Thursday, June 2, 2016

Gear upgrade: Sleeping bag

When I first started backpacking, my biggest concern was price, with weight secondary. Over time, I've been slowly upgrading my gear. I replaced my 5500 cubic inches, 6 pounds 14 ounces backpack with one that was 4200 ci, 4 pounds 13 ounces. I upgraded my sleeping pad last year. Now, as I prepare to embark on my first long backpacking trip, I have been anxiously thinking about weight.

Ultralight backpackers try to get their tent, pack, and sleep system (bag and pad) down to 3 pounds each, or 9 total. I'm not an ultralighter, certainly. My tent actually weighs 2 pounds 12 ounces, and frankly I could only shave an ounce or two off without trading down to a tent that uses hiking poles or just a tarp. I don't use poles and I like my own bubble, thank you, so I'm satisfied there. I'll probably get a lighter pack eventually, but no hurry.

The real place for optimization is my sleep system. When I traded in my old bulky Thermarest-z for a warm Synmat, I went up from 11 to 21 ounces. And on top of that, I bought a 3 ounce inflatable pillow. The pillow is the best gear I've ever bought; a decade and a half of trying to make do with clothes piled under my head had not been successful. So even though I'd added weight, I was happy with the tradeoff.

But my sleeping bag weighs in at 3 pounds 12 ounces - rather heavy. Then again, it was bought for car camping. I have an aversion to mummy bags, as a fetal side sleeper, so I didn't think I'd find something light. Then I discovered the world of quilts.

Initially, I fell in love with the Enlightened Revelation, which has rave reviews and a low weight of one pound three ounces. But they're made to order and take several months to ship, which I didn't have the time for. Instead, I ordered the Sea to Summit Traveller, which is cheaper and only 14 ounces. It also packs down to a fraction of the size - see the photo comparing my old bag to my new one! (Map added for scale.)

Now the obvious difference is temperature; it's rated at 50° instead of my old bag's 15°, and I sleep cold. Even with a liner, this is not a winter bag.

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