#LETSTALKABOUT Sleeping Pad Ratings

Now that we have chatted about sleeping bag ratings, it’s time to hit on the next piece in the comfort quiver: your sleeping pad!

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Whereas sleeping bags are given an EN/ISO rating, sleeping pads get an r value that indicates their thermal resistance. The higher the number, the warmer the pad will keep you! It’s important to note that unlike the EN/ISO rating, there isn’t (yet!) a standardized testing procedure for assigning r-values. Some brands conduct rigorous internal testing, others simply guesstimate based on the available data. Do your own research on the brand before taking the rating they give their product at face value.

Let’s being talking about the practical application of r-values by thinking of them as stand alone pieces. The following table lays out estimated r-values for different climates:

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This is a helpful starting point for thinking about climate, warmth, and what sleeping pad you want to bring with you. Now, let’s think of your sleeping pad as part of a sleeping system that’s comprised of your pad, your sleeping bag, and the clothes you are wearing. Each part of the system has a different temperature rating, with pros and cons pending things like size, weight, packability, durability, and so on. You can play around with the variables to balance things out. For example: let’s say you’re on a fall alpine adventure and the temps are expected to drop into the frigid zone. You don’t want to carry your massive sleeping bag and you have an ultralight sleeping pad with an r value of 5.7. In this situation, you can likely forego the heavier bag and rely on the warmer pad and some solid base layers to keep you toasty. Ultimately, personal comfort will vary and testing of the variables is important so keep all of these things in mind as you shop, pack, and play!

Questions, comments, or concerns? Let me know!

#LETSTALKABOUT Trip Reports

So you hit the trail on a whim, something has gone wrong, and no one knows where you are. What do you do? Let’s rewind for a second and talk about one of my essential pre-adventure items: the trip report!

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I make a habit of sending a pre-trip report to my trusted friends and family on every adventure, though I might skip a few details for more casual adventures. I definitely send the full list for anything I know is pushing my limits or involves greater objective risk and technical skills. That way, should something go wrong they will know where I am and have enough information to help me get the help I need.

Information to include:

1. Name of all persons in your party.

2. Destination, including the route you’re traveling by if there are several options.

3. Date and intended duration of your adventure.

4. Expected return time. I also include a margin of error. Example: “I should be back around 6pm but no need to worry if you haven’t heard from me by 10pm.”

5. When your friend should sound the alarm if you haven’t returned. Example: “I anticipate getting back Sunday night at 6pm but in case we are slow or need to sleep in the car at the trailhead, please call SAR if you haven’t heard from us by 8am on Monday.”

6. Description and license plate of the car(s) you’ll be taking.

7. Jacket and backpack color of party members.

8. Emergency contact info for all other party members.

9. Any known medical conditions. For example, if someone is medicine-dependent, that’s a good thing to list in the event of an emergency. First responders can show up prepared.

If all goes well, no one will ever need this information! But, it’s always good to plan ahead, especially when shifting weather conditions can hit you hard in the middle of a climb. It will also empower your loved ones to make informed decisions should they ever need to call SAR for you.


POST TRIP REPORTS!

We all love these! Whether you file on your local trail site, summitpost, peakbagger or somewhere else, please share the details of your trip! Were conditions perfect? We want to know! Are there downed trees, road closures, or unexpected hazards? We want to know! The more info and pictures, the better!

Questions, comments, additions or concerns? Let’s hear them!

#LETSTALKABOUT Sleeping Bag Ratings

So you’re packing for your next adventure and it’s time to grab a sleeping bag. How do you decide which bag to take? Enter the handy dandy but oh-so-confusing EN* rating, adopted by virtually all major sleeping bag manufacturers beginning in 2005.

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The ratings are given after 3rd party labs conduct rigorous, standardized tests before arriving at a temperature range for the “average” person. Bear in mind that these ranges assume the use of a hat, gloves, base layer, and basic foam sleeping pad. Gender specific** bags assume that men sleep warmer than women, so bear that in mind if you’re buying  The high end is the comfort rating. This means that the average person will be comfortable in the bag at the given temperature, snoozing away into the night. The mid-range of these temps will likely find the average person shivering, at least for a while, before they generate enough heat to stay comfortable through the night. The low end is the danger zone. In these temps, the bag may prevent you from death or very serious complications but you may suffer from frostbite or hypothermia. It should go without saying that you should not plan on taking your bag into these conditions--this is more of an “in an emergency situation you (probably) won’t die if you have this bag” rating.

All of that said, remember that this is based on averages. You may run hotter or cooler than the average person, and that will in turn affect your comfort and safety on the trail. I like to play it safe by selecting a warmer bag, especially for longer, colder adventures where weight isn’t a consideration. It’s easy to unzip or delayer if I’m too hot, but I can’t add layers or warmth that I didn’t bring with me and cold camping hacks like the trusty Nalgene full of boiled water and eating carbs before bed will only get you so far.

Things to consider:

  • The warmer and lighter the bag, the more expensive it’s likely to be. Choose wisely, and check to see if you can rent a bag to test it out before you buy. It’s also worth checking your local used gear store for a returned or consigned item. One good launder and it’s basically new!

