Ultralight Winter Hot Tent Camping with a Standard Sled
Last fall SkiPulk.com sponsored three sessions of an Ultralight Winter Hot Tent Camping workshop at the Midwest Winter Camping Symposium and the Midwest Mountaineering Winter Expo. We had some excellent groups and enjoyed the opportunity to demonstrate a little thinking outside the box.
While we still enjoy winter camping in igloos and snow shelters when we have enough snow, we have also enjoyed winter camping in a hot tent. While many winter campers spend a lot of their time in their hot tent we tend to spend as much time outdoors as we can. That being said, we find the shelter of a hot tent really beneficial for four factors.
I love eating dinner after dark in a warm environment
Settling into the sleeping bag for the night in the comfort of a hot tent is addictive
I also enjoy waking up to a hot tent and hot breakfast
Lastly, the most important asset of a hot tent is the ability to thoroughly dry any wet clothing, socks, gloves and boot liners
Since we do not keep our stove going after retiring for the night, we make sure to leave a stack of kindling and tinder near the stove where we can restart it while keeping most of the body in the comfort of the sleeping bag. It doesn’t take long for the new fire to re-warm the tent. Because we are not trying to keep a fire burning all night, we do not need a large stove or really heavy tools for firewood gathering. This fact, coupled with some innovative multiple use concepts, allowed us to demonstrate a 50lb standard sled load that included all that you need to enjoy a hot tenting experience (minus the food).
The sled included:
Tent for 4
Wood stove & pipe
Saw & firewood nippers
Double down sleeping bag
Cook stove & fuel (outside)
Pot /water pail
Waterproof storage (40 L)
Change of wool clothes
For starters, the workshop demoed a simple light weight and compact cone style tepee with a single middle support pole. These tents are relatively easy to create from large tarps or by sewing fabric together to create a large rectangle that we then cut a cone shape out of. During the workshop we handed out detailed instructions for building one of these tents.
Similar commercial tents are available from Kifaru or Titanium Goat but probably the least expensive commercial option would be to put a stove jack in the Cabelas Outback Lodge tent. Our experience has shown that if you burn good wood and extend your stove pipe above the tallest part of a steep walled tepee or pyramid that we rarely get spark holes in tent fabric.
As part of the workshop we demoed creating a telescoping aluminum pole with spring buttons but also discussed alternatives that used our pulk poles or avalanche probe ski poles to replace the center pole.
For a stove we used a Four Dog titanium stove with nesting titanium pipe. Even with the double pipe set the stove only weighs about nine pounds and provided storage for a hatchet and saw. While we have used even smaller folding stoves from other vendors, we have found the airtight nature of Four Dogs stoves to be much superior in actually controlling a burn to provide the right temperature for the hot tent. To demonstrate another alternative for those who want to take advantage of more storage space in the stove, we did demo using stainless steel shim stock and wire loops to create a stove pipe similar to what you can find with collapsible stoves.
In preparing for this workshop we received a lot of assistance from Four Dog Stoves owner Don Kevalius. I was showing Don some creative designs I had come up with for “snow shoe” chairs that wouldn’t sink into the snow. Don reminded me of his principle of multiple use and it wasn’t long before I came around to “rediscover” the utility of the 5 gallon bucket chair. While trying to figure out exactly how this bucket chair could fit on a sled I came across a company that sold rectangular 20 liter buckets that fit a sled much better. Soon after acquiring a coveted supply of new buckets I was quickly schooled by my cat loving friends that these same buckets were available for about the same price plus they were full of fresh cat litter. These containers served as water proof storage, water storage, snow scoops, 'snow shoe’ chairs and with an “alumicore” top they even served as a table for our hot tent.
Using a similar multi use concept we quickly trimmed down our bulky firewood nipper by replacing one of the handles with the handle from the snow shovel we already had along.
The most creative part in putting together this workshop was applying Don’s principle of multiple use to the sleeping system. We all know that the secret to staying warm in the winter is the layering principle, yet most of us immediately forget layering when creating sleeping systems. For centuries winter travelers incorporated clothing they already were wearing into the sleeping system, yet we insist on bringing a stand alone huge sleeping bag. While learning from traditional knowledge I certainly love to incorporate technology when appropriate.
For our sleeping system we start with the excellent Down Mat from Exped. Since we lose most of our heat to the ground this is an incredible asset for a comfortable winter nights sleep. Around this we use the layer system. Before settling in we have already changed into our dry merino wool under garment and a down parka. By buying a lightweight outer bag with plenty of inside room, we can utilize the down parka and down booties in our sleeping system. For this purpose we chose the Exped Dream Walker. It has the added benefit of having foot and arm opening allowing it to be turned into a second overstuffed down parka. For the really cold nights we turned to something we already had in our camping locker: a nice lightweight summer down bag that can be doubled up as an inside bag focusing on keeping the lower torso warm.
