Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

I’d like to talk with you about the importance of a good night’s sleep.

The top factor determining what kind of day I’m about to have isn’t the forecast (I don’t even bother to look), or my diet (more peanut butter and tortillas); it’s how well I’ve slept the night before. After long days of slogging through spring wet, tripping over rocks or literally tumbling down descents, there’s nothing more restorative than a good night’s sleep. If my muscles and joints have gotten the time to rest, I can usually shuffle onward in the morning. This is going to be a short post, but here is the collection of gear that helps me count sheep.

I began hiking in Harpers Ferry with a large sleeping bag rated to zero degrees Fahrenheit and while I was grateful for its company on nights when the mercury dropped, it felt like an anvil had been slipped into the bottom of my pack during the day. I swapped my older bag for a lighter and more packable option in Boiling Springs, Pa., and for the past month, I’ve put Mountain Equipment’s Firelite bag through almost every kind of spring weather.

On unpacking the bag from its included storage cube, I was impressed by its lightness – just 27 ounces – and the silky smoothness of the exterior. Placed in its rolltop stuff sack, it packs down to the size of a small watermelon. At the end of the day, when I produced it from the bottom of my pack, it had squished down even smaller, to the size of a crushed loaf of sandwich bread that sprang back to its original shape on removal from the sack. The sleeping bag zips on the left-hand side, which meant for a slightly awkward time trying to zip for a righty like me. Once inside, the fit is trim and comfortable around someone of my shorter height and slighter build. It has a simple but effective drawstring around the mummy hood, which closes horizontally like an envelope, instead of a tight circle, which can be difficult for breathing.

My first night in the Firelite saw temperatures in the low 30s at the Darlington Shelter, with a hard frost on the ground in the morning. While my fellow hikers griped over coffee and hot cocoa about restless shivering, I had slept soundly through the night with zero tossing and turning. Down likes to be kept dry and as I hike the bag stays in a contractor bag for added water resistance. On some of my rainiest nights in New York, when the shelter filled with heavy fog, the exterior of the bag withstood the damp. That exterior has also proved to be more durable than I expected and has survived its share of snags on wooden bunks and nails in the shelters.

The Firelite has a comfort rating of 16 degrees Fahrenheit, warm enough for some of the chillier nights of a spring thru-hike, but still comfortable as temperatures have risen. On the coldest nights, I added a Sea to Summit Reactor sleeping bag liner for a little more warmth. The warmest nights recently have been in the 50s and 60s, and by unzipping the sleeping bag completely, I avoided overheating.

For this hike, I retired an older foam sleeping pad in favor of a Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad. It’s my first inflatable sleeping pad, and as a “rotisserie sleeper” I’ve been comfortable sleeping on back, side, and stomach. Full inflation has proved to be critical. The down in the bag also relies on loft for the best insulation. On a few nights when I failed to properly inflate my sleeping pad, I woke in the middle of the night to find my back or my hips chilled, where I had compressed the bag as I slept. I was able to remedy this with a little more air in the pad.

Finally, for maximum comfort, I don’t sleep in the clothes I hike in. At bedtime, I change into a pair of Patagonia Capilene base layers while my stinkier clothes air out.

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