2006 Unconventional Sleep Systems Manifesto

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable 2006 Unconventional Sleep Systems Manifesto

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    Carol Crooker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
    William Wright


    “The HOOD, yes, HOOD, goes over my head.”

    Sounds claustrophic to me. Also, what about capturing all the water that you exhale all night long? That can’t be good for temperature control. And I prefer my inhaled air to fresh with minimal amounts of carbon dioxide.

    When I started reading your post I was envisioning a poncho slit toward the head end of the quilt that would allow you to stick your head out and cover your shoulders to prevent head-end drafts. A rollup hood could be installed just above the slit to be deployed when needed.

    John Davis


    Locale: Isle of Man

    Here are a few points which occurred to me while reading the 2006 Unconventional Sleep Systems Manifesto

    1) Mummy bags – is anything really broken? I’m not religious about my RAB Quantum 200. It’s just very comfortable to sleep in, and weighs precious little. Why RAB has added a zip and 200+ grams to the latest model is beyond my understanding.

    2) Why not question layer 2, the sleeping pad? Let’s face it, John Wayne never blew up a Thermarest in any of his Westerns. I was unaware of sleeping pads when I started backpacking in the 60s. In fact, backpacking wasn’t even called backpacking in Britain then, so things have changed. But one thing is still true. You do not need a sleeping pad for sleeping on turf, particularly in summer. Eventually, in the 70s, I became aware of the Karrimat, but didn’t buy one because no need was obvious to me, even though I regularly camped in winter. Things changed when I started sleeping in bothies, to get away from midges and storms. Bothy floors are hard, but that’s not the problem. The real difficulty is caused by their flatness. My torso ends up suspended between my highly compressed shoulder and hip regions. I have slept comfortably on pebbles by the seaside. Hip and shoulder hollows in the gravel distribute the load-bearing chore along my whole torso. Compression is low and sleep is good. Natural hollows are readily available in tussocky grass and it usually possible to find a pair which fit me. Sadly, bothy floors prevent sharing of the load so now I have a range of sleeping pads. (Old Karrimats never die, unlike Thermarests and Ridgerests.) There are a few reasons for not bringing in vegetation to make a mattress, including damage to the environment and ticks.

    In defence of layer 2, I have to say that a short, Prolite Thermarest seems very homely when I’m under a tarp and the whole world outside has turned to mud.

    3) Finally, if you’ve brought the wrong sleeping bag, as I did one January on a Derbyshire moor, put on your waterproofs, over all of your insulating clothing. If it is really cold, your waterproofs will probably be clean and dry so will not damage the sleeping bag. For some reason, waterproofs tend to be quite warm. Clearly this option is unavailable to anyone with a poncho-tarp.

    Brett .


    Locale: CA

    This article is an excelent starting place for a discussion of comparative sleep systems. I wanted to share my experience with Montbell’s Super Stretch system found in their UL Down Hugger mummy bag series, which solves many of the disadvantages other bags had over quilts, as mentioned in the article. Anyone can research this online, but basically the SS inner baffle hugs the body lightly eliminating dead air space, and the independent outer baffles stretch to allow repositioning, turning “with the bag”, or in my case, sitting upright crosslegged. Try that in any other mummy bag. I’m 5’10”, but I bought the long to allow uncompressed room for my synthetic jacket if necessary. With or without extra layers, due to the SS system, it hugs me like a custom made mummy, but when I need it, it has up to 75.6″(!) of hip circumfrence; a double zipper so I can walk around the campsite with my feet out, and since it is long, the bottom 10″ or so can be stuffed up into the bag and closed off with a drawstring. This gives extra insulation and sort of a pillow for the feet, a common pressure point problem for me with previous bags. The 510 gram #7 long is the core of my sleep system and I add a silk liner, gortex bivy, and worn clothing as necessary. I like loaning my “UL” SS bags to friends and hearing their amazement. Sorry if this sounds like a biased rant; but I wish someone had told me about these bags years ago. BTW, my tent is a 2 person Sierra Lightning at 2lbs per person carried weight and I use a Thermarest #3. At the edge of the shoulder seasons I can substitute my #3 long for the #7 long and get another 10’C out of my system.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    OK, the Australian winter has been and gone. How did we go?

