HT550 Solo Winter Kit List & thoughts.
Hey folks, a few people have reached out asking what kit I used for the winter attempt on the HT550. I’ve written up what I used, and some thoughts below which I hope will answer most of your questions. There wasn’t a whole bunch I would change if I was going to start it again tomorrow, if the conditions were the same. However that’s hard to believe as the week I was on the trail seemed to be the coldest in the UK in over a couple of decades, and I can’t imagine we would be lucky enough to get two weeks like that in one winter. Hopefully it inspires some thinking and gives you some ideas to tackle winter riding wherever you are.
Finally a shout out 45nrth my sponsors, they make some fantastic winter riding kit and I wouldn’t have started this ride without their support, so thanks guys.
Whisky Parts 26” wheels, 45nrth Dillinger 4 studded tyres
SRAM GX AXS Drive Chain 34t x 10/50 cassette
Whisky Parts Carbon Handle bars and seat post,
Shimano XT brakes
The Beargrease fork has the ability to run 4 cage mounting options. I chose to run 2 Salsa Anything cages facing forwards, and 2 standard bottle cages facing backwards. I used Ortlieb 10 Litre dry bags on each of the Anything cages, these were over sized for what I needed but allowed easy access with gloved hands and plenty of extra storage should I have needed it. These were held on with voile straps.
Left bag: 2 x spare pairs merino socks, Spare 45nrth Sturmfist 4 gloves, Spatzwear base layer, spare Merino leggings. Smith Goggles (clear lens) and Smith wildcat sun glasses.
Right bag: Salsa Beanie, 45nrth Greasy Cap, Alpkit Down jacket, Spare head torch, one days spare food, A small trowel and a packet of wipes.
The bottles were 45nrth insulated 750ml drink bottles (both of which I lost in 2 separate crashes unfortunately.) For water, I just collected it from running rivers and streams. I’ve never had any issues drinking water from rivers in Scotland if your selective.
During lockdown I’d designed and made my own handle bar harness, which attaches with 2 voile straps. It has a webbing ladder across the top of the harness allowing attachment points for various things I need. This is where my Spot tracker was fixed and where I would keep my waterproof jacket and Gloves if I wasn’t wearing them.
Inside the harness was a 13 litre Ortlieb dry bag which held my MSR Huba huba tent, ground sheet and oversized pegs. I chose to use a two person tent to give me plenty of room to get in and out of clothes. I purchased a ground sheet and then sewed a bathtub style skirt 4” high around the ground sheet to stop snow falling in, this worked really well and would use the system again in cold weather. The poles for the tent were left outside the dry bag and strapped under the harness.
On the back side of the harness (facing me) I have two large mesh pockets for snacks, bits and bobs. In the left pocket I had a small bottle of Peatys wet lube, along with gels for the day. The right pocket had energy bars for the day. I stuffed the used wrappers back in the pockets until I passed a bin to empty them out. I also used caffeine chewing gum which was stored in these pockets.
I ran the Ortlieb 4 litre frame bag with a zip closure. I think a roll closure would have worked better with cold hands, but it’s hard to say. The frame bag itself was faultless and 100% waterproof, which is ideal so you don’t have to dry bag everything inside it. This is where I stored my pump and small tool kit. Also my electrics. I carried 2 x 28,000mAh battery packs (the cold gave these all sorts of trouble), a small bag fill of cables, plugs and chargers. I also carried a small collapsible backpack that crushes down to the size of a small fist. Spare batteries I carried on my body, see clothing for details. I had my Sinewave charger from the dynamo hub running into the frame bag as well.
Inside the frame triangle I had a bottle cage fixed on the down tube holding a flask for hot soup and hot chocolate. I would take 2 flasks next time as my water bottles froze, so having a second flask to use as a water carrier would be useful. I also had 2 x inner tubes in a small orange dry bag strapped with a voile strap on a small mounting plate from Backcountry Scotland.
In winter I’ve gone away from using a saddle pack and now use a Salsa alternator rack suitable for fat bikes. I’ve found they are more solid and stable than a loaded saddle pack, and gives more capacity to carry more load, ideal for bulky winter items. Yes there is a weight penalty, but I think its at a worthwhile cost.
