Sleeping well can make or break a camping trip. As I get older it becomes even more important, and sometimes more difficult, to sleep comfortably, so I choose my sleeping gear for camping carefully.
In 1974 the first Therm-a-Rest self-inflating foam sleeping pad was manufactured by Cascade Designs in Seattle; a company started by laid-off Boeing engineers. Therm-a-Rest pads completely changed camping for me; I slept much better floating on a cushion of air than I did on a foam pad.
Over the years I have owned several different self-inflating pads of varying sizes, thicknesses and weights made by several manufacturers. A couple of years ago I purchased an Air Core pad made by Big Agnes. Like the Therm-a-Rest was in it’s day the Air Core a quantum leap forward; it is 2 1/2″ thick, insulated, and packs to about the size of a Nalgene bottle
The Air Core is part of a sleep system made by Big Agnes. The lower half of the sleeping bags Big Agnes makes is an envelope for the Air Core pad. Only the top of the bag is insulated (the pad providing plenty of insulation between you and the ground) and thus much lighter than a traditionally made bag. I have slept much more comfortably with the Big Agnes system than any other combination of sleeping bags and pads I have owned. See my review of the Horse Thief sleeping bag.
I don’t have a lot of money but I did spend a couple of hundred dollars on a slightly used (eBay) Horse Thief sleeping bag and Air Core pad; the most I have ever invested in a piece of camping gear. A new bag and pad like mine runs a stunning $450.00. That’s a pile of money but sleeping soundly and comfortably is worth the investment.
If you aren’t ready to shell out for the whole system the Air Core pad is a great upgrade to your sleeping gear.
Big Agnes insulated Air Core Pad
78″x20″ 2 1/2″ thick, 27 oz. and packs to 5.5″ x 9″
In cold weather I wear a balaclava over a knit hat when I bed down for the night. The balaclava keeps my knit hat on my head and adds a bit of warmth around my neck. Remember that if you keep your head covered your feet will stay warm too (no, really; it works!).
Terramar Thermolator II Balaclava
Inexpensive and comfortable mid-weight balaclava.
I’ve also learned that I need ear plugs to sleep well and tune out noisy Scouts and snoring Scoutmasters. Most trips I bring along my iPod Touch and listen to music as I go to sleep. Some folks will think this is crazy but it works for me. Packing along a few spare sets of earplugs can elevate you to hero status amongst your fellow adult Scouters.
I also need a pillow; I’ve never been satisfied with camping pillows- they are too small, too hard, too soft, none of them are just right. This is an easy problem to solve though; I just bring the pillow I use every night at home unless we are backpacking then I’ll make a pillow out of clothes or a fleece jacket by putting them carefully folded into the pillow pocket in my Big Agnes Horse Thief sleeping bag.