No matter how tiring a hunt is, I can usually hack it as long as I can get enough sleep at night. There are certain tips to get you comfortable on a field hunt to keep you out longer.
It sounds simple enough, but in the field, it can be a never-ending challenge. Wet clothing, soggy floors, cold temperatures, high winds, and uneven sleeping surfaces can work separately or together to make you feel miserable, pathetic, and whiny at a time when you should be content, focused, and quiet. . In fact, I would say that getting a good night’s sleep is one of the biggest challenges facing a field hunter.
Overcoming this challenge isn’t a matter of piling on lots of layers and excess gear. Organizing all of this and trying to keep it dry can lead to more problems and more sleep loss. Instead, sleeping success comes down to getting the right gear, mastering the right tricks, and knowing what matters and what doesn’t. Remember: better sleep = better hunter.
There are many specialty tents that can fit into a well-equipped hunter’s gear closet, but the vast majority of your hunting needs will be taken care of by a stand-alone 3-season tent. There are great options available from Nemo, Mountain Hardware, REI, Kelty, Sierra Designs, and Black Diamond.
When chosen correctly, they are light enough to carry on a 7-day backpack hunt and durable enough to withstand several years of heavy use. They can protect you from rain, wind, and sun, and will withstand all but the worst winter blizzards if they’re well-fenced and secured with guy wires. Here are some other tips for tents.
- Insect repellants and sunscreens can be extremely corrosive to tent fabric. Keep those things out.
- A plastic or footprint ground cloth is essential to protect from rain and/or ground moisture. In a downpour, be careful it doesn’t stick out and catch water that will pool and soak you.
- It is important to choose a suitable site for the tent. You will sleep better if it is flat. A great way to test this and also check for rocks and sticks that will poke you while you sleep is to lie down in your chosen tent location before pitching your tent. Remove branches, sharp rocks, roots, or debris. You are doing this for convenience and also to prevent your tent from getting punctured.
- Be aware of large-scale hazards such as dead trees or overhanging branches, especially during windy conditions before snowfall. You don’t want to be sleeping there when that big poplar tree finally decides to tip over.
- Take off your boots and leave them in the lobby or outside the store. This keeps dirt out of your living space, which is good for your tent fabric as well as your comfort. If you keep your boots outside, be sure to keep them covered, and also be sure to check them for scorpions or other critters before putting them back on.
For large groups and long trips to the countryside, and if your group is free of heavy snorers, ultralight teepee tents are a great option. For the space they offer, they weigh next to nothing and can be combined with a titanium pack stove to create a heated, portable structure. Tipi tents are also great as community shelters for cooking and eating, especially during cold or wet weather. Take a look at the tipi-style tents made by Kifaru and Seek Outside.
If you’re going ultralight or ultrahardcore, another great option is to learn how to make a simple shelter out of a tarp and parachute cord. A well-made tarp shelter can protect you from rain and snow, but be aware that they offer little in the way of insulation and nothing in the way of protection from insects.
Bivouac shelters: why you shouldn’t buy one
Bivouac bags always seem like a great idea when you’re packing for a trip. What could be better than a miniature camping tent that weighs about a pound and packs down to the size of a water bottle? They’re especially nice to have on those dry, sunny rides when you never have to take them out. You sleep under the stars, grateful to carry such a light and windy load.
The problem with bivy bags comes when you really need them. Then, with the rain pouring down and the wind howling, you immediately realize you’re in a bind. You can zip it up tight and soak your clothes and sleeping bag with the condensation of your own breath, or you can open it and soak your clothes and sleeping bag with water from the heavenly skies.
The best way out of this situation is to abandon the fallacy that bivouac bags are a reliable alternative to tents. For a great compromise, get a quality one-man tent that allows you to sit up straight and drag your pack inside. When you come out of the storm, dry and ready to go, you won’t regret those extra pounds you have to carry.
