Category: Tips & Tricks & How-To Page 2 of 3

About gear, clothing, and some quick tips.

My Backpacking Sleep System

Thermarest Neo Air XLite Sleep Pad

Are you wondering how a backpacker makes a bed? Most boil down to two to four pieces for a cozy night’s sleep. A pad, bag (or quilt,) and optionally a sheet liner or pillow.

Here’s a brief video of what I use

My sleep system

Starting out I kept all bedding in a bag. Since this video was made, I pack things differently, mainly, not stuffing the quilt in a small bag. It is just stuffed in the bottom of the backpack allowing other things to conform and squish together efficiently.

What’s a quilt vs a sleeping bag? Basically, a quilt is a sleeping bag without a zipper. Usually, there is a sewn foot box and the rest lays open like a quilt. You can tuck it around you or easily hang out a leg if you’re a warm sleeper like me. It also comes with straps that go around the pad to keep it in place if needed. The warmth of either a sleeping bag or quilt is in the loft or puffiness of the filling. In a sleeping bag, you are laying on the bag, crushing the loft, so when you roll over there’s a cold spot until that filling restores its loft.

I have graduated from a Go-Lite 20-degree bag (no longer available) to an REI Magma 30-degree quilt and more recently a zPack 10-degree Solo Quilt. This gives me a good range of warmth to choose from depending on where I’ll be hiking. Whether shopping for a bag or quilt, there are so many options. At the end of the article is a list of American Cottage Industries offering

A good insulating pad is required with a quilt, as it reflects your body warmth while the quilt keeps you warm from the top and sides. For myself, an active side-sleeper, the added advantage of a quilt is that I don’t get all twisted up and feel trapped inside a bag! It’s miserable waking up with your face buried in the hood of the bag wondering how do I get out!

Main considerations for sleeping pads: are length, width, weight, and R-Value (how much warmth the pad provides.) My pad of choice is the Thermarest Neo Air XLite weighing 12 oz, 66″ x 20″ an R-value of 5.4, and 2.5″ thick. But there are many great choices

Here is a link so you can shop for a pad that suits your needs and price point. Backpacking sleep pads.

Pillows and liners come in many forms and are considered luxury items. Liners can add several degrees of extra warmth and come in synthetic or silk. My liner of choice is the Sea to Summit Compact Reactor liner that adds up to 20 degrees of extra warmth. Heck, if I’m going to carry the extra weight of a liner, I may as well get at least 20 degrees! A good place to shop is here at Amazon

These are some links to other cottage-industry American made quilits and sleeping bags:

Mountain Laurel Designs;

Enlighteded Equipment;

Sierra Designs;

El Coyote Quilts;

Katabatic Gear;

REI; and many more.

Many of these are items I use personally and others are recommendations if you are starting out planning your purchases, you should know that “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” 

All my equipment is paid for by myself and I do not accept sponsorships. This way I can share uninfluenced reviews on my gear.

Advice for Beginning Hikers

Graduate From Neighborhood Walks to Trail Hikes

While grand plans for a long-distance hike are exciting and fun to contemplate, not everyone is cut out. Or are you? Maybe you just don’t know it yet!

If you think even walking is beyond your capabilities, stop thinking that way! Walking, hiking or backpacking – is a matter of mindset. You either desire to do it or not! So what is it?

If it’s YES, then how do you proceed? First things first, if this is entirely new to you or you haven’t been walking, check with your doctor. Make sure to clear any of your concerns with the doctor, explaining what your plans are. 

For beginners, a hike can be as simple as a walk in your neighborhood or park. It’s where you start if this is all new. Don’t overdo it at first, even if you can only walk to the corner and back. Be consistent. Your body is an amazing machine and will respond to the demands placed on it. 

My husband for example: At age 70, at the beginning of Covid in 2019, decided to walk. At first, it was once around the block. He gradually built up to add a second block, then a third and fourth. I could tell he was even increasing his speed. He now walks 45 minutes every day and has dropped 30 pounds! While he has no grand plan to join me backpacking, he continues his daily walk. I’m so proud of his accomplishment!

To increase your skill, find an unpaved trail with a more challenging tread. Something with uneven ground or rocks & branches to step over. If necessary, get a pair of trekking poles to help with stability. Even experienced backpackers like myself continue to enjoy the added security of “4 legs!” For help finding trails in your area try the AllTrails App. It describes the difficulty level, how long, and elevation gain.

Next week I’ll touch on other ways to prepare not only physically but mentally for hiking and especially long-distance backpacking.

Many of these are items I use personally and others are recommendations if you are starting out building your 10 Essentials. You should also know that “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” 

Choosing Your Backpack

Have you decided you want to try backpacking but don’t know where to start? I can’t help you…….. Well okay…… maybe I can…

If you’ve never backpacked before or if you’ve done a little, hiking gear is a huge and confusing topic. Information overload can make you dizzy and feel like you are on a Tilt-A-Whirl! How’s that for encouraging?

Researching backpacks alone can be worse than trying to find the best wine for that special occasion. Since I began in 2019, I’ve owned three backpacks and just got another for Christmas!

So what is a beginner supposed to do? Well…Just start! There are always gear lists available like my Free 2022 Gear List. (Link at top of my website.) You can watch YouTube reviews, read blogs, and go to your favorite outfitter to actually try some on. There are major brands and cottage industries all vying for your favor and their websites are usually most helpful with videos and salespeople who are happy to answer any of your questions!

What I’ve found as the most important considerations for me: Comfort, capacity, weight, cost – in that order. Here’s my experience.

Before I knew what I was doing, I went to a major outfitter’s garage sale and found two brand new packs for a fraction of the retail price. I bought one for me and one for my granddaughter who I was hoping would share my enthusiasm. That one, alas, is still in new condition.

But the one for me, a Gregory Jade 50 was a perfect fit and still had the original tags! (This one is no longer available on-line but it may still be found at a retail outfitter.) A 50-liter bag (refers to the capacity) It was like a Cadillac for comfort and I used it for several hundred miles before I started to calculate my base weight: the weight of everything except food, water, and other consumables such as fuel and batteries.

However, the Gregory was 4 pounds! In order to lighten my load I’ve since then, tried a Granite Gear, a two-pounder that wasn’t comfortable for me so it was returned. (Many hikers love the Granite Gear.)

Next was a Gossamer Gear Mariposa, at two pounds – I used it for 1000 miles. The Mariposa is very comfortable and I do love that pack with a 55-liter capacity. The biggest drawback is that it rests flat on my back, making it always wet with sweat. And after 1000 miles it’s showing a bit of wear & tear.

For 2022, I’ll be using a zPack Arc Air, with a 50-liter capacity and an arched back allowing for better circulation, and best of all it is only 24 ounces. Comfort rating is yet to be determined.

Gear can be cheap or very expensive. And there is no shame in trying what’s within your budget. But sometimes economizing can cost you if there is a breakdown while in the wilderness or it wears hotspots on your body. Much depends on your aspirations. For me, I LOVE backpacking long-distance, and buying the lightest gear is in my best interest (dare I say “At my age?’)

Other gear will be discussed in subsequent blogs, but for now, as a beginner, you should be focusing on research and getting in shape!

Many of these are items I use personally and others are recommendations if you are starting out building your 10 Essentials. You should also know that “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” 

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