Across the northern U.S. and through the snowy North Woods, April is prime time to stop thinking about paddling season and to start packing. Be ready to chase the melt with this (still) cold-weather kit.
Snowtrekker EXP Crew tent
$925 and up; four sizes are available, 1-4 people
Snowtrekker has a stirling reputation amongst cold-weather travelers for its nomadic canvas tents. Over 20 years ago, northern Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs Duane and Margot Lottig have reinvented the traditional canvas wall tent, with a super convenient internal aluminum frame and computer-aided design incorporating up 70 to 100 pieces of custom-cut, custom-sewn fabric. Having grown up using canvas tents, Duane says the goal was to modernize the experience with lighter, waterproof-breathable fabrics and a wind-stable, free-standing design. The single-wall Snowtrekker is utterly condensation-free, while its creamy white walls radiate candlelight. Paired with a small woodstove (a 10-inch by 10-inch by 18-inch stove heats the 8×10 Exp Crew to T-shirt temperature), a Snowtrekker tent feels like a mobile cottage--without the property taxes or upkeep. The 8×10 weighs 15 pounds, takes up about half the typical canoe pack and sleeps two adults with plenty of room to spare. It's easy to see why the Lottigs' tents are increasingly popular amongst Boundary Waters canoe trippers looking to extend their seasons into the quiet months.
This eight-pound unit is the Rolls Royce of tent stoves--nearly half the weight of comparable steel stoves, impervious to corrosion, with plenty of space to hold a four-hour burn and a lifetime warrantee. All this combines to make their hefty price tag easier to swallow. I purchased my Four Dog for extended winter camping missions, and soon discovered that it transitions perfectly to canoeing in the spring and fall. I pack the stove separately in its own duffel and load it atop another pack for portaging. Each Four Dog is handmade by owner-operator Don Kevilus; beware, the company suffers from short supply and high demand, so you'll have to be patient if you take the plunge.
In cold weather, a sleeping mattress with a high insulation value is essential to prevent heat loss to the ground due to conduction. Enter the NeoAir XTherm, a thick, ultralight pad that uses the same principle as a reflective space blanket to turn a cushy air mattress into a four-season performer. The 2.5-inch XTherm delivers an R-value of 5.7, more than double the insulation value of typical self-inflating pads, while weighing in at less than a pound and packing the size of a one-liter water bottle. Only gripe: It's not self-inflating, so it requires a strong set of lungs (or a mini-pump) to blow it up. Don't worry, the annoying crinkling sound quickly goes away.
Esbit Vacuum Flask
$29 and up; four sizes are available from 16 oz. to 1 quart
I searched for years for a vacuum bottle that lasts. I have discovered that most are good in the short term, but have an unfortunate tendency to lose their insulation value in the middle of a trip. The German-engineered Esbit has proven itself over four years of use. In cold weather, I'll fill it up with boiling tea before going to bed. Come morning, the contents are still steaming, ready to kick-start my day.