  • Sleeping bag liners: though some question their efficacy, I have used a fleece liner to great effect on colder nights! Bonus points: they keep the inside of your bag cleaner and are very easy to wash.

  • Backcountry pajamas: the clothes you’re sleeping in matter. Where possible, have a clean, dry set of pajamas (socks, base layer, hat, midlayer for extra warmth, down booties, etc.) that are reserved for sleeping only.

Questions, comments, concerns? Let me know!

*This system was updated in 2017 to include an ISO rating and technically it’s the EN/ISO rating but that’s a long name that I don’t want to type twenty thousand times.

**I know, I know. WHY!


#LETSTALKABOUT Crampons & Microspikes

This question comes up every year: do I need crampons or microspikes? Here's a handy list of things to consider to help you decide.

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CRAMPONS
Will you be:
-traversing a glacier or thick ice deposit?
-ascending steep terrain (think snow and ice over 25 degrees of slope)?
-ascending or traversing terrain where a fall due to slipping would be catastrophic?
-ascending or traversing terrain where an ice axe is mandatory?

If you answered yes to a lot of these questions, it's likely that you need crampons.

Things to consider: if the terrain/adventure demands crampons, am I fully prepared with the rest of the gear and skills to safely undertake my journey? Have I made certain that my crampons are compatible with my footwear and fit them before hitting the trail? Click here for a helpful guide to choosing crampons.

MICROSPIKES
Will you be:
-traversing low angle patches of ice (less than 20 degrees)?
-traversing hard packed snowy areas?
-on variable terrain where ease of taking on and putting off is crucial?
-traveling faster/lighter so weight is a consideration?

If you answered yes to a lot of these, microspikes are a great traction option. They are relatively light, inexpensive, easy to take off and on a variety of footwear, and don't require any special skills to use. I’m personally a fan of the Kahtoola brand as I find them to be the most durable of the options!

Things to consider: As annoying as transitions are, taking these off as you traverse rocks and mud will prolong their life and keep them sharper. Not suitable for terrain over 20 degrees of slope.

SNOWSHOES
Will you be:

-traversing heavily snow-covered areas with angles of slope up to 25 degrees?

If the answer is yes, snowshoes can be a great option that combines floatation with traction, though the options vary by brand.

Things to consider: snowshoes are significantly more expensive than the other options, so choose wisely. Click here for some options! If you plan on tackling any elevation, opt for a pair with teeth and ascender bars to assist on the incline. Snowshoes without any form of teeth or traction on the bottom are ineffective on ice, so please be cautious.

YAK TRAX:

Yak Trax are an affordable option but they have limited efficacy. Useful for firm snow on flat surfaces so an idea option if you live in an area with snowy sidewalks, etc. Unfortunately, not a great option for steeper terrain so keep these babies tucked into your car or house and grab something a little more stout when you hit the trail.

TREKKING POLES

A non-standard traction device that is an essential part of my winter gear kit. Poles will help you control steps and slides as you tackle the trails this winter. I highly recommend snagging a pair no matter what activity you undertake!

Questions, comments, additional thoughts? Let's hear them!

#LETSTALKABOUT Trip Plans + Winter

Winter hasn’t even begun and I have already spent several nights camping in the snow! Now is a great time to think about trip planning in light of the snow and weather changes!

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As a general rule, I expect adventures to take twice as long when the bad weather, snow, and shortened days set in. You never know when you’ll encounter trail hazards like fresh snow or ice that will require additional time and attention to navigate through safely. Give yourself plenty of room for summit snacks and a safe return!

Accordingly, I pick trails and destinations differently, either opting for shorter trails (roughly 1/2 to 2/3 the distance I would go for on a summer day) for day hikes or making sure I’m extra prepared with warm layers, light sources, and so on if I still want to get after it.

Other things to consider:

1. Check your local trail resource for condition updates and road closures. If you’re in Washington State, WTA can’t be beat for most places!

2. Be Avalanche Aware. Snow is building and that means it’s time to download the NWAC app if you haven’t already and use it religiously. I highly recommend attending one of their free seminars and seeking further education if you plan on spending any time in the Cascades this winter. This advice applies to every other area in the world with avalanche terrain: seek out quality information about safety and avalanche conditions. Whether you’re snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, boarding or otherwise, odds are good you’ll be in avalanche terrain at one point or another. Knowing how to identify it and how to choose safe terrain based on the Avalanche forecast for the day can save your life.

3. Make sure you have your 10 essentials, adjusted for the colder weather. For example: my winter layers are beefier than my summer layers and I tend to carry more food. I also carry microspikes for pretty much everything now that it’s getting colder. They can save you from broken bones and bruises when it gets icy out.

4. Double check your footwear. I’m a huge fan of trailrunners for everything I can get away with but when snow builds and it gets icy, I switch to a waterproof option with better traction. Pair with some good wool socks and my toes stay happy!

5. Double check road conditions and opt to carpool with friends who have chains, 4WD, or AWD vehicles if possible. Some locations like highway passes and national parks require specific traction devices so know before you go and plan accordingly.

6. Don’t forget to file a trip report with family or friends before you hit the trail!

7. Don’t be afraid to tote along some hot treats like a thermos of soup or cocoa!

Other tips and tricks? I would love to hear them!