This weekend, I attended training for the Boy Scout winter camp I work at central Minnesota. The Saturday high was approximately +10F, the official low was -4F. It wind also blew consistently throughout the weekend, with gusts no more than 10 or 15 mph. There was about an inch of snow on the ground, just enough to hide the leaves, but the snow disappeared when we walked through the forest - out feet left clear paths through the trees.
I took all of the clothing with me that I will be taking in January, and the weather is about what I expected -the averages in Grand Marais in January are +10 to -5F. Thus, the weekend was a meaningful test for what I expect. As for the gear, this was the inaugural voyage for many items - as usual, I learned much from my experienced.
The biggest winner was the Vapor Barrier clothing. I wore the jacket all day over a thin base layer and under my softshell jacket. In the evening, I threw on my down coat over everything. To my surprise, the VB shirt was warm and dry inside, even after extensive hiking. I wore the pants at night while I slept, and in the morning under my insulating pants. The socks were slightly less successful. When I took my socks off at 10:30 p.m. (after having them on for about 11 hours), there was a little bit of visible condensation on the inside of the VBL socks. However, my wicking socks were dry and of course, my mukluks and warmth socks were also dry.
Like I said, I wore my softshell jacket the entire day, including during the periods of flurries Saturday and Sunday. I am now more convinced (but not entirely) that softshell clothing is the way to go in winter. Flurries just bounced off my jacket, and only accumulated on my shoulders. Some of these melted, but my body heat dried the fabric out. My pants never accumulated any falling snow and any snow that got on my mukluks bounced off or melted away.
My opinion is somewhat qualified, though, and it applies only when the weather is cold enough to prevent instant melting-on-contact. The flakes this weekend were also small and bounced more effectively; they were not thick flakes that were full of moisture. That said, I am going to bring my hardshell with me up to the border and make it as a game-day decision. To support this decision, I am going to sew a hood-like piece of clothing out of some spare Epic fabric. My softshell jacket does not have a hood, and it needs one in order to function like a true shell. I imagine it will take a few hours to get the pattern right, and it will be very easy to sew.
The MK1 XL performed exceptionally. I slept alone inside, and there was minimal condensation on the fabric when I woke up Sunday morning. There was also minimal condensation on the poles. I left the door closed and the vents opened. The tent was, however, hard to set up in the cold. Placing the poles was not the difficult part. Strapping the poles in, however, did present some difficulty. With gloves on, it was hard to separate the pieces of Velcro and one of the poles were oddly reluctant to move into place. That said, I held the tent down with sticks at the corners that were set down over the corner loops. I placed my snow stakes in the loops and set the vertically - this locked the sticks in place.
In addition, my balaclava did not cover my neck completely, and resulted in drafts at times. To solve this, I purchased a neck gaiter earlier today.
Looking at the system as a whole, it is obviously designed for constant, strenuous movement. Winter camp is less moving around and more standing/sitting around. All in all, I probably need more insulating clothes when camp really starts. This will probably be comprised of a fleece vest or jacket, and fleece pants, and those will only be necessary on really cold weekends. For the trip, I can use my sleeping bag as extra insulation around camp (like a quilt), and its Dryloft shell will keep out the precipitation.
I did not get to test out my snowshoes this weekend - there just was not enough snow. When we finally get some snow, I am going to do some winter walking around some local farm fields.