Home › Forums › Campfire › Editor’s Roundtable › Mountain SuperUltraLight Backpacking – Going SUL in the Mountains with Adequate Shelter, Insulation, and Rain Protection. Part 2A: Selecting the Lightest, Most Functional Gear – Backpack, Shelter, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad
May 15, 2013 at 6:49 am #1302945
@maiaLocale: Rocky MountainsMay 15, 2013 at 8:17 am #1986313
Your list of sleeping pads is missing the Nemo Zor Short. It's an excellent alternative to the options you have listed.
48", ~2.5 R-Value and 10oz (9.1oz on my scale!) – more comfortable than CCF, but not as noisy/bouncy as an air mattress, and isn't as subject to convection losses as an air mattress is, which I've found to be important in exposed colder air temperatures that one finds in the mountains.
For backpacks, I'd also entertain the idea of listing the MLD Newt and ZPacks Zero.
Also, I think a 20 degree bag is a worth looking at for Mountain SUL. It'll enable you to do 3-season backpacking in some situations where you wouldn't be able to otherwise. I wouldn't necessarily review 20 degree bags, but at least mention that a 20 degree bag might be worth looking at, over a 30 degree bag, due to versatility.May 15, 2013 at 8:27 am #1986314
A 20 degree bag is also more likely to be needed by female backpackers.May 15, 2013 at 9:47 am #1986332
I often use a dual bivy bag made by Exped that weighs 13 oz.. I set it up with a stick or trekking pole to give good ventilation for one as a shelter. It also provides rain/wind protection, a bivy bag for two (if necessary), a bothy bag big enough for three in a storm, a ground sheet, water collector,and other. It saves about a pound by replacing my tarp, pack liner, rain wear, bivy bag, ground cloth and wind protection. It is large enough and ventilated well enough that condensation has not been a problem.May 15, 2013 at 10:15 am #1986350
@cameronLocale: Idaho Falls
Several things push me out of the SUL or even M-SUL weight on longer trips. One is the pack. On shorter trips I can us a SUL pack but on longer trips I just need a bit more space and a pack that can carry weight better. So for the CT I ended up jumping from an 11oz MYOG pack to a 32 oz pack.
My perfect SUL pack for long trips would be a MLD Burn with the following changes
-Better hipbelt. The current hipbelt works to a point but the load pulls back on your shoulders because the hipbelt is soft and thin. I'd make the hipbelt about three inches wide, with very thin padding and two buckles (similar to the style used on McHale packs). A wider hipbelt would help lock the pack into your lower back.
-Better compression. The compression would not just be to make the pack smaller but to hold the load firmly against the pad for a better "virtual frame"
-Change 210 Denier Dyneema for 140 Denier or Hybrid Cuben
I think with these changes you could keep the Burn fairly light but enable it to carry enough weight to be practical for longer trips.May 15, 2013 at 10:43 am #1986358
…May 15, 2013 at 10:52 am #1986362
@cameronLocale: Idaho Falls
You can get under 8oz with a Zpacks Zero.May 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm #1986411
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Will, A really excelent review of SUL gear. I use a Murmur but my bag is a bit heavy at 1#11. I use a taped together NightLite pad, though Gossamer Gear no longer sells the torso length. I was relativly unimpressed with the Klymit Inertia, I toss and turn too much.
Thanks for a great overview!May 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm #1986414
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Will, one thing you don't mention with sleeping bags is that for those of us who are cold sleepers (many, though not all, of us in that category are female), a bag rated under EN13537 testing at 30 degrees F for the "lower limit" is more like a 38*F bag (the "comfort" level). That means that those of us in this category really do need a 20* F sleeping bag.
When I first started lightening up (8 years ago now), I bought a 32*F bag (Marmot Hydrogen) since everything I read stated, as you do, that a 30* bag bag is fine, adding extra clothing if it gets below freezing. I soon noticed that I started having to add more clothing layers when the temp got under 40*F. By the time the temp got to 32*F, I was shivering even with all my extra clothing on. Interestingly, once Marmot started using the EN13537 ratings, the "comfort" level for the Hydrogen was 38*F while the "lower limit" was 32*.
The same is true of my current Western Mountaineering Ultralite, except that the extra clothes start to go on at 28*F (which, I've since found, is the EN13537 "comfort" level for that bag as listed on UK websites) while I can (with a warm enough sleeping pad) manage 17*F with everything on including a vapor barrier suit. That's the "lower limit" for that bag as listed on UK websites. It appears that the EN13537 "comfort" level is accurate for the sleeping bag I need, and that rating is about 8-9*F higher than the "lower limit" level. For me, the "lower limit" is the level at which I'm still warm, just barely, with all my warm clothing on including a vapor barrier (non-breathable rain gear). I've often seen high-altitude temps go down into the teens even in early to mid August in places like Wyoming's Wind Rivers, where in many places it's a long, long slog to get below timberline. Of course beyond mid-September, such nighttime temps are frequent, here in the Cascade Range below timberline.