We recognize that this ultralight hot tent camping scenario isn’t for everyone. There are camping comforts that will be missed by the traditional winter camper. Yet the workshop did definitely show that it is possible to enjoy a hot tent camping experience while fitting it all on a standard sled.
This is probably my last blog entry for the SkiPulk.com website. I have enjoyed having the chance to share the info and look forward to seeing the helpful resources of this site continue under Grant and Ashley’s leadership. - Ed Bouffard
Like many people today, SkiPulk.com strives to keep our products local to be supportive of our local economy. We thought you might be interested in seeing the different US cities and towns that supply SkiPulk.com parts, and are instrumental in the product line!
SkiPulk.com pulks are assembled in Minnesota with parts that are from cities throughout the USA!
Other US Locations:
Rock Valley, IA
Elk Grove Village, IL
Using a Pulk for Ice Fishing and Other Specialty Uses
Anyone can access lakes that have nearby parking with a simple sled and rope tow. The real trick for serious ice fishermen is to be able to get back to those lakes that require skiing or snowshoeing for a long distance with lots of ups and downs. For these fishermen, the Snowclipper makes perfect sense. It has great control and enough space for the normal required items.
Above you see we substituted a rectangular 20 liter cat litter bucket / stool with plenty of storage in place of the usual round five gallon bucket. No problem getting the Mora 8 inch Strikemaster hand auger and Ameristep Alaskan Ice Shelter into the sled. Add a small cooler and we still have space for other essentials.
Another unique use of the Snowclipper is as a cargo sled to transport large water proof containers. The picture here has 85 liters of dry storage. 2-20 liter cat litter pails, one large 30 liter tub from Cary Company and one small 15 liter cat litter pail. Unlike other sleds with angled sides, the roto-molded Snowclipper has vertical sides to allow you to pack in containers with rectangular dimensions.
This versatile sled is great for many uses!
Arrowhead Ultra 135: The Race
Race Week Prep
The week leading up to the race was eventful and somewhat stressful. I had some gear proofing to do. My goal was to have a 35 pound sled and feel good about what was in it. I also needed to finalize what food I wanted to bring. Food would have to be easy to handle and something that would not break my teeth when frozen. I was continuously adding and taking stuff out of my sled. After a night of altering my gear set up and food plans, I started to weigh the sled. I was weighing in around 38 pounds. I adjusted a few more things to get down to a consistent 35-36 pounds. A friend of mine, Epic Bill Bradley, whose motto is “Show up and Suffer,” says that you can “what if” yourself into a 50+ pound sled. At 36 pounds, I was feeling pretty good.
Ryan, his father and I headed for International Falls on Saturday afternoon with hopes of getting gear checked that evening before 6pm when they closed up shop.
We arrived at 5:45pm. We got all of our gear checked. It was an interesting process to say the least. I think both of us ran back to the car to get required gear that we forgot to bring in at least twice. It was a fun procedure and the race check in folks/volunteers were comedians. By getting checked in of Saturday evening gave us the entire day on Sunday to visit and relax. Of course, we were making last minute changes to our system as well. Ryan baked a really thick bannock bread the night before we left. We cut that into pieces. It was good and full of race necessary nutrients.
Sunday was spent eating, playing with gear, relaxing and looking at other race set-ups. Sunday evening, Ed, my wife Ashley and my parents arrived. It was nice to have a cheering squad.
Monday morning came quickly. The race started at 7am. Ryan and I were a few minutes late.
We had to check in before leaving so we did not hear the starting gun for the runners. We were at the very back of the pack which was not a big deal when considering the amount of hours we were about to spend on trail. We were finally doing the real thing after months of preparation.
The trail crossed a few roads in town where our cheering squad met us. Soon we were about four miles into the turtle race. We crossed over a busier road, again, where our cheering squad was.
I was unsure of our mileage at this point but I knew it was not far. About 1.5 hours into the race, Ryan and I had passed a lot of people and finally reached Epic Bill Bradley. We chatted with him for a bit and continued to make forward progress. We were feeling pretty good and the trail at this point was flat and pretty hard.
At 2 hours, we figured we were around 7-8 miles into the race. We were wrong in a good way. We had arrived at the first trail shelter where the Arrowhead trail starts, 9.5 miles in. We were amazed at our progress. It doesn’t sound fast if you are a marathoner or a 10k runner. In the sport of ultra marathons in the winter on a snowy trail, the time we were making was good and something we did not expect. This was a huge morale booster for quite some time and we felt good about it. Another 9 miles and we would be half way to checkpoint 1. We were on the Arrowhead trail and it began to become more remote and wooded. It felt good to be in the woods.
