The winter feels like it has barely gotten started, what with the holidays, travel, and illness, but the snowpack is in good shape and the stack of memorable trips is already fat. Earlier this evening I threw together a list for Backpacking Light, and the memories evoked moved me to comment in greater detail. You can see the list here.
The greatest gear success of the winter thus far has been my insulated poncho/serape/overbag. Here the numbers, be they insulation thickness or ounces, just do not tell the story. It works well as an overbag/bivvy, but being able to bring an emergency sleeping bag (or one warm enough for sleeping in cabins) which doubles as a coat when things get cold is truly invaluable. Contrary to my list, I’m gravitating towards bringing a lighter insulated coat, knowing I can use the poncho as needed. Bonus: when it’s cold enough to need this you don’t have to worry that it won’t fit under a rain coat.
My Patagonia Essenshell anorak with coyote ruff has also made it on every trip since winter began. The Essenshell fabric is great in real cold; windproof enough for serious gusts and breathable enough for hard work. I bought it, used, thinking the Epic treatment would have excellent DWR. This has not been the case, for whatever reason, but it has been good enough for snow. The sizing is also key to the function. As I mentioned two years ago, I bought a large and took the sides and sleeves in a bit. This means it stays down at the hem, even when I crash into the bushes, and that the sleeve coverage over gloves is outstanding. I cut out the original mesh pockets, and added mesh back to only the right side. This is now a tall and narrow pocket good for holding a pair of gloves. The second is merely a vent, or allows access to things in the pockets of my midlayer. The coyote ruff is the coup de grace, and is fantastic, the colder and windier, the better it works.
The old waxable E99s I found at a swap back in the fall have also been a great success. Kick wax is pretty easy to use in deep winter around here, and if applied right works better than fishscales. I do have to carry 4-5 different waxes on every trip, as lacking the right one should the forecast prove off would be very slow, and under some conditions (hard, 10 F crust two weekends ago) one coat only lasts a few hours. This gets old, but the tradeoffs are worth it. The long skis are less manuverable, but having to walk down a few hills I might otherwise feel comfortable descending is a fine bargain with so much greater speed on the other side. Surely the best 5 bucks I spent last year.
Lastly, my Cold Steel Trail Hawk has been unexpectedly handy, and just for chopping wood for the stove or trying to channel Daniel Day-Lewis. Setting up our bait stations, and especially the motion-capture cameras, requires cleaning branches (can’t have dozens of photos of limbs moving in the wind) and nailing the chicken and then cubby to the tree. Old-growth cedar is hard wood, and the Trail Hawk gets all these jobs done quickly and easily. When retrieving one camera this weekend and struggling with a frozen lock (face down, Kotter!) I even used the hawk for the odd job of chopping down a small tree, with government approval, in a national park. The steel takes a decent edge well, but doesn’t hold it for especially long. To get an ideal fit did require a bit of sanding, and I took off the cheesy poly finish in favor of a half dozen coats of linseed oil. All the same, a good tool and toy for the price.