies.  We finished lunch, cut wood for the evening’s fire and pitched our Black Diamond Megamid tent.

The  Megamid is supposed to sleep 4 persons, but I am sure they never made those calculations with 6’4″ campers in mind.  It  fit 3 sleeping forms quite well, especially if it can be hung from line rather than using a center pole.  For this trip I packed a piece of Tyvek building wrap that fit nicely as a ground cloth.  We set out our sleeping bags to loft.  Matt happily set out his new Marmot CWM -40 sleeping bag which he coupled with  a short Ridgerest and long Thermarest inflatable pad and a basic bivy bag.  The loft of  Jim’s  Western Mountaineering Puma paled by comparison.

We completed our chores and we saw a few breaks in the sky.  At 1:30pm we felt it was too early to spend the rest of the day hanging around camp and made the decision to summit Peaked Mtn.  We estimated it would take roughly an hour to climb to the summit, 30 minutes of hanging around on the summit and another hour to return; giving us a small margin of error before darkness came at 4:30pm.

The bushwhack to the summit trail was steep, clogged with dead-fall and icy near the summit.  Skip used crampons, while Jim relied on his trekking pole and Matt prevailed relying on sheer athleticism. The final approach to the rocky summit worked its way around the base of the sheer cliffs.  The steep climb was challenging on the way up and precipitous on the return. We used trees and roots as hand holds to cross the particularly icy sections.

At the summit we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the southern Adirondacks and took numerous photographs, including the requisite group photo.  Similar to our trip to Peaked Mtn eleven years prior we noticed snowshoe hare tracks on the summit.  We hadn’t noticed any at lower elevations.


Shortly after 3pm we began our descent and returned to camp.  Back at camp we changed into dry clothes and were mocked by clearing skies and a view of a sunlight Peaked Mtn.

We boiled water and began our dinner preparations.   Water from the stream off the hillside was boiled in a large pot with half of the water used for hydrating and the other half used for chicken noodle soup.  We combined two packages of dried soup mix with chicken flavored ramen noodles and a can of chicken.

Skip started up our fire and we ate the  hot, salty soup with a bagel.  The combination of dry clothes, extra insulation, hot soup and cheery fire warmed us.


Skip brought waaay too many brats for us to eat and we sat up talking around the fire until 8pm.

During the night we received an inch of fluffy snow which we heard slide down the tent walls.


Strangely enough we heard a grouse drumming through out the night.  We noted that we had never heard one drum during the winter or at night.  The bright full moon must have deceived the male into being active all night.

The next morning we stirred at 7am and dealt with a frosty tent. We opted for a quick snack with the promise of a full breakfast at the Indian Lake diner.


We packed up and were on the trail by 8am.  The hike out was ideal with sunny, warm conditions under clear skies.

We past the several beaver ponds that we skirted on our hike in.

We returned to the trail head at 10 and were at the Indian Lake diner by 10:30.

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Adirondack Lean-tos

The Lean-to is an open faced camping shelter found throughout the Adirondack Park back-country areas and along the Appalachian Trail. They are also found in the Nordic European nation of Finland, although in Finland they are called “laavus” instead. These Finnish lean-tos serve as temporary housing for people on hiking, camping or fishing expeditions out in the wilderness. They are especially common in the Pukala national forest of Finland.

Lean-tos are built mostly by hand with chainsaws and chisels and the logs are assembled using a scribe notching technique that results in a very tight fit of joints and allows the use of the entire length of logs. The floor space usually measures 12′ x 8′ in size.

The original plans for building a lean-to were published by the New York Conservation Department – Bureau of Camps and Trails in March 1957 entitled as Plan # 184.  The original plans can still be found here.

Lean-To Plan

New York State maintained lean-tos are open to any and all comers up to the marked capacity of the shelter. As is the case at other campsites, you may not stay at a lean-to for more than three consecutive nights without a free DEC permit. When using a lean-to, don’t hammer nails into the logs or make other “improvements.” It’s even illegal to set up a tent inside a lean-to!

There are benefits to winter camping in an  Lean-to.  Foremost, is that you don’t have to carry your shelter with you.  They are spacious; although each lean-to can be different typically there is adequate room for 5.   The lean-to provides a level, dry platform for changing clothes, setting up a stove, mixing food, or just plain sitting.

On the other hand, lean-to’s aren’t particularly warm – even if you close off the open side with a tarp. They are usually situated in high-use areas. And the sleeping arrangements can leave you laying wide awake between two prodigious snorers.

In the past 12 years of winter camping only once have we encountered a lean-to in use by others.  On Martin Luther King weekend in 1997 at the popular John Pond lean-to in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area  a boy scout troop had hiked in before us and were staying at the lean-to, so we tented.