Once on the Arrowhead, the conditions of the trail already started to get softer because of warm temps and lack of snow. We continued on for another hour and still felt good. At about mile 15, we were surprised to see our cheering squad way back in the woods. How they got back there, we did not have a clue but it was very nice to hear and see them.
Three more miles and we would be to the Highway 53 road crossing and about half way to checkpoint 1. We were still feeling good at this point which was a relief. I was not sure how my feet would hold up.
We got to the road crossing and replenished our fanny packs with food and refilled our water bottles with the resupply from our sleds. We also had a quick visit with our cheering squad and my wife and my new puppy, Ms Leidy Mountain. Then, back on the trail.
We left Highway 53 and knew we would not see another road or non-racer for 18 miles. The first 5 miles went by fast. We arrived at a shelter that we thought might be shelter 2. We were wrong. Shelter 2 wasn’t for another 5 miles. There are more shelters along the trail than what the race map accounts for. That kind of messed with our brains for a little while. At this point we were starting to feel the miles just a little. We slowed down a bit and settled into a more comfortable pace. Still thinking that we had passed shelter 2 already, we came up on the actual shelter 2, 30 miles in. We had nearly 7 miles to go to checkpoint 1. It was at this point that I began to feel the tendons in both of my feet start to tighten up. The trail had been soft for the last 20 miles and it started to take its toll on my body and mind. Not a good feeling to have this early in the race. We stayed positive and continued on.
Another hour went by and it was around 5pm. Ryan and I guessed we were about a mile out from the check point. We came up on snowmobiler and asked them how far we had until checkpoint 1. He said 3 miles and I had a slight mental melt down. My feet were starting to hurt a little more at this point. They were also wet from sweating and developing a hot spot (blister). We pushed on. I was beginning to question whether I would go on from checkpoint one at this point. I really wanted to. Another hour, 6pm, we arrived at Checkpoint 1, Gateway Gas Station.
Our cheering squad was waiting for us. We unhooked and limped into the gas station. I was hungry for junk food. I was sick of trail food already and just wanted some warm garbage. I had pretty much made the call that I was not going to continue on. I got a little pressure from Bill and a few others to get up and get moving which I appreciated. I knew that my feet would allow me about 5 more miles before they were screaming at me. Both Ryan and I made the call to drop out. It was huge bummer because we were making such great time in the race.
As I type this two weeks later, my left foot still hurts because I don’t stay off of it. I need to stretch and get back into it again. I will soon as I have a few small race plans for the summer. I have already made the decision that I will make another appearance at Arrowhead 135, 2013. 36.7 miles in 11 hours is good but not good enough for my mental satisfaction. I may never be a successful Arrowhead 135er but I can bring a better game than I did this year. See you in 2013.
Arrowhead Ultra 135: Training and Gear
After watching and volunteering at the race in 2011, I decided that I would make a solid attempt at training for the 2012 race. Many doubted I would even be able to commit to a rigorous training regime that most ultra athletes know lots about. Myself, having never even run a marathon knew little about what it would take to become physically fit enough to endure long distances. I grew up running cross country and track and was very fit for endurance all the way through high school. I lost some of the running passion during college when a little homework and some beer drinking became hobbies. I am always up for a challenge and have kept my endurance/long distance mind-set despite taking some years off of running.
Training: Part I
My first concern consisted of questions around how to balance a full time job, SkiPulk.com, a loving marriage, great friends, and the huge task of training. It was a little overwhelming at first. Over time, I really began to enjoy the balancing act and thoroughly benefitted mentally and physically from training. I talked to, and heard of other ultra marathoners who often were going for 10 hour jaunts and planned to attempt 4-6 ultras each year. I realized quickly that I have too many other hobbies and responsibilities that I enjoy to approach training for an ultra like many of what I call the professional athletes.
I started off slowly and wondered when I would get my good legs back. I felt slow even after a few weeks of running. It wasn’t until I was a full month into training that I began to feel like my endurance was beginning to get better. I didn’t feel fast like I was as a high school athlete but I was starting to feel like my legs were going to get strong endurance wise. I don’t know if I will ever be able to carry 5:15 miles again in my life :) After a month of running, my goal was to get a few 40-50 mile weeks in. This proved difficult scheduling wise but it did happen. Many of my runs were in the dark after work. I decided this was ok because I needed to become mentally prepared for long hours in the dark during the race. I found running in the dark very enjoyable and easy on the brain. My higher mile runs (10-18 miles) usually occurred on a Saturday or Sunday. Another important thing to mention is the value of a running partner on the longer runs. A friend from work decided he was crazy enough to make an attempt at the Arrowhead with me. On longer weekend runs, we attempted to coordinate schedules and run together to keep morale high.
