Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sleeping in Tents

When I tell others that we go camping and sleep in tents, I often hear these questions:
What do you sleep on?  
Isn't the ground cold and hard? 
Minnesota is cold all year around at night.
Don't those kids just freeze?!

Our sleeping gear has changed over the years, and at each stage we were pretty satisfied for the most part.

The Pile

For our first camping trips our children slept on piled, inexpensive bed comforters on the tent floor and covered themselves with a couple of polar fleece throw blankets they had each acquired as gifts as toddlers.  We took their bed pillows along for them and away we went!

See that stack on the end of the table?  That huge stack just for two or three children.
See that poor guy thinking, "Where am I going to fit all this back into the van?"
At that time in our camping, that was a good way to go for us.  All the gear was things that we had around anyway.  No extra expense & nothing else to store!  Awesome.

But the drawbacks were two-fold.  The Pile is really bulky.  Those items were well over half of our gear for the trip.  And The Pile is also not very warm.  The comforters' insulating layer is easily compressed.  It's designed to insulate by holding air above the body.  When under the weight of a body, they compress.  When the loft is gone, the insulation is gone, too.  Bummer.

So, we went on to our next plan!

Standard Backpacking Gear

There are lots of foam mats and sleeping bags that are targeted at backpackers. Boasts of light packweights and compact options abound.  When we were first buying these, we went to Cabela's store and compared them ourselves... as best as you can from the store shelf, anyway.

We came home with the version of these available in 2004.  We got two longer ones that could be velcro-ed together for us old parents to use and torso length mats for the children.

Full-body mats are maroon.
Torso mats are blue.
Unrolled and rolled & packed.
Yardstick and two-liter bottle included for size perspective.

These mats are self-inflating, open-cell foam. They were quite light weight and compress to nice, tidy packages.  Very nice pairing with our sleeping bags.

Our Kelty Light Year +45 sleeping bags, purchased at about the same time as our mats, served us very well!  Down-filled and mummy style, it was excellent insulation for all the children.  Even our toddlers did well in these bags.  

Sleeping bag hint - Short people can get lost in the bottoms of their sleeping bags.  This situation will result in midnight muffled cries and someone getting up to rescue the lost child.  A better solution is to use a ponytail holder on the foot end of the sleeping bag.  Customize the length of any bag to fit your shortest campers!

Though I love the materials and washing machine friendly features of these bags, the compact size is what made them most wonderful.  In the photo you see two full-sized mummy bags in their compression packs.  Coming in just about the size of a 2-liter bottle, we could tuck all the bags for our whole family in the little nooks & crannies of the van.  Packing was made so much easier than the days of the pile of blankets.
And now...

You're speaking in past-tense, aren't you?  What's up with that?  Well, just like we've done with our tents, we've changed our choices yet again.  Learning from ultralight backpacking and Ray Jardine, we've started making our own gear and making the adaptations to them that make them just right!   But that's another blog post, too...