My new bed.
Rounding out my Big 3 search is my sleep system. This includes a sleeping bag, sleeping pad and pillow. The latest backpacker debate in sleeping insulation is a sleeping bag versus a sleeping quilt. I’ll break these down below. Inflatable sleeping pads continue to get lighter with numerous options weighing 1 pound or even less. A pillow is optional for some, but not for me. Weighing only two to four ounces and compressed to fit in the palm of your hand, a pillow is worth it.
Sleeping Bags vs. Sleeping Quilts
Sleeping bags are the tried and true backpacker’s bedding. Mummy bags are warmer and more space efficient than a rectangular sleeping bag. They also can make you feel a little too restricted if you like to splay out when you sleep.
Sleeping quilts are a down filled blanket specifically designed for backpacking. The concept is that down only keeps you warm when it is fluffed up and trapping warmed air. All the down that you are lying on in a normal sleeping bag is being compressed and not providing insulation. The quilt removes the volume and weight of the part of the sleeping bag you would normally be lying on top of.
I do not like the idea of sleeping directly on my sleeping pad. I prefer the cocoon feeling of the sleeping bag, rather than worrying about a draft if I kick a quilt off of me by accident when it is freezing out.
I purchased a REI Co-op Igneo 17 Sleeping Bag before our JMT hike in 2018. This sleeping bag was my favorite piece of gear on the JMT. Maybe any sleeping bag would have been my favorite piece of gear because I was so exhausted every night. This bag kept me so comfortable and warm every night, even when the temperatures dipped to freezing. If I was going to buy a new sleeping bag, this one would still be in my top three choices. I plan on using this sleeping bag for my PCT 2021 hike. If I was shopping for a new sleeping bag or quilt, below are my top three.
Top 3 Sleeping Bags / Quilts
If the lightest possible gear is your priority, then you can’t beat a quilt. They simply use less materials, so they weigh less than sleeping bags. If tempted to switch to a quilt style sleep system, I would go with either Enlightened Equipment’s Revelation or Enigma quilts. Both come in ready made and custom variations. The Revelation can be used as a true quilt or converted to a sleeping bag with the drawstring footbox, and a quarter length zipper. The Enigma has a sewn footbox at the bottom, and since there is no drawstring closure or zipper, it is even lighter than the Revelation. The customization options are amazing. You can choose the down type and temperature rating, length, width, draft collar and colors your heart desires. +1 point Enlightened Equipment
You can read about Western Mountaineering’s purposeful design features in their sleeping bags here. They sound great! I can personally vouch for my Igneo 17 bag, and it made me smile every night when it was time to crawl into my tent. +1 point REI Co-op
A note about sleeping bag temperature ratings: The temperature rating for men’s sleeping bags is the lower limit. Meaning add 10 degrees to the temperature rating, and that is the comfortable temperature to sleep in that bag. At the lower limit you can assume you will need to sleep with warm clothing layers on to be comfortable at the lower limit. Women’s sleeping bags typically list the actual comfort rating.
The REI Co-op Igneo 17 is the best value sleeping bag I think you can buy right now. For the comfort, warmth and weight, this sleeping bag is awesome. I got it on sale too, making it an even better bargain. REI’s Magma line can save you 3 more ounces for a small increase in price. +1 point REI Co-op
A sleeping bag is expensive. It can also last you for years if taken care of correctly. Consider it an investment into your backpacking life on the trail.
The first sleeping pad I ever owned was when I was in college and it looked just like this gem from Walmart. The foam was permanently curled up, and only stayed flat when I was sleeping on it. Over time I slowly upgraded my camping gear and I purchased a Thermarest NeoAir Venture sleeping pad. It’s a great car camping pad, but on the heavy side for a backpacking sleeping pad.
Depending on my budget here are my top three choices for a sleeping pad.
