Applicational Hiking: Cold Weather Sleeping Ditty Bag

Greetings Hikers,

Recently I was working on putting together a new micro-list of items that I knew I would need to make sure is within a small ditty bag that ends up inside of my sleeping bag when I am hiking in sub-freezing conditions. While I have been known for developing some of the most in-depth research on ultralight shelters (solo / 2p) and even though I have some very detailed gear lists, I rarely find the need to build lists beyond those. I have never made it a secrete that I am not a cold weather hiker. While I truly love hiking in the rain, when the rain turns to that white powdery stuff, I tend to call the hiking season to a close and spend the rest of the winter planning my next seasons hikes. For two or three years I have been getting invitations from folks to go on winter hikes. One local hiker goes out hiking every full moon – regardless of whether it is summer or winter – and he sent me an email a couple weeks back asking if I would hike to go with him anytime this winter. I think he remembers from last year that I am a woosie when it comes to winter hiking. That is ok though, I accept the fact that I do not like being cold and have the utmost respect for those who love being out in that white stuff that shall not be named. It seems like almost all the bloggers out there right now are posting trip reports and they are all filled with pictures of sno… err, that stuff that shall not be named. For me, I am sitting at home planning next year trips and staying nice and warm.

Anyway, this is my third “Applicational Hiking” article and today I want to focus on what it is I am planning to put into my sleeping bag ditty bag. By that I mean a small bag that stays inside of my sleeping bag at night in order to make sure that things that should not freeze, do not freeze. Like my other two Applicational Hiking articles my goal is not to convert hikers to my methods, nor promote specific pieces of gear, but rather try to try to put my own thoughts into words and hopefully bring up subjects that I am personally facing, with the hopes that other hikers are willing to come forward and share their own thoughts and insights into the topic being discussed. Not being an experienced winter there is a whole lot to winter hiking that I have not learned yet. Yes, I have spent my time hiking in the snow, I do not want to make it sound as if I have never done so, but compared to many hikers I know, the hours spent in sub freezing conditions is nothing. It is my hope that with this Applicational Hiking article I will be able to share some of my own thoughts and experiences, and even more so, gain a lot of knowledge from other hikers with a lot of experience hiking in sub freezing conditions.

The primary purpose of this, my first winter time hiking related article, is going to be on the contents of my sleeping ditty bag. This is one of those things that is probably a “duh” issue for a lot of sub-freezing hikers. Over the years I have, honestly, given this issue very little thought. Thinking back on the times when I have been out hiking in sub-freeing conditions, I often times ended up forgetting a thing or two to bring into my sleeping bag when me at night. This got me pondering a few days ago that I should probably try to build a micro-list of items that I can burn into my brain in hopes of not having this happen this winter hiking season, should I get the opportunity to go hiking in sub-freezing conditions.

Items I Already Have In My Sleeping Ditty Bag:

Perhaps most important to me is my Sawyer Squeeze water filter. Because it is a hollow fiber membrane filter it absolutely cannot ever freeze. Should the Squeeze filter freeze up inside it will cause the 1.0 Micron Absolute it will become totally worthless as the pores will become larger then 1 Micron due to the water freezing expanding the micron sizing. Read up more on Absolute vs Nominal Microns and you will understand why I am always trying to get hikers to understand that just because a water filter says “1 micron” does not mean it is actually safe – the CDC states it requires a 1.0 Absolute Micron filter in order to properly filter water. So without a doubt making sure that my Squeeze is inside of my sleeping ditty bag goes without thinking.

I also try to make sure that I remember to put the next days socks inside of my sleeping bag. Hopefully they are clean and not all dirty and stinky, eh! Putting on frozen socks, first thing in the morning, is something I have had to do a few times, but it is never fun.

My PossumDown gloves, if I am not wearing them, also make it inside of my sleeping ditty bag. It makes them easy to retrieve should I need to put them on, and they take up very little space.

While it might break the “all things that smell like food go in the food bag” rule, I tend to like to put my toothbrush and toothpaste dots inside of my sleeping ditty bag as well. Unless you feel like boiling water in the morning to unfreeze your toothbrush, having a frozen toothbrush to use when you can finished eating breakfast is no fun.

I also include my potty bag inside of my sleeping ditty bag. Main reason is to help make sure that my liquid based AME hand sanitizer does not freeze. It also makes it easier to find if I do have to go poopoo in the middle of the night for some odd reason.

