There’s not much that can ruin a trip to the mountains, but rain and water sure can dampen the mood. Within minutes a heavy rain can leave you shivering with wet soaks and aching feet. Morale can drop quickly and your lively, upbeat pace can slow to crawl. However, water doesn’t have to spoil a warm and comfortable night at camp.
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Gearshed, contributor Sammy Spence explains the benefits of Nikwax Hydrophobic Down and the benefits of staying high and dry.
Hopping into my sleeping bag, I looked up at the sky. There were hardly any stars to be seen, they were hidden beneath a thick blanket of fog. Then I realized I shouldn’t be able to see any stars, foggy or not, because I was supposed to be under the tarp. And I was. There simply was a giant gaping hole right above my head, creating my own personal planetarium. The hole was about the size of an Eggo waffle.
As a Wilderness Therapy Field Guide, the responsibilities of my job are endless. My number-one priority is to keep my kiddos safe. Keeping them safe is an all-day and all-night job. My kids sleep in tents, but for safety concerns, my co-staff and I sleep under a tarp settled between their tents. These tarps are well-worn: falling apart in places, littered with holes forming nonexistent constellations from sparks that danced into the air and landed softly during bonfire therapy sessions with students.
I’ve always had a Therm-a-Rest sleep system, but before I invested in a bivvy, I slept in a plastic sack that the kids liked to call a canoe. In reality it was a large piece of plastic that was tied together on either end to make what looked like a giant candy wrapper. I would get into my “canoe” at night, in hopes of staying dry if and when it rained.
The hole above my head caused me to do some further assessing of my current sleep situation: we were on a slight slope, my candy wrapper and I on the low end, the ground rose back up, a couple of inches or so. After my calculated observations, the conclusion was obvious. My kids had created a bad-sleep-choice taco and I was the meat of it. If it rained, the water would meet me in the middle, coming in from either side.
Before I take my kids out on expeditions, I always make a note of the predicted weather forecast. I took comfort knowing we weren’t predicted for rain that night. Along with notes of in-coming weather, I also make a list of gear needs, an itinerary of where we are going to camp, and any behavioral and medical concerns to be aware of. These chicken- scratched records are important, but they aren’t plans. They are a preparation tool that allows me to think and act quicker.
Though I had noted we weren’t predicted for rain, the skies opened furiously, oblivious to my hand-scribbled hopes and began to pour. The hole above my head became a small waterfall, splashing against the plastic of my improvised bivvy. The situation was anything but high and dry. Quickly, I wrapped myself tighter, while silently praying the rain would stop and that I wouldn’t sail away on my sleeping pad.
When my watch went off at 6 a.m. I awoke to a small pond surrounding my sleeping pad. I was sitting in six inches of water, all trapped inside the plastic of my canoe. Immediately, I thought of my down filled sleeping bag. Looking down at my bag, it was easy to see it was wet. But I was warm. My feet were cozy. I was actually completely dry.
My Therm-a-Rest sleeping bag uses Nikwax Hydrophobic Down. This is a high performance treatment used for waterproofing down feathers, making them able to absorb 40% less moisture than untreated down. Their technology essentially provides each individual feather with its own personal rain jacket. Literally, every feather has its own Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. This flexible membrane coats the feathers, making them water-resistant while remaining lofty and breathable inside the fabric. This treatment cut down the drying time of my sleeping bag, returning the feathers back to their original airy state, keeping me warmer and drying sooner than untreated down would have.
Though many opt for synthetic filling to fight perspiration, condensation, and precipitation, I am a firm believer in down. Down is the warmest, the lightest, and packs down the smallest. Having enough space in my backpack to carry all that I need is important. I carry a pack more than half of my day, so I prioritize investing in gear that not only does its job well but is also light-weight.
As someone who spends 100+ days a year sleeping beneath the pines, I’ve certainly learned a lot about the importance of keeping down dry if you want to stay warm. When down feathers are dry they keep you super toasty. However, when untreated down gets wet, the feathers lose their light and airy properties and start to bunch together. This makes your down feathers useless as an insulator of body heat. The bunching of feathers creates gaps that allow your body heat to escape quickly, creating a possibly dangerous situation if conditions are bad. Without the right gear and prolonged exposure to cool temperatures the body becomes at risk for Hypothermia. Staying warm and dry isn’t just a comfort factor; it’s a matter of safety when you are deep in the backcountry.
Though I can’t plan for the weather, I can be prepared for it. I can’t predict the outcome of a day’s hike, and I can’t plan for what will happen when you give twelve angst-y teenagers a backpack and hike them up a mountain. But I can equip myself with the right tools to keep me alert and prepared.
A huge part of my job is choosing and investing in gear that will keep me safe. My choice in sleeping bag is just as important as my hand scribbled ideas. When I invest in gear that keeps me dry and keeps me resting well, I am investing in myself and my ability to guide responsibly.
As outdoor adventurers, limit pushers, tree climbers, pow hunters and summit hikers, we know we can’t plan for everything that happens when we’re out on expedition. We simply can prepare for the unexpected. Just about the only plan we can follow is the trail. When we leave control behind and let the sweet chaos of the adventure take over, we get the opportunity to find a heightened awareness for nature and all aspects of its wild and unpredictable beauty. Good gear allows us to be a little braver and hit the trail no matter the weather forecast. Therm-a-Rest sleeping bags have the technology to provide us with easier dreaming.
We know that weather will move in too quickly, blisters will form, snow storms will sweep in, temperatures will drop, and the beta will change. All this uncertainty in adventure is why we get outside in the first place: to feel alive. Thankfully, Therm-a-Rest makes bags that allow us to experience the wild world as is, without disturbing the environment in any way. Unlike other treatments, Nikwax® Hydrophobic Down is a water-based technology that’s Flourocarbon-free (a.k.a. PFO’s, PFOA’s or PFC’s) making it safe for us and the environment we love.
You can’t always be high and dry (and believe me, you won’t be), but there are some things you can always be: you can be prepared, kind, respectful, positive, thankful and brave. When you have the right gear you can consult the list, but you don’t have to cross your fingers. As poster children for type II fun, we know nothing goes as planned when we are out in the wilderness. When you have the right tools, you don’t have to be high and dry, but of course, it doesn’t hurt to try.