Top 3 Sleeping Pads
I know what you are going to say, “Why isn’t the Thermarest NeoAir XLite on your list? Are you crazy?” Yes, that is one of the top rated and most popular sleeping pads used by long distance hikers. The number one, and maybe only, complaint about that pad is that it sounds like you are sleeping on a giant bag of potato chips. I am a side sleeper and flip flop a lot throughout the night, and do not want to be disturbed by the sound of Ruffles potato chips all night. Mmm...potato chips.
There are some lighter variations of the NEMO and Sea to Summit pads, but their R-values are 1.6 & 1.0 respectively. My previous Thermarest Venture pad had an R-value of 1.8. You pack your fears, and I fear being too cold to sleep. That is why you will see the insulated versions on my list above, for a small weight penalty.
A note about R-value rating of sleeping pads: The good news is as of 2019 there is a standardized test being required by REI, MEC and Thermarest to measure the R-value of sleeping pads they sell. The bad news is that still can’t tell an individual backpacker everything they need to know in putting together an appropriately warm sleep system. But it’s a start. You can dive more into the R-value testing and recommended seasonal ratings at Backpacking Light’s article here.
Superlight, Extralight, Ultralight, Hyperlight... All these names keep changing as makers are trying to pare down the weight of backpacking gear. Sleeping pads are no exception. The reigning champ is the Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite. If you are 6 feet tall or under, the regular length Uberlite only weighs 8.8 ounces. About half a pound. That is insanely light. I would opt for full comfort with the large size and it still only weighs 12 ounces. +1 point NeoAir Uberlite
The NEMO Tensor Insulated pad is one of the highest hiker rated sleeping pads on Halfway Anywhere’s PCT Hiker Survey for 2019. It’s 3 inches thick and still only weighs 21 ounces in the long-wide size. So thicc. +1 point NEMO Tensor
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated pad was one of the 5 most commonly used sleeping pads on the PCT in 2019 and for good reason. It checks all the boxes; it’s warm, light, uses a bit sturdier fabric, 30D & 40D, and is $20 cheaper than the NEMO, and a lot cheaper than the Uberlite. Here’s the catch. You can find the large Uberlite on sale for $157, cheaper than the Sea to Summit at full price. Boomsauce. + 1 point Sea to Summit, +1 point NeoAir Uberlite
Top 3 Pillows
The Sea to Summit is impressively light at 2.1 ounces making it a very popular choice. In contrast I have only seen one hiker video where they are using the Big Sky Dream Sleeper pillow. I am not sure why the Big Sky isn’t more prevalent. It only weighs 1.6 ounces. I haven’t seen a lighter pillow out there. If you have, please let me know. +1 point Big Sky
I have used the older version of the Trekology pillow and it was comfortable enough. It's as comfortable as you’d expect an inflatable pillow to be. All three of these will be relatively comfortable. +/- 0 points
I think the Big Sky strikes a good balance of cost and weight. It’s $24.95 with a stuff sack and $19.95 without it. The Trekology is $16.97 if you want to save $3. +1 point Trekology, +1 point Big Sky
Note the Big Sky pillow has no lining on the outside, it’s literally just a plastic bubble. I would use my buff as a pillowcase to make it comfortable to sleep on.
Arbitrary Point Totals:
Sleeping Bag / Quilt
Enlightened Equipment Revelation Custom: 1 point
Western Mountaineering Ultralite: 0 points
REI Co-op Igneo 17: 2 points
Nemo Tensor Insulated: 1 point
Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated: 1 point
Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite: 2 points
Trekology ALUFT 2.0: 1 point
Sea to Summit Aeros: 0 points
Big Sky Dream Sleeper: 2 points
Sleep System Winners!
There it is folks. My bed, blanket and pillow for sleeping on the PCT.
What do you think? What changes would you recommend? Has anyone used the NeoAir Uberlite pad on a long distance hike? Did you find it warm enough?
Thank you for reading.
I have no affiliations or sponsors with any of the companies.