How to Sleep on Cloud Nine All the Time
After a long, hard day of hiking, nothing beats sliding into a warm, comfortable sleeping bag, right? Well, unless you get cold, or there is nothing in between that large rock on the ground and the small of your back, or your sleeping bag doesn’t fit right…These conditions can make for a long night, as you toss and turn but can’t quite seem to fall asleep. In order to sleep comfortably on a backpacking trip, it’s important to put some thought into your sleep system. There are several different variables that you simply have to consider if you are going to get a good night’s sleep.
First, you need to choose the right sleeping bag. There is a dizzying array of bags on the market right now. How do you know which one is right for you? The first step is to determine what temperatures you will be sleeping in. If you plan on doing any camping in the late fall, early spring, or winter, you need to have a bag that will keep you warm even when the mercury drops. Manufacturers usually list a temperature rating on their bags, which tells you the lowest temperature at which you can expect to sleep comfortably. However, if you know that you usually get cold when you sleep, you should aim for a bag that’s rated for a lower temperature than the coldest night you expect to encounter. Temperature rating is extremely important-if you are too cold, you won’t sleep. Period.
The next item to consider is weight. As a backpacker, you want to choose a pack that will keep you warm at night without breaking your back during the day. The bag weight, in pounds, is usually listed along with the temperature rating. Compare the two to get the bag’s warmth-to-rate ratio, the ratio between how warm the bag is and how heavy. In most cases, the weight of a bag goes hand-in-hand will the materials used to make it. Down bags usually provide the best warmth-to-weight ratio, but there are some good synthetic substitutes if you don’t believe in using animal products. Also, if having an eco-friendly bag is important to you, some manufacturers have sleeping bags made out of recycled materials such as plastic water bottles. Finally, some sleeping bag manufacturers produce light yet warm bags that save weight by doing away with the bottom layer of insulation and relying solely on a sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground.
There are two different styles of bag: rectangular bags and mummy bags. Mummy bags are shaped to fit the curves of the human body, like the wooden cases that ancient Egyptians used to hold their mummified dead. Rectangular bags are just that: large rectangles. For temperature ratings and warmth-to-weight ratio, mummy bags are superior to rectangular bags because they do a more efficient job of conserving heat. In a rectangular bag, your body has to heat all of the corners to stay warm. In a mummy bag, you have much less space to have to try and heat up. However, if you need to toss and turn in your sleep, you may prefer a rectangular bag to a mummy bag.
What if you are in a relationship? If you want to be able to share body heat at night with that special someone, many bags from the same manufacturer can be zipped together. Mateable bags are great because they let you snuggle, but you may lose some warmth from mummy bags because the zipped-together bag is so much looser than a single mummy bag would be. Some companies do make wedge-shaped mummy bag expanders. These expanders can create enough room for two in any mummy bag with a compatible zipper.
After you choose a sleeping bag, the next component of a quality sleep system is a sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are important because they put space between you and the ground, which prevents the ground from sucking your precious body heat away. For backpacking, you have 3 possible types of sleeping pad to choose from. An open-celled foam pad is a soft foam pad made with many open air cells. Closed-cell foam pads are stiffer and have closed air cells. A self-inflating foam pad is an open-air pad with a nylon shell. Open-celled foam pads are comfortable and warm, but the tiny open cells mean they act like sponges in wet conditions. Closed-cell pads are warm and they repel water, but they are stiff and don’t provide a very good cushion from the ground.
Both open-celled and closed-cell pads are fairly cheap, but if you have the money, opt for a self-inflating foam pad. Self-inflating pads are superior for backpacking because they provide the cushioning power of open-celled foam while the nylon shell keeps the pad water-resistant. Also, there are chair kits available for self-inflating sleeping pads. After a long day of hiking, sitting down on something relatively soft with a little bit of lower back support is heavenly! When you buy a sleeping pad, you will need to decide if you want to get one that is only ¾ the length of your body, to save weight, or whether you want to get a full-length pad for maximum warmth and comfort. If you plan on doing winter camping in cold conditions, a full-length pad will do a much better job of keeping you toasty. For couples, some sleeping pads can be mated together, and if you are in a serious relationship they are a worthy investment. Two separate sleeping pads will often shift out from under you as you sleep.
Finally, it’s time to consider the extras that make an ordinary sleep system extraordinary. For example, silk mummy bag liners can add a little bit of warm and an indulgent feeling of comfort to an ordinary mummy bag. They don’t weigh very much, and they also have a practical purpose: keeping the inside of the sleeping bag clean. Down bags in particular can be a pain to clean, so this is more important than it might sound. Also, what about a pillow? Obviously, you don’t want to sacrifice the weight or the space required to lug an overstuffed pillow from your bed, but does that mean you have to lay your head on the hard ground? Actually, you can create a pillow by folding up some of the clothes you brought with you, or you can purchase a lightweight, inflatable pillow made especially for backpacking.
Once you’ve assembled the sleep system of your dreams, plan a trip and test it out. You’ll be astonished how much better you feel on the morning after you’ve had a good night’s sleep!