Several years ago my wife and I replaced our two-zippered-together-mummy-bags sleeping bag setup with a Feathered Friends Spoonbill double bag. This was a game changer for our frequent backpacking trips, reducing our sleeping bag weight from over 4 pounds down to an incredible 2.5 lbs with the same or even better warmth. How was this possible? The secret is the false bottom. Since down insulation is mostly compressed (and thus useless) when you’re laying on top of it, you might as well just get rid of it altogether on the bottom! This is what Feathered Friends did with the Spoonbill – the top and sides are full of high loft 950-fill down, while the bottom is simply a thin fabric sheet. The result is a massive weight savings without hardly any warmth penalty (assuming you have a decently warm mattress).
Recently while rethinking my solo backpacking setup, I wondered if I could cut some significant weight with a similar false bottom solo bag, instead of the normal standard mummy bag design I’ve been using for years. After extensive research I stumbled upon the Timmermade Wren false bottom sleeping bag. The specs boasted a 19oz weight for a 20º rated bag – impressive considering my 15º Western Mountaineering Apache bag weighs 33oz! Plus the pricing was competitive with comparable high end sleeping bag brands – also impressive considering that the Timmermades are custom tailored bags. After discussing some questions and options with the owner/maker Dan Timmerman we got the order rolling. What you see here are the results: the Timmermade Wren False Bottom sleeping bag, 20º rated, 950 fill down, 19oz (1lb 3oz), $420, with custom printed fabric.
It’s been a beautiful summer in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado this year, with a long-melting snowpack, fantastic sunsets, lush greenery, and none of the wildfires and smoke that plagued us during last year’s super dry summer. So while we were camping near a remote lake in the Weminuche Wilderness last week, we were surprised when it got hazy and we started smelling wildfire smoke in the air. My fears of another devastating wildfire were relieved when I found out later on that it was just smoke from a large prescribed burn on the west side of the San Juans. Whew!
While the smoke robbed me of the typically crystal clear scenes, it did provide unique photographic conditions with the hazy light and soft pastel colors at sunset.
By morning the haze had cleared and interesting cotton candy clouds motivated me to get out my cozy sleeping bag to go shoot sunrise too!
After the enormous winter of 2018-2019 in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, by the end of July the snowpack has finally melted off enough to call it summertime in the alpine now. Last weekend we hiked a very pleasant three-day shuttle route through the vibrant green mountains west of Silverton. Continue reading >>
In late July we backpacked into the High Uintas Wilderness in Utah, to a couple high basins at the head of the Stillwater Fork of the Bear River. We had optimistically planned a three-night outing, but the mosquitos were so abominable up there that we bailed after two nights! Though we had expected the mosquitos, we didn’t quite comprehend what a struggle it would be with clouds of hundreds or thousands of the vampire drones swarming around us at all times. Despite the relentless mosquito warfare, we still managed to enjoy some amazing scenery up in the high basins with their many lakes and ponds. Continue reading >>
Here are some photos from a few recent hiking and backpacking trips in the San Juan Mountains near Ridgway and Ouray. The snow is still melting up high but the lower elevations have been glorious this last month! See more recent photos here >>
For my fellow American readers, I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July! Here’s a few photos of the fireworks over Ouray last night.
One thing I’m feeling pretty patriotic about is our kick-ass U.S. women’s soccer team about to play the Netherlands team in the World Cup finals on Sunday! It’s been so fun watching the tournament so far.
Originally published October 2012. Last updated in July 2019 with lots of new gear selections and a new section on sun protection. Many of the product links are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something after clicking one of my gear links, I will get a small cut of the payment and it won’t cost you anything more.
Backpacking into the mountains is a great joy of mine. It feels adventurous and liberating to venture into the wilderness with everything you need to survive (and even stay comfortable) on your back. By backpacking you have the means to “live” – albeit briefly – in paradisiacal locations that boggle the mind and soothe the soul. But, first you need to have the gear to do it.
As Terence McKenna observed, humans are probably better categorized as crustaceans, since we basically live our lives moving from one shell to another, whether it’s a house, car, office, or a tent. Which is to say, we can’t just wander off naked into the woods and expect to be one with nature! Fortunately for the modern adventurous crustacean we have an almost endless array of high tech, lightweight clothes, sleeping bags, shelters, and tools to keep us alive and happy while walking in the wilderness.
Recently I’ve received a bunch of emails asking me about my backpacking gear. I realize that it can be a bit daunting for someone who is interested – but not experienced – in backpacking to figure out what equipment they need to bring into the mountains for an overnight or multi-day camping trip. You need to travel light, but you also need all the stuff to keep you warm and dry. In this post, I’m going to list and explain all the gear that I use on backpacking treks. I will also include some helpful tips along the way.