Since the goal of this blog is to get people outdoors, I think it is only fitting to do a series of posts on camping for beginners. If there is any specific thing you would like me to write about for this series, feel free to email me via the connect page. This will be the first of a few posts addressing some of the major considerations for people thinking about getting into camping. As the title states, it is all about selecting a sleep system.
There are three major “sleep systems”, or shelters, when it comes to camping/ backpacking. Each of these systems have a vast number of variations, so many I could write a blog solely about the types of sleep systems available. I will keep this post as simple as I can and address each of the three as generally as possible. So let’s dig in.
Arguably the most popular of the three systems, an image of a tent is probably what pops into peoples minds when they hear camping or backpacking. Because it is so popular, it is also one of the most varied pieces of equipment out there- styles include A frame tents, expedition tents, tents set up with hiking poles, tents that fit one person, tents that fit 10 people. The list goes on and on. So let’s look at some of the advantages of using a tent for your system. To start, they are available anywhere that sells outdoor gear. A good one will run you 2-300 dollars, but they can be had for $75 or even $50 if you’re lucky. They will easily shelter you and your gear from the elements at night, and depending on the type, can fit more than just one person. The major downside to tents are their bulk and weight. Most middle ground tents will weigh between one and three pounds, and that’s a lot if you plan on backpacking. They also take time to set up, which can be a problem if you are in an area prone to heavy rains at just a moments notice. Despite their downfalls, I think a tent would be a great option for car camping, or backpacking with a group of people who can split the weight amongst themselves.
The bivy sack
Similar to the tent, a bivy sack is a shelter that while encase your entire body. It’s essentially a waterproof fabric bag that you slip your sleeping bag into, with a small space elevated by a pole at the end for your head. The advantage to using bivy sacks is in their ease of use and compactness. They not only pack small, but the weigh very little. They are much simpler than a tent, setting them up is merely a matter of taking it out and putting your sleeping bag inside. The one thing that keeps me away from this sleep system is the fact that they offer little space for gear storage. I will stay dry when it rains out, but who knows how wet my pack will be come morning. All things considered, the bivy sack is a good option for ultralight backpackers, or people living in drier climates.
A few years ago, it would be hard to come by one of these in the backcountry. But these beautifully versatile pieces of equipment are quickly becoming mainstream, and hammocks are my personal favorite sleep system. Simply put, a hammock is as versatile as your imagination. They are better than the two former systems in that you can hang anywhere you can find anchor points. I’ve personally hung over streams, off the side of a rocky hill, and there are countless other stories of people sleeping in crazy places never before possible. I have spent zero, ZERO, uncomfortable nights in a hammock. Everyone I have talked to say they sleep like babies., hammocks are a swinging cloud of comfort. Made of super lightweight materials, and compacting to the size of a softball make them a great option for backpackers and car campers alike. It is impossible to express how great an option hammocks are in one paragraph, so I encourage you to check out hammock forums and 52 Nights Off Ground for more information.
So that wraps up the first post of this series. If I missed anything, shoot me an email and I will add it to the respective paragraph, with you’re name. Stay tuned for more posts in this series.
-The Urban Outdoorsman
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