If you read last week's Blue View, you may remember that we were planning to spend a night or two sleeping on the ground to see whether our old geriatric bones could still manage it. Would we have to endure a very long night of throbbing hips, backs and shoulders? Would we ever again be able to get into an upright position? Would the campground host, investigating the bad smell emanating from our tent, find our bloated, rattlesnake-bitten remains?
Since then, we did spend a couple of nights camped at nearby Lake Mead, and I'm happy to report that we're both still with the living. Not only did we sleep the better part of the night, but in the morning, we were actually able to extricate ourselves from our sleeping bags, stand up, and even walk. While I wouldn't say I found it to be the most enjoyable night's sleep I ever had, it wasn't too bad.
The last time we went backpacking and slept on the ground was in the 80's and the technology has changed immensely since then. For example, our 1980's vintage tent weighed just over 5.5 pounds, while our new one weighs just under 2.5 pounds, is roomier than our old one, yet packs much smaller. Likewise, sleeping bags have improved considerably. Our old ones weren't rated for as low a temperature as our new ones, but weighed about twice as much and were difficult to stuff into a bag 50% larger than our new sleeping bags. Finally, and the area of biggest improvement in my opinion, is in sleeping pads. The old granny pads we used back then were heavy and only marginally better than no pad at all, while our new REI Flash sleeping pads are very lightweight, stuff into quite a small bag, and most importantly, are well insulated and reasonably comfortable to sleep on. I remember many a freezing, very uncomfortable night spent in the mountains of Colorado, while this past trip was close to being enjoyable – quite the admission from this old curmudgeon.
Here's a little more detail on our gear:
Tent. The tent we bought is a Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 Platinum, and so far, other than its ridiculously long name and high price tag, we are quite happy with it. Its pluses are that it is ultra-lightweight, packs down into a small package and is easy to set up. All the parts are color coded to make the process as straightforward as possible. This was the second time I set it up and it took about ten minutes, but I’m optimistic that once I get the system down, I’ll be able to get it all up in less than five minutes. We like the two entries, one for each us, so there's no need to climb over each other to get in and out (although, come to think of it, the alternative does have its pluses on occasion). In addition, each side has a small portico to stow boots and packs. (I did discover that it's best not to stow my boots in close proximity to my nose – downwind towards my feet is a much better location). On the negative side, the tent is gossamer thin, without much privacy at night if we have a light on inside. It's also somewhat delicate and quite expensive. We took advantage of the Labor Day sales to find a good bargain on it, but it was still very pricey. All in all, however, the pluses outweighed the negatives, and we'd buy it again.
Sleeping Bags. We purchased REI down sleeping bags, the Magma 10 for me and the women's Magma 17 for Marcie. In our household, on any given night, Marcie requires more blankets than I do to keep warm, which is, apparently, a pretty universal difference between men and women. The temperature rating system for sleeping bags actually takes this physiological difference into account. Marcie's bag has considerably more down and is heavier than mine, but has a “cold sleeper” comfort rating of 17 degrees F versus a “warm sleeper” comfort rating of 10 degrees F for my Magma 10. We found that in 40 degree weather, we both spent most of the night with the bags partially to mostly unzipped, and were quite toasty.
Sleeping Pads. We bought the REI Flash Insulated pads which were sort of the middle of the road in both comfort ratings as well as weight. If you want more comfort, the price is more weight and vice versa. This is one decision I may want to reconsider. I think back to our long passages at sea – the ones in which we would be on the same heel for days or weeks at a time. On the first day or two of three hour off-watches, I'd settle into my sea berth on the downhill side of the boat and it was splendid; all comfy, cuddled against the side of the sea berth. By the third or fourth day, however, I was starting to get pretty uncomfortable sleeping on the same side all the time. I suspect that sleeping pads might be the same – it might be tolerable for a night or two, but not so good after several days. While it wasn't bad sleeping on the REI pads, I may be willing to sacrifice another half pound to get to the next level of comfort.
Pillows. In the good old days, we'd fill our sleeping bag stuff sack with our jeans and/or jacket and fashion a pillow out of it. This was never quite comfortable, but since we were already hurting so much from our granny pads, we hardly noticed the uncomfortable pillow. This time around, we both bought inflatable pillows, and what a difference. We chose Sea to Summit pillows which had good reviews and were on sale (two factors near and dear to my heart) and after using them, we wouldn't change a thing. Both pack into a stuff sack slightly bigger than a pack of cigarettes, weigh only 2.5 ounces, and take only a couple of breaths to inflate.
So, now it looks as though we can still hike reasonable distances each day for days or weeks at a time while carrying full packs, and it also looks like we can manage to sleep on the ground with no long term impairments – perhaps with just a little tweaking of our gear. Seemingly then, any of the “Great Hikes” that were described a few weeks ago might actually be possibilities.
Guess it's time to “finally decide Clyde”. Stay tuned.