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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Strong/Lukewarm Feelings about Sleeping Bags and Sleeping Bag Pads

Coleman Taos "Extreme Weather" Sleeping Bag.  Extreme weather....?

Sleeping Bags

I know even less about sleeping bags than I do about pads.  But I do know this: in San Diego we hardly ever need cold weather bags.  Even during our so-called winter... in the mountains, no less... your basic family vacation-style sleeping bag is generally adequate.  I've even slept when it was snowing in a bag from Target: it was warm in the bag but god forbid you let the cold air in; it was freezing!  Still, as long as you kept the bag cinched up it was fine.

During our winter months I bring a sleeping bag and a liner - a cheap one from Target - and inside the tent I'm perfectly warm and comfortable.  So comfortable that if I wake up during the night it takes a second or two to orient myself and realize I'm not in my bedroom.

After a lot of research where I balanced the need for a decent bag against a reluctance to spend a lot of money, I bought the Coleman Taos "Extreme Weather" bag. I paid around $30.00 for it.  Yeah, I wouldn't trust it to keep me warm in any actual extreme weather, but for San Diego County it has served its purpose well.

Some product reviewers comment that you shouldn't rely on it for temperatures below the 30s.  Well, I think combined with the liner it would prove adequate down to the mid-30s, but I can't vouch for temperatures lower than that.

Other product reviewers complain that it is difficult to put back into its stuff sack.  I just flat out don't understand this complaint.  I roll the bag not especially tightly and with a little patience I have absolutely no problem getting it back in.  Every time I push this bag into its stuff sack I think, "Like a snake eating its lunch" the way it eventually swallows the whole bag.  You just have to be persistent.

The stuff sack also has a fabric "handle" on the opposite end for ease in carrying the bag.  I think that's a nice touch.  Coleman put a little thought into this product.

In my experience the zipper is heavy duty. Zipper tabs are both inside and outside the bag and there is a nice Velcro closing tab to keep the zipper secured when fully zipped.

There is a draw string for pulling the hood tight although I haven't had to use that as yet.  In theory you could pack a pillow in that hood and it won't slide out away from your head during the night. Nice feature... although I place my camp pillow on top of my clothing stuff sack so the "pillow in hood" theory doesn't do anything for me.

I guess the real issue is: can a bag costing so little truly be considered a quality piece of camping gear?  After all, experienced backpackers pay hundreds for sleeping bags.  Well, I haven't had any problems with the Coleman Taos.  I find it to be adequate for my purposes.

Score: This bag works for me; might not work for you.  I'm lukewarm about this sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag Pads

In an earlier post I emphasized that in conjunction with your sleeping bag you should also use a ground pad.  The pad is indispensable for insulating yourself and the bag. It forms a very real barrier against creeping ground coldness.

The next time you're out camping with a pad try this simple experiment: during the wee hours of the morning, say around 3:00 am, place your hand on the tent floor.  Now lift that hand and place that hand on the pad.  See how the coldness of the ground is defeated by the sleeping bag pad?  Oh, yes, it's true.

There are a lot of brands of sleeping bag pads to choose from... from the very simple and inexpensive ones available from Wal-Mart to the more elaborate ones available from a place like REI.  When I researched pads I wound up purchasing one at REI.  The pad I purchased is the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest

The Ridge Rest I purchased is an older model no longer being produced.  The model referenced above looks very similar but has incorporated improvements over the original.

Because of the ridges (hence the name: Ridge Rest) it's a bit thicker than the pads you might be familiar with, resulting in a roll size that eats up a bit of rear rack space.  I roll mine and secure it like so:

I had meant to use one long piece of string and loop it in 3 places but I can't find my long piece of string.  Dammit!  So I tie it in the middle with a short piece of string and wrap rubber bands over the 2 ends.  Even though it rolls nice and tight it is bulky.  Considering that I position the pad, the sleeping bag, and the tarp on my rear rack, rack space gets tight.

Thus far the Ridge Rest has served me well.  In spite of its bulk it weighs virtually nothing. It forms an excellent barrier against the cold ground.  And although when you first lay it out the ends want to roll, in short order it stays flat.  It's a great piece of camping gear for tent campers.

Other than the bulk I have zero complaints about the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Runner.  I highly recommend it.

Score: I feel strongly about this sleeping bag pad!

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