Appalachian Trail Lean-tos

WhiteBlaze, a forum dedicated to the Appalachian Trail, has aforum devoted to Shelters & Lean-tos where users share their shelter experiences and discuss issues related to shelters of lean-tos from Georgia to Maine.

NYS Lean-tos

DSettahr over at Adirondack Forums posted a spreadsheet of all the lean-tos in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.  He stated it was his “(long term) hiking goal… to spend a night in every single lean-to in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.”

The spreadsheet has two pages: one that has all the lean-tos listed in alphabetical order and one that lists them by the management unit in which they reside. Currently, there are 295 lean-tos on the list.  Subsuquent posters noted corrections where lean-tos no longer existed.  You can download the file from here or here.  You can read the whole discussion here.

Sharing Lean-tos

I culled through a long discussion at on the guidelines and rules for sharing lean-tos.  Basically there are guidelines stating that it is nice to share lean-tos, however, there are no regulations requiring they be shared.

WildRiver stated “There is no regulation compelling lean-to users to share the shelters with latecomers. Latecomers have no regulatory right to move into lean-tos that are currently being occupied, even if there is room.  On the other hand:  No one can claim exclusive occupancy of any portion of state land, whether it be a lean-to or an off-trail campsite in the middle of nowhere.  Basically, the state’s land use regulations are completely mum on the topic of sharing campsites. No matter where you go in the Forest Preserve, you have no guaranteed “right” to solitude, nor do you have the “right” to intrude on someone else’s.

However, there is by all means a valid expectation for solitude. The word is an integral part of the legal definition of “Wilderness Area,” meaning that solitude is a feature the state is officially trying to promote and perpetuate. In fact, the Five Ponds Wilderness UMP specifically addresses people “who go into the wilderness primarily as a social excursion seeking the company of others and facilities where they might congregate” by stating: “Users” in [this] category are not really seeking a wilderness or the experience of it. Therefore, the accommodation of user group 5 is not a goal in the management of this unit.

So there is an official obligation to provide “outstanding opportunities for solitude,” and in fact this is a key part of the wilderness experience. Most people that you meet in the back country are in search of privacy to one degree or another, and it is to everyone’s mutual benefit to give each other space when choosing a campsite.”

The formal DEC regulations can be read here.

Lean-to Registers

Decided to sleep in lean-to, floor like C-ment. To those who come behind us, bring a mattress. – Griffin Rapids.

Finally, there is always the added benefit of reading the lean-to register for entertainment as captured in No Place I’d Rather Be: Wit and Wisdom from Adirondack Lean-tos by Stuart Mesinger.   Stuart took several years and read hundreds of registers to compile his book. Stuart received permission (and sponsorship) from the ADK to go through the register archives. Stuart flagged the interesting entries, had a High School student type them up and then organized the book into themes: love stories, tall tales, partying, complainers, weather, critters, bugs, food, the privy, the campfire, the long walk, adventures, culture clashes, hunting and fishing, companions, religion and solitude.

There are over 200 lean-tos in the Adirondacks and we have all read the lean-to registers. Stuart took several years and read hundreds of registers to compile his book. Stuart received permission (and sponsorship) from the ADK to go through the register archives. Stuart flagged the interesting entries, had a High School student type them up and then organized the book into themes: love stories, tall tales, partying, complainers, weather, critters, bugs, food, the privy, the campfire, the long walk, adventures, culture clashes, hunting and fishing, companions, religion and solitude.

Adopt a Lean-to

Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adopt a Lean-to program began in 1985 with the approval of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Adopting a lean-to does not entail major reconstruction work, and adopters do not need to be ADK members. The adopters hailed from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Canada. Although adopters drop out of the program each year, it’s remarkable how many don’t: seventy-three individuals and groups have adopted lean-tos for at least five years; 44 for at least ten years; 20 for at least fifteen years; and 4 for at least twenty years.

Lean-To Rescue Efforts

Lean2Rescue – a group of hard-working hikers, climbers, hunters, skiers, paddlers, and all-around good people – have restored, rehabilitated and rescued more than 30 of these Adirondack icons since 2004. Started by Paul DeLucia of Baldwinsville, NY, the all volunteer group works closely with the DEC to identify and complete suitable projects – from roof repairs to entirely new structures. Most of the work is carried out using non-motorized tools and vehicles, and the bulk of the building material is carried into the woods via canoe, portage carts, and human pack mules. And perhaps most impressive of all, Lean2Rescue operates year-round, not even breaking for the harsh Adirondack winters.


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Sucker for Winter Pictures

I am a sucker for winter camping pictures – even if the winter camping involves staying in a cabin with a wood stove.  Tammy at Plans to Give You Hope posted a great photo of her two girls in a winter scene.  You can read her blog posting here.