Mike's Backpacking Reference


The "bedroom" is your shelter.  

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Tents can add an easy 10oF to your comfort not to mention keep the bugs at bay.   At some point I opted to always carry a tent and now carry a light one person tent (about 3 pounds).   It is easier to find a place to pitch a smaller tent. 

Double Wall vs. Single Wall

I have tried both.   While single wall tents can be inviting I have found I usually end up wet as they don't seem to breath enough.   I warm weather you can pitch a double wall tent without the fly which will be cooler. 

Freestanding vs. not

I lean toward free standing tents as they are easy to move and you can shake them out easily.   Generally you still need to stake out a freestanding tent to avoid having it blow away so some stakes/guy cords are needed . 


I have camped in all seasons.   Generally I have used a 3 season tent.  4 season tents are usually built with heaver materials and internal walls are solid not netting.  This makes them heaver.  For occasional winter camping a 3 season tent will work, but not the super light tents.   Many light weight tents have mesh as an inner wall.   These will be colder and I would not recommend in the snow.

No Tent

Some folks simply sleep out.   For a quick overnight this is probably fine, but a rain storm with no shelter can leave you in danger of hypothermia.    Even overnight dew can leave you wet.  Colin Fletcher used a simple tarp.    I have met folks on the PCT is a rain storm with no tent or tarp.   Not happy people.  Like I have a spare?   Not sure what they were thinking...


Light nylon tarps with ties or grommets can make a suitable shelter and ground sheet.   Early Fletcher books describe a plastic sheet.   I have used this, but modern single person tents don't weigh that much more.   Tarp should be big enough to make a "lean to" shelter.   Bring rope to rig.   Tarps don't keep the bugs out. 

Bivy Sack

A bivy sack provides you with cover for your bag.   Most are made with a top layer of water-proof breathable fabric.     Some have a bit of a hood to keep the fabric off your face.   This "hood" can be rigged to a tree or hiking pole.     Generally less than 2 pounds. 

One-person Tents

Many light single person tents are now available in the 2-3 pound range. 

Multi-person tents

Two or three person tents work with a group.   For two person, tents they can be easily divided by distributing the poles, fly and tent.   Typically the poles and stakes come with separate stuff sacks.   Some tents have door on both sides or at the end.  This is a better configuration than a single side door for getting multiple folks in and out. 


I don't use these!   While they might be confortable finding a suitable place to pitch seems hard.   I commonly camp above timberline.


I don't use these!   To me it is just added weight.  Protect the bottom of your tent by careful preparation under the tent and don't wear shoes in the tent!

Door Mat

When weight is not super important I carry a scrap piece of coated nylon fabric.   I have made mine from old tent flys.   Just something you can step on when dressing and keep your feet clean and dry. 

Sleeping Bags

I use a down bag which is very light and packs tight.  However down is high maintenance and must be kept dry.   Some of the newer synthetics offer similar loft/weight/compression characteristics.  The main attraction of synthetics is easer care and they will retain loft when damp.   The shape of the bag will determine the weight as well.   I prefer a mummy bag with a full hood and draft flap.  The other major decision is loft (warmth).   Most companies rate their bags in degrees.   I have found that folks have their own comfort range and should adjust somewhat to these ranges.   Down bags seem to have a wider range of comfort.  Sleeping bags are manufactured with many different types of insulations.


Pads are important to insulate you from the ground since the compressible nature of the sleeping bag leaves you without insulation under the bag.   I have used three type of pads:

  • Closed Cell Foam:  These are the cheapest, lightest and bulkiest.   I used these when I first started backpacking.   They don't provide much cushioning!  Closed cells don't absorb water like open cell foams (to be avoided). 
  • Self-Inflatable Foam:   For many years I used these types of pads (Thermorest).   They are confortable and offer good insulation.  If they get a hole they still provide some level of insulation (if your patch kit is not handy...).   
  • Air:   They require that you blow them up.   I have had good luck with these and they are light.   Be sure you pack the patch kit.   Do not use as a camp chair to avoid punctures.  Note:  Some are made of "noisy" fabric.   Test before purchase. 

Half pads vs. full length?   Half pads are lighter and smaller to pack.   I have used these with clothing under my legs.   However as I aged I found full length more comfortable.   A good night's sleep is important!  Full length is a must for snow camping. 

R-Value:   Many manufactures provide an R value (measure of insulation).   This is useful for comparison.    The higher the number the better insulator the mattress.