Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Monthly Archives: October 2015


The Sleeping Bag Breakdown

by Goatman

So you want to sleep in the wide open world of nature without freezing to death over night. This is a rather typical human concern.

Based on my experience, folks gearing up for outdoor adventure often think of a sleeping bag before they think of anything else, even their footwear or their backpack. Quite understandable. I can walk a few miles in any shoe with some snacks and a water bottle in an old school bag and head out into the woods for the night. When I get to my camp, however, if I plan on sleeping, I am going to need something to keep me warm if I want to get any shut eye at all. Shivering and snoozing do not go hand in hand.

The sleeping bag, unlike much of backpacking’s more esoteric gear, is a common item to have lying around whether or not it has ever been used in the open air. You may have one sitting around from your childhood or have placed one in the trunk of your car for emergencies. But now you’ve gotten the itch for adventure and you’re wondering about wandering a bit. Is your old Batman sleeping bag going to cut it when the winds start whistling through the pines? To tell you the truth, probably not. If you want to get out and stay out, a good sleeping bag can be the difference between an enjoyable morning sunrise hike and a sleep-deprived slog back to car.

That being said, there are a lot of sleeping bags out there, made for different purposes, and at a variety of price levels. This blog will serve as a map to guide you to the correct bag for your situation.

EN Temperature Ratings

First off, let’s talk about ratings and standards. Understanding the modern method of rating sleeping bags for warmth will be important while choosing your new bag. You may have been in this situation before: you’ve borrowed a friend’s bag and the tag claims that it is a 0 degree bag, so you take it out when the temperature drops down to 20 degrees and end up clacking your teeth all night. Such a situation would leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth concerning so called “ratings”. When it comes to survival, you need to know the capabilities of your gear. If companies are labeling their products with misleading information, how are you supposed to know what you are actually getting?

Enter the EN Rating, more accurately known as the European Norm 13537 Standardized Ratien_tested_templateng for Insulation. In 2005, a standard testing and rating system was established in Europe and, soon after, reputable sleeping bag companies across the world began to follow suite. Utilizing a standardized, third-party system to test the insulation of sleeping bags (involving metal dummies and such. Read more), the EN rating tests how a sleeping bag retains warmth while keeping in mind that different human bodies will produce different levels of heat while sleeping. Instead of a bag being rated with a simple number, such as 0 degrees, an EN rated bag will have a range of temperatures: Upper Limit, Comfort, Lower Limit, and Extreme.

Upper Limit refers to the temperature at which a standard man* can sleep without sweating.

Comfort refers to the temperature that a standard woman* can sleep comfortably, in a relaxed position, all night.

Lower Limit refers to the temperature that a standard man* can sleep for 8 hours without waking because of the cold.

Extreme is the minimum temperature that a standard woman* can remain at for 6 hours in the bag without incurring hypothermia.

*A standard man is described as 25 years old, 5’7″, and 160 lbs. A standard woman is described as 25 years old, 5’2″, and 130 lbs. Obviously, this does not describe everyone. The EN rating should be used as a guide more than a guarantee. If you sleep hotter or colder than others, adjust accordingly. As a general rule, the larger you are, the more heat you produce. They are assuming in these ratings that a standard man is larger than a standard woman and thus produces more heat as they sleep.

For example, my sleeping bag has an EN rating of 41 degree Comfort, 32 degree Lower Limit, and 5 degree Extreme (note: many bags do not include the Upper Limit. I guess they assume that you know when you are too hot and can unzip the bag and cool off in that case). I am a fairly hot sleeper, being 6′ and 215 lbs with huge muscles and a grizzly beard. The 32 degree Lower Limit is rather on the money for me, though I can stretch it a few degrees below freezing without suffering much sleep loss. The 0 degree bag mentioned before could have been marketed that way to advertise its extreme rating only, meaning its lower limit was probably more around the 25 degree range.

Keep in mind that this rating takes into account the user’s sleeping clothes, a ground mat, hydration levels, food intake, and even the few degrees of warmth a tent may provide.

