Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Backpacking for Trout Part II: Shelters & Sleep Systems

Everything needed for three days of backpacking for trout (Not Shown:  waders/boots and pack)

Note:  This is part two of a four part series, which was broken up due to length
Part III:  Clothing, Cooking & Hydration, Survival & Misc.
Part IV:  Fly fishing gear for the backcountry

There are a lot of things I love about fly fishing, but the thing I probably love the most is getting as far off the beaten path as possible and exploring new water.  I've always been drawn to discovering whats around that next bend or seeing what those thing blue lines on a topo map look like in person.   
But the thing about going further and further in is the fishing and adventure often gets better and better the further you get from an access, and just when you are about to get where you want to be, you often need to turn around so you can get back to your vehicle at a decent hour.  I could never get as far away from the car as I would have liked.  I could never spend as much time as I wanted at the destination I was going, and as a result, I'd feel rushed while I was fishing. 
That's when the light bulb went off.  I needed to stop going back to the car and start backpacking ina and staying where the fishing was good. 
Now I've always thought fly anglers were the ultimate gear heads.  No one could love gear and gizmos more than us, right?  Wrong.  Backpackers take being a gear head to a whole new level-- and for the beginner, all the stuff to consider can get pretty confusing.  So I thought I'd share a list of whats currently in my pack for a 3-day fishing trip, why I chose what I did, what I need to upgrade when I get the extra money, etc., and hopefully demystify some of this stuff for the guy who wants to fish backcountry locations but doesn't need to get outfitted to hike the Appalachian Trail. 
So we talked about packs, now onto the next three pieces of gear:  Shelters, Sleeping bags/quilts and sleeping pads.  We're also gonna hit on what is probably a luxury item, backpacking pillows. 
A brief intro to the Tent vs Hammock Debate
I quickly realized that backpacking tents were expensive.  That's when I remembered my buddy Ed who slept in a hammock. 
Hammocks had to be less expensive, I thought.  And pound for pound compared to a tent, just the hammock is.  I got a hammock for Christmas with a built in bug net and thought I'd just get a cheap rain tarp and be good to go, but I didn't realize that if I wanted to go out in colder temps- say below 45-degrees,  I'd also want to get an underquilt. 
Underquilts are kind of like a hammock campers sleeping pad, they are your bottom insulation.  Due to convection, you can get cold in a hammock a lot faster than you might think.  A good example are bridges which get icy before the roads leading up to them due to the cold air moving around below them.  Hammock campers without some type of bottom insulation often get woken up in the middle of the night by "cold spots" beneath them. 
Now you don't have to get an underquilt, some hammock campers will use a sleeping pad, but if you're going to hammock camp, you absolutely want some type of bottom insulation, and an underquilt is the way to go.  Good ones are lightweight, pack down small, and don't take up a lot of space in your pack.  The same goes for rain flies.  But when you add all of these components together-- add up their size, add up their cost, add up their pack volume-- you will find that there is little difference in size, cost or volume savings with hammocks vs ultralight tents.  Which makes the decision about whether to go with a hammock or tent more about personal preference.
I don't want to get too far into it, but there are many other pros and cons to each type of sleep system.  There are some situations where I think a hammock is the way to go, others where a tent is the better option.  But if I had to choose only one, I'd go with a tent.  Why?  Because I can set up a tent pretty much anywhere in the world.  You can't hang a hammock where there are no trees or the trees are too far apart, or too close together, or too small. 
Marmot Limelight 2P
My first backpacking trip to fly fish for trout, I carried a 50lb, 10-man eureka tent about a mile into where my basecamp was going to be in the Adirondacks in upstate NY.  I basically had to make one trip in just with the tent, and a couple more for the rest of my gear.  My backpacking days were pretty much put on hold until I could afford some lighter/smaller gear, and that gear search started with my shelter. 
One of the first things you want to consider when choosing a shelter is how many people are going to be sleeping in it?  For me, the answer was just myself 90-percent of the time, but maybe every now and then I might be able to convince my wife or one of the kids-- or maybe a friend-- to join me; so I was looking for something that could sleep two people. 
Now as anyone who has ever purchased a tent knows, two man tents are usually one man tents, three man tents are ok for two men, and so forth.  Only once I started looking at the cost for lightweight or ultralight two man tents, I couldn't afford any of "the good ones" that all the cool thru-hikers were using. 
The first backpacking tent I bought is still my daily driver, a Marmot Limelight 2P.  To my car camping friends, its a Cadillac.  To backpackers, its a Chevy Malibu-- maybe more of an Impala.  Its a little heavy (5lbs 2oz), and would be nice if it could pack down smaller, but, I got it on sale with free shipping for $150 at (Regular price is currently $199) and would have had to spend at least twice that much for something like a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.   
I like the straight side walls of the Limelight, and its a true two person tent.  My son is man-sized now and we both fit in there with room to spare.  It has dual doors so if one of us has to get out to take a piss in the middle of the night, we can do it without crawling over the other guy.  The dual vestibules are nice, too, and plenty big enough to use as storage for stuff like boots or a pack.  It is freestanding, meaning it can be set up without being staked down, which will come in handy when I'm in the Adirondacks or western UP and possibly need to camp on bedrock.  Because its freestanding, I can leave the tent part at home and just camp under the fly which is a huge weight reduction that I'm not accounting for here-- but not recommended in tick country.  The weight isn't a big deal with two guys, you just split it up into two packs and its like carrying nothing at all.
I think given the option, I'd make the same buying decision again.  But if I cut cost out of the purchasing decision, I'd go with the Nemo Dagger 2-person which currently retails for about $400.  The Dagger has a lot in common with the Limelight and the Copper Spur, kind of getting the best of all worlds.  It only weighs a smidge over 3lbs.  Its a great tent, and much tougher than other tents in its weight range, and backpackers might give me grief for this, but tough means a little more to backpacking anglers and hunters than someone thruhiking. 
My future shelter plans are to get all of the mileage I can out of the Limelight, but when it comes time to purchase another tent, I will get something like the Seek Outside Cimarron w/ Stove.  The Cimmaron is a 4-person tarp/tee-pee style tent that sleeps 4 without the stove, two with.  The crazy thing is, even with the stove, the Cimmaron only weighs 6lbs 2oz!  Basically about the same as my Limelight.  Its pricey, though-- currently at $824.

