Too Close for Comfort? Our Couple’s PCT Sleep System
“Do a pack shakedown. Make sure you’ve tuned your gear before the hike.” Sound advice we didn’t take when we embarked on our PCT thru-hike. Instead we ordered our Big Three straight to trail angel Scout and Frodo’s home in San Diego. We’d done loads of research and knew what we wanted based on our previous backpacking trips, but it was certainly a big gamble for items that would ultimately take us to Canada. Why did we do it? Gear in the US is much better than that in the UK, and if we’d shipped it to our home we’d have paid import, shipping, and VAT, which would have been about $200-300 on top of the cost of the items. In our case, we lucked out—our setup was ideal for what we wanted. This piece explores the pros and cons of our setup and why it might be more suited for a different type of trip.
What we’ll be reviewing: Our couple’s sleeping setup used during our 2018 PCT thru-hike
Sleeping Pad: EXPED Synmat Hyperlight Duo
Weight: 29 ounces (820g)
Cost: $289 (£237)
Sleeping Bag: Enlightened Equipment Accomplice
Weight: 41.5 ounces (1176g)
Cost: $500, including postage to San Diego (£412)
Fill: DownTek treated 850
Temperature: 10°F (-12°C)
Length: Long; 6 feet, 6 inches
Outside Fabric: Burnt orange 10D
Inside Fabric: Charcoal 10D
Optional: 20D weather resistant stripes
Tent: TarpTent Double Rainbow
Weight: 41.2 ounces (1170g), including stakes, stuff sack, and guylines
Cost: $289 (£237)
This has been updated to be a little taller since we reviewed. We also carried a groundsheet that we used for added durability and to cowboy camp.
Circumstances of Review
This setup was used in 2018 for our PCT thru-hike and has also been used more recently on our Coast to Coast adventure. All in all we’ve used this setup for about 3,000 miles and 150+ nights. For context of size, Joal is 6 feet, 4 inches and was 213 pounds at the start of the PCT, and Jenny is 5 feet, 3 inches and 121 pounds. This setup has seen 75F (25C) to 14F (-10C) nights. It has gone through four-day downpours, two inches of overnight snowfall, and blisteringly hot nights.
Going into our 2018 thru-hike of the PCT we really didn’t know if we were going to make it all the way. Therefore we wanted a setup that, had we bailed, was one we weren’t going to be upset we’d spent a ton of money on. Our aim was to try to spend less than $1,000 on new gear pretrail and have a pack less than 14 pounds (6kg). How did we come up with those figures? We looked at the Halfway Anywhere survey results from 2017 and applied an arbitrary factor to it. It wasn’t science, but we wanted to ensure we were warm enough and comfortable enough, yet not spending a crazy amount on what might have merely lasted a month.
How did we do? Our packs ended up weighing 12.6 pounds (5.7kg) base weight and we spent about $1,300 together on new gear pretrail. This includes all of the above items. We did a lot of research, but there wasn’t too much out there in terms of reviews for shared equipment, especially for a thru-hike. In fact, a lot of the reviews were advocating against it.
Details on the Shared Sleep System
Enlightened Equipment Accomplice Quilt
The Accomplice is a two-person quilt designed to be used with a sleeping pad that insulates between you and the ground. It doesn’t have a back, which helps shave weight but could mean that it sleeps colder than an equivalent sleeping bag. If you are not familiar with quilts, along with the potential up/downsides of using one, I’d recommend Effie’s fantastic review of the Enlightened Equipment Enigma.
This quilt has a closed double footbox and a draft blocker that goes between you, with individual head holes that have pull string cinches and snap buttons. This system worked well in controlling temperature depending on the conditions. There is no hood on the quilt so you’ll have to wear a hat or a hooded jacket on colder nights. It also uses straps that go around your sleeping pad(s). We emailed Enlightened Equipment before we ordered and they included the right straps for our extra-wide pad free of charge. We also opted for weather resistant strips at the top and bottom of our quilt owing to the fact we were worried about condensation. We’re not sure how helpful these were, though they might have added to the durability of the quilt.
