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  1. #1
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    Default Basic Beginner Questions - tents and sleeping bag

    Hi. New member and first post. Lots of thread subjects, but I'm still not sure where to begin, so I figured I'd start with the General category. I've tent camped for years, but never backpacked. So, I'm a little confused. I'm in VA and will do 2-3 day hikes to begin with, much of it section hiking the AT and some other popular trails in the State.

    I'm confused in two areas. First, if a shelter is full, I'm thinking I'd better have a hammock because there won't be many places to pitch a tent. Correct? So, should I buy a hammock, a bivvy sack, a one-person tent, or what? What's' the norm when a shelter is full?

    Second, I'm hearing terms related to sleeping bags that I've never heard before... like quilts. I figured I'd buy a mummy bag and a foam pad and be done with it. Seems like that's a bit naive as well.

    So, can you comment and start pointing me in the right direction? First trip is the first weekend of May, so I'm feeling like I'm running out of time to figure it out and get something ordered on-line.

    Thanks

    Reeko

  2. #2
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    Default Basic Beginner Questions - tents and sleeping bag

    so many options. it gets overwhelming. don't stress about getting it right. go with gear that is already owned, cheap, borrowed, or returnable.

    Have fun!
    You can walk in another person's shoes, but only with your feet

  3. #3

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    You will be fine. No matter how experienced one is, they learn at least one new thing every day when they are out in the backwoods hiking. There is lots of good advice on this site (a little bad), but you need to determine what fits you. There are very few absolutes about backpacking that apply to everyone.

    As for shelters, I am a shelter guy. If they are empty and not a pig pen, I will typically sleep in them. Easier to get set up, easier to pack up and usually have some cover to cook/eat under. If it rains, it is great. Downsides are there might be mice, there might be snorers. There will also be some great people. Hang your food and bring ear plugs. If the shelter is full or you want privacy, there usually is enough space around the shelter area for several tents, especially in most of the south.

    As for sleeping bags or quilts, I am a sleeping bag guy, but quilts are also popular. Foam pads are ok, but if you are a side sleeper, they will probably not give you much comfort. You do need something, foam or a blow up. Just about everyone on this site has been where you are at, so don't be shy about asking questions. Try things out on weekend hikes. It's almost painless to make mistakes on a short trip, especially if it is warm. Best way to enjoy backpacking is to get more experience and read from sites like this.

    Good luck and happy trails.

  4. #4
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    Most shelters have areas nearby where one can pitch a tent. Also along the trail you'll find tentsites, often near water or trail junctions. If you have one of the trail guides (like the Companion) this information is listed.

    Hammocks can be more convenient to pitch. Some people find them significantly more comfortable than a pad on the ground. There are drawbacks, like with anything. I'd probably recommend starting with a tent.

    Sleeping bags are still the most common item, but quilts are becoming more popular. The Enlightened Equipment quilts are well made, lighter than an equivalently warm bag, and not too expensive -- certainly when compared to a similar quality down sleeping bag. I have found that quilts work very well for me down to about freezing. But if you get a mummy bag and a foam pad, that will work just fine.
    Ken B
    'Big Cranky'
    Our Long Trail journal

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    Many words have been written about the pros and cons of tents vs Hammocks and bags vs quilts. Tents and mummy bags are still the most popular choices, and for good reason.

    Camping hammocks are a bit more complicated then the typical backyard verity. Tents are a lot less trouble in the short run.

    A quilt is simply a mummy bag with the zipper and hood removed. These came about due to the need for separate top and bottom insulation for hammocks. Simply putting a common sleeping bag into a hammock doesn't work very well. Your weight crushes the insulation below you and once you lay in it, it is impossible to reposition. An insulating pad can be used, but is not an ideal solution.

    The solution is to effectively string the hammock through the middle of your sleeping bag by using a top and bottom quilt. You also need to add a suitably large tarp and the hardware needed to string up the hammock. This all gets a little complicated.

    In any event, I suggest keeping it simple to start and exactly what you get will be dependent on budget. Low end, high end or middle of the road?
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  6. #6
    Registered User BuckeyeBill's Avatar
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    Emerson and Big Cranky both have solid advice. I started out several years ago with a tent, air mattress and sleeping bag. When my body started to crack like knuckles when I woke up and tried to crawl out of my tent I switched to a hammock. As designs changed over the years I would upgrade only when I saw significant improvements. Right now I am in a Warbonnet Blackbird XLC with Warbonnet upper and lower quilts. While I still creek a little bit, with the hammock I can wake up and sit in it (with my butt 18" off the ground) while I brew up some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. Since I am single and quit drinking and smoking, I saved up and bought a lightweight Hammock Gear Cuben Fiber tarp.