Also near the top of my list to make sure I always get into my sleeping ditty bag is my Suunto MC-2G Global compass. I really have no idea at what temperature the liquid inside of a compass will freeze at (anybody know) but if for some reason you have to get up in the middle of the next and relocate or hike out, think about how much it would suck to have your compass frozen.

Electronics are also inside of the bag. This includes my ACR ResQLink 406 PLB, and my GPS device if I happen to have one with me, and either my iPhone or my Iridium Extreme depending on how deep into the woods I am going. I also make sure that I include my flashlights/torches so that the batteries to not freeze up.

Speaking of batteries, they also have to make it inside. I have started to buy the Energizer Ultimate Lithium (not to be confused with Lithium-ion, which are the rechargeable ones) which are suppose to handle -40 degrees F temps, but why risk it, and not all of them are Lithium yet.

And lastly, of course, is a bottle of water. I like to use a Hunnersdorf bottle that I bought years ago and just before I go to bed I can fill it up with boiling hot water and then shove it into a sock toss it down at the bottom of my sleeping bag and it helps me stay warm for awhile and gives me some non-frozen water to use first thing in the morning.

Items I Am Considering Adding: Any Feedback?

I have been thinking about putting my small med kit inside of my sleeping ditty bag. For the main reason that it contains a few liquid medications. Hydropel, Hydrocortisone cream, a little Neosporin, and a very small bottle of clear eyes. I am not sure what continual sub freezing temperatures will do to some of these liquids.

I also carry a heavy duty one gallon ziplock with me on my hikes, which has inside of it a micro-bottle filled with bleach. I use this ziplock and bleach to wash my cloths – mostly my socks and briefs. If you are able to find and carry 12% Sodium Hypochlorite then expect it to start freezing at around 5(f) and if you are using regular household bleach (3-8% Sodium Hypochlorite) expect it to freeze somewhere around the 19 or 20 fahrenheit mark. What I am wondering is whether or not bleach becomes in effective once it freezes. This is something I have not been able to determine, so if anybody knows that would be interesting to know myself. If Sodium Hypochlorite can freeze and not become in effective than it could stay in your backpack and who cares of it freezes.

Going Overboard or Just Being Extra Cautious?

This being an Applicational Hiking article it goes without saying that this article is designed to get you to ponder on your own system, to analyze my system, and to share with each other our thoughts. So it also goes without thinking that I have to ask myself (and all of you as I am sharing all of these thoughts with the world) of whether or not I have gone overboard with all of this. Does it really make sense to put all of this stuff into a bag that then goes into my sleeping bag, thereby taking up precious space inside of my sleeping bag, and adding items into my sleeping bag which will likely not help my down insulation do its job, and potentially disrupting me at night because some foreign object is inside of my sleeping bag flopping all around each time I toss and turn all night. Obviously some of these items have to be kept as warm as possible (water filter, compass, phone) but just how much effort should we put into making sure all of these items are stored inside of our sleeping bag when it is time to crawl into it and call it a day.

2 thoughts on “Applicational Hiking: Cold Weather Sleeping Ditty Bag

  1. Good post!

    I don’t do a lot of overnight camping in the winter, the nights are too long for me and too much time spent inside a sleeping bag. But when I do camp there are certain items I keep inside my bag and stored in a 9″x9″ OpSak, contact lens and solution, battery removed from camera and any extra batteries I may be carrying, headlamp, personal meds, first-aid, hygiene (includes bleach for the same reason you carry bleach), and a small bag of cashews for a 2AM snack, cashews add fuel to my body for staying warm and a better nights sleep. Never had a problem with my toothbrush freezing, maybe because I store it inside a small bag made out of bug netting so it dries fast, it stays in my food bag. Obviously the Sawyer Squeeze will be added to the OpSak this year. The compass I carry is worn on a lanyard around my neck, no worries about it freezing. The OpSak, socks and other articles of clothing to be worn the next morning are in the clothes bag pushed to the bottom of my sleeping bag filling any dead space.

  2. Field (if not all) compasses are filled either with 96% spirits, therpentine, kerosene or similar fluid with a low freeze point. I’ve taken mine below -40 without problem… well the compass did work fine, I had other “problems” though.
    I guess I can say that hell will freeze over before your compass will, especially since you avoid temperatures associated with “that stuff that shall not be named”. :)

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