Building on our successful Ice Station Zebra campout, I know that at least some of you are wondering how we could have been so happy and warm in such cold.
It really doesn't take much. You don't need fancy bibs, high fashion accessories, or high-dollar fabrics. Or big pecs, a sword, and a damsel in distress.
You need good gloves. Don't cheap out on the gloves. Cold hands make the rest of you miserable. My gloves are the most expensive part of my winter kit. I prefer lobster gloves for real cold. Lobster gloves keep some of your fingers together like mittens, but give you better dexterity and comfort.
They come in two varieties; the one finger kind are usually available at hunting and backpacking outlets and the two finger kind are in cycling stores.
You need decent boots. Waterproof, with an insulated sole. They need to be waterproof all the way to the top, so that snow and meltwater doesn't get in. Boots are a good item to get at end-of-season sales. They're big and they don't sell during the summer, so you can get big discounts – if you can find your size.
You need good socks. I'll take cheap boots and good socks over good boots and cheap socks any day. You can buy Merino or Smartwool socks relatively cheap these days, especially if you get a color/pattern no one wants.
A warm coat or jacket. Big enough to let you move and breathe and small enough where there's not a lot of room for cold air to get in.
Much of your gear you can collect at end-of-season sales, discount stores, and such. One of my best purchases was a fleece vest that I used on just about every outing for nearly 10 years. It cost me $5 at our local discount store; it works out to about $0.50 per year and maybe a penny for every time I used it.
I layer various synthetic shirts, a fleece vest, a fleece jacket, a windbreaker or a heavy jacket depending on how cold it really is. Take layers on and off to regulate the temperature.
For my legs I usually layer a pair of tights and a pair of quick-drying zipoff hiking pants. If you're small and manly enough (or a woman), get ballet or gym tights at Walmart or a similar discounter; they're usually just a few dollars and they will do a great job keeping your legs warm when covered with a pair of synthetic zip off pants. You can pick up cycling tights at bike shops – but they cost much more than the ballet tights.
Stay away from cotton! Cotton is very efficient at cooling your body when wet. This is the opposite of what you want in the winter. Wearing cotton is a good way to have a miserable experience in the winter.
Online sources for gear:
Bricks and sticks
Any local discount store
REI, LL Bean or similar outdoor store for mid- and post- season sales (they usually don't advertise their deeply discounted items on line; you have to go and look)
Any bike shop; paw through the throw-off bin
Hey, if you're into cold weather camping, please share your clothing, equipment, and places to buy in the comments!