Testing out the gear: Educational course credit (not really)

How crazy do my neighbors think I am?

It’s the middle of January, in Rochester, NY, and I could be in my warm home, with a nice fire. Nope! I’m outside, in 13 degrees, freezing my rump off, in a sleeping bag. . . in my back yard!   What better way to test the gear to make sure it will hold up to the AT in January!?

Doing some quick math, assuming it takes Carrie and I six months to complete the AT, that puts us just about in Georgia by January. That may sound great to those of you who have never hiked, however, as you climb in elevation, you also drop in temperature. This may be surprising to some of you. I have often wondered what some people think when hiking the mountains of NH with nothing but shorts and a t-shirt, with no extra supplies or pack on their back. I can only imagine, they must think, “as you climb in elevation, the temperature rises, because you are getting closer to the sun.” That has to be the reason so many people attempt Mt Washington with nothing on their backs! However, this is not true!

Photograph by Frankie Mazza

Photograph by Frankie Mazza

Trust me when I say, it gets MUCH colder as you reach the top!

That being said, it is very likely that around that time of year, we will be dealing with snow through the mountains in the Carolina’s and Georgia! As I was searching the many blogs and websites, grasping for as much information as I could possibly find, I finally made the decision on a tent (you can see my gear list for the exact tent that I have).

Now that my tent had arrived, it needed to be tested! What better way than spend a night outside in wonderful, sunny, warm, Rochester, NY (I jest).

Shopping in RochesterRochester's Solution to Snow





So there I lay, on the cold earth, with snow surrounding me, a warm bed and home only steps away, snuggled up in my sleeping bag, with my liner, my thermo sleeping pad, in my 4 season tent, pondering. . .

How crazy do my neighbors think I am?


So after spending my cold night outside, what have I learned?

Lesson 1: In the winter, the ground freezes!

This may seem like common sense to you, but this very important piece of information completely eluded me until I started to set up my tent! Once I realized this very important fact, I had to consider, “what would I have with me on the trail that would help me hammer these stakes into the ground?” I would not be carrying a full garage full of tools. What would I realistically have? Rocks would work! Or how about a hatchet! Hey there’s a great idea! Perhaps I could carry a light weight hatchet with me on the trail. Sold! Into my garage I went to grab a hatchet to finish hammering the stakes into the ground.

Lesson one complete!

Lesson 2: How not to lose body heat when getting ready for bed in 13 degrees.

By 10pm, I had decided it was time to sleep. I geared up in my full hiking layers, grabbed my sleeping clothes, and out I went. Upon opening the tent, I was not so surprised to find frost on the inside of the tent. Realizing that changing in my tent would cause me to lose valuable body heat, the simple solution was to change while in my sleeping bag and liner. Piece of cake! In the bag I went fully dressed. The next 5 minutes were exhausting! Wrestling around with the sleeping bag liner (trying to keep that from twisting into a little ball), while trying to keep myself in the the bag itself, and trying to wiggle my way out of each layer caused me to break into a sweat! With the mummy bag Staying warmpulled up over my head and a small opening just large enough for my arm, I wiggled my arm out the hole, tossed each layer through the opening and stuffed it into a bag. Finally in my sleeping clothes, I collapsed back onto my sleeping bad and proceeded to wrestle around for a while, trying to get comfortable.

Lesson 2. . . passed, but just barely!

Lesson 3: Getting comfortable and staying warm.

I had recognized early that I may want a few additional layers in the bag with me to keep them somewhat warm, just in case I wanted to put layers back on in the middle of the night. At least that worked out for me! I tossed and turned for several hours, playing with the size of the opening in my sleeping bag that I needed to breath out of, fighting the sleeping bag liner as it insisted on getting bunched and twisted as I tossed and turned, making sure that I didn’t slip off the thermal sleeping pad that was keeping me warm, and finally finding a comfortable position, only to find that I was losing feeling in my arm and had to roll over, etc, etc, etc.

Finally, after a long battle, I was able to breath out of an opening the size of a 50 cent piece, propped myself up with the additional layers I did not need, and passed out. It was not until 5:30 in the morning that I woke again, feeling the cold nipping at my toes. It was at this time, I decided I would normally be getting up from bed to start my next days hike, so I put on more layers (since passing lesson 2 this was a little easier the second time round), packed up my gear, and returned to my house to start my day.

Lesson 3 passed!

Lesson 4: Packing up the tent.

Ok, so I got enough sleep, made it through a cold night, and felt pretty well refreshed for the day. Not bad, I can do this! Now it’s time to take down the tent. This will be easy. I bundled up and out I went. Step 1, take out the stakes. No problem! I yanked and pulled. . . nothing! What the heck?

Lesson 4, the ground will freeze more over night, making it nearly impossible to pull out your stakes. Mother nature requires a sacrifice to save the lives of the rest of your stakes.

