I got to talking to a few other ultra distance riders about comfort on the road, specifically how much you are willing to forego in a race. We all give up a lot of comfort but I believe in taking comfort where you can. That got me thinking a lot about my kit and what I, personally, am willing to go without.
in the lead up to Trans Alba this year I’ll put out posts breaking down every aspect of my kit and today we’re talking sleep kit!
Minimal rest for the wicked.
Sleep. We all need it, some can get through races on cat naps whilst others need a solid few hours each day or night to get them through.
I fall squarely into the latter camp in that I need a few solid hours sleep to reset and be able to go again and even once awake and back in the saddle it still takes me some time to really settle in.
Being able to make those few hours sleep count means making them as comfortable as possible. Personally, I like the flexibility of having a sleep kit with me rather than relying on hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts. That’s not to say that I haven’t used those places and won’t in the future but there’s two things things that mean I won’t go without a sleep kit in 2020.
- There isn’t always an open hotel, hostel etc right there when you want to sleep so having a warm and dry(ish) few hours sleep as and when I need it is crucial.
- Ultra racing is expensive! When you factor in race fees, travel costs, kit, food, this s*^t is not cheap to do so getting some sleep on a Scottish hillside where possible and saving on a hotel is all good!
With that in mind I spent many an hour researching and picking out my sleep kit and here is what I carried during the 2019 race and will again in 2020.
Shelter: Rab Alpine Bivi
This was the piece of kit I spent the most time picking out. This had to be right! My main criteria were:
- Zip closure
- Small pack size
- Big enough for someone 6’7”.
I looked at a tonne of different bivi bags and without spending a fortune that I don’t have on a custom bag this felt like my best option.
It’s waterproof and breathable courtesy of the use of eVent fabric on the top and so far this has done exactly as needed. I’ve not slept out in direct downpours but drizzle and a bit of sideways rain was ever present in Scotland and Wales where I’ve used it and not once (yet!) have I woken up damp.
It’s long enough and wide enough across the shoulders to give me some space to shift around and could easily accommodate a three or four season bag when used in colder conditions than I’ve used it so far.
It’s not the lightest bag out there at +\- 470 grams but packs down small enough at 30cm x 12cm so it’s quick and easy to put away.
The only downside I’ve noted so far is a little condensation on the floor when I woke up but it wasn’t enough to soak the bag of cause me to get wet. From my reading and research, eVent is the fabric to use in these scenarios so I am not sure what Rab opted for a generic 70d nylon bathtub floor rather than a full eVent top and bottom? If anyone has any insight on this I’d love to know!
Whilst inside there’s plenty of space but the one thing I do find a total pain in the ass is undoing the zip to get out is a faff. It seems to constantly snag on the lining so is a constant case of two steps forward then one back.
The other missing feature is a built in bug/midge net. I got lucky and had midge free sleeps on all nights last year as there was a constant breeze/wind keeping the little ones at bay but if it was hot and still then having to zip the bag shit would be like an oven or risk getting eaten alive should they penetrate my barrier of a judicious application of smudge and a bug net. It was a trade off to get a bivi bag at the weight, size and water resistance that I wanted versus having a lighter bag with a big net but one that was narrower in the body and didn’t eVent fabric and risk more moisture build up/water ingress.
Edit: Forgot to mention in the initial write up that whilst a lag of bug net is a frustration I am looking at having the bag modified ahead of this years race to include the magical net so if by some stroke of luck it isn’t raining for the duration and is even dry and warm at night then I can get some kip without being feasted upon by midgies. I guess that with this model of bivi bag being more focussed (as per Rab’s description) on use in mountains, midgies and mosquitoes aren’t so much of a concern hence the lack of net.
Comfort: Thermarest NeoAir Xlite
This one was an easy choice. I’ve not found a bad review of the Thermarest pads and whilst they aren’t cheap I believe you absolutely get what you pay for.
I won’t use this every night I bivi if the ground is soft or grassy then ita one less thing to unpack/repack after a few hours sleep. That said, it’s incredibly quick to inflate. Takes me perhaps 18-20 breaths to get it to pressure then it’s into the bag and head down time.
It tips the scales at 353 grams which you can probably round up to 360 including the stuff sack and patch kit.
Personally, I don’t carry the patch kit. If I nick it and it’s deflating then a bit of Gorilla Tape will hold it until I’m done racing.
Cost wise, I paid a few quid over £100 for it but on the right day and with the right deal you can probably get it cheaper.
My only gripe is that perhaps it’s a little narrow in the shoulders for me but then again I’m 6’7” so probably a little above the average sizes kit is designed for though that’s never stopped me getting a good sleep when I’ve used it.
Cold in July
Lastly, my sleeping bag. I use a Rab Neutrino 200 for my summer escapades. After buying the Rab bivi bag I had no qualms ponying up the cash for one of their sleeping bags and again, I am stoked with how well it performs.
At a whopping 580g (excluding stuff sack) it’s small size belies it’s awesome warmth retention. It’s baffle design is intended to keep the insulation over the middle of your body (right where you want it) and I’ve yet to wake up cold in it.
Rab gives its comfort rating at 4 degrees with an extreme limit of -1. I’ve never tested it that low but thehave been a couple of nights where with wind chill the temperature has dropped to 5-6 degrees and I’ve woken up toasty warm each night.
One little thing to note with the sleeping bag as well. The zip tags glow in the dark so if it’s absolutely pitch black and I can’t reach/find my phone then I just let my eyes adjust to the dark and the tag glows via what I assume to be some kind of witchcraft.
Secondly, there’s a little zip pouch on the inside of the head liner which easily fits bank cards, keys and probably smaller phones which I thought was a nice touch. I always have my bank cards and phone in the bag with me lest some ne’er-do-well pinches my stuff whilst I am fast asleep. Worst case scenario then I at least have those to lean on.
I know people will take lighter kits, some heavier and some none at all and will stay in hotels etc but this works for me. My view is that in any event where you are pushing yourself to your limits having a degree of comfort where you can is important.
The only addition I’ve toyed with but not pinned down yet is where or not to include an ultralight tarp to give me some additional protection from the wind and rain and to also raise the dew point to reduce any condensation build up….not that I am asleep long enough for much condensation to accumulate but any extra bit of comfort is welcome. A couple I’ve looked at such as that from Borah gear would add perhaps 200g to my carried weight isn’t that significant and could potentially save me from a sodden sleeping bag and ruined race.
I suppose the only other bit of kit that could factor into my sleep kit is an extra layer if it’s really cold. I carry a Craft long sleeve thermal vase layer as even in June last year I found as the temperature drops having that extra bit of insulation was key.
I also carry my Rab Cirrus insulated jacket As agin, even in July the cold evenings and cool morning starts made this a very welcome addition, I’d love a more compact option but they all come at a premium price tag.
So, there it is, my sleep kit in all it’s glory!
Next time I’ll be breaking down my electronics and with the what, how and the why.