The Lowest-Key Shakedown Before My Hike
I very gently shook down this weekend.
That is to say, I camped in my parents’ backyard and completed a good day hike. Also, I set my new tent up outside for the first time, slept in my new cold-weather bag at low temps for the first time, used my cook system outside for the first time, hiked with my new trekking poles for the first time, and got in a half hour or so of night hiking by headlamp.
The shakedown (if you can call it that) was about as low stakes as it gets. Here are my notes:
Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1
The tent is very easy to set up; it’s really hard to get wrong. Although this tent is new to me, I have been pitching and breaking down tents for years, and never found one to be so simple and intuitive. There’s single pole with a cross bar, all the pieces are color coded. Far from perfect (I started putting the fly on upside down), the whole setup took just a few minutes. Conditions were good, if a little windy. If it was dark, freezing, raining, or much windier, I’m sure it would’ve taken longer.
The tent is roomy enough, but I’m already second-guessing going with the one-person. I’ve never had a one-person tent before, or a backpacking tent before, and I was worried about feeling claustrophobic. It was fine. I’m privileged to be a reasonably small camper (around 5’1″) and I have plenty of head space, shoulder space, foot space, etc. My one size-based complaint is that I wish the sleeping area was wider because I’m a wiggly sleeper who is used to her palatial queen-sized mattress. I did wake up a few times touching the right side wall of the bathtub, and wished I had maybe ten more inches of width in which to contort my sleeping body. That said, all I had to do was wiggle back to the left and drift back off to sleep. I moved my soft stuff-sack of clothes and such to my right side to try to create a barrier to hold me in place, which seemed to work a bit.
And so she doesn’t get jealous: shout-out to my Mountain Hardwear Optic 2.5–I love you baby (you know you’re too heavy for this trip, I promise to spend more time with you after August)!
Sleeping Bag: 15-Degree NEMO Jam
I love this bag. I’ve had and loved the 30-degree NEMO Rave for awhile but wanted a lower-rated bag for my early March start. After trying a few zero-degree bags with no success, I decided to return to NEMO for the super comfy materials and spoon shape design. Like I said, I’m a wiggly sleeper. I’m a tosser, a turner, a stomach sleeper, a side sleeper, a stretcher, a sprawler. Mummy bags make me feel like I’ve been buried alive in a straight jacket with my legs duct taped together and my feet sunk into drying concrete. I can’t do it.
I decided to splurge on the Jam instead of getting the cheaper Rave at the same temperature rating. The Jam adds loft, saves weight, and probably comes with some other technical perks that I don’t even realize I paid for.
It got down to around 31 degrees during my shakedown sleep and I stayed downright toasty in my bag. I know from ~the blogz~ that you are supposed to keep your face outside the bag to prevent exhaling moisture that will get trapped in the bag with your body, so whenever I drifted toward consciousness I tried to push my mouth out of the warm depths, with mixed success. I woke up warm and dry so I’m calling that a win.
The outside of my bag was surprisingly damp in the morning cold. This is probably at least partly unavoidable, but I also forgot to open the little air vent on the tent’s rain fly. I need to experiment with the fly open and closed to compare effects on temperature and moisture. It will kill me to pack up a damp bag and hike with it, but you gotta do what you gotta do. The inside of the bag and its contents (myself) were warm and dry so I’m happy enough. Low-key neurotic stress re: packing wet fabric into a bag will fade with time and exposure.
Sleeping Pad(s): Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite and WellaX Inflatable
The pad is my biggest struggle. I can’t stay put. And I can’t find a pad that works well enough for me to call off the search. I should say, the problem isn’t that I don’t like the pads I have, the problem is that I literally cannot stay on top of one more than 30 minutes. I wake up face pressed against the cold, clammy bottom of my tent with my pad on top of me.
My solution is to layer pads to hopefully maximize sleeping area and minimize the number of times I wake up, forced to fish around the tiny space that is the interior of my tent to shimmy the pad back between me and the cold earth. So, I’ve settled on laying the Z-Lite along the bottom of my tent, and popping my inflatable WellaX pad on top.
To state the obvious: this is not an ideal solution. Both of my pads, having mass, also have weight. And neither is even particularly lightweight. I’m working on this… stay tuned for an update. At the very least, when I stop being cold I will certainly ditch one of these bad boys.
Anyone have tips on how to fasten the pad to the ground or otherwise keep it in place? Like, I would honestly consider Velcro-ing the pad into place to keep it on the center, bottom of my tent where the good gods of camping intended. (And yes, I have tried bag-and-pad integrated systems but I get that trapped in an elevator with my shoelaces tied together feeling of a mummy bag when I’m zipped onto my pad.)
As a second concern, I tend to sleep on my stomach and sides. On almost every pad I’ve tried I wake up throughout the night with my hip bone digging into the ground. After weeks of buying and testing different mats and pads, I started trying to train myself to sleep on my back (thanks, Google), but results are mixed. Meaning I continue to sleep in a mix of side and stomach positions.
Pillow: I Don’t Have a Pillow
I need to get a pillow.
Cook System: BRS 3000 Ultralight Stove with an MSR Canister and Stanley Cook Pot
Worked great! Because I had dinner with the fam before trekking the 30 yards out to my tent in the backyard, all I did was boil water for tea. Everything worked as desired; no complaints.
The MSR canister was a little more reliable and effective than the Coleman can I’ve been practicing with in NYC, which confirms what all of you have been telling me.