On top of the rack is once again, a bombproof Ortileb 30 litre dry bag. Inside this, a 20 litre light weight dry bag with my Alpkit Pipedream 600 down bag, inside a super light weight bivi sack, just for extra protection in the snow. I used an Exped R3 sleeping mat which was fantastic, with it’s own bag for inflation, so no need for lung power at the end of the day, which I really liked. It’s the first time I’ve used that system. In a 6 litre light weight dry bag I had my sleeping clothing, Thick merino socks, merino tights, a Devoid Tuvegga merino hoodie, and 3 buffs. I would use the dry bag as a pillow with whatever I could stuff into it, then use a bluff as a pillow case which is nicer than a plastic dry bag against your face (Try it, your welcome). This main bag was held on by 2 x voile rack straps. I used a small extreme flashing red light on the back of this bag for riding on the road sections, and carried a spare attached to one of the voile straps.
I then had 2 x small dry bags strapped high onto the side of the rack with voile straps. These carried:
Right side. Salsa anything bag with Alpkit stove, Ti mug and small and large gas canisters. Also the dried hot food that I would eat that evening and packets of soup and hot chocolate for the flask. This would be changed out each day from the left side bag.
Left side. This was a 8 litre dry bag that stored all of my food. These were separately bagged in days, for which I had 5 days of food with me. Each bag had 2 dry hot meals, small blocks of cheese, some energy bars, and some energy gels, 2 packets of soup and a single serving of hot chocolate. Each day I would transfer the sacks into the mesh pockets on the back of my handle bar harness and the hot dry meals into the stove bag on the other side of the rack. My rubbish would then go back into the day food bag and I would bin them when passing through villages or towns etc.
Top tube bag
I think this is a 2 litre bag which I had a multitool, tyre plugger, headphones and a bag of trail mix to graze on during the day (made up of salted peanuts, chocolate M&M’s, and wine gums). It was also home for the small blocks of cheese I was snacking on.
I rode in 7 mesh Foundation briefs with a 3/4 merino leggings over the top (making nature breaks easier than striping off with bibs). 45nrth full length merino socks. I had a 7 mesh merino Callaghan Jersey against my skin, there wasn’t anything wrong with this top, however I’d swap it out for a 3/4 zip long sleeve merino base layer. I found that the cut of the Callaghan is short in the back, so each time I bent over (without wearing bib tights|) my lower back was exposed. I chose the jersey as I wanted the extra pockets on the back, but found I didn’t need them, so I’d go with something longer in the back next time.
For the mid layer, I used a 7 mesh Seton Vest which was perfect. The warm lining was great, the colour nice and bright and the pocket system in the back works really well, hence not needing twice that number of pockets with the Callaghan jersey underneath. The only thing I would like in the Seton vest is a chest pocket, but that’s just me being super picky.
In my Seton pockets I had my phone, loaded with the route in both OS maps and Komoot apps. I also carried the spare AAA batteries, 2 extra batteries for the Sram AXS system I was using, Head torch batteries, an exposure joystick head light in a small bag. I also had one of the large battery packs charging what need charging at the time in one of my back pockets.
My outer shell was again 7 mesh, I used the Sky pilot jacket. Again a great jacket but I found a couple of things I’d change. The cuffs are not adjustable, so I couldn’t get my thick winter gloves under the cuff. The hand pockets were fine however I wanted a chest pocket. The biggest frustration was the fact there was no two way zipper, meaning you couldn’t zip the jacket open from the bottom up. This made it annoying to get into your rear jersey pockets. If you could zip the bottom of the jacket open a few inches it would have made it easier. It’s a great jacket for what it's designed for, but I guess I was pushing it past that, however it was faultless in terms of protection from the elements. I wore the infamous Thunder Pants on my legs. A waterproof trouser that I’ve used now for a year of wet weather riding. These are brilliant and were my first choice of what to wear on my bottom half for the HT550. The only issue I had was with walking through knee deep snow, it froze the velcro cuff, causing it to pull open. With it being frozen, it wouldn’t stick back together. Wearing a gaiter would solve this problem, and again I’m probably using these outside of their remit of what they were designed for, like the jacket. But again they were faultless in protection from the elements and with a couple of tweaks I’d defiantly use them again. I have the new 45nrth soft shell system which is fantastic, however with the changeable Scottish winter conditions soft shell is always a risk on multi day journeys, which is why I went for a hard shell.
