Hiking/Camping Part 4 – Camp Rest & Shelter

A sleeping bag. A corner of the black sleeping...

Image via Wikipedia

We spend quite a bit of our life resting and regenerating. When your are out camping and hiking you know that you will be active and you will expend a lot of energy. Changes in temperature, rain, wind, etc put further stress on the body and take up energy as the body compensates. No matter how acclimated you are, everyone needs rest and shelter.

Bare Minimum – Poncho and Liner

Poncho LinerSome minimalist backpackers will not even pack a bivy or sleeping bag. But many minimalists are familiar with one of the most beloved pieces of military gear. The standard issue poncho liner is often used for everything other than a poncho liner and has affectionately been nick-named Woobie. The poncho liner is made of coated nylon and polyester batting making it water repellent and rather warm for being so light weight and packable. It has been used as ground cover, or even as a make shift sleeping bag.


Paired with the military issue poncho and you have many options. The military poncho has corner grommets which can be used to tie it down as a shelter over paracord between two trees or over a pole leaned up on one end against a tree or stump. It can also be folded long wise into a make shift bivy with the poncho liner for warmth. If temperatures drop then you can always add the poncho liner to your sleeping bag to add about 20 more degrees to it rating. If the weather is warm you can always throw your sleeping bag down and sleep on top with the poncho liner. The poncho and liner are both great items to consider adding to your camping/hiking gear. A high grade, warmer (but costly) option is a poncho liner insulated with climashield made by kifaru called the Woobie G2 or one insulated with Lamilite by Wiggy’s which has the option of a zipper making it like a sleeping bag. You could always sew your own zipper into a standard $20 poncho liner and save $40 though it might not be as warm as the Climashield or Lamilite.

Sleeping Bags and Pads

Eureka CasperThe North Face CasavalOpenCell Sleeping Pad

In the past couple decades sleeping options for camping and backpacking have come a long way and the options can be over-whelming. The first piece of gear to consider is the sleeping bag which is comprised of a shell, fill and inner lining and some have hoods and draft tubes. Usually the linings are rip-stop nylon/polyester but it’s in the fill where we find a plethora of options. The primary purpose of fill is to expand (or loft) and trap dead air because air is a poor thermal conductor. Natural fills such as down still have hard to beat warmth to weight to compression ratios but tend to loose warmth when wet due to clumping. Some bags are lined with gore-tex to keep water from reaching the down but these bags are usually +$250. A more recent option is Alpaca fill since Alpaca is more water resistant and similar to synthetic fibers is a near micro fiber which is semi-hollow. The synthetic alternatives such as polyester are cheaper by comparison but are usually heavier and loose loft over several years limiting their life expectancy. Recent developments have allowed synthetic materials to come close to matching the weight-loft/warmth-compressibility of down while being water resistant. Polyester micro fibers with special properties such as hollow fibers and spiral fibers have brought synthetic closer to the natural options and extended filament versions such as Primaloft, Climashield or Thermal Q can either match or exceed the capabilities of natural fills while being water proof. (synthetic fill comparison) Some other comparable synthetic brands include Thermolite, Polarguard and Dura Loft. Then there is shape or cut to consider which fall into two categories; mummy which taper to the feet and have a box or trapezoid foot and the more traditional straight cut. The mummy style compresses better taking up less room in a pack and form fit more resulting in less thermal leak points but some people find them claustrophobic and prefer the traditional straight cut. Some synthetic examples are: Eureka Casper 15F / Eureka Silver City 30F and The North Face Casaval 20F / Equinox 35F. A couple other caveats regarding the temperature rating on sleeping bags and storage. In Europe manufacturers have to determine an extreme, lower level and comfort level temperature rating. In the US only one rating has to be shown and usually its either the extreme or lower limit level that is advertised, at the lower limit or extreme levels you will likely be shivering. In the US you need to add between 10 to 20 degrees on to a bags rating to get a more accurate picture of the temperature at which it will be comfortable. Generally to store your bag for extended periods if it is synthetic you don’t want to store it in the stuff sack as it will loose loft over time. If you have to store it in a stuff sack don’t compress it until you are ready to take it on an outing.

Cost Saving Tip:Therm-o-Lite Bivvy2 Bag LinerNow you could get a Summer bag, 3 Season for Fall/Spring and a 4 Season for winter (3 Bags to swap out per the season) or get one 2.5 Season bag (+35 F) that fits in a backpack and then use a liner such as a poncho liner, sea-to-summit therm-o-lite liner, adventure medical thermolite bivy or other liner to add 15 to 25 extra degrees to a single bag. When its not so cold, lay on top the sleeping bag with the liner. This is not a new idea as the US Military uses such a modular system. Which is another alternative; you could by the military patrol sleeping bag and use it as a liner. I have found that while the poncho liners are warm they only compress down to about 3/4 the size of a sleeping bag which may take too much pack realestate especially if you are packing for more than one person. Alternatives like the Thermolite Reactor pack smaller, are like a blanket but are more costly (costs almost as much as a synthetic sleeping bag). The Thermo-lite Bivvy is less costly but not as plush which could make it less desirable as a blanket for summer. I personally am still mulling these four options over to figure out which one I prefer as they all have their pros and cons.

