Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Sleeping Pad Post

It is about time I added another review of what I am using for lightweight backpacking. Usually it is more interesting to write a review on gear that I really enjoy using, if I am happy using something I am obviously going to be more enthusiastic about reviewing it. However, I am going to go against that tendency for this post.

Shoot, I have already given the punchline before the story but let me back up. I have been on  a quest for the past few years to find the perfect sleeping pad. Maybe it is because I am getting older, I never used to think about it that much, I just used whatever I happened to have on hand. But I find myself really thinking hard about this now because getting a good night sleep seems to be more difficult.

I think we can all agree that a good nights sleep is pretty important. It becomes even more important when putting in long days on the trail. I know that my motivation to keep moving will drop if I am not getting good sleep and good means not only sufficient duration of sleep but also quality.

As a brief recap I have tried a few sleeping pad options over the last couple of years. They fall into 2 categories: inflatable and non-inflatable (closed cell foam). Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The inflatable pads are usually more comfortable and pack up smaller but at the expense of being more delicate and well, expensive. The foam pads are durable and cheap but usually more bulky and not as comfy. But all have failed in one critical area: allowing me to sleep well.

I first started with a Thermarest prolite sized small. It weighs in at 11 ounces, is 1 inch thick and covers an area from my shoulders to my knees. In total I used this pad for around 2 years on and off. I can sleep ok but I find myself tossing and turning a lot. I will wake up 15 or more times in a night to turn over or readjust and it is annoying. If I have a long enough time to sleep then I can usually get enough rest to feel good the next day. But if I have a limited window of sleep time, I need to wake up early or I get to bed late, my sleep is not quite enough. The main problem is that 1 inch is too thin and so my hips and shoulders get sore, which is why I keep waking up to readjust position. I also find the pad material to be somewhat slippery on sil nylon and if there is any slope where I am sleeping I will slowly slide down hill, ending up in a tangled mess.

Prolite sized small on the outside of my pack (at Henry Coe State Park)

In a really enthusiastic and optimistic moment I bought a nightlight torso pad and 1/8" thinlight pad from Gossamer Gear. These are closed cell foam, which I prefer because there is no chance of a puncture. They are also very light weight and pack small. The torso pad weighs in at 4.5 ounces and the thinlight is about 2.5 ounces. So, used together they weigh 7 ounces and the torso pad can fit into the back of my Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack acting as a kind of frame. During rest breaks or in the evening I can use it as a sit pad as well, which I really do think is a great feature. The torso pad just fits my shoulders to hips while the thinlight goes from my shoulders to my ankles. I really wanted to like this combination, I took it out on trip after trip but I just could not get a good nights sleep. If I set up on softer ground, such as pine needles, then it was adequate but on anything hard or rocky, forget it, it sucked. Now I know there are those people that say "You should be more careful where you set up camp, look for those soft areas under trees, ect and then you won't need as soft a pad". Well, in theory that makes sense but in reality it doesn't work out that way. There are times when the only usable site is rocky or hard and there are many times, most of the time actually, where I like to sleep out under the stars. On a grassy meadow this can work fine but there are not that many grassy meadows out there and I don't want to sleep under trees all the time. So, while I tried to make it work and I did like the torso pad, it was just not comfortable enough for me.

Thinlight on left and Torsolight on right (These are 3 years old and have held up very well but are about finished)

My sized small prolite got a leak in it that I have not been able to find and so I was in the market for another pad. I have been eyeing the Thermarest Neoair for some time and have heard the heart warming testimonies of people who have never slept better after getting one. The problem is, they are expensive! Like, really expensive and although they are very light they are also more fragile and so a bit of care must be taken when using them.

Because I am cheap and probably because I have a really poor memory, I decided to go with a Thermarest Prolite again and this time, I convinced myself to go with the extra small. This is basically the same pad as the first one, just smaller and 3 ounces lighter. It weighs in at 8 ounces and covers an area from my shoulders to just below my hips, it is still 1 inch thick. I have been using this in combination with the 1/8" thinlight pad for the past year. It is the best combination so far but I still find myself waking up very often during the night. The one benefit of this is that I remember all my weird dreams but honestly I will trade that for better sleep.

Photo credit: Eric Lundquist

As a side note, I also bought a Thermarest Ridgerest Sol full length closed cell pad for winter camping. I have not actually used that by itself. When I go winter camping I will put my prolite pad over that one on top of the snow. This is actually when I get the best sleep, as long as I am warm I sleep really well with this set up. Unfortunately, it does not pass my lightweight filter as the Ridgerest weighs in at 14 ounces by itself.