    I still own a tent, (Tarptent Notch) and an air mattress that I use on occasion. I use my quilt with the tent as I am just so use to it. I don't want to push you in any one direction, because you have to build your own kit. Just like what you are asking now, there several other things you could ask about (ultralight vs. light pack weight, Alcohol vs canister stoves, Hanging vs sleeping with your food bag etc). HYOH. Good Luck
    Blackheart

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    Registered User BuckeyeBill's Avatar
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    Oh one other thing, you can hang a hammock on a slight slope if necessary.
    Blackheart

  8. #8

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    I now prefer a hammock, but really there are lots of pieces and a bit of a learning curve. If you only have until May, I would probably just get a tent. I have set the hammock up many times near shelters or away from shelters, but only once was I in an area that probably wasn't flat enough to tent.

  9. #9

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    Two years ago I was in your shoes and I read SOOOOO many blogs and forums, and researched so much gear that I finally narrowed down what I thought would work for me. Of course I thought I'd go crazy from gear-info overload.

    For the most part I knew what I wanted and needed and was able to narrow down my choices fairly easily, and I had the money to buy the best stuff first (I realize that not everyone has that chance but it helps to be single with no kids).

    I also loved remote camping and I liked hiking so I was pretty sure that investing in the best gear to combine the two was a good choice.

    Not everyone likes the ground and not everyone like hammocks. Best to test in the backyard with hammocks if you aren't used to them, and some companies (Underground Quilts) will rent gear.

    As far as the AT goes I am under the impression that there are enough places to pitch a tent and plenty of places to hang...so whichever route you go you will be fine.

    As far as tents go I'd highly recommend a lightweight 2P tent so you have a little more space for yourself and gear....1P tents can be kinda tight. Popular tents that come with good recommendations include anything by ZPacks, Tarptent and Lightheart Gear plus the BA Copper Spur or Fly Creek UL but none of them are cheap. You get what you pay for.

    Quilts from Enlightened Equipment, Hammock Gear, Feathered Friends, Jacks R Better, Loco Libre Gear etc and many other cottage manufacturers are highly recommended...you can't go wrong with any of them.

    As far as sleeping bags...Western Mountaineering are probably considered the elite bag, but Feathered Friends and Montbelle produce some amazing bags too. I'm sure others can make recommendations.

  10. #10
    Registered User DownEaster's Avatar
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    If you turn in your sleep, being on the ground may suit you better than a hammock. Also when you get to places above tree line a hammock won't work.

  11. #11
    Registered User BuckeyeBill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DownEaster View Post
    If you turn in your sleep, being on the ground may suit you better than a hammock. Also when you get to places above tree line a hammock won't work.
    Turning in a hammock is like turning in a bed hammock doesn't move that much and your quilt can be adjust just like the blankets on your bed. When above treeline I use hiking poles to hold up the ends of my hammock and tarp. I have a under quilt protector and carry a piece of tyvek to help keep things clean. Granted it is not like hanging, but it works.
    Blackheart

  12. #12

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    CIP.......continuous improvement process. It will make more sense and you will have a better understanding of what works for YOU the more of this you do. Big tarp .....12x12 or larger....lite weight is mandatory and larger is better when the rain comes. Learn to carry on outside of backpack so when rain comes you pitch this first so you do not get your things wet. With the large tarp you can go to the ground if needed.....to stretch out on flat surface., and, it also works for hammock. You should carry half a foam pad for sitting and lounging around and this works for ground pad. Large inexpensive rain poncho works for ground tarp as well as rainslicker. Multipurpose as much as you can........cheers.

  13. #13
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    You are wrong to suppose that camping spots for tents are more limited than suitable hammock spots if the shelters are full. Plenty of tent spots on your route. The trouble with hammocks is the cold. Starting in May, it's gonna be cold. When we sleep in a tent our body warms the ground. Also there is the learning curve for both setting up the hammock and then adjusting your body to sleeping inside the thing. The simple sleeping bag and pad is all you need in the tent. Now for 2 to 3 day hikes on the AT in your area I would just drive out I-64 to the place where the trail crosses at Rockfish Gap. It would be best to hike with someone else who also has a car. You could leave one car at Rockfish gap then drive North or South the right distance to start hiking. Otherwise you will be doing out and backs or searching for loops. Or you could hire a shuttle. All of these options will work fine.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reeko View Post
    I'm confused in two areas. First, if a shelter is full, I'm thinking I'd better have a hammock because there won't be many places to pitch a tent. Correct? So, should I buy a hammock, a bivvy sack, a one-person tent, or what? What's' the norm when a shelter is full?

