With the car decision made in early 2013, we could begin to assemble the gear we’d be taking, freed from having to reduce what we would take with us because we could now ship it all in the car. This proved to be both a blessing and a curse. To be perfectly honest, we took a bit more than we needed.
Gear wise, our first priority was a new tent. We’ve owned many over the years, ranging from two man set-ups to larger family sized productions. Given three prior multi-month trips to Europe (1977, 79, and 84) we knew how important a wind and waterproof structure would be, of a quality of design and construction that it would hold up under lengthy use.
Our current tent, a Sierra Designs four man was too small for six months of living and too old to risk failure, so we sought out something larger (with enough headroom to stand up in) from one of the outdoor companies known for quality products, such as North Face, Marmot, or Sierra Designs. Desiring to be able to actually view each tent considered before purchasing, a somewhat limiting factor, we utilized those available at the nearby Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), an outdoors and sporting goods coop I’ve been a member of since the mid 1970’s. With retail outlets in most major cities and a ten percent dividend paid at the end of each year on your purchases, it’s our go to place for equipment.
They had three or four tents available that met our specifications and we spent part of an afternoon at the store utilizing their spacious meeting room to set up each tent (of those they had in stock) to check out their attributes, from ease of set-up to construction to amenities offered. We narrowed our search down to two, the Marmot Limestone 6 and the North Face Bedrock Six. In the end we settled on the Bedrock 6 for its appearance (hey, looks are important when you’re living in the thing), interior dimensions, and on-line reviews.
Overall we were happy with the tent in terms of its size and livability but did have our share of problems with its design and construction as the trip wore on. The tent uses just two main poles to erect and as such they are quite long. The torsional pressure applied to them when the tent is pitched eventually bends them out of shape, causing the tent to lose a certain amount of its structural integrity. Readers will recall we had to have a replacement pole shipped to us in Paris.
Our biggest complaint was the failure of the floor to withstand moisture, even though we used the recommended ground cover. Starting about halfway through the trip, when we began to run into rainy weather, dampness would seep up through the floor to the point where we needed to put down a tarp to cover to keep the floor dry. We communicated to North Face about this via email and as we approached the end of the trip, they offered to send us a new tent (we’d send the defective one upon our return to the States), marking them as a company that stands behind their products.
Given the time that would elapse before we’d receive the new tent (2-3 weeks), our uncertain schedule, and the trip drawing to a close, we advised that we’d wait until back in the U.S. to send back the old one, which we did upon our arrival home with the prepaid label they supplies us. After a bit of waiting, we contacted the warranty folks and discovered that the Bedrock Six is out of stock and instead they are sending us a Kaiju 6. Although it doesn’t appear to be as stable in windy conditions as the Bedrock, we are getting it for free on warranty. We’ll report over time on our satisfaction with this product.
Choosing the sleeping bags and pads was a little easier as we had a pretty good idea about what we needed. Given that we wouldn’t be camping in extreme cold, the bags could just be a good car camping model and we found the answer in the Kelty Supernova. This versatile set-up features two bags that zip together to form a queen size bed surface, with a down filled top and polyester filled bottom.
This combination worked very well for us, giving us the versatility to adapt it to the varying temperature conditions we encountered. About a month into the trip we purchased a fitted double bed sheet to use with the pads, enabling us to discontinue using the bottom half of the bag. This arrangement meant that we could wash the sheet on a regular basis, something you can’t do with sleeping bags.
Our final big purchase would be the pads we’d sleep on. Knowing that the quality of the pad would be the largest determinant of our long-term comfort sleeping in a tent, we were willing to spend what was needed to buy the best pad for our purposes. We narrowed our choices down to the Exped Mega Mat 10 LXW and the Thermarest NeoAir Dream.
We ordered one of each from REI and brought them home, inflating them side-by-side and gave them both a pretty good test. In the end the overall firmness from edge to edge of the Thermarest combined with its foam topper, which gave a true mattress like feel won us over. Also, we are long time users of Thermarest pads and have found them to be very reliable. After sleeping on them or nearly six months, I can honestly say that they are as comfortable as our mattress at home.
Indeed, one of the positive attributes of camping when traveling long term is that your tent becomes your home base. Traveling from town to town and sleeping in hotel beds is a mixed bag and over time becomes tiring, as the sleep quality isn’t always consistent. For us, the tent, pads and sleeping bag became our home away from home, the same comfortable sleeping arrangement each night.
I’ll cover the rest of our equipment in the next post. Whether camping is your cup of tea or not, If you are considering doing so in a tent be sure to commit to good quality equipment that can hold up to harsh conditions. You never know what type of weather, or stressful situation you might run into.
Limestone 6: http://marmot.com/products/details/limestone-6p-new
Thermarest NeoAir Dream: http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/mattresses/camp-and-comfort/neoair-dream/product
Exped Mega Mat 10 LXW: http://www.exped.com/usa/en/product-category/mats/mega-mat-10-lxw