Backpacking sleep systems vary enormously throughout the year and environment as well as the outdoor philosophy of the individual hiker. For the choices I’m trying to make I’ve already narrowed these factors down pretty far and came with two basic approaches. The first is a generic solution that allows me to through a single solution into my pack and be prepared for 95% of the scenarios I’ll encounter in my locale and style of hiking. A second approach is more modular, allowing me to save a few “dead” ounces in my pack when I’m more confident about what sort of conditions I’ll be expecting.
Current Sleep System
First, a review of my current sleep system. When I was getting back into hiking a couple years ago, I did a lot of research with very little funds. Although, down is often praised for its numerous qualities (loft, weight, etc) it was (and still mostly is) out of my price range. Also, the down issues with moisture are a big concern in my part of the country.
Originally, I finally settled on the Sierra Designs Wild Bill sleeping bag and still own one to this day. It’s a very thrifty and efficient bag which I’m confident in weather down to 10 below freezing. I strongly recommend it for the frugal beginning hiker who likes their warmth and still wants some tussling room while sleeping. However, at 56 ounces, there are lighter synthetic bags and I have to employ a Granite Gear Compression Sack to keep its bulky mass confined to a reasonable portion of my pack.
I round out this current sleep system with the Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Sleeping Pad, a self-inflating pad which provides a very nice barrier against the ground and does a reasonable job of taming the contours beneath your body. Where the Therm-a-Rest loses in lightness against foam pads, it gains in lack of bulk. Even without a compression sack it fits in any empty nook of your pack.
- Sierra Designs Wild Bill, Long, 20 Degrees, 56oz, $105
- Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Sleeping Pad, Regular, 21oz, $85
- Granite Gear Compression Sack, 4oz, $30
Sleeping Bag Options #1 (Singular)This first approach simply seeks to replace my venerable Wild Bill bag (which probably has one more winter in it at best) with a similar, lighter replacement. Two models I came across stood out as contenders in weight as well as price.
Even though I have my reservations about down, I was surprised to find one in my range in the form of the Campmor Goose Down 20°F. Priced almost identically to my existing bag, it slashes my bag weight alone by almost a third. Regrettably, I couldn’t find much in the way of reviews of this surprisingly economic down bag which gives me a little more pause
Another surprise came in the form of the Kelty Lightyear 3D 25°. Kelty doesn’t exactly spring to the front of my mind when I’m thinking of lightweight gear, but this bag is the same weight and price as the Campmor above. Furthermore, it seems to be very well reviewed and a serious contender overall for a single sleeping bag solution.
- Campmor Goose Down 20°, 38z, $110
- Kelty Lightyear 3D, 25°, 38oz, $110
Sleeping Bag Options #2 (Modular)Remember what your mother tried to tell you about dressing in layers? Well, that’s my touchstone with this next approach to a sleeping bag system. While this method saves weight in any configuration, it does costs substantially more. On the plus side, its also easy to leave behind or shuck off a layer to better suit your current scenario.
The first element of this configuration is the Sea To Summit Reactor Thermolite. While technically a bag liner, this bag is more than durable enough serve as a summer bag down to 50° F at just 8 ounces. however, it’s real strength comes into play when used as a liner, where it adds an additional 15° to a cold weather bag.
To compliment the Sea To Summit, I looked at two other lightweight, mid-temperature bags. The Marmot Pounder is a highly respected line of gear and their 20 ounce model would be the ideal compliment to provide a combined warmth well below freezing. Also in this category is the REI Kilo Flash at 19 ounces.
- Sea To Summit Reactor Thermolite Bag Liner, +15°, 8oz, $50
- Marmot Pounder, 35°, 20oz, $170
- REI Kilo Flash, 35°, 19oz, $180
Sleeping Pad Options
There are two schools of thought when it comes to sleeping pads. Some folks prefer to use only a torso length pad and use their pack or cloths to cushion their lower body and legs. Others prefer the full length for full ground insulation and wear cloths as a sleeping base layer. I tend to fall in this later group but I tossed in a few torso length pads for comparison. Another division in sleep pad theory is inflatable versus “foam”. Inflatable has the advantage in pack space, while foam style pads tend to be lighter. Bulk is an important issue to me so I tend to shy away from foam. That might change depending on backpack choices (some packs use your foam pad for structure and support). Honestly, I don’t see a lot of dynamic improvement while maintaining my standards in sleeping pads, so I may stick with my full length Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3.
- Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite, Regular (Foam), 15oz, $35
- Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite, Torso, 11oz (Foam), $30
- Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Sleeping Pad, Torso (Inflatable), 14oz, $75
- REI Standard Blue Foam Pad, Long (Foam), 10z, $23
I’m well acquainted with the “stuff your gear with extra cloths” method of sleeping and sleeping on your hydration gear. The problem with this is that I am trying to pack light on additional clothing and often times my hydration gear is running too low to serve double duty as a pillow. Depending on my final gear list, I may treat myself to a FlexAir Dual Compartment Ultralight Pillow. These reusable inflatables weigh in at 1/3 an ounce each and are cheap enough to experiment with.
- FlexAir Dual Compartment Ultralight Pillow (3-Pack), $9, .33 ounce each