We opted for a 10F bag, having read that Enlightened Equipment bags tended to run a little cold. This was great for our PCT thru-hike. Most nights we didn’t use the straps, instead using the quilt more like a duvet. As it got colder in Washington we cinched the sides in, tightened the draft reducers, and shimmied a little closer to share warmth. Some reviewers said they didn’t enjoy the Accomplice, but from what we gather, they were using individual pads so the cold was seeping in between the two pads from the ground.
The Enlightened Equipment Accomplice is one of our favorite pieces of gear. It’s lightweight, packable, and not too sweaty as it’s down rather than synthetic, and plenty warm for all the camping we do, even in winter conditions.
The Synmat Hyperlight Duo
The Synmat Hyperlight Duo is a two-person, wide sleeping pad from Exped. This pad claims to be the world’s lightest, warmest, and most comfortable mat in its category, weighing in at 29 ounces with an R value of 3.3. The pad has two separate chambers, which means both sleepers can adjust firmness, and you don’t get as much interference when the other person rolls over in the night. The pad is wider at the shoulders and tapers in toward the feet, saving on weight and space in your tent.
The pad comes with its own pumpsack, which is seriously underrated. It works like a dry sack and blows up the mattress in two to three pumps per side, versus spending five minutes blowing into a valve. At the end of a long day of hiking this can be a lifesaver. It also means the pad lasts longer as you are not putting the humidity from your breath into the sleeping pad. All this packs down into a very small size of 7 x 5 inches, about 1.5 times the size of a 32-ounce Nalgene.
While this pad was comfortable and warm, the durability wasn’t ideal. The pad popped on us about five times during the hike (mostly in the 700 miles of the desert section), making us very thankful we hadn’t gotten rid of our repair kit. This could have been due to poor care, but we had a groundsheet through the desert and always shook out the tent as we set it up and put it down. Our assumption is that because it sits in Exped’s hyperlight range, there has been a sacrifice on durability to get the warmth, comfort, and weight benefits. That said, we are still using the same pad from our PCT thru-hike so it has lasted over five months, even if it has the scars to show it.
The Double Rainbow
The Double Rainbow is a single-wall, two-door tent that sleeps two. It has two vestibules for bags and is designed to accommodate tall people (a must for Joal, who is 6 feet, 4 inches (195cm)). The tent can be made freestanding with trekking poles and weighs 42 ounces (1.1kg).
Setup of this tent is super quick. All you need to do is thread one pole though, and stake it out in six places. It also packs down really well due to its thin material, rolling around the single pole used to set up the tent. Where the Tarptent comes into its element is its ability to deal with different types of weather. In the desert and Oregon sections of the PCT, when we had the tent up we normally had one or both doors rolled back. This increased airflow and stargazing opportunities, while keeping away the midges. We still don’t completely trust the tent in driving rain, having had some challenging experiences in Washington and in some instances, like camping on grass, condensation can become an issue with two people in the tent. That said, for less than $300 this tent proves great value for money.
Warmth to Weight Ratio: All of the items listed offer amazing warmth-to-weight ratio. If you take the Accomplice quilt for instance, this weighs 20 ounces per person versus 28 ounces for an Enlightened Equipment Revelation at the same temperature rating and length. The same applies to the air pad, which had we gone for two Therm-a-Rest pads would have weighed an additional 2.5 ounces each, even though it would have offered the same R-value. Finally, being quite close and sharing a pad and quilt means you retain more warmth. We only felt the cold for two nights on the PCT, right by the Washington border at the end of September.
Value for Money: Similar to the weight savings, there is also a cost saving with this system. The Double Rainbow is a great value tent at less than $300. When you compare this to the Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2 at $399, the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 at $349, and the popular Zpacks Duplex at $600 (without stakes), it looks like a steal. Our quilt cost $500 vs. two Enlightened Equipment Revelations, which would cost $680.