Make that 3 sacrifices! Ok. I thought to myself, “What would you have on you now that would help you get theses stakes out? Leave no trace! You have to get them out of the ground genius!”

“I know, I would have a knife and that hatchet!” I used the hatchet to dig a whole around the stakes, until I could reach the hook on the stakes, then stuffing the knife under that hook, using it like a lever, I slowly popped the stakes out of the ground. It only cost me three bent stakes and two broken guidelines to take down the tent. But I got them all out of the ground!

Lesson 4, completed  and a little wiser!

Graduation day:

Fellow classmates, as I stand here today, I want to share with you some important lessons I have learned on this journey in my education. Remember, the ground freezes in winter and requires stakes for a sacrifice; you will have struggles in life, especially fighting sleeping bag liners. Be prepared! When you have accomplished your goals in life, there will be rocks, roots, etc to make you uncomfortable again, don’t despair. Be persistent, be creative, be warm.

Thank you!Gearing up for the cold


Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 9

  • Adam C : Feb 2nd

    There are some generic tent stake hammers for camping that made out of plastic and also have openings in the handle for pulling out the stakes. This could be two tools in one and might be lighter than a hatchet. The plastic might also be more brittle in cold temps though. Something to think about.
    Also, don’t forget that when you change out of your clothes for the night, anything you had on that was wet from sweat or water will get cold and possibly freeze if the temperature is low enough. Keeping clothes in the sleeping bag will help keep them warm and more comfortable for the next day.

    • Jamie : Feb 2nd

      Excellent! Thanks for the advice! I also learned that tying your guidewires to rocks could work as well. I’ll continue testing things our till July. Haven’t completely decided on the hatchet thing yet but I believe my trail mate is brining one. Thanks again! 🙂

  • Tim : Feb 4th

    Very good! Looks like you learned quite a bit on your backyard adventure! However, leave ALL hatchets and other such things at home. By the time you might need it for hammering/pulling stakes in Dec/Jan, you could probably stay in a shelter if the ground is frozen for a night or two. If you are thinking to use hatchet for campfires, well, campfires are nice, but if you’ve hiked for 15-20 miles, you might be too tired to deal with making one. On a long distance hike, you are ‘hiking’ way more than ‘camping’. Camping niceties can get heavy … I hope you are not thinking about a camp stool also!

    Good Luck and Have Fun!

    See you on the trail,
    mt squid

    • Jamie : Feb 4th

      Hey Mt Squid! Thanks for the advice. I am definitely NOT planning on bringing a stool. haha. That’s what tree stumps and rocks are for! I’m not sold on the “bring a hatchet with me” idea. A friend of mine brought it to my attention that rocks can be a great way to “stake” down your tent as well. So most likely, I won’t be bringing that with me! When are you going out on the trail?

      Happy hiking and see you out there!


  • Justin : Feb 5th


    I have done quite a bit of tent camping in Alaska when the temps dip well below freezing, and the best method we found for removing tent stakes was carefully tapping them from side to side with your “hammer” (Rock, foot, etc). This will slowly break the stake free from the ground and you should be able to pull it right out. Obviously you’ll need enough of the stake exposed to make this happen.

    Also, as Adam mentioned, sleeping with your water will prevent freezing. A heavy wool sock wrapped around your powerade bottle/Nalgene works just as well as the expensive insulated sleeves. If you must leave your water container outside, store it upside down as water freezes top down. Flip it back over in the morning and you’ll be able to drink from it without an ice chunk in the way!

    As for camelbaks in cold weather – If you do decide to use one, make sure you clear the line after you take a sip. This can be accomplished by blowing back into the line until all water is clear of the hose. I’ve had the line freeze on me before and had to thaw it out by placing it between my wicking layer and my outer shell. Not. Pleasant!

    Overall fantastic post, you are definitely on the right track for cold weather camping!

    Hope this helps and look forward to seeing more posts!

    • Jamie : Feb 5th

      Excellent! I love all the wonderful feedback I am getting! All VERY helpful! Thank you! I didn’t even consider the freezing water bottles, etc. Glad you brought that up before I learned the hard way. . . again. 🙂 I am getting more and more excited as the trail gets closer and hearing from people, such as yourself, that have had experience in cold weather is making me feel better about hiking well into January! I look forward to any other bits and pieces of helpful tips you all contribute! Till next post!

      Happy hiking!


  • Patrick : Feb 15th

    If there is snow on the ground, you can make a snow anchor. Tie the guy line half way on the stake to make it perpendicular and bury it in a “T” shape dug out in the snow. Cover generously with snow and firmly press down with your shoe. It should lock it in place for the night. Keep one extra stake to dig the rest out the next day, or a good stick will do too. 😛

    • Jamie : Feb 16th

      Wow that’s an excellent idea! Thanks Patrick! Have you tried this in windy situations as well?

  • clark57 : Jun 2nd

    Good Post


What Do You Think?