Monday, January 7, 2013

Sleep System - UPDATE

As I was running around St.Mary's Lake I occupied my mind with a post on how my tent system evolved while I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I spent many nights inside a tent, from theory to practice I am able to to give a more judicious over-view of the gear that I slept in.

I would like to impart my experience with what I had, and the eventual evolution to a system I really really liked.

I began the hike with the MSR Hubbahubba.
The advantages to this tent were:
- Spacious
- I got it for $50 at an REI attic-sale
- For it's size, it's light
The disadvantages:
- I didn't have time to seam seal it before I began the hike
- You sleep on the ground
- At 4lbs, that's heavy - and I still should've carried a ground cloth of some kind
- It took up an enormous amount of pack space, almost basket ball size

I never got wet in the tent, but my buddy did. After that I dreaded that it would rain and I'd get soaked - I was just lucky that not very much rain fell between the end of the Smokies and when I hit Damascus and got a new tent.

The new tent I purchased, the Black Diamond UL was an upgrade, but ridiculously expensive at $300. Had anything else been available in town, any single-walled, use your hiking poles as tent poles tent, I would have gotten that instead. As it was, this was the only thing there, and I was desperate to lose some pounds from my back. As it turned out, it was a great investment that traveled all the way to Maine with me but that was a fluke.

The advantages:
- Light, less than a pound
- Water resistant, after I learned to always use the center pole and not use the loop on top to string it up (it stretches the fabric a bit and allows some water to wick through and drip) I stayed dry in the most violent deluges, even without a floor. But placement is paramount, if you set it up in a natural valley or a low spot you float.
- Spacious. When WoodTeeth visited, right after I got the tent, we were both able to comfortably sleep and keep all our gear in the tent without touching the sides. The manufacturer claims four are able to sleep in the space, but also that the ones on the outside should use bivy's as well since they will be touching the sides, so in actuality, it's a highly spacious 2 person tent.

The disadvantages:
- No floor, so a piece of Tyvek was needed. Bugs and other critters could enter, so a bug net was required once the weather began to really warm up.
- The foot print was larger than the tent squares in Shennandoah so I would stake down properly and a gaping hole was created and made me feel like bears, raccoon, or whatever could waltz through.
- Still sleeping on the ground

A visitor under my tarp
I grabbed my hammock from home when I came back for a short hiatus and tried that out for a week and I slept like a baby. My hammock didn't have a bug net so I was still carrying that addition. On my way back out to the Trail after that week trial period I grabbed the Byer's Amazon Hammock from REI. All my woes disappeared! I was able to use the decagonal shape of the tarp to use over the hammock. Two of the tie downs got tied to the rope that connected to the trees that held up the hammock, the other six tie-downs got staked down with a length of rope.
The advantages of this system:
- Light, 2 pounds for hammock and tarp tent
- Water resistant - always was I dry from both above and below in even the most horrendous continuous deluges
- protection from bugs
- large enough to hangout, cook dinner, change, stand, pack and unpack. Easy to sit in the hammock or take down the hammock and just hangout under the elevated tarp. As a bonus, in NY with Flip we sat for a couple hours under the tarp in a rainstorm and filled our water bottles from water flowing off the tarp.
-this setup had the capability to be able to setup the tarp first and take it down last, so even while raining the rest of my gear could stay dry under the tarp.
- I slept under it, as did my brother and his dog and we could've put some else under there too in a pinch
- not sleeping on the ground was, I think, the biggest psychological moral booster that I could have possibly had - as in the difference between continuing and quitting

Throughout this process I also tried out different ground pads, first inflatable, then foam, then nothing, then foam again. I finally settled for a 3/4 ThermaRest Z-Pad and was completely satisfied. It was hardy enough that I could throw it on the ground for comfort while cooking and it is pliable enough that it bends around the body in the hammock without sleeping around. I used a down bag in the spring and in the north, in the summer I used a light weight synthetic bag.

The options that I was afforded with a hammock were large too. In a tent you must have a perfectly flat spot or you roll or slide down hill. The problem being, however, perfectly level spots are where water naturally pools so if it rains you wake in a puddle. Or you setup on a slight slope for water drainage and you slide down hill, touch the side of the tent and... wake in a puddle. I was able to stealth camp anywhere that there were trees... which is nearly everywhere! My options expanded exponentially. And since I still had the tarp tent, had I ever felt the desire to camp on a bald or tent camp I had the ability to do so at any time... the urge just never struck and I was able to hammock the rest of the time without issue or worry.

A lot of this discussion has been in conjunction with rain and protection from rain. I should say that it did rain while I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but not terribly often and not too terribly much when it did. The first half or more didn't rain much at all, maybe 3 or 4 days with precipitation in the first 500 miles and only 5 or 6 days until summer and the half way mark. So about 1 day a week average, and then the second half probably 2 or 3 days a week after raining once the entire state of Pennsylvania. And of those I was lucky enough to occasionally be indoors, either in a shelter or a hostel or a hotel. But, every time I set up my sleep system I always tried to prepare for rain. I would look above for dead limbs that could fall in a storm. I looked at the land to see if a stream might over flow it's banks or where a puddle may form. Being wet is trouble, big trouble. Having a saturated sleeping bag can be dangerous and could even kill you in the wrong circumstances. I tried to always be cognizant of my surroundings. Many times storms would blow over in the night, even though the sky looked clear the evening before. Having a good sleep system relieves much stress, being able to throw your tarp up and have a satisfying slumber without waking and worrying, without feeling around for dampness in the middle of the night.

In the heat of the summer a hammock has the advantage of having no insulation on the bottom. A slight breeze on a sticky night cools you, where you would feel nothing but cloying humid dampness trapped on the ground in a tent.

I'm a hammock convert. But I won't tell you you have to get one to be comfortable, because I know it's not true. What I say is to try it. Sleep on the ground for a few days and then sleep elevated for a few. When you get into camp at night, will you dread another night tossing and turning with rocks and roots and the soft thumping of hooves and feet waking you from your slumber? Or will you happily hop into your comfortable cocoon and sway gently in the breeze to a restful repose?