Heat Flow and Bag Shape

While we are on the subject of insulation, let’s step back for a moment and consider how sleeping bags work in the first place. When you are out in the woods, away from your furnace and fireplace, you are your own heater. More specifically, the calories you eat metabolize into energy which is given off as heat.  Your body can’t help but heat the air around you. The nature of heat is to move. Without insulation, the heat you are giving off will move away from you to a colder place and will continue to do so as long as the air outside remains colder than your body. The goal of insulation like your sleeping bag is to trap this heat and form a buffer around you from the cold air. You produce heat, the bag catches it, and you feel like the air around you is warm.

talusDifferent bag shapes allow you to customize how efficient you are at capturing this warmth. In cold temperatures, you want as much of your body ensconced in your bag as possible. Enter the Mummy bag. The most efficient of the bags at retaining heat, many modern backpacking bags use this shape. With a mummy bag, you are able to cover all of your body except for your mouth and nose (which you don’t want covered. Breathing is nice. Not filling your bag with the liter of water you breathe out at night is even nicer). The Mummy Bag is a tight fit. This is a part of its design. The less air between your body and the bag, the less air you have to warm before it gets caught in the insulation. This can be uncomfortable for some. It takes some practice for most to sleep in a fetal position with little room to move inside of a bag. Despite this drawback, the Mummy Bag remains popular and this is why: unmatched heat retention.

You don’t see as many Rectangular bags in backpacking these days. The heat you loose from hamityliteving such a free, open style is enormous. That being said, when the nights aren’t so chilly and you simply need something to cover up with, a lightweight rectangular bag can be just the thing. Rectangular bags can also open up into a convenient blanket. Little to no restriction of movement is the big seller here. Some companies have begun the manufacture of insulated quilts that serve a similar function. If the Mummy style is so uncomfortable to you that you are not able to sleep, the loss of a bit of warmth may be worth it depending on the weather.

Luckily, people cSea-to-Summit-Trek-TkIIan be smart and inventive. There is a compromise between the two styles and it is called the Semi-Rectangular bag. With this style, the user can customize the bag depending on the temperature. The body of the bag is looser fitting than a mummy, allowing more room for movement within the bag. The top is open like a rectangular bag, but with a hood and drawstring, letting you “mummy up” in the middle of the night if the temperature drops. The ability to unzip the entire bag is also present for warm weather conditions. The Semi-Rectangular bag is the best of both worlds in many ways, though not as much a bag of extremes. A Mummy bag will be capable of greater warmth. A Rectangular bag will be looser and allow more movement. The Semi-Rectangular bag is a great compromise, however.

Big Agnes has bags that contain a sleeping mat sheath on the bottom, meaning that instead of the insulation on the bottom of the bag being compressed while you roll around on your mat at night, the mat fits down the back of the bag. They contain a hood like a mummy bag, but are more roomy in the middle to allow for movement. With this style, rolling off of your mat at night is not an option. However, this requires that you always use your sleeping mat (which is a good idea anyway).

Down v. Synthetic

The great argument rages: do you want a down insulated bag or synthetic? I have no answer for you, only information. Behold:

DOWNSYN comp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you might expect, people are divided on this subject and for good reason: both types of insulation are useful in certain situation. Guaranteed to be soaking wet? Synthetic might be a better choice. Going for fast and light? Go Down.

These days, a few companies are also utilizing Hydrophobic Down, which resists being saturated with water, retains its loft even when wet, and remains lighter and more compressible than synthetic. For more information on Hydrophobic Down, click here. To read more about down in general, including info on different fill weight, click here.

Liners

Say that you have a 30 degree bag which will be great for the first few days of your hike, but on your third day, you’ll be sleeping at elevation and are afraid that your bag won’t cut it when the temperature drops. Do you have to take two bags rated for different temperatures? No! Enter the sleeping bag liner. These are micro-fleece liners for your bag which come in a variety of weights. Liners can drop the temperature rating of your bag up to ~20 degrees and also help to keep your bag clean (which helps with the durability of the insulation and saves you a lot of effort). Read all about it.

Choosing the Right Bag

Now that you’re familiar with the way sleeping bags work, how they’re shaped, what they’re stuffed with, and how they’re rated, it’s time to choose your bag. When making your choice, consider the following: price, weight, packability, durability, comfort, and appropriate temperature range. Know what adventures you’re planning, what weather you can expect, how long you want your bag to last and how light and compressed you need the bag to be. There is no right bag for every adventure, unfortunately. If you are into winter camping in Alaska, your bag probably won’t do for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and vice versa. At RRT, we carry a variety of different sleeping bags for a variety of purposes. To read more about the different styles of bags we offer, click on any of the links to the brand websites below. The best thing to do, of course, is to stop in the shop, talk to one of our knowledgeable staff members, and actually crawl into a few bags to see which one is right for you.

Big Agnes                   Sea to Summit                        Western Mountaineering                       Mountain Hardwear

 

 

RRT’s Live Inventory now on Locally.com

 

Previous     More Gear Reviews?     Next

7 Halloween Costumes Every Backpacker Already Has Lying Around

October is my favorite month, no doubt. The long, humid days of summer shorten into chilly autumn nights. Campfires smell better. I get to wear my favorite fleece.  Every hike is lit up golden and red, reinventing familiar paths and making every viewpoint a visual spectacle. There’s pumpkin pie and pumpkin beer and pumpkins to carve and, at the end of the month, there’s my favorite day of all: Halloween!

