Better living through riding!

2012-03-31

MTB trail camping gear: In search of a good night's sleep

I have to admit that I haven't slept under the stars for the past 10 years or so. Things were somewhat different in the past. In the 90's I had an opportunity to participate in several memorable adventures in Russia. The trips ranged from two-day snow scooter safaris to a full-week kayaking and white water drafting in wilderness. I also a chance to participate in a few ATV safaris in Russian Karelia. During all these exercises we almost always spent our nights in tents, both in summer heat and in winter at -25 degrees with the northern lights coloring the sky.

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Fast forward 15 years to today. Over the past two years I have got again more excited about the idea of spending a few nights in a nature. I think that a multi-day MTB trail ride is something to try this year. Generally my aim is to travel as light as reasonably possible. I would prefer gear that, despite being light, still makes me feel comfortable when its time to pull over and set up a campfire. Along these lines I started a search for a good sleeping gear: A sleeping bag, mattress and maybe a pillow. I have also done a decent amount of research on tents and tarps but will probably return to those at my later postings.


Sleeping bag: Marmot Hydrogen
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A few key issues to consider when choosing a sleeping bag:
  • Warmth (two, three or four-season bag)
  • Insulation (down or synthetic)
  • Resistance against moisture and water
  • Packability (size and weight)
No sleeping bag fits all conditions - a year-round adventurer is likely to prefer having at least two different sleeping bags. I am looking for three-season bag that should be comfortable both in Scandinavian summer nights but also when the temperature drops towards zero degrees C or even just slightly below. Four-season bags are heavier, take more room when packed and can be quite uncomfortable in summer. I found that a bag with a temperature rating of -1 degrees is probably the most reasonable alternative for my purposes.

Regarding the insulation, it is said that a synthetic bag rarely (if ever) surpass the lightweight and compact size of a down bag. On the downside, down looses almost all of its insulation capacity if it get's wet. Surely, that happens also to synthetics but to a much lesser extent.

Actually, I would have preferred a synthetic bag, maybe just because of many quality problems that I have experienced with some of down filled products (jackets, pillows etc). Also, given the nature of Scandinavian weather, some tolerance against wet conditions also sounded like a good idea. However, I still decided to prioritize light weight and compact size (compared to similar synthetic bags) of down bags. Based on many favorable reviews and user experiences I decided to go for Marmot. Two Marmot bags that I had on my final short list were Hydrogen (794g for a L size) and Plasma 30 (676g). I finally chose Hydrogen which is slightly cheaper but also some 120g heavier (or less light). Both are -1C rated bags. Packed size of Hydrogen is around 30 x 15cm (my measurement).


Mattress: Thermarest NeoAir XLite
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I didn't have particular demands for the mattress other than it should to by easy to carry on trails, preferably some other way than by strapping to handlebars. Therefore, size became the decisive parameter. Because I am planning to use the mattress only with my three-season sleeping bag, insulation power is not an issue for me. Furthermore, I found only inflatable mattresses fulfilling my size limitations.

Again, searching for reviews and user opinions made me have a closer look at Thermarest mattresses. My choice was Thermarest NeoAir XLite which is a new 2012 version of the previous NeoAir mattress. The shape is now streamlined to save some bulk and it now weights 460g for the Long (196 x 63 x 6.3cm) version. It comes with a repair kit and a stuff sack included. When packed it takes around 25 x 10cm (my measurement).

Many reviews seem to regard the NeoAir mattress as somewhat more comfortable than some of its competitors, for example Peak Elite AC. Considering that I have actually never slept well on an inflatable mattress no matter how thick (admittedly I have never tried a top-of-the line version), it will be very interesting to see how this one feels.


ExPed Air Pillow
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Similarly to my previous experiences with inflatable mattresses, I am not a fan of inflatable pillows either. In my past camping trips I have not used any pillows but instead just put, for example, a bag or some clothes under my head. Due to a number of very positive reviews, I still decided to give this pillow a try.

Air Pillow (size M) measures to 38 x 27 x 11cm, has a packed size of 5.5 x 12cm and weights 80g. It also comes with a 5-year warranty on materials and workmanship.


What to make of it?
I am excited about this setup, on the paper at least, and certainly looking forward to doing a lot of real-world testing during this season. When it comes to a comprehensive trail travel setup, I am now looking into carrying systems (bags) and doing some research on different tent / tarp options. Stay tuned!

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    Caption Text

    Link
The picture shows packed size of:
  • Marmot Hydrogen (Large)
  • Thermarest NeoAir XLite (Large)
  • ExPed Air Pillow (Medium)