Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Backpacking Sleep System

I recently started a dialog regarding my take on the ten essential components of backpacking gear (read here).  One of the most important parts of anyones gear, for safe and comfortable camping, is ones Sleep System.

Everyone has their own opinion and preference for camping style and equipment, and there is no right or wrong system.  Your style of camping, mode of sleeping, and environment all play into the design of a good Sleep System, or kit.  The goal being to have a flexible set of gear that provides maximum safety and comfort, without being a burden to pack and carry.

For those interested, I'll discuss my system and equipment.  My system has changed, or evolved, over time; and I'm pretty happy with my current gear setup.  First off, I'm a ground sleeper - I prefer firm ground over a hammock, as long as I have sufficient insulation and padding; and secondly, in foul weather, I prefer the sanctuary of a tent over a simple tarp shelter or bivvy.  So that is my mode of sleeping, and my sleeping gear was selected to cover my needs during 99% of my backpacking trips.  

Suisse Sport & Chinook
Chinook & Suisse Sport

While I am a year-round backpacker, only 1% (or less) of my overnight trips are in temperatures that drop below 10 degrees F; and as such, I have not tried to cover those rare occasions with my gear selection.  I have two general Sleep System setups that I use - warm weather, and cold weather.  My warm weather season includes late Spring, Summer, and early Fall - generally from May to September - in temperatures above 45 degrees.  In these conditions I carry one of my lightweight, 30-32 degree sleeping bags, along with my Thermarest ProLite Plus pad.  These sleeping bags include my Chinook Thermopalm and my Suisse Sport Adventurer (both reviewed here), which I like for their comfort in warmer weather, and the fact that they are light and pack down really small, so that you hardly notice them in your backpack.  The ProLite pad (reviewed here) also packs down very small for stowing in my pack.  Both sleeping bag and pad combined weigh in at around 3 lbs - not too bad.

ProLite Plus
Z-Lite Pad

Ready to Pack

In cold weather, from Fall (say October) through early Spring (April-ish), when temperature lows range from 10 - 45 degrees F, I change my gear up.  In these conditions I carry one of my mid-weight, 20 degree sleeping bags, and my Thermarest Z-Lite pad.  These sleeping bags include my EMS Solstice and my SnugPak Sleeper Xtreme (both reviewed here), which are both warm down to about 10-11 degrees (especially with a warm baselayer and some HotHands chemical warmers.  I pair this with the Z-Lite pad, because it is easier to lash that pad to the outside of my backpack to save interior space, and I find that it provides superior insulation in cold weather.  I actually got a new Z-Lite Sol for Christmas (which has the reflective coating), so I'll have to try that one out.  Together, one of these sleeping bags and the pad weigh in between 4-5 lbs, which is doable for me.

2 SnugPaks & 1 EMS
SnugPak & Solstice

In those rare instances where the night-time lows drop below 10 degrees when I'm out (think Catskills in February), then I may bring both pads and stack the ProLite on the Z-Lite for extra insulation.  Another option for camping the 1% of the time that I'm in those really cold conditions is to wear my arctic, Cordura nylon, Carhartt bib overalls.  I can wear these directly over my baselayer (to keep from overheating), then if things are really cold at night I can sleep in them inside my sleeping bag - basically double-bagging, which I'm sure could take me down to (negative) -15 degrees F.  Like I said, though, those occasions are rare for me - mostly because I don't enjoy trying to keep my water from freezing, or having to melt snow (too much fuel required, and I'm not a fan of nasty, smelly, noisy white-gas stoves).


If you have any suggestions on further simplifying my setup, feel free to comment.

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