Hike: Pilot Mountain State Park
While the exact mileage is hotly contested, my parents and I completed a 6.5-mile* loop around Pilot Mountain in NC. Because my parents had to work that morning, we didn’t get started until almost 2 p.m., and I was hyper-aware of the early winter sunset. As we set out I forced everyone to commit to a turnaround time (that is, if we’re not to where we’re going by __ time, we will turn around, no matter how close we are to any goal). As an overachiever with a hot streak for persuasion, I have to enforce a turnaround time or I risk putting myself into the dangerous position of being too far from home when it gets too late and too cold.
In order to reach the trail to the summit, we had to walk 75% or so of the way around the base of the mountain from our trailhead. We hit the junction to turn onto the summit trail (a steep two miles) right around the predetermined turnaround time. I really wanted to get the summit, but I knew we didn’t have much daylight left: we were at least two hours from our car, it was getting cold, and my hiking companions were fading (I think my mom may have actually sleepwalked the last hour). We tossed around a few options (there is a parking lot at the summit so maybe we hit the top and one of us could quickly hike back down to pick up the car and collect the other two?), but ultimately remained faithful to our turnaround time.
We decided to complete the loop around the base of the mountain, which was new ground to cover and the shorter route. It also included passing the park office with a bathroom. All good things.
Ultimately the hike ended 30 minutes past dark (I had and tested my trusty headlamp) and hit the right exhaustion point for the group. I’m very proud of my mom, who took some cajoling to join us in the first place, as she was afraid she couldn’t “hang” with me and my dad.
In the end, I’m disappointed we didn’t complete the hike we set out for, but I am proud of us/myself for making smart and safe hiking decisions. Plus, we had fun and it was a really beautiful day. Sometimes outside factors force your hand and prevent you from achieving your goal, or at least cause you to recalibrate and set your sights a little lower.
Poles: REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles
These were great. This was my first time breaking them out—they were sturdy and super lightweight. I really like the foam handles as I’ve found the rubber and cork ones cause more friction on my hands and get uncomfortable after a few hours. Good purchase.
It was sooo muddy–the poles are a huge help not only for crossing the two bajillion creeks and streams that intersected with our trail, but also for poking around to find a hard/stable spot part or all of the way across the muddy and wet parts.
I adjusted the height up and down a bit as we went. I need to research technique on this a bit more to optimize their efficiency. I’m sure there’s a sweet spot of length and balance and I’m also sure I’m not quite hitting it yet.
Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze Mini v. Micro
I’ve been using the Mini for a while and always found it fine, if slow. After hearing rave reviews about the Micro, I decided to pick it up while at an outdoor outfitter this weekend and I think it was a great purchase.
One: The bag is larger and softer than the one I had: already worth it;
Two: The body of the squeeze is a better size and fit for my hands;
Three: The stream is, as promised, much faster than the Mini.
For the causal hike the distinctions wouldn’t make a difference, but I think the frequency and repetitiveness of filtering on my thru-hike will magnify these small differences.
I filtered a liter of water at one of the many water sources on the trail. My parents refused to drink the water so let’s just say they weren’t super convinced. More for me.
Boots: My Handy Ahnus Didn’t Really Require Shaking Down
I’ve had these boots for a few years and never had a single complaint about them. If I had to come up with something I’d say maybe they’re heavy? They make me feel strong, they stabilize the limp noodles that call themselves my ankles, and they keep my feet warm and dry.
My parents both wear trail runner type shoes and were happy with them, though my mom’s feet did get wet from the top after she misjudged a creek crossing.
Post low-key shakedown I’m feeling confident in myself and my gear. My main concern is how damp the outside of my bag was when I woke up below freezing temps in my tent. That said: better out than in.
*This is the correct mileage.
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I don’t think your sleeping issues are your pads. I think it is the sleeping bag type. Have you ever considered a quilt? I am a rambler, toss, turn, sleep (that is try) is every possible position. Cannot tolerate any movement restrictions. The quilt is the perfect solution for me. Move all you need to inside it (under it actually) without getting twisted up. It can be cinched closer to the body for those who like that sort of thing. Your pad can be attached to the quilt with straps and clips. They hold everything in place under you and do not restrict movement at all. I use a closed cell foam pad and an RSI Flash (wide). The foam pad on the bottom helps keep the air pad a bit warmer. Air pads are always going to get cold when directly on the cold ground. Ever used hand warmers? You know, those little things you put in your gloves or boots to keep warm. Place two on your pad, or between them when using two pads. You will stay toasty warm all night.
Good luck with your search and keep posting.
I’m thinking you could possibly use double sided Velcro tape and place some on your tent floor and on the bottom of your pad. I use it for everything. It is available at any hardware store, fairly cheap, and it comes in strips that can be cut to size.
That being said, I’m going to hammock camp only bc I can never find a pad that I sleep well on. I slide off, lose the pad, cannot find one with enough cushion, etc. My solution for me was a hammock and a sleeping quilt. Like Bruce, I think a quilt will work better. I’m using a Revelation 20 degree. Hopefully this keeps me warm and allows for a good nights sleep. I’ll be starting March 2nd so I’ll see you out there!!
Are you using something like an underquilt for cold temps as well as the quilt? I haven’t found a hammock setup that keeps me warm top and bottom without a weight penalty.
thank you nerd sync I salute (im a nerd)
For keeping your pad in place on the floor of your tent, try painting some stripes or dots of silicone on the tent floor (silicone sold as seam sealer is ideal). It’s flexible, doesn’t add a lot of weight and really adds some tack to the surface.
Potentially you could add some to the top of your pad to try and keep a hold of your sleeping bag, but I haven’t experimented with that
Best of luck with the rest of your prep, maybe catch you out on trail!
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