On the trail, you are definitely going to need some good sleep. At first, you might be anxious, excited, or scared so sleeping won’t come as easily. You will learn after hiking even just a week that you will be tired and you can sleep! You still want to be warm and comfortable so you can get a good night of sleep. This post will take you through sleeping pads, bags, other accessories and then etiquette at camp. Everyone sleeps differently and may need their own camping spot, and some can sleep in a shelter full of snoring people. You should definitely try both experiences at least once!
Sleeping pads are important because they insulate you from the cold ground. Even in the summer, it is important to have something between you and the ground to keep you dry, and comfortable. The question is, what kind of sleeping pad do you want? There are really two types of sleeping pads, inflatable ones, and foam ones. The more comfortable option is going to be the inflatable pads. These you either blow up yourself, or they self inflate. Inflatable pads are more expensive, but more compact. These are great for those that may need a little more support when they sleep. Self inflating pads are slightly heavier but require less work. Be sure to look at the R-Value, or temperature rating. You can get a super lightweight inflatable pad for the summer so it feels like you are sleeping on a cloud. There are also lightweight pads rated at 0 degrees that are great for the winter. When you purchase an inflatable pad, get a small repair kit just in case you spring a leak. Sleeping pads are usually made from durable material but you never know when you might accidentally poke your pad with a sharp stick, or even a knife.
The foam pads are the most simple, cheap, and lightweight. They will not have as much support as the inflatable ones, but if you’re a hard sleeper, these would work for you. They are bulkier and might need to sit on the outside of your pack because of their size.
All pads are going to come in different sizes. Usually the sizes you will see are long, regular, and short. Long is going to be ideal for tall people, regular for all others, and short for the hardcore hikers who don’t mind if their legs hang off the pad. As long as your back and hips are supported and insulated, your legs will be fine. One recommendation I have if you decide to use a short sleeping pad, is put your pack at your feet so they can rest elevated on the pack. If you need more support and comfort then go ahead and get one that fits your body size.
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite – This delivers more warmth and comfort per ounce than any other three-season inflatable pad available. It weighs between 8-16 oz depending on the size you get and it is rated around 20 degrees. You can definitely take this on a longer backpacking trip and be comfortable, yet lightweight.
Thermarest Prolite – This self inflating three-season pad is also lightweight and rated around 20 degrees. All you have to do is lay it out, open the valve, and let it inflate. It weighs between 8 – 22 oz depending on size but the regular size is only 16 oz. It does not pack up as small as the Xlite but it is less work to inflate.
Thermarest Z-lite – This foam pad is lightweight, and durable. No need to worry about leaks in this pad. It weighs 10 – 14 oz but can sit on the outside of your pack, and all you have to do for set up is unfold it. This pad is ideal for thru hiking because it is durable and easy. It’s also cheap! If you’re they type of person that can sleep anywhere, this pad will be perfect for you.
The recommendations here are all made by the brand Therm-a-rest. These are the most popular pads and the ones I’ve had the most experience with. We also sell Big Agnes pads in the store. These pads are probably the most comfortable because they are thicker and better insulated so they can hold up in winter conditions. We have the Insulated Double Z and the Insulated Q-Core SL. Definitely check these out if you want to sleep on a cloud while still carrying a lightweight pad.
This decision can be vital to planning your hike. You need to check ahead of time to see what temperatures you will be dealing with on the trail and plan accordingly. One of the worst things that can happen is not being able to sleep because you are cold. I have experienced this and it is no fun! There are many different degree bags you can choose from. A general guide for determining sleeping bag temperature is:
-Summer – 32 degrees and higher
-Fall and Spring – 10 degrees to 32 degrees
-Winter – 10 degrees and lower
Of course, these will change depending on where you are going but try to keep these in mind as the basis. There are three types of bags you can get; down, synthetic, or a combination of both. Down bags are going to be lighter and keep you warmer. Synthetic bags are quick drying and can still insulate when wet.
Down insulation is easy to compress, lightweight, long-lasting and breathable. When you unpack a down bag, the feathers fluff up, so to speak, which is what keeps you warm. When looking at bags you will see the term “fill-power.” This is the term used to measure the down’s ability to loft, and thus trap heat. It is calculated by how many cubic inches 1 ounce of down can fill in a testing device. For example, an 800 fill down bag rated at 20 degrees is going to be lighter, and slightly warmer than a 600 fill down bag rated at 20 degrees. There isn’t much difference just the 800 fill down is the better quality. Down is going to be more expensive and you need to be sure to keep it dry.