I love Halloween as much as I love backpacking and being outdoors in the Fall. With all of the trips I go on this time of the year, I don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around and, to tell you truth, I’d rather spend the money I do have on gear and travel rather than a costume I may only use once.  Solution: raid the gear closet for anything I can use for a Halloween costume!

1. Jack Torrence/Brawny ManIMG_8923

We’ll start simple with a flexible costume. Grab a flannel, a pair of jeans, and some big stomping boots and you’re half way there. Have fabulous hair and a mustache? Then all you need is a roll of paper towels (which will come useful when people start spilling cider on the dance floor) and, behold: Brawny Man! Have more of a crazy look in your eyes and an axe in the shed? Here’s Johnny! You’ve got Jack from the Shining ready to go.

2. Attacked by a (Teddy) Bear

Throw on your normal hiking get-up and don’t forget the pack. Grab a teddy bear and have him secured to your pack and looking as fearsome as possible (vampire teeth?) as he leans over your shoulder to take a chunk from your neck. Obviously, you can get as gruesome as you’d like with your wound situation. Explain to others that you forgot to hang your candy bag.

3. Really, ReFullSizeRenderally Lost Hiker

Depending on your dedication, you can grow your beard out all year in anticipation of this costume. All you need are your most ragged clothes  and a hermit-worthy beard. Get creative with this one. The goal is to look like you’ve been in the woods for way too long. If you can train a squirrel to eat from your (real or fake) beard, you win!

4. Arctic Explorer

Every few years, Halloween in Ohio turns out cold. Not chilly or nippy. Cold. Snow and ice and freezing temperatures cold. When this happens, all the naughty nurses and skimpy Tarzans flirt with frostbite on their exposed skin. But not you! You’ve got a big, puffy down jacket, sunglasses, snow boots and a beanie. Maybe you even have a rope and an ice axe laying around. Throw some water in your (optional) beard and put it in the freezer for added effect. If people are hip to horror movies, you can even tell them you’re Carpenter’s The Thing in human form.

5. Ramboimage(6)

You know you have a knife so large as to be impractical for actual backpacking. You start looking at knives and suddenly you have a 7″ Ka-Bar in your hands and you feel its power. So you buy it and think that someday, when society finally collapses due to radioactive space zombies, you and your knife will be all you can trust. Until that day, however, at least you can dress as Rambo with a pair of army pants, a red headband, and your beloved, huge knife. Giant muscles are helpful, but optional.

6. Base Layer Ninja

You’ve got your base layer, whether Capilene or merino wool, and I bet it’s black, light weight and form fitting. Have a Buff? Then you probably already know how to make a ninja mask out of it. If you don’t, stop in RRT and I will personally show you. Slip on some black socks or a black pair of Vibram Fivefingers and you are ready to disappear into the shadows before the shogun’s guards ever know you were there.

7. Famous Hollywood “Thru-Hiker”IMG_8950

Hollywood has made a few movies over the past few years that bring backpacking, and thru-hiking in particular, into the spotlight. Forget all about your ultralight set up and grab your old, huge pack and stuff it full with goodies. Ladies, check out Wild for aesthetics and lace up your boots with bright, red laces to pose as Cheryl Strayed. The greener the pack, the better. Men, stuff your belly with a pillow, put on a floppy hat, and curse a lot for a perfect Katz from A Walk in the Woods.

 

Get creative! Ideas of your own? Share them in the comments. Get hiking and haunting and have a great October.

 

RRT’s Live Inventory on Locally.com

Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

 

Trip Report

Pisgah National Forest: Mt. Mitchell

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney

 

 

 

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights (includes driving time)

Total Mileage: ~23 miles

Date: Late September 2015

Conditions: Mix of cloudy and sunny during the day, foggy in the morning, highs in the mid-60s to low 70s and lows in the high 40s – low 50s at night. I hiked in a long sleeve synthetic shirt and pants mostly. I was warm and snug in my ~30 degree bag at night.

Highlights: Tallest summit in North Carolina and the tallest summit east of the Mississippi, stunning scenery, challenging trails, diverse forests, wildlife, Mountain to Sea Trail.

Distance from Cincinnati: Approximately 6.5 hours by vehicle. GPS directions to the Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. The directions are straight forward.

Permits: There is a fee for camping at Black Mountain Campground and is first come, first serve. There is no permit required for camping at Deep Gap (also first come, first serve).

