I’ve been asked this question lot recently. “What sleeping kit do you use when on the road?”
I’m a great believer that if you eat well and sleep well you can both travel with a smile, and have the capacity to deal with any challenges or opportunities the road puts in front of you. So I take this quite seriously. I’m also a fan of gear that packs small.
1st up. We both use 3/4 length Thermarest self inflating sleeping mats. Birgit is 5′ tall so in no way does she need anything longer, so why carry the bulk of a longer mat? I’m 6’1″ tall so isn’t a 3/4 too short?
You need to have your shoulders, hips and knees looked after. You can use other space-taking items such as your bike jacket, for the missing quarter. The mat forming the base of the picture is a 3/4.The stuff bag on the left is how small the 3/4 mat rolls up; the head torch gives a good idea of just how small that is.
This is the version that’s just over an inch thick (there are thicker and thinner). The way to test if a mat is the right depth for you is to inflate it to the manufacturers specs and then lay on it on your side. If your hip doesn’t hit the ground then that might well be the one. With many mats the other way to test if you have the right amount of inflation is to get the air in and close it’s nozzle. Then push your hand flat in the middle of it. If your hand almost reaches the ground then you have it about right. Be careful not to over-inflate a mat. You can damage it, but doing so will also make it as hard as a board to sleep on.
Its so important to have a good quality mat when it’s cold. A huge amount of the chill factor comes from the ground, and the flattened underside of your sleeping bag is nothing like as effective as the air filled upper of the bag. A good quality mat is also very effective at stopping heat radiating up at you when camping in sun baked areas. We use Thermarest because they are really well made, and have a lifetime guarantee. We’ve had to claim three times since 1992, and never had a quibble. Oh and a bonus, but to me a really important issue. They don’t make loud scrunching noises when I turn over. If you’ve ever camped next to someone whose mat does, you’ll know why I’m mentioning that.
Because we camp in all weathers we usually carry silver reflective emergency blankets and put them under our mats if it’s extremely cold or hot. They fold down to about the size of a box of matches. A ‘2 uses’ thing and you know I’m a big fan of kit that has at least 2 uses.
There are specialist down filled mats which are brilliant if you are aiming to spend a lot of time camping in cold climes. I had one and loved it, but found it way too warm for hotter regions.
Self inflating? I’m lazy. I’d rather be sitting back with a cuppa. I’ve a mate who has a mat that needs pumping up and he says the exercise is brilliant for his back after a long day’s riding. Horses and courses.
2nd At least a ‘3 season’ sleeping bag. You are ready for most of the weathers temperature challenges then. (This one is a Rab; it was on special!) I prefer quality down, and I do use a compression sack as you can see. I hang the sleeping bag in a bigger bag to air and loft up when not in use. When you are choosing a bag, check the pack down size and make sure you check for the comfort rating, not just the ‘what temp will this bag still allow me to stay alive at’ rating…
3rd A silk or cotton sleeping bag liner. So much easier to wash than the sleeping bag! It’s an extra layer of warmth when needed and it’s what I sleep in when it’s too hot for the sleeping bag. It also doubles up as a sarong; ideal for those night-time dashes to the toilet.
4th A head torch or flashlight with a dim, and bright setting option. Many have a red option too and there aren’t so intrusive when meandering through other people’s tents in the middle of the night. A head torch of course because it leaves my hands free to do things. As an aside, I’ve not researched this yet but I gather there are head torches that you can recharge via USB from your bike.
5th Ear plugs. I guess I don’t need to say more!
6th This item might surprise you. For most of my years of travel I used my fleece as my pillow. It was fine, and fitted in very nicely with the ‘2 uses’ rule. But then I was loaned a camping pillow and was lost! What a great nights’ sleep.
Ours have hollow fill in them and they pack small. They squash down to about 2/3 of the size you see (fluorescent yellow stuff sack). It’s actually half of a bought camping pillow. Out came the scissors and a needle and thread… Birgit uses the other half.
Top tip. Make a simple cotton cover for it. Keep your head laying on something pleasant. 2 uses rule? If I have a camping chair and in cold weather it sits behind me and keeps my lower back warm.
‘Eat well and sleep well; travel with a smile.’ See you on the road somewhere I hope.