Sleeping Bags/Quilts

For backpacking, a sleeping bag is one of those items where you can really cut some weight and save some available pack volume.  I can't stress enough here how much you want a bag that packs down small.  Unless you are lashing it to the outside of your pack, your standard run of the mill Coleman sleeping bag is not going to cut it, you just don't have the room. 
That doesn't mean you need to spend big bucks, my first backpacking bag was a Suisse Sport Adventurer Mummy Bag off of Amazon.  I'm 6' tall, have a fairly wide chest, and I fit in that bag comfortably, yet it packs down to roughly the size of a volleyball and only costs about $40.  I still have that bag, and it serves its purpose, but I'm not a big fan of mummy bags so I upgraded to a Quilt. 
Quilts are basically just that, a quilted blanket filled with some type of insulation-- typically down.  Most have some type of footbox for you to tuck your feet into. 
After reading online reviews for what felt like months, I narrowed my list down to the Enlightened Equipment Revelation and Enigma, ultimately deciding to go with the Engima to save a little weight over the Revelation. My quilt specs are below.  I really like how the Enlightened Equipment quilts have baffles that run vertically instead of horizontally all the way up the bag.  That keeps your insulation where its supposed to be, instead of "falling" to the sides of the bag while you sleep.
 (Down Type (DownTek Treated): 850 fill, Temperature: 30°F (-1°C), Length: Regular - 6', Width: Wide - 58", Outside Fabric Options: Black 10D, Inside Fabric Color: Charcoal 10D) 

Being a bigger guy, I was happy I went with the wide version. I went with a 30-degree rating. I'm not a warm or a cold sleeper, but feel I'm somewhere in the middle. So far I've slept with it down to the low 20's and stayed comfortably warm (wearing a baselayer while sleeping). I think I could comfortably get down into the high teens. On warmer nights, I've had it with night time lows as high as the mid-60's and didn't need to uncover or anything like that due to overheating as I used it as more of a blanket than a bag.

One thing I kind of lucked into was going with a black exterior/charcoal interior. When the sun comes up in the morning and you aren't ready to get up, you just tuck your head inside the quilt (no problem with my height) and its pitch black again.

Weight (~16oz) and pack size wise, this thing packs down about as small as you can get- maybe half a volleyball.  I can't see myself ever going back to a mummy or traditional sleeping bag.

Sleeping Pads
Sure, you can just sleep on the ground or your tent floor, but you will be uncomfortable and probably cold as the ground absorbs your body heat, and that's where a sleeping pad comes in. 
I have the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite, which weighs a whopping 12-ounces.  It has an R (insulation) value of 3.2, which is pretty good for a 3-season pad and the reason I am able to get by with a 30-degree quilt at colder temps.  I have the regular size, which I thought I'd be rolling off of all the time when I first saw how big it was, but its pretty comfortable and I rarely roll off the side while sleeping.    It does tend to make a "crinkley" sounds when you roll around which is probably the only con I have for it.
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite
Another honorable mention here is the Klymit Static V, which costs less than half of the NeoAir, packs down just as small, and weighs only 18oz.  The only con of the Klymit is the R-value is much lower, coming in at 1.3.  I have one of these, too, for a backup or my wife/son to use and its also a pretty comfortable pad. 
Backpacking Pillows
So pillows aren't really a requirement, but I need my beauty sleep and wadding up some of my clothes or using my arm or sleeping pad as a pillow just isn't going to cut it.  I went with the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow which is wicked comfortable, packs down smaller than your fist, and weighs in at just 4-ounces. 
Base Weight So Far
So with my 5.1-pound pack, a 5-pound tent, 16-ounce quilt, 12-ounce sleeping pad and 4-ounce pillow my total pack weight is sitting at 12.1-pounds.  That's not ultralight backpacker class weight, by any means, but its close, and pretty light for hunting and fishing.  I gain a couple/few pounds by having a hunting pack, and I am gaining two or three pounds by having a heavier shelter, but I'm ok with that as I like the pack and shelter I have and comfort is just as important as weight on some things.   
My goal is to be under 40-pounds with everything including fishing gear (adds a ton of weight that normal backpackers don't have to worry about), food and water.  For hunting, I'm not sure yet where I want my pack weight to be, but I'm guessing under 50lbs with my bow/arrows, etc. 
In Part III, we'll talk about all the other backpacking/survival stuff that goes in my pack to get us up to that 40-pound mark. 

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