Last year I made some small steps in upgrading my sleeping gear. The first was a purchase of a ALPS Razor “sleeping bag liner”… This is the orange and black item above. It is essentially a super lightweight, fleece sleeping bag, and is perfect for summer night sleeping, whether used open as a quilt or closed as a bag. It came in at just over a pound and a half and stuffs down to the size of a tomato juice can.
The camo piece is a mil-spec, Gore-Tex Bivy bag. It is part of a USDoD tri-system that includes a winter-weight down bag, and a secondary bag/liner. Altogether they make for a military grade, but very heavy, sleeping system. By itself, the bivy is really nice. Waterproof, breathable, tear-resistant… I thought it was a great alternative to actually carrying anything in the way of a tent [especially since my style of camping involves avoiding inclement weather if it all possible]. The final add-in was the blue 5 x 7 tarp from WallyWorld. This is widely regarded as the best $10 tarp you can find. It certainly doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the highend, catenary-cut tarps, but it is coming in at a fraction of the price.
After I got these units, my forum scanning introduced me to the Ozark Trails 250 32° ultra-lightweight down bag that could sometimes be found down at WallyWorld. Because of that “sometimes”, it took me a couple of months to actually find one. However, when I did, it was on red tag clearance and only cost me $59. [They now appears to have gone completely out of stock**, but it would never hurt to keep looking… This is a great bag for under a hundred dollars ]. Chinese made, 90% duck down, nice zip, snug hoodie, it gives about 1 1/2 inches of loft, but even in the upgraded 250 version [some contain less fill and were marketed as a 200] the 32° rating is probably grossly overstated… You’re going to be comfortable to something more like 40 to 45° depending on whether you’re a hot or cold sleeper. Still this is also a very nice bag for the price. I’ve used it quite a number of times now, down into 40° weather, and been very comfortable. It comes with an included compression sack and stuffs down even smaller than the ALPs.
The advantage to the system as it let’s me “mix-and-match”. Even the bivy works as a sleeping bag alone in mild weather, it can then be paired with either or both of the actual bags, and each of those can be used alone or together depending on this season, and the situation. For early and late season camping I have two different old-fashioned mummy bags that are rated down to 15° and 25°F.
Of course, this year, I have found myself drawn into the wonderful world of hammock camping, so the bivy bag and the little 5 x 7 tarp have become somewhat superfluous. Most people use a tarp that is matched to their hammock length for weather protection. Mine came with one that was specially designed to fit ideally. Now… the latest, and greatest thing in hammock camping is top and “under” quilts… TQs and UQs, that replace the need for a sleeping bag. The thought is that with a sleeping bag the down beneath your body is compressed to zero loft and becomes essentially useless. The UQ is strung under the hanging hammock, and snugged up against your bottom fully lofted. The TQ is gathered at one end to create a foot box just like a regular mummy bag, and is otherwise just used as a blanket or regular quilt. Some people have multiple sets of quilts to accommodate seasonal needs. For me this was just too expensive… I have been using the opened-out ALPs and the OT250, and been completely satisfied in my new AMOK Draumr hammock and tarp setup.
The final piece above is more directly related to hammock camping. A couple of weeks ago someone discovered that Costco was marketing a down throw for $19.95, that with a little DIY skill could be converted into a decent quilt of either kind. People have been going crazy grabbing them up and breaking out the thread injectors.
It seemed like too good of a deal to risk missing at that price, so I had an out-of-state friend pick one up for me [there are no Costcos in Maine]. Mine ended up being a dark bronze color they call “Copper”. I just hand-sewed grosgrain loops to the bottom end and ran a piece of micro cord with a cord lock through those to create a second layer TQ that I can use inside the Ozark Trail, or one of my older, standard mummy bags, to grab another 10 or 15°. Best of all, if I pull the cord out, I’m back to having a perfectly nice couch throw.
Patience and creativity has netted me a 5-piece sleep system for a total cost of only $150 [We are going to ignore the exorbitant cost of the AMOK]. This is way less than any decent sleeping bag, and certainly less than any of the TQ/UQ setups available. Plus, I have far more flexibility by pairing things up than I would with any individual, high-priced down bag. My final overnighter of the season is coming up in a couple of weeks, when I go over into the White Mountains of New Hampshire for another hammock hang. As we close in on the date, I will simply pick the setup of bags that seems to be the most efficient for the temperatures forecast.
** I maybe wrong. it appears to still be available mail order... 10/28/15 “unavailable”