Synthetic insulation is going to be sturdier than down. It is a good choice if you’re looking for a cheaper option or if you are planning to be in damper, wetter climates. It dries quickly and can last a long time. It will be bulkier and won’t be as warm as a down bag, but if you don’t need a super warm bag then this could be good for you.
Some bags now combine down and synthetic fill. These hybrids can provide the benefits of both materials and offset the imperfections.
There are other features of bags that you will need to consider. The size of the bag is going to be important. All bags are going to be different lengths, and sometimes different widths to accompany all sizes of people. Be sure to get the appropriate size for your body and comfort zone. Check out the zippers as well. They are usually on the left or right side of the bag so that if you want to zip up with a partner, you can do so if your zippers are compatible. Look at various drawstrings the bag may have. Some come around the neck, or hood, so that you can tighten them up when it is cold outside and no cold air can get in.
Sleeping bags can be a difficult decision. Going to the store and checking them out for yourself is going to important. We have some of our recommendations below.
Western Mountaineering Ultralite – This 20 degree sleeping bag weighs only 1 lb 13 oz and has 16 oz. of high lofting down that pumps this bag to 5″. The full down collar helps to seal in heat around your neck without adding excess bulk. This bag is perfect for a long hike because it is versatile in colder and warmer climates, packs up small, and is super comfortable. I have had mine for almost ten years and it lasted a thru hike and I plan to keep using it. Western Mountaineering can be a little pricey but it is definitely worth it.
Western Mountaineering Megalite – This 30 degree bag is cut to suit large folks so they too can enjoy the benefits of super lightweight bags. No claustrophobia here with 64″ of shoulder girth tapering to 39″ at the foot. It weighs only 1 lb 8 oz and you can pair it with a sleeping bag liner for the Spring or Fall when it gets chilly.
Big Agnes Boot Jack – This 25 degree bag is made with Downtek. Downtek is a treated down that makes it water resistant. If the down gets a little wet, it’s no big deal! It will dry quicker than untreated down bags and it won’t damage the down. It weighs a little more at 2 lbs 6 oz but the price is definitely better for your wallet.
A down backpacking quilt is much like the down quilt you would use on a bed. Just like a bed quilt, you don’t sleep on top of it since the down under you is compressed and doesn’t keep you warm. For a bed, your mattress keeps your bottom-side warm, and for a backpacking quilt your sleeping pad keeps you warm. Not having down on the underside of a quilt saves cost and weight. Quilts are rated similarly as bags so keep an eye out for the fill-power and temperature rating. Most people worry about drafts coming from the sides of the quilt, but most models now can come with straps to strap the quilt around your sleeping pad, or you can just tuck the quilt up under you. They can also include a zipper, or drawstring at the bottom to form a toe box to slip around the end of your pad. The quilt can be a great choice for three seasons because you can use a liner and make sure the quilt is tucked under you if you’re cold, or just drape it over you when you’re hot! They do not have a hood so be sure to pack a warm hat if you know it’s going to be colder. They are definitely becoming more popular in the hiking community because they are lighter and cheaper.
A sleeping bag liner is something you should use. They can add warmth and also protect your bag from your stinky self. Here are the types of liners you can look into.
- Silk: Very lightweight (about 5 oz.) and compact. Silk helps insulate in cold weather but is absorbent and breathable in warm weather.
- Cotton: Strong, durable and absorbent, but not the lightest or most compact.
- Fleece and microfleece: Warmer (adds up to 12°F) and heavier. Fleece is soft, moisture-wicking and quick-drying, but the mid- and heavyweight varieties are bulky.
- Synthetics: Moisture-wicking and breathable, which makes these ideal for humid conditions. They offer some stretch, too, which is nice for restless sleepers.
- Insulated: This adds up to a claimed 25°F of warmth, so you can greatly extend the range of a lightweight bag. It uses hollow-core fiber insulation which helps it dry 50% faster than cotton.
A pillow is a luxury item that isn’t necessary, but if you need that extra comfort, there are some lightweight pillow options out there. Earplugs and headphones could also be used. If you are a light sleeper but plan to camp around others, these things can help block out the snoring campers.
Hope this post helps guide your backpacking sleep system! Again, if you want any advice, information, or any demos, you can come by the store here or give us a call!