    Second, I'm hearing terms related to sleeping bags that I've never heard before... like quilts. I figured I'd buy a mummy bag and a foam pad and be done with it. Seems like that's a bit naive as well.
    My 2 cents:

    1) If you can, do overnight backyard testing to see what works for you. It's a low-risk endeavour yet can be very illuminating (in more ways than one, if you have nearby neighbors with all-night outdoor lighting).

    2) Getting started backpacking - IMO the important thing is to get out there ... consider borrowing gear, pairing up with a partner, or going with what you've got for awhile, rather than trying to optimize gear first. You won't fully know your gear preferences without a variety of backpacking experience.

    3) Either a tent or hammock setup will do as a backup to shelter option. Tent advantages include ease of setup, familiarity for sleep position, greater ability to have gear near you inside, and possibly slightly lighter weight overall. Hammock advantages include staying high and dry in a gully-washer, no need to find level smooth ground to pitch, more comfortable sleep for some people (if you can sleep all night in a recliner, you can probably do well in a hammock).

    4) Forget the bivy unless it's just a bug bivy or net bivy. The eastern US and AT in particular is just too humid and you will battle condensation inside the sack from your breath and transpiration of moisture from your skin (feet especially).

    5) Most 1P tents have, IMO, mostly useless vestibule space. It's often just a narrow perimeter around the inner tent, or in front of the entrance, fit for a pair of shoes at best, plus using the space blocks your entrance & exit. Using a lawn/leaf bag to keep your pack dry can get around these limitations. Alternatively, a 1.5P tent, around 28-32 sf, is a nice compromise for weight, volume, and ability to get store one's gear out of the rain.

    6) nothing wrong with a mummy bag & foam pad. The theory behind quilts is that they're like a blanket - you don't need total wrap around coverage because your "mattress" provides the insulation beneath. You turn underneath them, rather than with them. The absence of a hood, zipper, and back means you can save weight and volume. I've not tried one; some say drafts can be an issue if you turn a lot.

    Seems like your preferred shelter choice is a framed wooden shelter. If so, and you are a side sleeper, you might want to consider getting an inflatable sleeping bag pad for greater comfort. You could carry a torso length foam pad for backup, floor protection, and/or sit pad during the day. Your backup plan for full shelters could be a poncho tarp paired with a UL hammock or bugnet bivy. Carrying a full tent when expecting to shelter hop seems a bit of overkill. Depends on how often you think you'll need to fall back to plan b.

  15. #15

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    Lots of good advice posted. Definitely test out a hammock before committing because it's not for everyone. Same with shelters. They can be noisy, smelly and mice are a given.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by martinb View Post
    Lots of good advice posted. Definitely test out a hammock before committing because it's not for everyone. Same with shelters. They can be noisy, smelly and mice are a given.
    This ^^^

    I will never use a shelter unless forced to. However the ones in Europe look decent.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by DuneElliot View Post
    This ^^^

    I will never use a shelter unless forced to. However the ones in Europe look decent.
    I was going to point out that it seems like most posters here don't think of what the backup to the wooden frame shelter is, they think of those things as a dreaded necessity when forced to use them (e.g., GSMNP). Though more than a few acknowledge the appeal of not having to set up a tent or hammock in a heavy rain.

  18. #18

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    The learning curve of a lightweight 2 man tent, close cell foam pad and sleeping bag is much less then say a tarp, quilt and inflatable mattress. The less you bring, the more minimal you are, the more responsibility you have to make the right choices while on the trail.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by DuneElliot View Post
    This ^^^

    I will never use a shelter unless forced to. However the ones in Europe look decent.
    I have to say that in the off seasons I've been in a number of shelters without any mice at all. Of course one had a couple fat rat snakes. Several were in the middle of droughts. Others were well before the bubble (I guess the mice all died off in the long period of time with no food)?

    I still remember sweeping food crumbs out of a shelter that had no sign of mice.

    On the other hand, from what I read and have heard, mice are pretty much really common.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by DuneElliot View Post
    This ^^^
    I will never use a shelter unless forced to. However the ones in Europe look decent.
    Mountain huts in the Alps are definitely nothing like AT shelters - think more like ski lodges than garden sheds. Of course, AT shelters are free and mountain huts in the alps are $$$$.

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