Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Calling On Gear - The Sleep System to Start a Hike

Okay, so what DO you bring for a sleeping bag and sleeping pad when starting a Southbound (SOBO) in late June or July? Or Northbound (NOBO) in early March?

One thing about the AT you need to know. One must be prepared for the unexpected. Unexpected temperature changes. Precipitation, anywhere from snow and sleet in March NOBO to sleet, hail, and t-storms SOBO. I have seen many hikers on forums ask for the “averages.” Well, you can get some idea of basic averages from data. But after enduring record snowfalls in 2010 to drought in New England, to record warmth in the 100 mile wilderness of Maine to snowfall on Easter Sunday in April of 2007, you need to prepare for anything and everything. And so I begin with the all important sleep system.


Take note - you will be entering above treeline early. While NOBOS do not have to contend with it until much, much later in their hike, SOBOS encounter it in the first few weeks. Although they are hiking it in summer, one can still face high winds, temperature extremes, and all kinds of weather. So I started my SOBO with a 25 degree bag (for me it was the synthetic Marmot pounder plus left over from my ’07 hike. Sadly I see the model is no longer available online). Of course I then faced one of the hottest summers in the 100 mile wilderness in Maine. Was I upset I went with a 25 degree stet-up? No, because later on, when I did hit the elevations of the Mahoosucs and the White Mountains, I was ready for the changes. And I was comfortable. Later on when I hit the southern Appalachians in October I switched to my Montbell Hugger 15 degree down bag which worked out perfectly.


Starting in March at Springer, you are technically still in the winter season. Yes, even if the temps are a mild 60 degrees on Springer (which it was for us in ‘07), nature has a way of catching up. While we enjoyed 70 degrees in the Smokies in mid March, last year the hikers endured 3 foot snow drifts. And while the hikers last year had gorgeous April weather to make some miles, I had snow and the teens in ’07 near Erwin, TN. I went with a 15 degree bag to start and a silk liner. I took synthetic back then but I now use the Montbell 15 degree down hugger (just recently replaced with their spiral model). It offers water repellency with coziness, plenty of give, and decent temperature ratings. And it compresses nicely in a Granite Gear compression sack (I used a Granite Gear Air Bloc solid stuff sack for my sleeping bag on my SOBO, see the picture below). You can go with a cheaper bag, but you pay the price of a model that does not always live up to its temperature ratings and functionality. And a comfortable sleep makes you ready to

hit the trail, at least that’s the way I look at it. So invest, dig into your wallet and plunk down the $$$ for a good sleeping bag.

On Sleeping pads. I also did a major switch last year with my pad. Being a side sleeper, I could never endure the feel of the z rest or other thin foam pads that the younger generation handles so well. For my NOBO ‘07 hike, I went with the Big Agnes insulated air core. It did well with colder temps. But after a few months, it began losing air and needed to be replaced. And I did seem to toss and turn a lot on it. Not certain why. Until last summer for my SOBO when I

switched to the new Thermarest neoair. It may be the way the tubing is constructed (in the neoair it is horizontal rather than vertical tubes compared to the air core), but the horizontal structure made for a more comfortable sleep, especially on my side. It is also much lighter than the BA pad. But I did take care of it after hearing reports of people tearing their pads. I never used it outside on rocks or used it as a seat pad (I saw some do that on the trail). I bought a Gossamer Gear thin pad to put under it for added insulation to protect it from the ground. Yes, I cared for it, and it took care of me for many months, nearly the entire SOBO journey. That’s pretty good for a pad.

You will hear all kinds of suggestions on bags. Just be sure you go with a well known name brand, the temperature rating right for your start, and a bag that will fit your dimensions. And get a pad that will work for you. A good night’s sleep means a good hike with less chance of injury because you won’t make mistakes. And a good hike means good memories.

No comments: