Testing more gear in the frigid cold

OPINION

I recently wrote about trying out a new sleeping bag on a frigid winter night. Well, I once again found myself in a comparable situation. Of course, I already had the information I needed pertaining to the sleeping bag. However, there were a couple more pieces of gear of which I had not yet put to the test.

I purchased my first hammock a number of years ago. And I had used it several times during the spring and summer months on multiple occasions. But I had limited its use to the warmer months of the year, as I was aware that these sleep systems are not capable of holding heat by themselves. In fact, I learned early on that it was important to use a sleeping pad for insulating purposes, even when the temperature dips into the 70s.

Well, I recently purchased an under quilt that is designed specifically for improving the insulating qualities of a hammock. I also purchased a top quilt, as well, that would add yet another layer of insulation into the equation.

But I was still faced with the same quandary as I was with my recently tested sleeping bag. Would the quilts perform satisfactorily at the temperature they suggested? Would they retain adequate heat at even colder temperatures? Or there was even a chance that they would fail at warmer temperatures.

Well, there was only one way to get to the bottom of this. I would simply have to strike out into the wonderful outdoors on a cold winter night and give them a try.

I loaded my pack and was on my way with ample time to embark upon a short hike to a spot on the northern shoreline of Lake Ouachita. The forecast suggested the night time lows would dip into the lower thirties. But experience had taught me that one could expect even colder temperatures near the water, likely 4 to 5 degrees.

The under quilt was rated 30 to 50 degrees. So just about anywhere throughout the forest would have sufficed on that particular night. But this was the perfect opportunity to test it beyond its suggested limits.

Crawling in the sack fairly early, I was pleasantly surprised at the system's performance. The temperature continued to drop as the overcast conditions gave way to clear skies. It was nearing the lower thirties and I was warm and cozy.

I awoke around midnight and was welcomed with a stiff northerly wind. Granted I noticed a few cool spots, but this issue could likely be addressed with a few minor adjustments to the under quilt and repositioning the top quilt.

I eventually fell back into a sleep and remained relatively warm for the next couple of hours. However, I awoke around three in the morning as a result of cold feet. And it quickly grew evident that minor adjustments would not solve the problem.

I was still toasty from the ankles up. But my feet were another story. I tossed and turned for the next couple of hours, and my toes did nothing but grow colder. So I finally opted to crawl out of the sack and stoke the hot coals that remained from the previous night's fire.

I finally managed to get a fire going and pondered as my feet warmed near the flames. The temperature had dipped to a frigid 24 degrees overnight. All-in-all I was pleased with the performance of the quilts, other than the fact that my toes still ached from the cold.

One side of me suggested that I had obviously pushed the system to its limits. But there was another side that couldn't help but wonder how I would have rested, only if I had yet another gadget to better insulate my toes.

Then it hit me. As ridiculous as they might appear, I was scanning the World Wide Web for insulated booties. Well, they arrived in the mail earlier this week. And I'm already planning my next winter gear trial in the midst of the wonderful, yet frigid, outdoors.