Ridgerest Sol on winter camping trip in Yosemite

So, here I am in the same situation 3 years later, out a bunch of money for all these pads and still looking for that perfect pad. It probably doesn't exist but if I were to put it into words it would be: A full length, closed cell foam pad weighing less than 8 ounces that packs up small and allows me to sleep like I do at home. If anyone knows of something like this, please tell me!

I am still eyeing that Thermarest Neoair and I think I am going to pull the trigger. Hopefully, I can borrow one soon to try out, just to make sure that the investment is going to be worth it. I will have to be a little more careful with cleaning my sleeping area before I put it down and using the Gossamer Gear 1/8" thinlight below the neoair should provide some extra protection and help prevent punctures. But, if I really can get a good night sleep, then it will be worth it... right?

The Garden Produceth

The garden is starting to burst. Our basil harvest was massive! Almost more than we could handle, fortunately Wendy was here to help us.

Wendy Watering
We are getting lots of tomatoes, our beets are almost finished, carrots are starting to come on, eggplants and peppers are just starting.

The pepper plants are packed like the post office before christmas:

Although most of my pepper plants are going for quantity, I have one plant that is putting everything it has into one giant pepper.

Going for Biggest Pepper in the Garden prize
Goddess of the Harvest

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sore feet over Sonora Pass

Another weekend has gone by the wayside but I did not let it go to waste. I probably would have but Jack saved me from myself and invited me to join a group trip into Emigrant Wilderness.

I know, another bad map, what can I say I don't have a mapping program

(I stole the map from here)

The theme of the trip was to go as light as possible, you can see the original thread here at backpacking light. Thanks for organizing it Andrew!

I did make an effort to go lighter, I left out half of my clothing, went stoveless, only took one lens. It is really difficult to go really light as a photographer. Even with only one lens, I still had about 3.5 lbs of camera gear. So with 8 lbs of camping stuff and 3.5 lbs camera stuff, I was around 12 lbs. I won't complain, I did notice the difference, I think I am usually around 14 lbs plus food and water.

I drove down to Davids house on Friday night, the plan was to head to the trailhead that evening. However, Jack and I did not get in until close to Midnight, so we slept on the floor.

DAY 1: ~ 16 miles
Unfortunately, David was not feeling well and had to bail, Jack and I left around 8 and reached the trailhead at 11 am. Everybody else had left at that point but we figured we would catch up with them eventually. The day was sunny, temperatures in the upper 70's, really nice for a walk.

Jack enjoying the view
The trailhead is at 9600 feet and we started to ascend right away. We passed a number of PCT hikers heading north as we went south. The trail goes above treeline and we had incredible views in all directions

We had to cross a few patches of snow

The trail went up, then down, then up then down, then up, well you get the idea. Lots of switchbacks but the grade is pretty reasonable so if you go slow and steady, the miles go by.

Gossamer Gear Gorilla on left and Borah Gear pack on right

We were told that there was a stretch of 10 miles where there was not much water so we started out carrying around 2 liters each. However, there really was an abundance. Once I realized this I only carried 1 liter at a time and would camel up at water sources using my titanium cup and steripen. Ryan Jordan would be proud (sorry you need to be a member to view it, worth the investment though).

Watch out for the curves

We could see Eric, Sandor and Kevin ahead of us on the switchbacks. We eventually caught up with them. We spent the night at High Emigrant Lake, a really stunning place. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere.

Modelling my sleeping pad (review to come shortly) Photo Credit: Eric Lundquist
Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of the rest of the gang that day. It was all business setting up camp and getting food ready before I could think about my camera. I did stay up after sunset to get a few night photos.

Milky Way

DAY 2: ~ 13 miles

Sunrise was awesome, I wandered around for an hour or so taking pictures and enjoying the morning.

Group Shot (headnets were nice in the morning, the mosquitoes came out in force)
The next day we headed out cross country to hook up with the trail towards Kennedy Meadows.

It was a really awesome hike, mostly downhill. But my feet definitely were feeling the mileage and the rocks. We made pretty good time and ended up at Kennedy Meadows trailhead at about 2 pm. After cheeseburgers we got a ride back to Sonora Pass and headed home. Back to the grindstone with sore feet but feeling so good.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Oh Mendocino

I had never been to Mendocino. Lori went a couple of years ago and has been raving about it since. For some reason, it didn't register how awesome this place is. Wendy, Lori, Rakesh and I took a couple of days over the 4th of July holiday to check it out.

On the 4th, it is crazy busy so we stayed out of town and explored the woods and coast. The weather was perfect. If I could choose what weather I would like to experience this was it. Upper 60's, light breeze and I was in heaven. The heat of the valley faded like a bad dream.

