- Winter for the purpose of this article is temps 10°F and below, 10k’ plus altitude, and fully snow covered.
- Summer is altitudes up to 13k', temps down in the high twenties, and no snow.
- Shoulder seasons are anything between the above two extremes, with sleeping altitudes still above 10k’.
Background. I am a warm sleeping male and blessed with true wilderness all around my location. But a busy, tight schedule rarely allow outings of more than a week. For me it is much simpler to fit in shorter local trips year round. Often these are focused on spectacular meteorological events, and planned at lunch on a workday, leaving at four and returning mid morning the next day. Aka the S24O, a term coined by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works.
Summers in the Western mountains are now starting in May and getting warmer, presenting me with the only true quilt season. I typically use a single wall shelter that goes to the ground all around for bug protection. The torso length air pad is uninsulated and supplemented with an 1/8” CCF pad underneath (occasionally above, however this is a slippery mess). A light puffy jacket comes along too.
With this setup a slim 40°F quilt with overfill and mummy style foot (SULO) is plenty warm most nights. Wearing additional clothes and a willingness to accept moderate discomfort easily takes me down to the occasional freezing night. If the odd cold front coincides with a trip, I toss in a ten ounce over-bag.
That said, due to the increasingly mild conditions, rampant fires thru-out, and my Scandinavian blood summers are not my preferred season for overnighting in the mountains. It’s the time for bagging high peaks and doing extended day hikes when the smoke pressure is low.
I start coming alive in the fall when the daytime high reads in the sixties, and the nights become mountain-like frigid. I will bring either the burliest single wall shelter I have, or later on a legit double wall tent. The torso pad is now insulated and still paired with the thin CCF, and some sort of down coat is packed along.
The one and only quilt I own gets put away without much melancholy, and is replaced by a zipperless/hoodless full coverage down bag (Sastrugi), conservatively rated to just below freezing.
Eliminating underside drafts immediately makes such a bag a cozy transition time winner. With the shorter days I will rarely find myself suffering from the lack of night time venting versatility.
If unseasonably cold is forecasted I am definitely heading out in the hills, and for this I now add a compact Alpha Direct over-bag. How much additional warmth this fringe idea provides is still open for debate, but 10 degrees might be all I can squeeze out of it. While not saving much weight, it is less bulky than the tried and true Apex over-bag, and looks to be a lot more resistant to rapid loft degeneration.
Once winter arrives in earnest the shelter needs to be unbending to high winds, seal out blowing snow, and if it also adds warmth I’ll take that too. In other words a sprawling Scandinavian tunnel or a tight mountaineering dome. The pads are full length and consists of insulated air and thick CCF. A couple of extra 1/8” pads also doesn’t hurt, as lounging anywhere is on snow. The parka is high loft down, and down booties mandatory too. Thin insulated pants does it for me, as opposed to down leggings.
It is now mummy season, as in differentially cut high loft down, internal draft collar, snug hood and plenty of room for layering and wearing booties (Alpinist). The Alpha over-bag is on full time as moisture becomes a real issue on longer trips. I have another bigger one to accommodate the huge mummy bag so not to compress a centimeter of loft.
The arrival of sunnier, warmer and longer days are alluring, but there’s still snow under me when sleeping and conditions in the high mountains can worsen quick. In other words this is a tricky time to plan for. If I had one, a good sized pyramid could do well but in my case the slightly heavier double wall tent brings enough insurance against storms. Air pad remains insulated and with the ubiquitous 1/8” CCF close by. Puffy jacket is medium weight and some sort of camps shoes/insulated booties are nice for the snow.
Maybe, just maybe, this could a time for a warm quilt (Arc UL) because of the wildly fluctuating temperatures. Alas, don’t have one, so I either bring the zipperless down bag or the 40°F quilt with over-bag.
Spring time is often too busy for me to do much backpacking, but it is a lovely time in the mountains - before bugs, smoke and heat, and with lingering snow adding that crucial element to high country travel.