The two most important factors to consider when selecting a sleeping bag are the temperature rating and the type of fill. The temperature rating is exactly what it sounds like, the minimum projected temperature you can comfortably withstand in the sleeping bag while wearing base layers.
These ratings are famously inaccurate; You should always use a bag that is rated at least 10 degrees cooler than you will actually find it.
Fill type refers to whether the bag is insulated with down or synthetic materials. Down bags are lightweight and compress well, but are useless once they get wet. Synthetic bags are heavier and bulkier, though they still work well enough when wet to give you a restful night’s sleep.
As far as temperature ratings go, a 15 degree bag is a great all-purpose sleeping option that will keep you comfortable in the vast majority of hunting scenarios you’re likely to encounter. You can unzip in warmer temperatures and you can add a fleece lining in cooler temperatures.
If you have the money for a second and third bag, fill out your collection as needed with a 30 or 40 degree summer bag and a -15 degree cold weather bag. If you find yourself in extreme cold, you can double your bags or use a fleece to squeeze another 10 degrees of comfort out of a single bag.
Always remember that you lose most of your heat through the ground, especially frozen ground, so don’t underestimate the importance of an insulated sleeping mat in cold conditions.
There are three main types of sleeping mats on the market: closed-cell foam, non-insulated inflatables, and insulated inflatables.
For the guy or gal who can sleep comfortably at home while lying on a tiled floor, the closed cell foam pad will suffice. The benefits of this style are ease of use and durability. Since there is no air inside, punctures are not a concern and there is no need to place a ground sheet between the deck and the ground. Due to its durability, the foam pad can also be folded up and used as a seat while relaxing by the campfire, something you should never do with an inflatable pad. Look for Therma-Rest Ridgerest pads for high quality closed cell products.
For those who require a little more comfort, inflatable pillows are perfect. While typical closed cell foam pads give you 3/4” of padding, inflatable pads offer 1” to 3.5” of padding. They easily absorb small rocks, roots, and other lumps you might be lying on. Non-insulated inflatables are by far the lightest option, some weighing just over 1/2 pound.
For cold weather, insulated inflatables add another layer of protection between you and the icy ground. As insulating materials, manufacturers use down and synthetics, while others use heat-reflecting materials to keep you warm. The insulation adds a bit of weight, even if it’s only a few ounces. For a versatile sleeping mat that can be used anywhere, anytime, the Nemo Astro Insulated Sleeping Mat is one of the best, perhaps the best, on the market.
However, the thing to remember about inflatable pillows is that they require a lot of care. They are easily punctured by sticks, rocks, thorns, even by rubbing against other gear inside your backpack. Always place a tarp between the platform and the bare ground and carry a repair kit with you.
Additional tips to stay warm at night
- Before bed, boil some water and fill your water bottle. Tighten the lid and put the hot water bottle inside a sock and place it on your abdomen or the inside of your legs. If you have a second bottle, put it at your feet. If you are boiling water from a stream to sterilize it, you now have two bottles of clean water waiting for you when you wake up.
- Put on or take off clothes. Staying warm requires that you have plenty of room inside your bag for trapped air. Too little clothing can make you feel cold because there is not enough material to trap air, too much clothing can also make you feel cold if you are so tight that there are no adequate pockets to accommodate the warm air. In other words, a giant puffy coat could do more good on top of your sleeping bag than in it. Or put that coat under your sleeping bag where you can enhance the effects of your sleeping pad.
- Wear a hat and face mask. You lose a high percentage of your body heat through your head. A beanie or balaclava can keep your core temperature where it needs to be.
- Cuddle. Yes, snuggle up. In a pinch, sleeping close to your hunting partner can greatly increase your collective warmth.
- Keep your bag. Clean it, dry it well and store it hanging unpackaged. Down bags can clump and lose their value if not handled properly, and synthetic bags will degrade over time if not cared for. Treat your bag not only as something that keeps you comfortable, but also as something that keeps you alive.