First, a definition.
To some, like my friend Glen, the fringe season means that period of weeks where the pool temperature in San Diego creeps from its wintertime low in the 60s to its barely tolerable springtime comfort of 80. When my family hung out with Glen and his in a February, we were eager to enjoy the ice-free water while he donned a parka and watched us frolic incredulously from the safety of a lawn chair.
For most backpackers, the fringe season seems to be defined by that period after Labor Day and before Halloween when the prospect of inclement weather is a reality.
For me, the fringe season on the fall side is that period of time when snow starts to fall regularly, but is intermixed with the reality of freezing rain. Sure, there may be snow on the ground, but for the most part, it’s less than a foot or two deep and I’m still using tent stakes. The fringe season ends when I can no longer walk without snowshoes or skis, and I have to anchor my shelter with deadmen. That’s when winter starts.
Dressing for the fringe season is challenging because everything has a tendency to get really wet.
Wet clothes means that low temperatures and high winds amp up the discomfort and insecurity level a bit.
I’m constantly searching for some sort of optimum in the fringe season. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve found it, but here’s a system that’s been working for me for a while, and the list below reflects my fine-tuning made in 2012.
- I’m agnostic on brimmed caps in the fringe season (there doesn’t seem to be a lot of sun anyways) and prefer a simple, merino wool beanie cap. My favorite is the now-discontinued BPL Merino UL Beanie, which weights 0.6 oz. I’m a big fan of Buffs, too, for their versatility.
- When it’s really cold, I’m also wearing a hoody hood (see below), and when it’s really windy or wet, I have hoods on my wind shirt and rain jacket, too.
- I can’t say enough good things about the Brynje Merino Long Sleeve Crew. It’s fishnet, and a radical departure from a conventional wicking system. Look for more story next week at BPL about the philosophy.
- In cold (maybe in the 30s and less, perhaps, with nasty weather of course), I add a Patagonia Capilene 4 hoody. It’s light (6 oz), and grid fleece. It layers nicely over the Brynje top.
- In bad weather, I’m nearly always wearing a wind shirt (Patagonia Houdini Jacket), over just the Brynje shirt for mild conditions, or over the Brynje + Cap 4 hoody for colder stuff.
- When it’s wet or really windy, I’ll top the whole bit off with an old Patagonia Specter Anorak, but am looking forward to seeing what the new Westcomb eVENT 2L jacket can do, as my last Specter is now starting to seam-fail.
- The camp and sleep garment is a new skunkworks gig, built for me by Ben over at Goosefeet. Breathable Cuben Fiber, 900 fill down, hooded anorak, kangaroo pocket, parka-length, massive amounts of loft. Twelve oz. This replaces my 19 oz Feathered Friends Helios most of the time.
- In addition to the usual stretchy underwear, I almost always wear something like Powerstretch in winter conditions as my pant. I’m not a fan of the usual soft shells – they are cold, thin, and when it’s wet, you can’t seem to pump moisture out of them fast enough.
- I don’t fool around with low gaiters in the winter. I started off with a set of Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT gaiters, and although I like the weight, the durability was lacking and they were easily shredded in the bush. I eventually moved to the REI eVENT gaiters but the balling underfoot was abhorrent due to the use of absorbent nylon webbing. I’m going back to what has worked for years: outdoor research Gore-Tex with Cordura lowers and PU impregnated straps.
- I almost never, ever wear raingear, even in the foulest conditions. Powerstretch works that good while you’re moving. I do add rain pants in camp – my version is a knicker length breathable Cuben Fiber. Zpacks. 2.6 oz.
- Thick socks. I’ve been trying Smartwool PhD Expedition socks but can’t resist the plush warmth of Smartwool Mountaineering Socks. I’ll probably go back to them for hiking days where the temps are less than 40F and I have to hang out in camp in single digits.
- Inov-8 288 GTX UL boots. Reliably waterproof, flexible, and oh-so-light, with great tread for snowy trails.
- Kahtoola Microspikes – for steep climbs over high passes on icy trails. I yearn for a titanium version with less chain, less rubber, and less weight.
- I’m blessed with good hand circulation. I use, almost universally in the winter, Powerstretch 400 gloves. My favorites are made by OR.
- When things get wet and windy, I add MLD eVENT overmitts, which fit poorly and offer no grip but stay in my pack most of the time so the light weight is appreciated.