All the Gear, No Idea – Part 1 – Tent and Sleep System
Here I was, eight months out from my proposed start date, with no gear and no idea where to start. My camping experience was mainly when I was a kid, with only a few times as an adult (mainly at music festivals). I had never bought a tent, or a sleeping mat. My “camping with bears” food knowledge was zero. I had bought a big pack before, but it was for when I backpacked around Europe when I was 22 years old. Safe to say I knew nothing about what I might need for hiking 3,500km.
This post will focus on my tent and sleep system.
I had already joined the “Appalachian Trail Hikers 2022” and the “Appalachian Trail SOBO 2022” Facebook pages, so that was a good start. From there, I found the Trek website and in particular their “best of” lists. The 2022 versions of the lists I used for tent and sleep system were as follows:
The Best Tents for Thru-Hiking
The Best Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking
These articles were my launching off point for reading online reviews, watching YouTube videos, and making lists comparing all the pros and cons of each product (I love a good list).
What I ended up with:
- Tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2
- Sleeping mat – Big Agnes Insulated QCore SLX in “petite.”
- Pillow – Sea to Summit Aeros Premium
- Sleeping bag (already owned) – Aussie Disposals Lite Hiker
The big one. My home for 5-6 months.
The main considerations I looked at were:
Weight – I am not a big person, so I did not want to be lugging a heavy tent around. I therefore decided early on that if it was a question of weight vs cost, paying more for a lighter tent was going to be a good decision.
One person or two person – I am only one person (obviously) and a 5”4 person at that, so I don’t take up a lot of space. However, I would prefer to keep my pack in my tent, and not feel like I am sleeping in a coffin.
Double wall or single wall tent – A single wall tent is obviously lighter, but a double wall tent seemed better when it was wet, as there were less issues with condensation. From all accounts, the Appalachian Trail can be quite damp. Double wall also provided the option of just using the inside layer and being able to stare at the stars if it was a nice night.
In the end, it came down to two Big Agnes tents – the Fly Creek UL2 and the Tiger Wall UL2. Pretty similar tents really, with the Fly Creek slightly smaller and lighter with a single door, and the Tiger Wall slightly bigger and heavier with two doors. The decision was made for me when I found the Fly Creek at 20% off during the Boxing Day sales.
It is a double-wall tent for two people that comes in at just over 1kg, including poles. When it arrived in the mail and I picked up the box, I could not believe there was a tent in there! It was so light! I have set the tent up in both my apartment and on my deck and will be taking it for its first “real” camp night in late June. The tent would be pretty tight for two large people, but for this one not-very-big person, it is spacious.
I love sleep. Eight hours per night is a minimum. I am a self-declared “queen of naps.” I am also someone who gets grumpy when I don’t get enough sleep (just ask my mum!). It was therefore very important to me that I got a great sleep setup.
My main sleep considerations were:
Weight – as always, when you have to carry something on your back, every little gram is important. As a short person, having the option of a sleeping pad that was shorter was a great option to save needless weight.
Thickness – I am a side sleeper, so I knew that getting a sleeping mat with a decent amount of depth was important.
Ease of moving around – I toss and turn a lot in my sleep so I didn’t want something that was super noisy or easy to fall off during the night.
R-rating – the level of warmth of a sleeping pad. From all reports, an R-rating of 3 or more seemed to be a good level for the times of year I would be on trail.
I made a short list of various sleeping pads, with columns for weight, size, R-rating, and cost. In the end, I went with the Big Agnes Insulated QCore SLX in “petite.” This sleeping pad is 167cm (5”6), has higher outside baffles (so I don’t roll off), weighs 482g, and has an R-rating of 3.2. I slept on it on the wood floor of my apartment on the day it arrived, and it was very comfy. It is also getting its first “real” camp night in late June.
Pillow – yes or no?
According to the AT Facebook groups and other online research I have done, a pillow is considered a “luxury” item. That is, something that many people chose not to carry because of the extra weight. These people seem to sleep instead on balled-up clothing or similar. I had originally thought that perhaps I would just use my down jacket as my pillow, as it was packable into a little ball. On a test run, it was passable but not amazing.
I was still debating whether or not to buy a pillow when I was in MEC one day (an outdoor shop here in Canada) and found myself in the travel pillow section. There I spotted the Aeros Premium pillow from Sea to Summit. This little pillow weighed only 88 grams and had a soft quilted finish. I decided this was a small (weight) price for comfort. I have already used this pillow overnight and when traveling – it inflates in three breathes and is very comfortable.
This is the one piece of equipment I already owned – a “Lite Hiker” sleeping bag from Aussie Disposals at home. It has a comfort rating of three degrees Celsius. I also have a silk liner. I plan to use the liner by itself in the first (summer) part of the hike and with the sleeping bag once it gets a bit cooler. A big benefit of the silk liner is that I can wash it more easily than the sleeping bag itself. This also (hopefully) means my sleeping bag won’t get too smelly.
That’s it for my tent and sleep system! Future posts will go through my other gear choices.
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