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Winter fatbiking gear

Please note – This post is merely what’s working for me. Not a prescription for others.

March 2023. With the really cold weather camping season coming to a close here in the Rockies I’ll try and document gear and usages for mostly solo overnighters in temperatures to -35 Celsius. As part of my leave-no-trace approach, these trips seldom include wood fires. I require gear that will keep me dry and warm with minimal use of external heat sources. While winter camping during the 2021/22 season I noticed that some of my gear was not performing as well as previous seasons. With numerous pieces being up to a decade old, it was time to update a few items. This post reflects those updates after about five months of regular use. Both Cascade Designs (MSR & Therma Rest) and Rab feature prominently in my selections. All items were purchased at retail prices and have been chosen based solely on my experiences and perceptions regarding performance, utility, and value. Many of the items were purchased at off-season discounts of 50-65%.

Challenge Sailcloth’s 100% recycled ECOPAK EPX200 has been getting the call for some custom bags. Fun stuff to create new luggage with!

RollingDale fat bike, loaded for a winter overnighter. Total weight of bike, gear, food, and 3 litres of water was 32 kg, or ~72 pounds.

Back of bike – The primary reason for these larger compression panniers is to be able to get bulky items off the handlebar, and create a lower centre of gravity. (~20 litres, <375 grams each including all attachments) The visible right pannier contains outerwear, spare clothing, bear-hang (empty food bag), DIY tent footprint, and ExoSpikes in the compression lid. The ExoSpikes weigh about 220 grams and are vastly superior to studded boots. The left pannier contains a 2022 Therma Rest Polar Ranger -30C sleeping bag, and a 2020 MSR Hubba NX tent without the poles. The weight of panniers and contents is 5.0 kg, ~11 pounds. The 2020 DIY composite rear rack with integrated fender weighs <900 grams. This rack angle permits the full usage of the dropper post.  Total weight behind the seat tube is less than 6 kg.

Front of bike – Strapped directly to the Jones H Loop bar is a top-loading custom Bikepackers Foundry FireballBag; ~400 grams empty. Inside are the tent poles (bottom of bag and close to the head tube), 10+2 sections of 2015 Therma Rest Z-Lite Sol closed cell foam mattress, and a 2022 Therma Rest Neo Air X Therm Regular Wide with inflation bag. The weight of the FireballBag and contents is 1.3 kg, 2.9 pounds. A 2022 Lynx OGT Aurora maximum 1,500 lumen light is direct-mounted to the handlebar with OneWrap, weighs 106 grams. (Lynx OGT is a Nelson BC company producing world-class lighting systems.) Total weight on the handlebars < 1.5 kg, 3.3 pounds.

Centre of bike – As I almost always ride without a backpack or hip belt everything else needs to be carried around the centre triangle.

The 2020 custom frame bag contains canister stove & pot kit + emergency titanium wood stove, 2 litre water bladder (insulated in Outdoor Research hard shell and rain pants), 500 ml thermos of hot water covered with a pair of XL Rab Xenon mitts, emergency/first aid kit, spare Carbon Drive belt, spare Revoloop 27.5″ fatbike tube, zip ties, small shovel, and spare bike parts.

The 2020 custom top tube bag is divided in about the middle, with the back section holding a 0.5 litre drink-through-the-lid Thermos flask of warm water (this flask position the lowers centre of gravity of the bike) cushioned by a pair of Large Rab Xenon mitts & spare buff (back);, with the front section holding two 10,000mAh PD cache battery/warmers, two USB C to C cables and two USB A to micro USB cables and two female micro USB to male USB C adaptors (gotta have spares), Zoleo satellite communicator, keys and wallet, Swift RL headlamp, two spare 18650 batteries for the Aurora handlebar light, and two Petzl Bindi headlamps. Separate detailed post on 2023 lighting, heating, and power for bikepacking coming soon. Side note:  at least one spare headlamp and the Zoleo are in my pockets while night riding. Bear spray carry location varies by my perception of risk levels. Belt carry is the preferred option.

