Good post. As someone who also does significant cold weather hangs, I concur. I will post additional thoughts when I get home to my computer.
Great posts already. Not much new I could add, so I will just tell my "story".
I did not one day realize that I liked hammocking and immediately become a 4-season hanger. It was a lengthy process. I was not new to winter trips either. Having been winter camping my whole life, suffered through hypothermia (on my twelfth birthday) gotten early stages of frostbite (also as a kid) and lived through it all, I still took due diligence in making the transition from subzero ground sleeping to the hammock. Hanging in the teens or twenties was a slight learning curve, but with a few good ccf pads and learning from some of the early cold weather pioneers like Ray Garlington, Flyfisher, et al... I was hanging in the shoulder season quite regularly and comfortably. My experience with NY winters taught me that as the temp got close to zero and began its downward trend, everything changed. This wasn't just a little colder than the above temperatures. Stoves worked differently, the snow and ice behaved differently, you even think differently. The margin for error shrinks at an accelerated pace as the temp enters these stages. Like others, I tested my gear in incremental stages. I would watch the forecast and sleep in the backyard when the forecast called for a new low (for me). I wasn't trying to find the minimum gear I could get away with at this temp, I was trying out systems.
At these temps, it isn't just about a pad, or a quilt, or a sock, or... it is how all the gear works together as a system. I was learning how the different pieces functioned in concert to be greater than the sum of their parts. As the winter wore on, I was alble to test systems at lower and lower temps to see how they worked together, their limitations, how different weather phenomena affected their performance. basically I was trying to cram my 30 years of winter ground camping experience into a shorter accelerated learning experience with hammock sleep systems.
Also during that winter I ventured out into the real woods to test in "real life" situations. Like others, I had contingencies in place. My first time at single digits in the real woods, i chickened out and went to ground under my tarp. I don't recall being cold, but I was solo and a mile from my car. I just chickened out. Like I said before, there is little/no margin for error as the mercury drops. I feared falling alseep forever, even though I had already been lower in my backyard tests.
Over time, I tested more and gained confidence in my system to become full time winter hammocking. However, I still was going to ground on extended trips when the forecast was significantly below zero. I was wary even though I knew my system and I could handle it. My first real test was in PA along the Allegnay Reservoir. We had hiked in a number of miles and it was cold. I didn't realize how cold until later. My buddies used jetboils, and they couldn't get them to work. One guy puked all night from something. A couple of the girls swore off ever winter camping again and I was warm and toasty in my claytor and heated water with my fancee feest stove (I think it was the first year zelph created it). Turns out the temp hit 11 below zero compounded with serious winds whipping over the reservoir. Handling that temp with that wind, taught me a lot.
Over the next years I was regularly doing subzero trips however never getting to twenty below just. That would change just this last year. This trip was supposed to be with a buddy. But he bailed due to the forecast calling for subzero (he is a ground sleeper, but doesn;t care for the bitter cold). So it was me on a solo. The hike in was bright and sunny but in the single digits. The snow squeaked underfoot. I was smart and even put on sunscreen to protect my face from the reflected sun off the snow. Made it to camp along a small pond. There was a leanto at this pond which was part of my contingency plan. My wife was left with complete itinerary as well. After eating dinner in the dark and a few hours of campfire tv, there wasn't much to do except lie down in the hammock. So I did. There was a thermometer mounted on the back of the leanto, and just before I layed down, I took a peek and it was already well below zero. Curious as too how fast water would freeze at this temp I left a nalgene full of water out, but under my tarp. Cannibal spoke of the cold affecting one's mind. What could be the big deal right. At my midnight natures call, I glanced at the thermometer and it was below negative 20. I didn't look to closely as i wanted to get back into my hammock. In the AM, as the sun came up I was putting on my boots which I had next to the now solid nalgene. I didn't realize the night before I had to now carry a frozen quart up a hill and 3 miles back to my car. In my quest to watch water freeze, I also forgot to put my damp boots into my hammock with me. Forward thinking becomes limited and errors of thought can easily become deadly decisions. Fortunately having to carry a few unnecessary pounds of ice would not be life-threatening. But frozen boots were seriously cold. The thermometer was reading 22 below zero at this point, so that is what my feet were now experiencing. Knowing the only way these boots were going to warm up before my feet froze (literally) was to get blood flowing fast. All packed up and hiking with a few extra pounds of water I made my way back to my car. I did have to stop a few times to take off my boots and rub on my feet to counter the frozen boots. It took a mile and half before I generated enough heat in the boots to be safe. I was hiking with just a base-layer a hat and gloves at this point. When I stopped for a moment, I could see the steam rising off me. Back at the car. I reflected on my errors of judgement and was glad my standard operating procedure for solo winter trips eliminates some trekking options which failure to make the right decision could be real bad. Eating at a local diner, the local weather was still reporting 15 below zero at 11am. As was stated by others, do not underestimate how the cold affects ones ability to think. Routines and good habits become necessities in the ultra-cold due to diminished capacity. Start and continue those habits even when the weather doesn't require them, because when it does, you may not be able to remember them.
Last edited by DuctTape; 10-04-2012 at 17:06..
Reason: add story