One of the keys to having fun fat bikepacking or winter camping is staying warm and dry. While riding, regulate your effort to minimize sweating. Once you reach camp you can stay in your active layers while you get set up. This will give those layers time to dry out a bit. Once set up, change into dry clothes and put your active layers inside a drybag, then inside your sleeping bag. This will keep them from freezing, and keep them from making your sleeping bag wet.
At night when you go to bed, take your active layers out of the bag and stash them around your feet/legs/behind your knees. This will help your feet stay a bit warmer, and your body heat will help dry the items out. In the morning I change back into my active layers first thing. I’ll layer both puffies over the top of my active layers, and throw a pair of rain pants over my legs for some added protection/warmth. I also have a pair of puffy pants that I use as well (I hate being cold).
I crack open a pair of hand warmers before I’m even out of my sleeping bag in the morning. Packing up is hard when you’re cold and wearing thick gloves. The hand warmers make this process much easier and more comfortable.
There are some great specialized footwear options out there that make winter camping easier. However, if you don’t have special footwear there are a couple of things you can do to help keep your feet happy when winter camping.
Bread bags over your socks is one way to go. This creates a vapor barrier and will keep your boots dry from the inside. Less moisture in your boots means you have to worry less about them freezing overnight. Gaiters are also very useful. They will help reduce snow and ice buildup on the outside of your boots, and will keep snow from getting in through the top when hiking or pushing your bike through deep snow.
Overnight you can put your shoes/boots in a waterproof bag and then inside your tent or in your sleeping bag (if there is room). Ultimately, you want to keep your shoes from freezing, and you want to keep any moisture that has accumulated in or on your shoes contained.
This season I invested in a 2021 Rocky Mountain Blizzard 10—a great bike, great spec, and very affordable. Upgrades included 45NRTH Wrathlorde studded tires—studded tires are essential for the Northeast freeze/thaw cycle. I also used Wolf Tooth Singletrack Pogies—warm hand covers that allow you to work your brakes and shifters. I found a dropper post was super helpful in deep snow for getting going or putting a foot down. And because I had a dropper post, found the Old Man Mountain Fat Sherpa Rack let me carry camping gear while allowing the use of a dropper post.
PACKING & BAGS
One of the great things about bikepacking is how much you can manage to carry on the bike frame.
I used a Revelate Designs Handlebar Harness with a large (20L) Sea To Summit Lightweight Dry Bag to carry my inflatable sleeping pad, sleeping bag, over bag, and tent body/fly/groundsheet. The Revelate Designs Egress Pocket attaches to the handlebar harness and carried the drone, extra camera lens, and extra batteries. I also had two homemade stem bags, one to carry the insulated water bottle, the other for snacks, wallet, and GoPro. My homemade frame bag carried another 1L insulated water bottle, bike repair kit, gear repair kit, poop kit, electronics kit, tent poles and stakes. I made another Dyneema drybag to fit on the top of the bike rack and that carried extra clothing, pillow, warm mittens and down booties. Underneath this bag sat my foam sleeping pad. Last, attached to the rear rack I used Revelate Nano Panniers to stow an outdoor kit, mini tripod, extra riding gloves, food, and a .75L thermos of hot chocolate. It also served as place to store and easily access my puffy jacket.
I have a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 (bikepack version) tent and find a 3-season tent is plenty for most people in a non-alpine environment. Four-season tents will better handle high winds, getting loaded with snow, and have less mesh so they trap a bit more heat. However, 4-season tents have more condensation issues, whereas 3=season tents breathe better making it easier to keep things dry, and in Vermont you can typically pick a site that minimizes exposure to wind and snow loading.
A warm sleeping system is also important as this is your safe zone, and last resort for warmth. I tend to prefer a setup that’s on the warm side. This makes it easier to dry out your “active” layers overnight without degrading your insulation to the point where you’re cold. The sleeping pad is the most important piece of the puzzle. An r-value of 4 is the minimum, but more is better. An insulated inflatable pad on top of a foam pad will typically get you into the r5 or r6 range. As for your sleeping bag… If you don’t have a true winter bag, layering warmer weather bags is a very effective option. Using two lighter bags can also make packing easier since you can split up the items. Also, remember that sleeping bag temperature ratings tend to be minimum ratings. The comfortable range tends to be 10-15 degrees warmer. I used a Sierra Designs Nitro 800 0 Degree Sleeping Bag (long(), a Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe SL Sleeping Pad, the Nemo Switchback Foam Pad (the short version) for additional insulation and puncture protection. I also brought a Sea To Summit Aeros Premium Inflatable Pillow (large) Sea To Summit Traveller 50 Degree Quilt (used as an overbag to boost warmth.)
Bringing enough warm, dry clothing is also essential. I had one kit for riding and then another set up for camp wear. For riding, I used my old North Face running and ski pants over Pearl Izumi bike shorts. On top, I used a long-sleeve lightweight wicking shirt (polyester), a Patagonia R1 Tech Face Jacket over a Patagonia Micropuff hoodie. On my feet, Darn Tough mountaineering socks. I had two pairs of Black Diamond gloves of different weights.
For fat bikepacking I’ve been using Neo Insulated Overboots with a pair of trail running shoes. The thick foam of the running shoe provides great insulation from the cold ground, and the system is very flexible which helps maintain good blood flow to your feet. The height of the boot is great for deep snow, and I’ve also found this system to handle moisture very well. The overboots use closed cell foam for insulation which doesn’t easily absorb moisture, and trail running shoes are also typically moisture resistant. Because of this I have been placing my running shoes inside the overboots and folding over the tops overnight and haven’t had any issues with frozen footwear or cold feet yet this season.