January 26, 2022

Camp Gear

In late July, Riley and I will be traveling to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for two weeks of backcountry hiking with his Boy Scout troop. We’ll be joining a trek with other scouts from his troop that will span 12 days of hiking, and is likely to hit 7 of the tallest mountains in the region.

Of course, I’m all about the gear.

I’ve been gradually accumulating gear based on recommendations and personal needs for this trip. I wanted to detail some of these choices here.

The Big Three (Four)

The big three (four) items for the camping trip are the personal gear items that are essential for the hike: Backpack, tent, sleeping bag (and sleeping mat).

Unfortunately, I’m not fully set with one of my big three (four) right now. I’m not particularly happy with my backpack. Given the time between now and our first spring shakedown, I should have time to make some changes, but I’ll list what I have now and why I’m not happy with it.

Backpack

My current backpack is an Osprey Atmos 65. It’s a fine pack for general hiking. My primary issue with it is that it feels heavy. It’s twice the weight of any pack that I would replace it with. I like the hip belt for comfort, but it’s also part of the problem in terms of weight. Also, a picky issue, the water bottle holders (or just general use pockets) on the sides are impossible to reach while wearing the pack. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t seem annoying until you have to take your pack off more than once to swap out those pocket contents. The little zipper sections on the face of the pack are interesting, but are never as convenient as I would hope them to be. I just feel like there should be something… better. And I’ll be looking.

Tent

I have been using an REI Quarter Dome 2 SL for prior camping trips, and it’s served me pretty well. I’m committed to the 2-person space for my single-person needs. One of the things I’m able to choose without much complaint from others is the condition of my sleeping arrangement. And given that sleep is possibly one of the more important things to do well on this trip, I’m focusing in that area here with the tent.

That said, I’ve invested in a replacement tent, a Tarptent Stratopire 2 Li. There are three reasons for this change that I hope prove out to my advantage. First, it’s ever so slightly lighter, which is always nice. Second, it uses my hiking poles as supports, so I’m not carrying extra poles. Third, and most importantly, it sets up in the rain while keeping the interior dry. This is a consequence of the way the tent is set up with the trekking poles, and is one of the biggest changes in tent design that would have an impact on my camping experience. I’m really looking forward to putting this through its paces in the spring shakedowns.

Overall, I am expecting that the tent’s ability to open more fully for the scenic mountain views will be something I appreciate this summer.

Sleeping Bag

As I mentioned, getting good sleep on the trail is important to me, and I have a really hard time sleeping well when I’m on the trail. Looking for any technical advantage in my gear to solve this problem is where my head is, and this has led me to make choices about my sleeping bag.

My sleeping bag is a Nemo Riff 15. I am really pleased with this sleeping bag. It is warm. I’ve used it in 20 degrees before, and it was too warm. This is where I want to be. The Riff is down, not synthetic, so it’s super light for the warmth it provides. It also has vents you can unzip to keep the heat from getting too hot. But the biggest difference between the Riff and most sleeping bags you’d take while hiking is its shape.

The Nemo Riff is shaped like an hourglass, rather than the typical rectangle and mummy shapes. It lets me reposition my legs in strange configurations while I sleep, and not be restricted to having my legs lashed together all night. This is wonderful. It’s costing me a little bit of weight in my pack, but it’s totally worth it. And honestly, my sleeping bag is still lighter than most others in our crew. I think Riley’s bag is lighter, but he’s using a synthetic fill in a Nemo mummy bag, so it’s not as warm or roomy, even if it is a little more water-resistant (useful when you frequently have to share an old scout tent).

Sleeping Pad

Technically, you can get away without this, but again, I’m all about good sleep on the trail. Which is why it’s ironic that this piece of gear is possibly as evil as it is good.

My sleeping pad is a Nemo Tensor Insulated. It comes with a neat inflation bag, where you blow air into its wide opening, which pulls additional air in with it so you don’t have to blow air into it for hours. Then you seal the bag and squeeze all of the air into the fill valve on the pad. Pretty clever.

With practice, I can get the inflation of the pad right for my side-sleeping tendencies, which is not fully inflated. It needs to be a little flat. This took a long time to learn, and it’s never quite perfect, if you ask me.

Also, the worst part of this pad, it’s really noisy. Moving around on top of it, I feel like I’m going to wake up the entire camp. And since I tend to roll a lot at night, I end up waking myself up a lot. That said, this pad is super light and small. It’ll be hard to find something that doesn’t make noise that is as convenient for hiking.

Other Gear

There is plenty of other gear I’ll be taking with me on this trek, from shoes to lighting to water filtration to head gear. I’ve got high-tech gear for practically all of my needs. But I think I’ll save those for future posts, and split things out logically, perhaps between worn and carried.