The next piece of sleeping gear is a sleeping pad. You don’t want to over look the sleeping pad because if you just lay on the ground your body will compress the sleeping bag and the area underneath you will de-loft providing less insulation. This is why a sleeping pad is not only good for comfort but it also provides insulation to prevent body heat from seeping away into the ground. There are three options, air-pad, closed cell foam and open cell foam. Air mattresses are light and take up the least room but if they get one


hole your sleeping on the ground and you have to expend energy to blow them up. Open cell foam has become very popular as it will compress well and self-inflate but it is like a sponge and will hold water which is why these pads are usually sandwiched between water-proof nylon/polyester layers (first invented by Therm-a-rest). Last, you might want to consider a good camp pillow that compresses down for transport. For more research a good website is Trail Space. http://www.trailspace.com/gear/sleeping-bags/

4 Person Backpacking TentTriangle Tent6-8 Person Family TentREI Kingdom 8

Last but not least is a tent. Tents come in more shapes and sizes then any other piece of outdoor gear. Tents used to be made from canvas were heavy and required regular water proofing. You can still find canvas tents but most modern tents are made from lighter nylon/polyester materials that allow for an even broader range of possibilities. Some key features to look for include:

  1. Bath-tub floors which keep the seems higher up on the wall to protect them from ground water seepage.
  2. Taped seems and/or seems pinched inward, folded over and stitched to resist water seepage.
  3. Aluminum-Titanium shock cord polls are better then fiber glass for durability and weight. These polls will be more costly but generally last longer, are easier to repair and will be lighter in the pack.
  4. Back packing tents are generally three season and may sacrifice zip up windows over the no-see-um screens for cover by a rain-fly to save weight in materials but can tend to have air circulation issues. Family tents will be heavier and have more features such as lofts, dividers, zip up vents and windows with extended awnings that can improve the camping experience but these features make them heavy and less mobile.
  5. Rain fly; Newer tents are made of lighter synthetic material and generally have a second layer stretched over the tent supports called a rain fly to provide additional protection against weather. The rain fly should also provide a vestibule are where gear may be stored outside the tent. The older tents I grew up with were made of canvas and had only one layer and if you forgot to apply water proofing you could wake up floating with one foot in the water and your friends cat laying across your face (personal experience).
  6. Tents generally come in four shapes; cabin, A-frame, dome or tunnel. Cabins provide the most head room and loft space while being heavier and tunnels are strong and provide not as much head room but pack down smaller and lighter. Domes provide the least head room, are strong and pack down the best.
  7. Ground cover; while not part of the tent you will want a tarp to protect the bottom of the tent from being damaged by sharp rocks and sticks. Tarp; easily replaced, tent floor not so much…

For more information check out the guides and reviews at Trail Space: http://www.trailspace.com/gear/tents/

Survival Tip – Shelter:

lean to

Wikipedia Lean-To

If you find yourself lost without a tent or bivy you can always make your own shelter. Better yet first look for natural shelters like caves, tree overhangs, so that you don’t have to expend too much energy building a shelter. If wild animals are a concern it might be advisable to build a triangle frame to suspend in a tree or between two trees. Also consider your location and where water might flow and build a lean-to or debris shelter with the walls facing the direction of the wind. Finally, clear the ground around the shelter, creepy/crawlies and snakes generally don’t like traversing plain dirt, they like leaves and grass to hide in. Below are a few more shelter Guides.

Bear Grylls Shelter Guide
Outdoor Survival Shelter Guide

Warming Up & Cooling Down

Tent HeaterThe next challenge when camping outside is trying to stay warm or cool depending on the weather and season. Since tents are for the most part not insulated they tend to match the temperature outside. If it is hot in summer the tent will generally be hot and if it is a cold spring or fall the tent will be cold. There are several pieces of gear and other tricks that can be used to address your tent or shelter climate.

One heating option is a catalytic tent heater such as those made by Mr Heater or Coleman. Some of the Mr Heater catalytic heaters come with oxygen sensors and will shut off if CO2 levels get too high.

Lighter Fluid Hand WarmerOther heating option include the zippo outdoor hand warmer or chemical hand warmers which could be activated and thrown in a sleeping bag. Finally, a less costly option would be to place a medium (16 inch softball) sized rock in the camp fire and a few hand sized rocks in the fire. Before going to bed roll the medium hot rock into a mess pan or bucket either with some sand or place it on a camp towel in the tent to avoid melting the floor. You may also want to place a pot over the top of the rock to slow down heat dissipation and to more evenly distribute heat. Roll the smaller hot rocks into a moistened hand/pack towel and throw them into the sleeping bag and this should keep you warm and toasty.

Personal FAN Mini ACOmni-Freeze T-ShirtTo keep cool Coleman and others sell tent fans. Another option is the Handy Fan Mini AC which uses a special sponge and water evaporation to cool the air by up to 30 degrees. The use of water can increase humidity in the tent and cause condensation and dripping if the tent doesn’t have a good ceiling cross ventilation. Other options are to first shed some layers and use a cool damp cloth around the neck or on the forehead. Finally you could try the Columbia t-shirt with omni-freeze technology which uses flat threads to absorb and dissipate body heat or North Face, Adidas and others use a similar technology called CoolMax, in summer this could be a comfortable sleep-wear option.

Again, I hope these ideas are fun and informative. Keep enjoying the great outdoors


About Last Fiddle
I have always had many interests; technology, science, philosophy, theology, politics, history, etc... Currently, life for the past twelve years has placed me in the area of technology fulfilling roles in System Administration and Architecture. But I have always been involved in the local church and enjoy researching and discussing issues of theology, philosophy, history and politics...

One Response to Hiking/Camping Part 4 – Camp Rest & Shelter

  1. Morton says:

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