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February 2006

Cold-Weather Gear Review: 5 Winter Fixes

How to make your cold months warmer: boots, bags, jackets, backpacks, and booties for frosty weather

©Matthew J. Reigner

Western Mountaineering Big Horn Super DL

The bag to trust for winter’s coldest nights

Spend a couple of weeks testing sleeping bags in extreme cold, and you soon find that loft, warmth, and fit–which go hand-in-hand–are ten times more important in a winter sack than any flashy features. Which is why our guys loved the Bighorn. In fact, after 20 days on Mt. McKinley, our testers were fighting over this -30°F bag, which was double-digits warmer than a competitor’s model with the same rating. With 850-plus-fill-power goose down and a waterproof/breathable Gore Dryloft shell, this superfat sack kept the guys toasty and dry–without a hat–in high-elevation conditions at -30°F. Sizing is winter-appropriate: “big and comfy,” said 6’2″, 190-pound Bruce, with space for layering up or storing boot liners. Construction details are superb: The zipper doesn’t stick, and the collar and hood drawcords are smooth–and easy to find in the dark.

Price/Sizes: $670 regular (6′), $695 long (6’6″)

Weight: 4 lbs. 2 oz. (long)

Contact: (408) 287-8944;

©Matthew J. Reigner

Patagonia Dimension Jacket

A more versatile and breathable winter shell

Fact: Snow isn’t rain. For most winter outings, you don’t need a waterproof jacket–you need something more breathable, because sweat is your worst enemy. On snowshoeing and ski trips in the Idaho mountains, moisture never built up inside this soft shell, even when I climbed 2,000 feet in heavy, falling snow with my hood up. And the wettest flakes rolled right off. The Dimension is seriously technical, with a fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, extra sleeve length for reaching, low-bulk hook-and-loop cuffs, and mesh-lined chest pockets/vents roomy enough for climbing skins. With an exterior fabric more supple than a stiff hard shell, and welded seams that make the jacket less bulky, it just plain feels better and moves more freely with me, no matter what the activity. The cut is ideal: You can add a couple of warm layers underneath without sacrificing range of motion.

Price: $260

Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-L

Weight: 25 oz. (medium)

Contact: (800) 638-6464;

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