Outerwear: Rab Large Xenon Mitts (see note) sitting on parka, 2022 Blue Rab down parka (700 grams, size Small), two pairs of merino wool liner gloves, 2 buffs & a 2017 OR down beanie (primarily worn for sleeping), 2017 Rab Argon down pants, 2018 First Ascent down puffy with vented back, footwear detail below. For clarity, I layer pairs of Large and Extra Large mitts when conditions dictate.
Footwear: 2020 Bogs Yulex 2 sizes larger, yellow DIY 1/2″ closed-cell foam insoles, Bogs insoles, 2022 black Rab Pertex/Primaloft socks (worn as both a vapour barrier and insulating layer, 2018 blue Rab down socks (primarily worn for sleeping if needed). Each of the four Rab socks weighs 57 grams. These combinations will keep me warm and dry to at least -30 C for a few days. Everything dries fairly quickly overnight. Side note: I’ve had poor results from Rab vapour barrier socks, as the taping failed after a season of use. Not shown, ExoSpikes.
Wet snow/rain/wind layer: 2022 OR Helium rain pants, 2022 OR Helium Ascent Shell, extra heavy nitryl gloves. I’ll frequently wear the nitryl gloves as a base layer to keep hand outer layers dry. The ascent shell is excellent for starting out on very cold days, and as a wind layer. The pants and shell replaced some older GoreTex items. Weight was reduced by 330 grams and gear performance improved.
FireballBag on the rear rack to make the front lighter for riding in loose and variable conditions. I’m wearing both gloves and insulated mitts to compensate for the lack of pogies. Top layers: merino tee shirt, OR half zip hoodie, First Ascent puffy, OR Helium Ascent Shell. Bottom layers: compression knee socks, 200wt. merino leggings, Rab Pertex insulated socks, Bogs Yulex boots, winter alpine ski touring pant. This is the most that I’ll wear while riding. If wind chills are below -40 I might pull on the Helium rain pants.
This is a December 2022 image of using the “emergency” titanium twig stove that I carry. It can also be used with the XTS pot if the fuel canister is compromised or empty. It weighs 270 grams.

Please leave a comment if there are other details that might be helpful to you.

13 thoughts on “Winter fatbiking gear

  1. Looking for a bolt mounted frame bag. Sweet winter rig. Orange bags look awesome.

    1. Hi Peter, it appears my original response to you did not post. Apologies. Thanks for the comment. Hope you wintered well and are now enjoying “summer” bikepacking season. There are a few local gear makers in your area that are better positioned to create a custom bolt on frame bag. If you are wanting to modify an existing frame bag to bolt on, have a look at that post in the DIY section of the website. Cheers Guy

  2. Howdy,

    Love your attention to detail.

    How do you find the pinion gearbox in the -30 to -40 range? Any noticeable increase in drag?

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Carl. Thanks for the comments and questions. I’m finding no change in the feel of the gearbox at very low temperatures (-40). Below -35 C I was finding some increased friction in the shift cables. I flushed both cable housings with brake cleaner and installed new Shimano Dura-Ace XTR polymer coated cables. This change completely eliminated any noticeable drag when shifting. Cheers … Guy

      1. Thanks Guy, appreciate your information. It seems I’m destined to have a Pinion fatty!
        Would you mind telling me your belt to tire clearance in mm?

        Regards, Carl

      2. You’ll really enjoy the Pinion/Gates system!!!
        Here’s a barrage of numbers. The clearance between the belt and the tire is 10mm with Barbegazi 27.5 x 4.5 tires mounted to 70mm internal width rims. There is 9mm of clearance between the tire and belt with studded Gnarwhal’s mounted to 85mm rims. The C 1:12 transmission is a replacement for a P series that had seal leak issues. No charge replacement by Pinion! I was able to accommodate the narrower Q factor of the C series by swapping around the sprockets, cogs, and spacers. Despite not being a bike mechanic or having previous Pinion/Gates hands-on experience I completed the transmission swap and driveline reprofiling in ~3 hours. Actually a very easy project! The rear hub on this bike is 177mm. The only place that is a little tight (2mm) is space between the inside of the seat stay and the outside of the belt. With a properly tensioned belt this is lots of clearance. I use a 36″ steel straight-edge to exactly check alignment between the front and rear sprockets. Shims on the freehub are swapped around to yield perfect alignment.

        Worth noting, there was less tire clearance and more seat stay clearance with the P Series transmission.

        Cheers … Guy

  3. Wow Guy! Thanks for your super detailed response. It has been hard pouring over the internet trying to confirm figures and clearance from photos.
    Enjoy your summer adventures.
    Many thanks from NZ.

    1. Thanks Carl. If you haven’t read Finding N+0 already, you may find some helpful ideas. Enjoy your winter of adventures! Happy to try and directly answer your build choice questions as you get further into it. Cheers … Guy

      1. Cheers Guy, do you have any construction details/photos on the Liteskin custom pogies I see on a few of your blogs? I intend to go Jones composite bars on my build also and currently have RD Expedition pogies…with sub-optimal handlebar fit. I’m looking to make my own pair and have ideas…but always keen to hear of others experiences.


      2. Hi Carl. Yes on pogie details. Currently working on a DIY post that outlines the template making and construction process. The ones pictured are my first version, which I have been very happy with after four winters of riding. Working from memory, the weight came in at less than 250 grams per pair. The velcro mounting system works flawlessly, and the bar ends remain unconstrained for holding the Bikepackers Foundry Tool and Repair sets.

  4. Hi again Guy!
    Just wondering of you have the overall width of your Enve / Gnarwhal combination?

    Many Thanks.

    1. Hi Carl. At 3 psi (21 kpa) the width is 115 mm. At 18 psi (125 kpa) the width increases slightly to 118 mm. Worth noting that the diameter at the higher pressure is 789 mm (31″). The combination of the Bontrager Gnarwhals with 214 45 North XL Concave Studs results in superb traction and the ability to run higher pressures (faster rolling) under most conditions.

      1. Thanks Guy!

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