Winter overlanding gear that’ll make the cold more enjoyable

Last February I took delivery of one of the coolest press cars I’ve had yet: The RMT Overland Jeep Gladiator Sport shown above. This package included, among other things, a 3.5-inch JKS suspension lift, Fox factory 2.5 shocks, 17-inch Mopar beadlock wheels and 37-inch BF Goodrich MT KM3 tires. On top was a roof-top tent that I planned to enjoy on a camping trip down to the San Juan Mountains. 

We had a mild January, but once February hit it became brutally cold. With overnight temperatures dropping well below zero and my heaviest sleeping bag only rated to zero, I canceled the plans for an overnight trip and instead opted to hit some trails near my house. It was still a fun day, but not what I wanted. This year however, I was introduced to something that doesn’t break the bank, while not requiring another sleeping bag purchase: The Sea to Summit Reactor Fleece Liner. 

Sea to Summit Reactor Fleece Sleeping Bag Liner – $89.99

Specs

  • Outer Material: Thermolite Fleece
  • Fabric Type: 100% Polyester
  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 79” x 28” x 0.4”
  • Weight: 0.9 lbs

Sleeping bags rated for less than zero degrees Fahrenheit are expensive, as well they should be. They’re literally keeping you alive overnight, and that takes a lot of down or synthetic insulation. Instead of dropping $800 on a Marmot down mummy bag fit for an Everest or Antarctica expedition, for $90 this fleece liner fits right inside your sleeping bag and can add up to 32 degrees of warmth, or so says the description on Amazon. In order to test it out I waited until the coldest night of the winter and hopped in the back of my Crosstrek to compare my zero-degree bag on its own and with the fleece liner. 

Wearing a layer of thermals, a pair of chunky wool socks and a Patagonia R1 hoody, the evening started off surprisingly toasty in my bag alone, with the key word in that sentence being “started”. I tend to fluctuate during the night being a cold sleeper and a warm sleeper, and more than once have I woken in the middle of the night shivering in my tent. Once I began to feel the chill of the negative temps outside, I hopped in the liner and from then on was more than comfortable.

It’s important to be warm but not so warm that you’re sweating, as sweating leads to heat loss. That’s why I like the Reactor Liner. I have four different sleeping bags that each have varying degrees of temperature comfort, and being able to adjust each of them with a liner makes my entire kit more versatile. 

Additionally, the liner is incredibly easy to wash, especially when compared to both my down and synthetic bags. Unlike those bags, the liner doesn’t require a special detergent. You just throw it in the wash like any other clothing item and dry it on low. Don’t use any fabric softener on it, as this can compromise the performance of the fabric. 

Packing is not a problem with this liner. It weighs 13.4 ounces (379 grams), which if you’re used to ultralight backpacking isn’t nothing, but for the car camping scenario I outlined above, it’s really reasonable. It also packs down to less than 3 liters, so it won’t take up too much room in a backpack. And at $90, it is a solid piece of gear for the price. Spend one night out in the cold and you’ll wish you had brought one with you.


Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Extreme Cold-Weather Insulated Air Mattress – $199

Specs

  • Dimensions (LxWxH): 72” x 21.7” x 4”
  • Weight: 2.1 lbs

While sleeping bags are important, another key to keeping warm in the winter is how well you’re insulated from the ground. Most sleeping bag temperature ratings are based on testing with a sleeping pad with an insulation rating of R4, so if you buy a zero-degree bag and forget the sleeping pad, there’s no way you’re getting the best use out of all of that insulation.

That’s where the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Mattress comes in. With an R-value of 6.2, the Ether Light XT does a great job at insulating you from the cold ground (or in my case the cold inside of my car). When it comes to R-values, the scale is easy to understand. A sleeping pad with an R-value of 2 is twice as warm as one that has an R-value of 1. If you have sleeping pads at home, you can stack them to increase their R-value, though it would take over six R1 sleeping pads to be as insulating as the Ether Light XT.

Insulation is only one factor when it comes to how well a sleeping pad works. This one is inflatable, and while I have found inflatable pads to be a hassle in the past, this was not the case with this Sea to Summit pad. The stuff sack the pad comes in also acts as a tool to inflate it, with easy to read instructions printed on the side. The days of exhaling for minutes at a time to inflate your camping equipment is over, and within a minute you’ll have a comfortable surface on which to lay your head. 

In addition to insulation and ease-of-use, the final factor is comfort. This is another area where the Ether Light XT shines. When inflated the pad provides support without being stiff. I myself am I side sleeper, and even when I’m on my side I feel supported, something that can’t be said for all sleeping pads. There’s even a spot for your inflatable pillow called the “Pillow Lock System” preventing it from moving around while you sleep, a problem I have every time I go camping. Not all is perfect with the Ether Light XT though. The biggest negative is that it is a loud sleeping pad. I tend to rollover quite a bit during the night and this could be a big negative if whomever you’re sharing your tent with is a light sleeper.

As someone who, until recently, exclusively used $15 sleeping pads with the same amount of cushion and insulation as a yoga mat, I am glad I made the switch. I’m no longer in my 20s, and while I could sleep on the ground if I had to, making camping trips more comfortable is my goal these days. It comes with a steep price tag of $200, the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT delivers the comfort and warmth I’m looking for.


Sea to Summit X-Set 32 – $179

Specs

  • Materials: Food-grade silicone, hard anodized aluminum
  • 2.8L pot, 8” pan, 1.3L kettle
  • Weight: 1lb 12oz

The worst part of any winter camping trip for me is usually the morning. I’m nice and cozy in my bag, and even though I know I have to get up, there is absolutely no part of me, mind or body, that wants to. Eventually the urge to go to the bathroom compels me to, but I still haven’t found a way to make those mornings pleasant. However, I do have a way to make them just a bit more bearable: coffee.

Just like at home, coffee on the go energizes me enough so that I believe I can take on the day. For a long time I would sit up in my sleeping bag, turn on my stove and boil a pot of water, a third of which would spill out as I tried to pour it into my pour over, or in some instances of desperation, my mug of instant coffee. 

That’s where this collection of cookware comes in. For years I’ve used similar, collapsible options from Sea to Summit, and I’ve really liked them. At first I was scared of melting the sides of the pots, which are made of silicone, but after half a decade of use, I have yet to ruin them. They’re fairly easy to clean, and once they’re dry, you can collapse them down so they don’t take up too much space in your vehicle. Plus, the kettle makes quick work of a pour-over coffee on a chilly February morning.

This three-piece set does have a steep price, but if you only need the kettle that can be bought separately for only $45. It’s also worth noting that these sets do go on sale, in my experience, fairly regularly, so if you have time to wait, I’d suggest it.

Know of any other good winter camping items? Leave them in the comments below.

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