Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Prepping for a Perfect Backcountry Camping trip - Shelter/Bedding

One of the most important things you’ll need to work out is how you want to sleep. A good night’s sleep is the key to having a worry free trip. That means you have to stay dry, warm (or cool depending), and comfortable. So, we've got a few key items and some key considerations.

The Tent –

It’s worth doing your homework here as there are many different tent styles for different climates. The casual camper won’t need a $500 mountaineering tent. You’ll need to determine how big your tent should be. We carry a small rig with us. It weighs just a few pounds and takes up very little room in the packs. It’s big enough to comfortably house our bedding, bags, and the dog (who usually ends up sleeping on my bag anyway).

Things to look for:
  • Tub floor (raised sides).
  • A vestibule. This is like the 'mud room' or front hallway of your tent. It's a sheltered area where you can take off your boots, lay down some gear, and banish the dog to when he eats your gorp.
  • Good ventilation. You’ll need good air circulation regardless of season. Keeps you cool in the summer, and helps prevent frost from condensation in the winter.
  • Gear loft – this hanging mesh ‘shelf’ is great for stowing items that you need easy access to. Flashlights, glasses etc.
  • Tent Footprint – I never used to think the tent footprint was anything special. And on dry sunny days, you don’t really need one. But if you are going to make sure the top of the tent is waterproof, why not pay the same attention to the bottom? Here’s why you need it -condensation tends to form under your tent floor, and can stick to the bottom of your tent’s floor – a process that will degrade the material quicker over time. The footprint is just another way to keep the moisture on the outside and extend the life of your tent (and in a bind, that footprint can be used as a tarp to keep the rain off gear etc.). Keep in mind:· That the footprint doesn’t have to be a custom fit, but should be smaller than the actual tent (so that water doesn’t run down the sides and then pool on top of the footprint.). · It can just be a thin plastic sheeting that covers the area your tent will rest on. Vapour barrier, poly tarps, or custom made footprints will all do the same thing as long as they aren’t permeable.

Sleeping bag –

There are as many sleeping bags out there as there are hairs on the back of my hand (I should mention that this number increases with age). And each one is perfect for someone. While K likes a warmer bag, I like a smaller, lighter bag (mine is rated for -5, and squishes down to the size of a loaf of bread). Again, the type of bag you need will be determined by the conditions you camp in. Winter campers need a bag with lots of loft, while summer campers just need something to cut the night chill a bit.

Things to look for:

  • Mummification – Get a mummy bag, you won’t regret it on cold nights.
  • Synthetic filling – Some like down (and claim it is warmer) but I like synthetic. If synthetic gets wet, it’s going to be warmer than down, and easier to dry out.
  • Zipper compatibility? Sometimes, when boys and girls like eachother, they might want to zip their bags together to make a big sleeping bag … for the added warmth of course!
  • Sleeping bag liners are fantastic. They add a little warmth, and are more comfortable on the skin than the poly shell of the bags. Some sleeping bags now come with integrated liners.

Sleeping Pads –

For the longest time (from the age of 15 to the age of 31) I did not believe in buying an 'expensive' sleeping pad. For those 16 years I had the same closed cell foam underpad. The thing is, that blue-foam pad only cost 12 dollars, but probably cost me hours of lost sleep. While the foam kept me off the cold ground, it did little to smooth out the rocks and roots. So, just before an annual trip last year, I bought a good quality air mattress … and I don’t think I will ever look back. The prices aren't terrible (I picked on up for under $10 for my brother, while mine was $60) And they roll up smaller than the traditional foam pads, and keep you warmer.

Things to look for:

  • Look for a self inflating pad (even though you’ll have to blow it up anyway). That has foam built into it.
  • Get the right fit. Blow it up and lay out on it. Do the shoulders fit? Is it long enough? Is it comfortable?
  • Don’t buy the ¾ or ½ pads. The full pads are the most comfortable, and a ¾ or ½ pad isn’t that much smaller than the full, so treat yourself.

A Pillow –

Ya, I know, I know. A pillow? Is a pillow really necessary? For me, it is. I bring a small inflatable pillow (meant for airplane flights) and inflate it about half way. I’ve been known to use my bag, and extra clothes, but nothing matches that little pillow. And the best part is that it weighs nothing and takes up the same space as a deck of cards. I know pillows aren’t for everyone. And if you can sleep with your head on a rock then all the power to you, but for me, I like a little awesome under my head.

Keep in mind:

  • While the dog seems like he would make a great pillow (fluffy, warm, immovable etc., ) in practice, he is much less comfortable than imagined. And he smells … a lot.

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