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Re: Gear Report

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Gear Report
July 18, 2016 06:11PM
I've been posting over the past several weeks asking for input on backpacking gear. I've returned from a 6-day/5-night cross-country in Emigrant and thought I'd report back the results in hope it will help others.

Background: I've been honing my gear list for years, and will probably never stop looking for ways to improve. Gear is used mostly in the Sierra during summer with occasional shoulder season trips but none in the heart of winter (yet). Generally I test only one new thing at a time; however, I violated that unwritten personal rule and made many changes at once this trip. I look for a balance of light weight, utility and comfort, and tend toward items with multiple uses, robust build (reliability) and avoid situations where a single failure could ruin the trip or cause personal injury.

Goal for upgrades: improve sleep comfort.

For ten or more years, I've not been able to sleep much more than 15 minutes at a time when backpacking. I've tried many upgrades over that time, and some have improved overall comfort, but none enough to address my inability to sleep for any length of time. For reference, I sleep very well at home on a mattress. I sleep fine on car-camping or home-guest inflatable mattresses (the thick ones - 6" ). I fall asleep easily and quickly in hotels, when traveling, etc. My sleeping gear for the past 4-5 years has been a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker (the previous generation, ca 2011), 2.5" air mattress, sleeping silk and one of a selection of Marmot down mummy bags. I believe my problem is that I need to have more deflection in the pad to accommodate more of a curve in my spine. I am a back sleeper with chronic back challenges. I tried several different baffle and material designs, all with the somewhat standard 2.5" thickness; none helped. I also recognize that leg position has a lot to do with my sleep comfort, and in a mummy bag there is limited freedom of movement and position. Test gear: Nemo "Astro Insulated Lite 25L" 4" thick sleeping pad, Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol (regular length), and Jacks 'R Better "Sierra Sniveler" down quilt. The Astro pad weighs about the same as my Therm-a-Rest Trekker. The Jacks 'R Better quilt weighs about the same as my Marmot Atom bag. The Z Lite Sol weighs 14 oz. The Sniveler replaced the bag to allow complete freedom of leg movement and position. As a side benefit, I'm a warm sleeper and regulating temperature was much easier with the quilt compared to the bag. The Astro has a thin internal PrimaLoft layer rather than foil so does not have the "potato chip bag" noise of a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, although I suspect it does not provide as much insulation either. The Z Lite Sol provides more thermal insulation and cushion. I inflate the Astro so I'm just about to "bottom out" to provide the most spine deflection, and even if I do hit bottom, the Z Lite stops cold spots. Outcome: on each of the five nights, I slept until the sun rose with just one or two brief awakenings. This makes such a huge difference I can't really convey the value that has to me. The Sniveler is big enough that drafts were not a problem, and by having it laying loosely on top of me, fully lofted, it was very warm - probably warmer than my bag, which ends up wrapped tightly around me in some spots (and therefore losing much of the insulating quality of the down when compressed). I heartily recommend trying this setup if your situation is anything like mine. Two emphatic thumbs up!

Edit: I should add that since I changed several things at once, I can't specifically say whether the thicker pad, the quilt, and the Z Lite, OR just one of those, OR some combination of them, would be enough for comfort. My intuition is that they each contribute to some aspect of what makes this work for me. Also, I'm happy with the Nemo pad, and it looks like the construction is pretty good, but I can't compare it to the Therm-a-Rest brand, which I've used for decades without ever experiencing a failure. The Nemo does come with a field repair kit nicely packaged in a pocket built into the stuff sack (no additional cost). Nemo doesn't provide R-value ratings, but rather "minimum temperature zone" - claimed to be 15-25F. This is very subjective, and I suspect it may be a way to avoid unfavorable comparison with competitors' offerings. The Therm-a-Rest ZTherm may provide more insulation and therefore a warmer experience. Finally, the standard size Astro Insulated Lite 20R is 3" thick; to get the full 4" (claimed) thickness one has to opt for the 25L with dimensions of 25"w x 76"l - but still weighing only 23 oz.

I also tried a Bearikade 16" canister to replace my Bear Vault (need to hold 6 days x 2 people provisions) and cooking/rehydrating food directly in MSR Titan 0.85 liter titanium Kettle with BYOG (build-your-own-gear) thermal coozies/cozies made from Reflectix material. Two thumbs up to both of these as well. The Bearikade increased available storage volume by more than 40% with an easily-utilized shape and a couple ounces less weight (and a much, much lighter wallet) compared to the Bear Vault. Cooking in pots reduced the amount of nasty trash to carry around, a bit of weight (almost 1/2 pound by exit) and opens up many more options for food beyond the foil-pouch Mountain House/Backpackers Pantry offerings.

Edit: I originally incorrectly listed the Nemo Cosmo pad; that is similar, but has a built-in pump which I decided I did not need. I actually have the Nemo Astro Insulated Lite pad. However, I did try, and really like the (rebranded Camp-Tek Microburst) NeoAir Mini Pump. It really works, is fast, quiet, runs on a single set of batteries enough for 5 nights x 2 pads, and *really* does only weigh 2.3 oz with batteries. A big thumbs up to what I thought would be a silly, unnecessary, foolish waste of money and weight. It makes setup much easier and faster, and since we move camp virtually every day, it pays off. It won't fill the pad to a full-firm inflation, but I don't want it that full and one can top-off with a few puffs by mouth if needed.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 07/21/2016 03:55PM by ags.
Re: Gear Report
July 18, 2016 06:51PM
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the pad! I might start using 2 pads too as a have back issues too.
I would get a bearikade but can't afford the high price:/
Re: Gear Report
July 21, 2016 01:40PM
Glad u kept at it to find a workable solution!!!

Yes on the defection. I don't inflate my XTherm firmly. When the microburst pump is done, that's it. It looks very low until I lie on it, especially on my side! But feels great to me.

Hope you have many enjoyable trips to come!
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