Enough about training for a bit. Another issue - HUGE issue in the 135 miles is the technicalities of gear. When I watched and volunteered at the race, it was obvious that moisture management was a huge concern both in and out. This meant keeping water unfrozen and drinkable, as well as preventing your clothing system from becoming saturated with sweat. I emailed a past race guru, Jeremy Kershaw, who gave me a lot of great pointers. I knew it would be important to not wear any kind of waterproof shell if at all possible. All clothing needed to be highly breathable, yet warm and shed most importantly wind and maybe snow. I went with Merino wool top and bottom base layers. I also wore the Craft XC pant. I really liked them because they zipped all the way down the leg for good ventilation and were easy to take on and off without having to take your shoes off. For footwear, I used the Outdoor Designs Boreas gaiter, Asics gortex trail running shoe, and two pairs of wool socks. I liked the set up a lot but next year will not wear a gortex shoe. It does not breathe well enough. I have seen pictures and ideas on how to set up a more breathable shoe to withstand the pressures of the race environment. On my upper body, I wore the wool base layer and a fleece vest. I was plenty warm in the ridiculous 20-25 degree temps. I was hoping for -10 to 10 degree temps. I hauled extra clothing in my sled in the event of colder temps.
Another piece of gear to put some thought into is the race sled that hauls your gear. I attempted to build a race sled out of a sheet of dog sled runner material with some added runners for tracking and stability. My original plan was to have a sled that would unbuckle and serve both as a gear sled and a sleep system.
The 1/8 inch UHMW sheet proved to be too thick and not flexible enough. If I try to design another lightweight race sled, I will use 1/16 inch UHMW. Another option is to go with a two pole harness system or a one pole. In a camping/portage/hill/narrow trail environment, I would say it is important to have two poles for adequate sled control. In this race, one pole is both lighter and efficient enough. I was lucky to have all of the gear at my fingertips to be able to alter my sled and harness system. In the end, I decided to go with the trusty Paris sled and a one pole system because I was not satisfied with the design of my dream race sled (maybe next time).
For obvious reasons, food and water are important when enduring long hours on your feet. Water needs to be easily accessible as does food. I attached my Granite Gear water bottle jackets to my harness. This worked out well and made staying hydrated very possible. I started the race with 4 Nalgene bottles. Three were filled with water and one filled with Hammer Perpetuem, the racers cocaine. I sipped on Hammer and drank the water. I could have had more water as a felt like I wanted to drink a lot. I put food in the dreaded fanny pack ( I don’t like wearing them, they make me feel white and nerdyJ). The fanny pack made food easy to reach. The goal is to have the necessities easy to acquire so you do not have to waste time to unhook and go back to your sled when you want to drink and eat. My system worked well.
Training: Part II
Now back to some training. For the race it is important that there is snow to drag your sled. When December in Minnesota arrived, it showed up like me in a street fight, with absolutely no gusto or snow in this case. I knew it would be important to train in snow and pull a sled. This was not an option during all the months of my training. I got creative and found an old truck tire at my parent’s house. In a tote in the garage, I had saved and old waist belt from a backpack. I put an eye bolt in the tire and tied a rope to the harness for the realistic pulling environment. I distinctly remember one training run with Ryan where we took turns pulling the tire every mile for six miles maintaining some pretty serious speed. We felt that in the legs for a few days but it was a good burn.
Two weeks before the race, southern Minnesota received about four inches of snow. The Root River Trail near Lanesboro was our weekend destination to proof our gear and our bodies on an overnight trip.
We started out having to bust through drifts and eventually got down in some protected valleys. The trail had about three inches of snow cover with tar underneath. It was pretty difficult to walk on because of the snow cover and the slippery tar. My designed race sled worked good but not as well as I wanted it to. We walked at a fast pace from 6pm until 1am. We then attempted to sleep for one hour. There was not a lot of sleeping involved.
On the trek back, my stomach was not in the mood to eat any more trail food. I am sure this was a result of exertion and being awake for a long period of time. I was expecting this to happen. When we were about 15 miles from the vehicle on our way back, the front and top of my left foot started to hurt at about ankle height. I continued to walk on it and it continued to get more painful until it was to painful to flex my foot for a normal walking cadence. I had never hurt this part of my foot before. It became a huge chore to even walk without gritting the teeth. At about 5 miles left to the vehicle there was a road crossing. I had to make the decision to wait for a vehicle to prevent more pain and injury. There was two weeks left until race day and I had just injured the tendons on the top of my foot.
This was a huge let down for me. I was very bummed out because I had dedicated much of the last 4-5 months to training for something that I had never done before. I was not sure how long the recovery would take. I got home and did not even attempt to run for a little over a week. I iced and took Vitamin I (ibuprofen). Michelle from work also helped me out with some body work and some essential oils and creams to help the tendons recover. I finally went for a short 3 mile run with 5 days to race day. The foot felt ok but far from 100%. I ran a few more times to attempt to stay limber and to test the foot until the weekend. By the race weekend, my foot felt a little better but I had no idea what repetition would do to it.