Weight-wise, the extra insulation needed for a warmer sleeping bag weighs less than the additional weight of additional insulating clothing. The warmer bag just seems to me a more efficient way to provide the additional nighttime warmth I need!
I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one lamenting the demise of KookaBay. I just hope the lovely pad I have from them (3.5 inches thick, R5 insulation, 12.9 oz.) holds up a few more years! Since I can't get comfortable on a NeoAir (its horizontal baffles "buck me off" every time I roll over), if my KookaBay pad dies I'll have to go to Exped at several ounces more. KookaBay filled a need for a light, warm, cushy pad that nobody else seems to want to meet.May 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm #1986418
A lot of people seem pretty happy with quilts down to freezing or lower.
Why do you recommend a 30F mummy bag over a 30F quilt?
Is that a general preference, or is there something in the nature of mountain usage that makes you more inclined to use a bag?May 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm #1986426
For me, I've found that around 30 degrees, above treeline, that a quilt just isn't warm enough, even when wrapped around your body. Any slight movement will invite cold air in, even if it's tucked underneath your body (no drafts, in the traditional sense). For me, quilts work great down to the 40s/upper 30s in mountain environments. If I'm below treeline and in a well-protected campsite, I can get away with them at 30 degrees.
A bivy fixes that problem, but that's a good amount of extra weight, even when compared to the weight difference of a sleeping bag vs. quilt. It's also an extra hassle – I prefer simplicity. They're also not as comfortable to sleep in (though most, including myself, manage ok).May 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm #1986427
I have had the same experience. Rather than use a bivy to contend with drafts, I simply put the additional 8 oz into a warmer (and wide) sleeping bag.May 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm #1986441
So it's about keeping the wind out of the sleep system? For the quilt to suit you at 30F you need a sheltered site, or more protection (tarp + bivy, Hilleberg Akto, whatever)?May 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm #1986477
Sort of, it's also about how in colder temperatures, even the most imperceptible little draft feels REALLY cold, and really sucks the heat out in an instant. I don't like quilts at all, anywhere, when temperatures reach around 20 degrees.
But yes, alpine wind sucks a lot of warmth out of quilts, and a sleeping bag is the lightest and simplest way to solve the problem, at least for me. ZPacks being the obvious choice, here, as it's even lighter than most (all?) quilts for the temperature ratings (which I've found accurate).
I also prefer the hoodless style for several reasons:
1) I can bring head insulation to suit my needs.
2) When you turn in your bag, the separate hood turns with you.
3) The hood doesn't get in the way if you want to use it as a quilt (i.e. starting out the night when it's warmer).
4) The hood can double as a hood for a hoodless jacket (saving weight – only one hood).
Another feature I've liked about the ZPacks bags: get a draft tube, and use the zipper as a top-zipper. It makes it really easy to get in and out of the bag. Way easier than any other bag I've ever owned. You can also rotate the zipper to underneath you, if you find you need a stronger seal for really cold and windy nights.May 15, 2013 at 4:18 pm #1986494
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
I understand that the conventional wisdom is against quilts for below freezing, and I have no desire to argue against those of you who find them unsuitable at those temperatures.
All I can say, however, is that I have yet to bottom out the temperatures at which I prefer quilts to bags. I've taken a quilt into the low teens (F), and despite being the kind of sleeper who tosses and turns a lot in the night, the drafts simply don't bother me. Even more, now that I've tailored the bungee system on my quilt and the way it wraps around me, I haven't had any problems with drafts at all. It's spring now here, so more testing in colder temps is warranted, but I'm optimistic about what I've worked out.
For those of you that prefer bags, I get the preference. I think it's just worth mentioning that it is possible to make quilts work into lower temperatures as well. They're not as foolproof, but I still prefer the tradeoffs inherent in such a system.May 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm #1986568
> For those of you that prefer bags, I get the preference. I think
> it's just worth mentioning that it is possible to make quilts work
> into lower temperatures as well. They're not as foolproof, but I
> still prefer the tradeoffs inherent in such a system.
I prefer something foolproof when I'm trying to sleep. I think it has more to do with the person using the quilt, than the actual quilt, itself (as long as it's sufficiently wide enough).May 15, 2013 at 7:35 pm #1986587
Awesome aarticle – I really appreciate the thought and work you put into this and am looking forward to the next installment.May 16, 2013 at 12:40 am #1986667
@sparticusLocale: Atlantic Canada
“I understand that the conventional wisdom is against quilts for below freezing, and I have no desire to argue against those of you who find them unsuitable at those temperatures.”
