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Hiking in the Woods

First Gear Change of 2020: AKA Will I Ever Find a Sleeping Bag that Works?!

Tags: Gear, Sleep System

It is pretty incredible that I have made no changes to my kit so far in 2020. Now, this is more due to not really getting much hiking in at all...but that is starting to change. For years I have struggled to find a good sleeping bag, an issue I thought I solved last year. How wrong I was.

Back when I first moved to Vermont I went through like three bags trying to find one that worked for me, only to face defeat each time, and returning to my two wool blanet system. I am not particularly tall, so a regular length works just fine. The bigger issue is the width. Though I'd never categorize myself as wide, I have always struggled to find a sleeping bag that would go around my upper body comfortably. I usually sleep with the top half of my bag unzipped since I run pretty warm most of the time anyhow, but I do need a bag that can be zipped comfortably for late season excursions.

Prior to last year, I actually used a bag that was a castoff from my wife for car camping, but on the trail it was woefully outclassed by the cold. Last year, I ponied up nearly 250 dollars for the Nemo Steelhead. It seemed plenty wide enough in the store and had these novel vents on top that allows some heat to vent out, a great idea for hot/sweaty beasts like me. It took a few trips, but I quickly realized that this thing was not going to work out.

The first and most obvious problem was that it didn't fit in my pack. I had recently upgraded from a framed pack to an ultralite frameless one. Even with the stuff sack torqued to the max it basically filled the whole pack. Instead of taking it back right then and there though, I hatched a cheap New Englander plan. I reasoned that I only really needed it in very early/late season and I tend to take more with me on those trips anyhow...so I'd just use it with my old pack since it had much more capsity. In hot months I only use a zip up blanket anyhow.

Fall season 2019 came a few months later and I made the switch from my ultralite set-up to my cold weather one. For the most part it worked fine, except for the bag. Basically, the zippers made it impossible to fully close. No matter how I tried closing the bag the zipper would jam near the top. I muddled through for Fall 2019, but knew I would be back to square one this year. I just dropped the Steelhead off for consignment at my local gear shop and with it the hunt begins. Right now, I am leaning toward a quilt. I'll be sure to post when my selection is made.

Hiking In The Age Of Covid

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 my plan for 2020 was to knock out the section of the Long Trail from Appalachian Gap to Brandon Gap which is about 40 miles all in. I also wanted to do a shorter hike at the southern terminus to the base of Stratton Mountain to get a feel for that end of the trail, that would be about 35 miles, but less difficult terrain.

Instead, I'm working from home trying not to go insane. My allergies are going ballistic and the gyms/trails that serve as my source for training to avoid my allergies are all closed. This makes spring build-up super hard. You add this to the fact that until a vaccine is worked out further periodic quarantines are likely. All this makes my path to success much dimmer for 2020.

On top of that, The Green Mountain Club's trail maintenance crews are not considered "essential", so spring work hasn't even started. What this means is that trails will be rough when they do reopen and there will be a lag between the closure being lifted and work being done. I normally shoot for doing a short shake-out section hike on Memorial Day weekend, I think the best I can hope for now is 4th of July, and even that seems aggressive.

For now, I am focusing on getting my step count up, have my bike trainer out, and hope to be in some kind of shape for local trail running by Memorial Day weekend. The other opportunity is to finalize all the draft content I have for this site as well has dialing in on what gear needs to go and/or be replaced with better options. That prep will be posted on this page. That is what I can control, so that is what I am going to focus on. Beyond that, all I can do is hope for the best and good health to everyone.

The Road So Far

I have been hiking since I was a boy. These hikes were primarily day hikes on the many trails that dot Western Massachusetts where I grew up. Occasionally, my friends and I would do an "out and over-niter" where we would hike most of the day, camp where we dropped, and do the reverse the next day.

When I got a bit older my friends and I did what we called rough camping. Where I'm from there is lots of undeveloped land that hasn't been set-up for actual hiking. We'd bring minimal supplies and forage for everything we needed. Bushcraft is probably the closest to what we were doing at the time.

I have always enjoyed spending time in the woods alone or with friends. Both have their own advantages. With friends its an distraction free time to bond and have a good time, alone its a great time to reflect as well as shake of anxiety caused by constant engagement. As I have gotten older and the world has gotten more stressful, I've preferred the alone time more and more.

When I moved to Vermont in 2005, a whole new world of options opened up to me because there are so many maintained trail systems as well as a massive National Forest. I took up trail running and weekend point-to-point hikes filled a lot of my time.

In 2017 I started more methodically hiking the Long Trail. As of the writing of this in the spring of 2020 I have done about 80 miles of the northern half of it. I've deliberately left the final 25 miles of the north end off my section hiking, so I have something new to look forward to when I decided to do a thru-hike. Depending on how 2020 goes in my life, I hope to be in a space to do that thru-hike next fall.

page created 9/20/2019, updated on 6/29/20, 4/21/20