    We took our 550 g summer bags/quilts to the SNOW. A bit cool maybe? Obviously, so I made up another quilt to cover my wife and me.

    It was designed as a quilt/topbag. That is, it had plain fabric on the underside up to about the knees (top bag style), but was a quilt above that. The plain fabric tucked under the lower end of our two mats, which were taped together.

    I made the shell with Pertex Microlight – Quantum would have been lighter, but I didn’t have any. The shell weighed about 325 g. I had 600 g of 800 loft down put in it.

    Now for the fiendishly cunning bit. My wife and I each used our summer bags, and we put this winter quilt over the top of the bags. My wife prefers to do her bag up as a mummy bag in winter, while I still sleep under my quilt – with it right over my head and just an air hole in front of my face. The winter quilt is long enough that it can go right over our heads if it gets real cold, or it can be pushed down a bit if it isn’t that cold.

    The combination worked wonderfully. We had a wide range of warmth available, lots of room (compared to say the Valandre Mirage!), and the total weight for the three bags was way less than the total weight of our two traditional winter bags. In fact, if you take the 600 g of down in the outer bag plus the 300 g of down in the inner bag, a very crude approximation says the combination rates about 900 g of down. PLUS I had a 60 watt heater inside my bag (my wife, next to me).

    Note one neat thing: the outer bag was under NO tension over the top of us. It was able to fully loft. I made sure of that. And it was light enough that the inner bags under it were also able to loft very well. Any condensation happened on the outer bag. The summer bags stayed quite dry inside.

    However, my solution differs a bit from both the ‘top bag’ and the ‘quilt’ **as described in the article**. I make my quilts WIDER! That way we just don’t have the draft tunnel problems. Frankly, the literal designs shown in the drawings for the top bag and the quilt look totally unacceptable to me: they are just too narrow or skimpy.

    Finally, in response to the question about breathing from under the hood. What do you do at home when it is cold? Me, I pull the quilt over my head. No trouble there at home. And I have no trouble doing this in the snow. The space under the hood stays warm enough that the condensation happens somewhere else – usually on the inside of the inner tent.

    Hey guys, theorise all you want. This system *works* for me and my wife, in the snow.

    Mandy Kent


    Locale: rural New England

    Excellent discussion; article and follow-up comments… Eric Levine mentioned familiarity with Jack Stephenson's products. Jack and a few others have to fall into a very special category in terms of thinking outside the box. And they've been at it since the late 50's/early 60's. All of a sudden people have discovered filling air mattresses with insulation, when Jack and his wife began doing that many years ago. I think one of the things that may have relegated Stephenson's Warmlite to the category of lunatic fringe is the nudity in his catalog – just one of Jack's quirks; he's one of a kind. (I'll never forget my shock when I opened his catalog 'way back in the 70's, having sent for it because another backpacker recommended the products but failed to explain that quirk. Nowadays I don't even think about that aspect, though.)

    You can go to his website – – and view the products and his *opinionated, passionate, maddeningly on-the-mark* commentary. You'll see the whole sleep system which long ago recognized that we compress the down we sleep on, and has overlapping quilt tops for varying temperatures as well as the outstanding tents (for which he is best known), vapor barrier clothing and a few other products. His son William runs the company today. It may be a niche market; in my mind it's one I'm thankful has continued to exist. The products are in the category of "expensive but so worth it". To me a discussion of unconventional sleep systems is incomplete without inclusion of Stephenson's Warmlite products and their history.

    Nope, I don't work for them – am just a fellow think-outside-the-box New Englander! Cheers to all from Mandy.

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