The se­cret to a good night in the wilder­ness? The right bag for the job.

Backpacker - - Field Test - By Wil­liam M. Rochfort, Jr.

THIS IS SO MUCH BET­TER than hy­pother­mia. That’s what went through my mind be­fore I nod­ded off to sleep on a 25°F March night on Mt. San Jac­into in Cal­i­for­nia, 16 years ago. I lay, co­zied up in my REI Co-op Sub Kilo, in my tent atop sev­eral feet of snow. Un­til that mo­ment, I’d never re­al­ized that spend­ing a freez­ing night in the wilder­ness could be so easy.

Then, I was still a back­coun­try neo­phyte. For most of my life, I’d spent all my free time play­ing soc­cer. But af­ter my sec­ond ACL surgery, my doc­tors told me my field time was over. I needed a new ac­tiv­ity, and back­pack­ing didn’t ap­pear to in­volve much quick, lat­eral move­ment. Plus, I’d just read an is­sue of BACKPACKER that made me want to ex­plore the land­scapes of the West.

My first trip, to Horse­shoe Mesa in Ari­zona just three months be­fore that night on San Jac­into, was a dis­as­ter. Temps dropped into the 30s, and the old syn­thetic bag I got from my univer­sity’s out­door club was prob­a­bly good down to 60°F by the time I checked it out of the gear li­brary. (Adding in­sult to in­jury, my girl­friend re­fused to zip our sleep­ing bags to­gether be­cause hers “worked just fine.”)

Upon my re­turn to civ­i­liza­tion, I started re­search­ing new bags. I built de­tailed ta­bles, ac­count­ing for baf­fle de­sign and de­nier (un­like back­pack­ing, spread­sheets were some­thing my ed­u­ca­tion had pre­pared me for). Fi­nally, I set­tled on one that seemed to of­fer the per­fect bal­ance of warmth, weight, and bud­get: the 20°F, down Sub Kilo. I spent the night in an REI park­ing lot to en­sure I was first in line to pur­chase the bag of my dreams at a used-gear sale.

A few weeks later, I was snug­gling into the bag on Mt. San Jac­into. When I awoke, warm and re­freshed, an en­tire new world had opened up overnight. I could now camp in Yosemite in fall, or Joshua Tree in win­ter. Many years and many bags later, wilder­ness camp­ing has be­come an es­sen­tial part of my life. You can have a great pack or pair of boots, but the key part of “sleep­ing out­side” is ac­tu­ally sleep­ing. And if you can do that, the world is yours.

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