I’m not sure that it is ‘conventional wisdom’, but rather a personal choice by some. Like you Clayton, I have yet to find the lower comfort level for quilts. This year my son, using a golite 20 and I using a JRB similarly rated, had one night get down to 7 F in the Scottish Highlands. My son had no issues as a warm sleeper, while I had to put on all my insulation as a cold sleeper, but we were fine.
"I think it's just worth mentioning that it is possible to make quilts work into lower temperatures as well"
+1May 16, 2013 at 4:34 am #1986684
Brian Lindahl wrote: "I also prefer the hoodless style for several reasons: […]"
The separation of headgear is one of the two big things that got me interested in quilts, the other being flexibility when it's too warm to sleep in the bag but not warm enough to sleep on the bag. The ZPacks bags do look like the perfect design for me, but they're about twice the price of an Enlightened Equipment seconds quilt.
It's odd, I'm so used to the idea of "tarp + bivy" as a unit that I didn't even notice the article was leaving out bivy bags until someone said so in the comments. I just figured they'd be in a later section or something. I guess that's what puts the "S" in "MSUL".
I suppose if you're in significant wind with no second skin (bivy or solid tent inner), it might be worth thinking about bag fabrics you'd find on a wind shell. E.g. Rab have their Neutrino Endurance range, or PhD their DriShell option.
Alas, I have no idea where I stand on this quilt vs bag preference thing. Maybe I can try my summer bag zipped and unzipped on a borderline night, and see if anything strikes me…May 16, 2013 at 6:32 am #1986696
@johnnyh88Locale: The SouthWest
Is a polycro tarp really strong enough to be considered part of Mountain-SUL gear? How many times could such a tarp be packed, unpacked, and used before needing to be thrown away? It might make a really good "kitchen tarp", but I couldn't imagine relying on something made of polycro as my main shelter in the mountains. Maybe I'm wrong here.May 16, 2013 at 7:28 am #1986715
@kbugLocale: NW New Mexico
I just received this Z-pack Zero in extra-small size. I chose the mesh pocket, roll-top closure, and got the 2.9 oz/yd cuben-hybrid material.
Base weight is around 6.5 pounds with:
-Foster can stove system from GOLD
-Rain top and bottoms (marmot verylight fabric?)
-11×8' Hex shaped JRB spinaker tarp (big tarp provides tons of coverage for 1)
-Groundhog and Ti-shepard stakes (6) and 50' spectra line (bear bag)
-Polycorp ground cloth (used as burrito roll bivy in the rare circumstance with moisture blowing through the tarp.)
-Med Neo Air
-45 degree-ish 600-down topbag
-Patagonia down sweater with hood.
-2 liter platy and 500ml common plastic waterbottle w/ shoulder strap holster
-Extensive first-aid/little stuff bag
The backpack is new but I've used this kit in the high country of NM/sw Co for a while, including snow. With the gear there's only room for food up to about 3 days in this extra-small size backpack. I generally wear ibex hoodie indie and windpants for the duration of the trip.May 16, 2013 at 9:36 am #1986772
…May 16, 2013 at 9:55 am #1986782
The pad will fit in but you won't have a lot of room for your other stuff. I would consider a system to strap it outside the pack.May 16, 2013 at 10:05 am #1986789
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I have used 1/2" and 3/4" (GG NightLite) thick pads folded in thirds with my small Zero. Perhaps this information will help you measure your pad. Sometimes I take a rolled 1/8" foam pad to go under my NeoAir — which means I am not using any kind of a frame sheet.
The only options I have is the sleeping pad holster (which is often left at home) and the water bottle pockets.
IMO, this is simply a stuff sack with straps, so I don't care for the other options. I use this pack a lot for weekend trips and it does a good job.May 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm #1986941
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I have a WM Megalite due to my wider shoulders. I had it overfillled by WM with an extra ounce of 800 fill down. It was easily a 30 F. bag before.
Now in overfilled mode it's likely good to about 25 F. with my Thermarest ProLite pad. The ProLite is not UL but my LW pad for a good night's sleep.
And with light poly long johns and an Eddie Bauer down sweater it is probably good to 15 F. without my down mummy-shaped "topper".
Yes, it's heavier than a Summerlite but that was necessary for a proper fit. And one overfill extra ounce for the warmth is not a bad trade-off. (I've seen August nights on the PCT in the high valley south of Olancha Peak that were 24 F . and 16 F.)
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