Of course I have no pictures of the town itself, but it was really nice. Reminded me of the east coast and much of the architecture is in that style. And, it turns out that Murder She Wrote was filmed here as well, all this time I thought it was filmed in Maine.

We hit up some wineries on the way back as well, have I mentioned how much I love California.

Kebabs for dinner

The sisters are happy

Monday, July 8, 2013

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Loop

Man, it was a hot week in Davis. When it gets over 105 I start to melt but fortunately I had an escape plan. It was entirely coincidental but I had booked last week off from work a couple months back with the intentions of joining Jack and Brian on a High Sierra trip. But due to the unexpected but entirely welcome visit from Wendy (Lori's sister) I had to bail on that. However, I did have a couple of days to kill before Wendy arrived so I decided to do a 50 mile loop trip going through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

Please excuse the crappy map

I have wanted to do this trip for a couple of years so I was excited to see what northern Yosemite had to offer. It didn't hurt that I was leaving just as it started to heat up too.

DAY 1: ~ 10 miles

I left on Saturday morning at 5 am and was on trail with my permit by 9:30. I parked in the last spot at the trailhead at White Wolf and headed into the woods. The first couple of miles is fairly flat and at this time of year there were an abundance of flowers and butterflies.

After those first 2 miles the trail decends rapidly down towards Pate Valley. Elevation drop is about 3600 feet with many switchbacks and nice views. I had a brief look over Hetch Hetchy resevoir (the drinking water for San Francisco) as I made my way down.

Hetch Hetchy, the first backpacking trip Lori and I took in Yosemite was down there back in 2009.

The sun was strong and as I descended the air grew hotter. Still, it was nothing compared to the Central Valley and I really enjoyed the hike. After reaching Pate Valley I walked for another couple of miles to find a campsite. The water was too irresistible and I spent a lovely couple of hours resting in the shade and swimming in the river.

I found a great campsite across from the river and was ready to set up my bivy, I propped my backpack upright with my trekking pole as I walked around the site for a few minutes. When I got back to my pack a rattlesnake had decided to coil up underneath. I dont know who was more startled, me or the snake. I am sure I jumped when I heard that rattle.

After leaving the shade of my pack this one coiled up nearby

I decided I didn't want to share my site with the snake so I moved on to another spot.

No snakes here
DAY 2: ~ 15 miles

The next day was way harder than I expected. I guess I didnt pay attention to the elevation profile but I thought it was going to be fairly flat. I was way wrong, the trail climbs back up about 3600 feet to the Glen Aulin camp and my legs were feeling it. On the way I passed a number of waterfalls, which helped to keep me cool.

Despite my protesting legs, it was a nice hike and I enjoyed the day. I arrived at McGee lake in the late afternoon and set up there. The mosquitoes came out in force and I retreated to my bivy sack after a hasty dinner. I didn't leave my sack until morning and the mosquitoes buzzed all night long.

DAY 3: ~ 15 miles

Morning was a mad dash to pack up and get moving as I was swarmed by the hungry mosquitoes. I didn't even stop to eat, within 10 minutes of leaving my bivy sack I hit the trail as fast as I could. As long as I kept moving they had a hard time landing. But there was a cloud of them following me that I could feel everytime my hand swung back. It was miserable and although I wanted to enjoy the lush scenery, I really didn't. I was pushing to gain elevation, I figured they would not be as bad once I got out of the valley.

Trying to bug proof myself
I was really wishing I had a headnet, I didn't so I just kept moving and managed to make pretty good time. After about 6 miles, the trail started to move out of the super wet areas and I was able to break and eat some food in peace. The rest of the day was pretty nice with plenty of small streams to dip my hat into.

There was a brief thunderstorm that came in just as I made it to Ten Lakes. As soon as I had my tarp set up it started to rain but only for 15 minutes. Then the sun came out and it was a lovely afternoon. The mosquitoes were bad again by the lake, it was hard to really relax much but I found they bothered me less when I sat on a rock at the edge of the lake, so I spent a lot of time there.

Dinner was another quick affair and I got into my bivy pretty early.

Day 4: ~ 10 miles

I will admit, the mosquitoes really challenged me, I was definitely ready to get out of the woods after this trip. The last day was through a mix of sub alpine meadow to lush forests. I saw a few deer alongside the trail.

One of the very few mushrooms I saw
Even though it was only a few days, I was really looking forward to getting home and eating well. It was a great trip and although the mosquitoes were bad, the cooler weather and abundance of water was really refreshing. What an amazing place to visit!