The Gear

Gear selection was critical for our successful circumnavigation of Lake Baikal. Dressing for extreme cold and high intensity activities, what bike to use,or what kind of stove to use was not easy. Below is a description of some of the gear we used. Soon we will be adding description and pictures of modifications we made to existing gear to fit our specifications and specific use.

Our gear selection

On our feet

Smartwool Mountaineering Extra sock

Kamik Cody winter boot rated to -100F/ -74C 

Evaluation –

The Smartwool socks were simply amazing.  These socks dealt with cold temperatures, moisture, and day after day use better than any sock we had ever used.   A true life saver. 

The Kamik Cody boot was plenty warm, but one member of the team used the Kamik Nationplus boot, which is rated at -40F/-40C, and got frostbite on one of his toes.  Our experience suggests that the Nationplus boot is not properly insulated for the rating it receives. 

On our legs

Smartwool Midweight NTS Bottom 100% Merino wool

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Mountain Guide Pants

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Igniter pants 

Evaluation –

Smartwool baselayers are unbeatable.  Our team has experience using base layers from all the major manufacturers in all conditions and we can emphatically state without exception the Smartwool baselayers outperformed everything we have ever used in moisture management, insulation properties, and day after day comfort and durability. 

The First Ascent Mountain Guide Pants were a piece of highly valued gear.  The Schoeller fabric was all-weather resistant, durable, comfortable, and non-binding while cycling.  We lived in these pants the entire trip and were consistently impressed with their performance in all conditions: temperatures down to -40 degrees, driving snow, high winds, and repeated falls on abrasive ice and snow.  These pants are reliable all-around performers.

The First Ascent Igniter Pants were exactly what we needed for staying warm at night after a long day of riding.  We slipped these Primaloft pants on right over the Mountain Guide Pants for instant insulation and protection from biting cold and wind.  These pants kept us warm on the coldest nights and eased the transition from sleeping bag to frozen environment each morning.  The reinforced knees allowed us to kneel on the abrasive ice to perform tasks without worrying about tearing a hole in our pants.  A great piece of gear. 

On our torsos

Smartwool Midweight NTS Top 100% Merino wool

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Point Success Jacket – midlayer Polartec Power Stretch

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Frontpoint Jacket – outer layer hardshell and softshell combination

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Igniter Jacket – outer layer Primaloft insulation

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Peak XV Down Jacket – outer layer 850 down insulation 

Evaluation –

What more can be said about Smartwool baselayers?  They are the best.  The tops work just as well as the bottoms and the socks.  Some of us prefer the crew neck, others the zipper.  I wore one shirt the entire 35 days, taking it off only for the rare occasion of a shower or banya, and I never had the feeling that our relationship had reached that strained painful state that so often signifies the end.  Of course, the shirt could have a different story to tell…   

The First Ascent Point Success Jacket is a warm and versatile midlayer that performs well against wind and moderate cold.  When the temperatures were at their warmest we were able to ride in just a Smartwool baselayer and this jacket.  It has a great zippered chest pocket that works well for an Ipod or a Clif Bar, and a full-length zippered neck that keeps out cold.  It deals well with moisture and has a wide range of motion despite the slim fit that allows it to be so successfully layered under the Frontpoint Jacket or the Igniter Jacket.  The Point Success Jacket was a critical piece of the layering system that kept us dry and warm day after day.

The First Ascent Frontpoint Jacket was a true life saver.  The combination of hardshell and softshell technology worked well with the constant changes in temperature and activity output levels during the day.  It vented well even without pit zips and the inner neck cuff that is separate from the hood worked great for keeping out the cold.  The fabric felt very compliant and did not rustle and bind like a full hardshell does.

The First Ascent Igniter Jacket was the first thing that we reached for whenever we came to a stop to have a snack or chat with locals.  It was what we rode in on the coldest days, and what kept us warm in the transitions between high-output and zero-output activity levels.  Due to its on-demand insulative properties and minimal bulk, some of us developed a peculiar sort of affection for this coat bordering on reverence.   One of our team members even went so far as to suggest that the stylish cut of the Igniter Jacket may just be fashionable enough for the streets of Moscow.  It may serve to keep in mind that an American sense of fashion these days consists of tattered jeans that hang half way down one’s posterior fracture and a t-shirt that says “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”.

When the mercury really sank we relied on our First Ascent Peak XV Down Jackets.  These high quality 850-fill European goose down coats are made for extreme temperatures and had no problems dealing with the coldest conditions that Siberia could dish out.  They also make a nice pillow! 

On our heads

Smartwool Full Powder Day Hat – 100% Merino wool

Smartwool Balaclava – 100% Merino wool

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Microfleece hat 

Evaluation –

With the combination of the Smartwool hat and balaclava we were able to keep our heads protected from the cold.  We also used goggles with a sort of retro-fitted nose guard to keep our noses from being frostbitten.  Mine was a triangular piece of foam insulation covered in duct tape which extended down over my nose to my upper lip.  By tightening the draw cord of the hood on the First Ascent Frontpoint jacket and using the Smartwool balaclava we were able to eliminate the possibility of our skin being exposed to the biting winter Siberian air.  Adding to this combination either the Smartwool Full Power Day hat or the First Ascent Microfleece hat and the nose guard on the goggles, we could ride in all conditions without worry of frostbite.  

On our hands

First Ascent (Eddie Bauer line) Guide Gloves

Black Diamond Mercury Mitts 

Evaluation –

It became apparent within the first five minutes of our trip that it was too cold for just gloves.  We were thankful that we had decided to buy some Black Diamond Primaloft mittens at the last minute.  Otherwise it would have been a short trip.  We lived in these mittens.  We had to take them off for any task that demanded a certain degree of dexterity, but would put them on again as soon as possible to keep our hands from freezing.  For me the use of my hands depended on me keeping these mittens on my hands as much as possible throughout the day.  I did as many tasks as I could with my mittens on and had to be very careful not to touch any metal object, such as a thermos, with de-mittened hands.  Otherwise I would have to spend the next 5-10 minutes warming them up by performing an awkward variation of the upper body jumping jack or something of the sort.  Keeping our hands warm and functioning was always a challenge, and these mitts were absolutely critical.

When possible we preferred to use our First Ascent Guide Gloves.  These gloves are filled with the much revered Primaloft  and are an incredibly warm and comfortable glove.  The leather exterior provides exceptional durability and dexterity.  When the temperatures allowed we spent as much time in these gloves as it was so much easier to perform the various tasks of the day such as stuffing cookies in one’s mouth or trying to chisel off a chunk of frozen cheese with a pocket knife.

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