M Concerning the Wilderness Serape

by David Chenault

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Article Summary:

Day and night insulation for the other three seasons (when daytime temperatures might be at least below freezing) can make for complicated calculations as far as extended outings are concerned. On paper an adequately warm quilt or sleeping, augmented down to the lowest probable temperature with insulated clothing, is the best option, and an easy one to calculate, once you've accumulated enough experience to judge claimed insulation values against your own needs. A hypothetical, generic, athletic male backpacker who finds EN ratings accurate can get a ~24 oz, 20 degree quilt, take it down to 10F with a 12 oz hooded jacket, and declare mission accomplished. A hypothetical female hiker in order to do the same task may need another 10 oz of insulation for a three day November trip in the snowy lower mountains.

On day three, things get more complicated. Condensation gets your sleeping bag wet, despite best efforts to stay away from the tent walls, and achieve proper ventilation. That puffy coat endures a similar treatment, as sweat is inevitable for even the most careful hikers, especially given that big vapor barrier vest called a backpack. Sunny lunch breaks are a good time to lay out your bag and parka for drying, but eventually a day without sun, and often with rain or snow, will come. Even worse, that night is the coldest yet, 15 degrees of functional warmth have been sucked out of your sleeping system, and sleep comes poorly in fits interrupted by shivering.

A range of different techniques can help address these issues. One is to add a backpackable wood stove to your kit. Being able to dry socks and insulation during a sleet storm is pretty fun. This approach won't be for everyone, as it comes with its own attendant challenges and skills. Using items of vapor barrier clothing can also work, but these are less useful in conditions which are not consistently cold (say, below 20F). Some people just don't find vapor barriers workable under any circumstances, too.

A third approach, and one I've come to enjoy, is to shake up your insulation regime with a wilderness serape.

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