I rode in a neck gaiter everyday and used 45nrth Sturmfist 4 leather gloves on my hands, which never really got cold while wearing them. I had 2 pairs of these with me, and a set of fingerless mitts which had gel padding in the palm, but they never came out of the bag. On my feet I chose the 45nrth Ragnarok tall boots. These aren’t the heaviest winter footwear 45nrth make. I wore their Wolvhammer winter boot for the Badger Divide in January. However with the number of river crossings I thought a big boot like the Wolvhammer would get soaking wet, not dry out and weight me down, so I when for the lighter version in the Ragnarok. This boot choice is what would put an end to my ride, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Yes sitting here now I would have worn the Wolvhammer, however all the cold training rides I had done in the Ragnarok were absolutely fine, I guess I had no idea how much snow I was going to have to push my bike through before I started. Would I do anything different now, well yes of course I would, however I think I made that best decision with the information I had at the time. It’s just one of those things I guess, both are great boots and it will be hard to pick between the two when I get a chance to go back, as I’m sure the temperatures will not be as low as they were this time around.
I wore a Smith Session helmet, I chose this over the Forefront 2 because it weighs a bit less and with a head torch strapped to the front of it, the weight on your neck riding all day adds up. I didn’t wear glasses all the time, in fact wore goggles more than I did glasses during the ride, thus mainly due to weather conditions and spindrift snow.
I rode with an Exposure Revo dynamo light, run off a Son28 fat bike dynamo hub. This paired with a Petzl Actic head torch, which I had zip tied under the visor of my Smith helmet. This head lamp ran off a replaceable battery pack or 3x AAA batteries, which gave me piece of mind I wouldn’t run out of lighting. With my visual impairment that would have meant stopping until day light to carry on. This system worked well, however I wonder if the Sinewave Beacon dynamo light with it’s USB charging port straight into the back would be a much cleaner system than I had, of unplugging terminals to swap between lighting and charging. Mine set up wasn’t any hassle but this Sinewave system looks to be a better system all round, so check those out.
The details that made a difference.
Plenty of people regarded taking studded tyres overkill or a waste of time before I set off. It’s fair to say I wouldn’t have gotten through the first day without hitting the deck on ice numerous times. It was by far the best decision I made looking at the forecast. Although slower on the road sections, they gave me piece of mind and I wasn’t worried about black ice, which I came across a fair share of in those temperatures. If the forecast is around the zero mark again, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. The tyres I rode were 45nrth’s Dillinger 4, 26 x 4’ studded tyres set up tubeless. With that much snow, I’d possible go to a 4.8” width tyre for greater floatation?
I also changed my standard grips for Wolf Tooth oversized silicon grips, and a friend Ian McNabb gave me silicon brake lever covers. These made a big different as my fingers weren’t resting on cold alloy brake levers. It was cold enough to warrant running pogies, but I didn’t bother as the Scottish winter is a fickle beast. I didn’t get cold hands, possible due to good gloves, carbon bars, oversized grips and brake lever covers. I’m going to swap these grips to ergo style grips as my hands took a pounding.
For navigation I stuck with my Garmin Edge 530. I use this all the time on the road training and I figured with its long battery life I’d get away with recharging it each day. I left the e-treks at home and to be honest, can’t see me going back to use the e-treks unless it was something way off grid, like a crossing of Greenland or something like that. Between my Garmin, OS maps and Komoot on my phone I felt I had everything covered out there.
The pedals I rode were XT touring pedals, with flats and pins on one side and an SPD cleat on the other. I replace the pins for longer ones (8mm) before I left to give my boot more support when using them, which worked well. They did ice up from time to time and the odd stomp on them often freed them from ice. If this didn’t work, I’d pee on them when I needed to go and that worked every time.
Carrying a flask was a winner, and as I said above, I think I would carry a second one next time to stop water from freezing in bottles. The evening eating plan I had worked well, which I used on the Badger Divide. I’d stop between 7-8pm to cook food, hopefully sheltered somewhere. Also make a flask of hot soup or hot chocolate and then ride on into the night and continue to gain the miles before finding somewhere much later to get you head down. Drinking the hot liquid before bed helps to keep your core temps warm, as your body generates heat to warm up your sleeping bag. It’s nice to leave a bit, so if you wake up in the night you have something hot to drink then as well.
Well I think I’ve covered just about everything here. If you have any burning questions then please feel free to get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer those for you.
Happy winter riding and stay safe out there.
All the best.
Images by Paudie Spillane.