My first real sleeping bag was Army surplus, filled with feathers and down (more feathers than down it seemed) with some kind of cotton/poplin shell, stuffed fairly small but weighed like 8 pounds. But for $20 it was a vast improvement over the cotton flannel Sears bags we had.
Sleeping bags are always the most expensive piece of equipment to buy and hopefully they will last a long time, mine have. I now lend out the old bags to people who haven’t bought a good one yet.
0. Army surplus feathers and down mummy bag ’70-’72, ~120oz.
1. Camp 7 North Col, 600? fill goose down, -5 degree, ’72-’04, 55.5 oz.
2. Camp 7 Arete, duck down, 25 degree, ’74-’04, 41.5 oz
3. Moonstone Polarguard 3D, 15 degree bag, ’00-’04, 54.5 oz.
4. Western Mountaineering Ultralight, 850 goose down, 20 degree, ’04-, 28.5 oz
5. Western Mountaineering Highlite, 850 goose down, 35 degree, ’11-, 17.9 oz. (not shown)
Camp 7 was the state of the art in the early 70’s and the Arete (#2) fit inside the North Col (#1) for those real subzero winter trips. Mostly I used them separately depending on the season. At some point I must have fallen for the conventional wisdom that you needed a synthetic bag for wet conditions and got the Moonstone (#3) it was fine but heavy. In reality I have never had a bag get wet on a trip, down or not.
Finally after years of lusting after a lighter bag, and a Western Mountaineering one at that, I got weak after a Big Bend trip and bought the Ultralite (#4) in Austin at Whole Earth Provision, worth every penny! Impeccably made and warmer than advertised (I have had it down to 6 degrees and many nights in the teens). The Ultralite is a narrow bag but I am used to that from using the Arete for years.
The latest bag in the quiver is a 35 degree Western Mountaineering Highlite (17.9 oz.) for the desert trips and the odd summer trips in the East. I have only used it on a few trips with temps as low as the 20’s but mostly in the 30’s and it was perfect. I did sleep in it out in the open, no bivy, down to 20 degrees with a down vest and all my clothes on and did just fine but had to work at staying warm some.
Sleeping pads have undergone lots of changes over the years. Part of it is new technology, part is the search for more comfort as we get older.
2. section of wool Army Blanket
3. open cell foam pad, 36”, ’72-‘75
3.5. closed cell ensolite pad, 47”, ’73-‘89
4. Thermarest Ultralite, 47”, 19 oz., ’89-‘04
5. Thermarest Prolite 3, 47”, 12 oz., ’04-‘09
6. Thermarest Ridgerest closed cell, 47”, 8 oz., ‘06
7. Thermarest Prolite XS, 36” + 36” Ridgerest, 8.5 + 6=14.5 oz., ’09-
8. Thermarest Ridgerest closed cell, 72” for snow trips, 12 oz., ’00-
Of course at first we were young and tough and didn’t need any pad. Then for insulation when cold I used a section of an old wool Army blanket. The first foam pad was open celled and really not much padding or insulation but it seemed the thing to do. The ensolite was a break through in both insulation and non-squishable padding. Finally inflatables arrived and they just kept getting lighter so I had to get new ones. Like the sleeping bags these older models are popular lending items.
The final piece of the sleep system puzzle is a bivy bag and I have used one for years, because while I own a few tents, I almost never carry them but use a tarp or nothing instead. I like them for wind, dew, rain spray and keeping the bag clean. I almost never carry one in the desert. Condensation is the biggest issue with a bivy and my thoughts on how to deal with it are here.
- North Face bivy, urethane coated nylon bottom, breathable taffeta top, way too big, 17 oz., ’74-‘01
- Outdoor Research Basic Bag cover, hydroseal bottom, Gore dryloft top, 18 oz., ‘01-‘08
- Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight, silnylon bottom, Pertex Momentum top, 6 oz. with long side zip, ’08-
No pictures of tents (hard to set them up in the office) and like I said, not much of a tent guy. Here is the list just for continuity. The tarp I still use today is the rain fly from the 1972 North Face Mountain tent and I use my walking poles for the set up.
- Canvas Army Tent Halves (they connected at the ridge with buttons so each person carried half a tent) about 10# complete
- North Face Mountain Tent, 7#, ’72-‘95
- Eureka Summit, 8.69#, ’96-
- REI Sololite, one person, 4#, ’98-
- Alps Mountaineering Mystique II, two person, 5.19#, ’02-
- The current set up- 1972 North Face Mountain Tent rain fly (19 oz. w/stakes) + MLD Superlight bivy (6 oz.) = 1.5#
- Multiple other tarps, bivies, etc over the years