Versatility (Warmth): As alluded to in the individual gear breakdown, this setup was great for warmth, while still allowing the option of venting the setup through opening vestibule doors, not clipping the quilt to the sleeping pad, and not using the neck baffles on the Accomplice. This is as close to sleeping in a double bed as you are going to get in the backcountry, and it allows you to adjust your setup daily for the conditions you are facing. We were never too hot and only felt the cold on one night when a foot of snow fell and we were camping on a ridge.
Cramped Setup: There is little getting past the fact that for a thru-hike this is a cramped setup. A double bed is 54 inches wide, while this sleeping pad is 41. Luckily for us we are both side sleepers, but if we both lie on our backs, our arms were touching. In addition, there isn’t much personal space in this setup, nor much space for keeping items in the tent with you. Again, we knew this going in and this was a compromise we made to keep our weights down in order to give us the highest possible chance of making it to Canada. For a weekend in the backcountry, this setup works much better. It is much easier to go one to two nights in a more cramped space, than it is to do four to five months.
Lack of Versatility (Inability to Split Up): If one of us got injured or wanted to skip ahead, this option would have resulted in the other person having to carry quite heavy gear. Therefore this setup only really works if you’re committed to staying together for the duration of your trip. Again, this isn’t so much of an issue on a shorter backpacking trip, but could be for a thru-hike. In addition, if Jenny or I ever want to go on a weekend away without the other, we are carrying a two-person version of all our big three. There are times when I wished I had a sleeping bag and mat that was one person, but normally this isn’t too much of an issue as we don’t often do long-distance hikes without the other person.
Weight: This isn’t the lightest setup you can get for a thru-hike, yet it is one of the most affordable on a per person basis.
Alternative Thru-Hiking Systems for a Couple
We thought about a few options before we settled on the setup we have for the PCT. Below are a few alternatives that you could tweak to your liking:
Buy Separate Pads and Bags: We contemplated buying separate air pads and sleeping bags. Our previous setup was two incredibly heavy synthetic bags that could zip together. We knew we wouldn’t be lugging all 113 ounces of synthetic goodness to Canada, we considered the Enlightened Equipment Convert, which are sleeping bags that can achieve the same thing. This would have given us more versatility but for an extra $300. We were also worried about how drafty this setup would be around the neck as there is no middle baffle to reduce airflow. What this setup does benefit from is that if one of you decides to skip ahead, get off trail, or if you want to use the gear for another trip without your partner, the setup can be scaled down to suit. Ultimately we decided that for us it wasn’t worth it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for you—especially if you don’t want to share warmth or personal space.
Buy a Bigger Tent: When we do another thru-hike, the item we may change from this setup is our Double Rainbow. Don’t get us wrong; this is a great tent, but for the ability to have a bit more room, and now we know we are able to finish a thru-hike, we would probably get the Zpacks Triplex. This would give us the luxury of keeping our bags inside the tent rather than in the vestibules and could help with some condensation we experienced in the wetter parts of our trip. In addition, even with the extra space, the Triplex is half the weight of the Double Rainbow (22 ounces vs. 41 ounces).
Buy Two Separate Tents: We’ve seen this recommendation a few times on backpacking forums. To be honest, it is quite strange to us. One of the reasons we did our thru-hike is to spend time together. We wouldn’t dream of camping in different locations on trail, so this feels like a lot of extra weight and cost to incur. We understand having two pots and potentially two stoves so that you can both cook at the same time, but if you are at the point of buying two tents it’s almost as if you are hiking two different thru-hikes.
Would I recommend this setup to a couple looking to thru-hike? Probably not. I mentioned it in one of my last posts, but it is really important you know your comfort limits. As we fall on one of the more extreme limits of that comfort scale, I’d be nervous about recommending this to other couples as it will only work for a select style of thru-hiking couples. The same debates occur around should couples share a cook pot, stove, water filter, etc. Only you know what works for you, and the best way to find out is to practice together. Ultimately this is for the couple to decide. As long as you are both comfortable with the sacrifices that come with this shared sleeping setup, it can absolutely work out.
All of that said, if a couple were looking to get into weekend or section hikes, I would recommend this setup as an option. The value for money, weight, and warmth make it a great consideration for those looking to spend time together outdoors.
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