Description: The Black Mountains are the highest mountain chain east of the Mississippi river with Mt. Mitchell being the tallest summit at 6,684 feet above sea level. The entire ridge is mtmitchellapproximately 10 miles long and contains 14 peaks, all over 6,000 feet, and is known as the Black Mountain Crest.* A large portion of the hike coincides with the Mountain to Sea Trail. For our hike, we did not explore the entire Black Mountain Crest, but instead started from the Black Mountain Campground at the base of Mt. Mitchell and hiked to Deep Gap, a large established campground in Pisgah National Forest. Do not underestimate the Black Mountains! The hike from Black Mountain Campground along the Long Arm Ridge to the Mt. Mitchell summit gains approximately 3,700 feet in elevation over 5.6 miles and is steep and technical in many areas. For most of the hike, you are on an exposed, narrow ridge above the clouds. Once you’ve gained the majority of elevation, the elevation change between the 5 additional peaks is relatively small. The lowest elevation is Deep Gap, which is at approximately 5,800 feet. On this hike, you summit Mt. Mitchell (6,684ft), Mount Craig (6,647ft), Big Tom (6,580ft), Cattail Peak (6,584ft) and Potato Hill (6,475ft), all in one day.

Trip Breakdown:

Day One: Drive from Cincinnati to the Black Mountain Campground and stay there for the night. There are flush toilets and showers. Note: the trail head for Mt. Mitchell is located inside the Black Mountain Campground. There is a large Pisgah National Forest trail head across the street but it is NOT the correct way to go (trust me, because I ended up admitchellsignding ~3 miles to my trip by starting out at the wrong trail head).

Day Two: Start at the Black Mountain Campground and follow signs for Mt. Mitchell and immediately begin ascending for 5.6 miles. You will pass two junctions along the way, one for Higgin’s Bald, which is an alternative trail that will take you to the same place, and one for Commissary Ridge. Follow the signs for the Mt. Mitchell summit. You will eventually reach the paved and suddenly civilized summit of Mt. Mitchell.The summit was crowded and full of people who drove up for the view. Take the opportunity to fill up on water at the Mitchell summit area and enjoy the panoramic views. Continue from the summit to the Deep Gap trail head and to Mount Craig. From Mount Craig, follow the trail to Big Tom and down along the trail. At some point, you will transition from the Mt. Mitchell State Park to the Pisgah National Forest, right around Cattail Peak. At a few points in this area, there are a series of fixed ropes to assist in navigating down the steep terrain. The last peak of the day is Potato Hill (I still have no idea why this steep mountain was called a hill). You are exposed on a narrow ridge and high above the clouds. Continue downhill until you reach a large clearing with an established fire ring and set up camp for the night at Deep Gap. Be sure to hang your food for the night because you are in a bear sanctuary*.

Day Three: Start climbing up the way you came from Deep Gap, back up Potato Hill and Cattail Peak. You will re-enter Mt. Mitchell State Park (there will be signs posted on the trees) and shortly after you will arrive at a junction. Turn onto the trail marked 191A and continue on down. This part of the trail is very steep and rocky, but beautiful and exposed. You will come to another junction, and you’ll want to turn right onto Maple Camp Ridge. This trail is flat, open and easy. You’ll be able to move quickly along it until you meet up with the Long Arm Ridge once more. From here it will be a steep and steady descent. We refilled our water once more along the Long Arm Ridge. Consider doing the Higgin’s Bald side trail to add different scenery along your way back to Black Mountain Campground. The side trail only adds about .25 miles.

Water: I carried 3.5 L of water (a 2.5L reservoir and 1L Nalgene.) We filled up at the Black Mountain Campground, the Mt. Mitchell Summit, and at a stream located along the Long Arm Ridge Trail. There is a water source near Deep Gap, but it is a .5 mile hike away from the campsite.

Options: To save mileage on the second day, consider hiking up the Long Arm Ridge and staying the first night at the Commissary Ridge campsite approximately 4 miles up. Another option is to drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell and hike to Deep Gap from there. There is camping near the Mt. Mitchell summit as well, though you will need a permit for these spots.

*Additional Notes: As mentioned, part of the hike to Deep Gap is through a bear sanctuary. Please practice proper bear awareness through these areas such as properly hanging all of your food, food packaging, cooking equipment, and other scented items. Also, make a note to be somewhat loud when hiking, so as to potentially warn any nearby bears of your presence; simply raising your tone higher when talking should work. The occasional “HEY BEAR!” is a good idea, too. Additionally, these trails are steep and rocky and I highly encourage the use of trekking poles and boots with ankle support.

https://cloudman23.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/more-contrast5l1.jpg

*An image of the entire Black Mountain Crest.

Previous   More RRT Adventures?     Next

Rent Now