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Warm Weather Quilt for Family Sleeping

In response to a comment from Earl, here are some quick thoughts about our warmer weather sleeping system…

After beginning to look into ultralight backpacking, I really agreed with the logic of using a quilt over foam pads for 3 season outings.  The foam pads ($6 to $10 for the blue ones at Walmart, also shown green Army surplus) are plenty warm under you, so all you need is a covering over your top.  Applying this to the family…place several pads side by side across the floor of the tent, then cover up with a large quilt.  It just needs to be large enough to keep squirmy-sleeping kids covered.

As Earl mentions, down-filled quilts designed for camping are quite expensive, $200+.  So, a family on a budget has to look for alternatives.  First I will discuss what we currently use, then I will finish up with some other ideas for finding your own system.  Please notice that I am not talking extremely cold temperatures here.

For 55 + F degree nights under or inside a tarp or tent:

  • Mainstay brand, queen sized microfiber quilt (100% polyester fabric and fill) from Walmart.  Dark color will dry quickly in the sun, if it gets wet. (4 lb 6.9 oz  to cover all 4 of us)
  • 3 Walmart blue foam pads on the tent floor.  This is large enough for the 3 boys and I to share.  With our new sil-nylon tent floor, I have had to connect our pads with velcro computer cable organizers.

  • Wool or polyester stocking caps – long to pull down over your ears and part of your neck.  Loose fitting so they don’t itch.  These are the same hats we wear evenings and mornings or whenever it is chilly.
  • Wool socks.
  • Polyester long johns.
  • Either stuff sacks with extra clothes or inflatable pillows.  (Dollar Tree stores in our area have little, inflatable bath tub pillows that are great pillows for kids once you cut off the suction cups.)
  • Pull ups for any kids that are prone to bed wetting.

We can also get down to about 40 degrees F by adding:

  • Down filled jackets (Can be expensive unless you find a clearance sale.  We purchased the boys’ at an REI clearance for $20 each.) (1 lb 2 oz each person)
  • Polyester pants over the long johns.  (Walmart usually has athletic wind pants of 100% PET at a low price.)

Unfortunately, the Walmart quilt lost a lot of its loft when I washed it, so I guess I “got what I paid for.”


  • You and your kids will snuggle with each other for warmth.
  • Everyone can tolerate laying directly on the foam pads.  (It can be sticky where bare skin contacts the pad…another reason to sleep in long johns.)
  • If your little ones have an accident, they will have on a Pull-up.
  • If that Pull-up leaks, you and the others can deal with it.
  • Your warmest sleepers (hot natured) will sleep on the outside edges, coldest in the middle.
  • Everyone will tolerate these close quarters for the night.  (We may have a little bit of trouble settling down in really warm weather, but it usually ends up being fun.)

Other ideas and tips:

  • Watch the clearance priced bedding at stores like Ross, Marshalls and TJMaxx.
  • Look for the ideal combo of polyester shell fabrics with goose down fill, but be warned that cheap down can be VERY heavy.
  • Store your quilt and bags UN-stuffed so they retain their loft.
  • Pack your quilt or bags inside a garbage back….they must stay dry for you to sleep warm that night.
  • Make sure the quilt is large enough for everyone to stay covered.
  • Consider bargain-priced rectangular sleeping bags that can be opened up to act as a quilt.  If large enough, these will probably be warmer than bed quilts/comforters.
  • For even colder weather, three of us shared a pair of mated mummy bags.  (The middle person, me, had to deal with the cold zipper line.)
  • Higher end sleeping bags or quilts may be found at  It’s like Ebay for outdoors equipment.
  • Always try your new system out with forgiving friends on low risk trips or in the back yard.

I hope that these thoughts and pictures are helpful in finding an affordable, simple sleeping system.  As always, you are welcome to ask questions and add comments.


Outdoor Products’ Stargazer Pack – Field Report

The boys and I spent 3 nights with friends in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area recently.  It gave my oldest son, Ben, about 12 miles of experience with this new pack.  I plan to soon do a trip report of our time in this popular area with good friends.

Ben was carrying 19.5 lbs, water bottles filled.  And he was wearing short pants, long sleeved shirt, lightweight boots and a sun hat.  He is seen in the picture with the red pack.  This trip was made without the frame sheet/aluminum bar in the pack.  It seemed supportive enough with them.

Ben’s main sentiment about using his new pack is summed up as “awesome.”  This was his first time with a pack with a padded hip belt, and he also carried more weight because of that.  He is a very tall, thin 10.5 year old.

The fit on Ben’s very skinny frame was just small/tight enough.  He had to cinch up the hip belt as tightly as possible.  The padding is soft as noted in the previous post and comments, but as also noted, it works fine up to about 20 lbs loads.

Some negatives:

– The side mesh pockets are pretty tight…ideal for only narrow bottles.

– The top pocket mates oddly with the load straps at the shoulders, but not really a problem.

The positives:

– very comfortable for Ben with a significant 19.5 lb load, and it should last him several years of growth.

Voss 0.85 liter water bottles fit beautifully in the side mesh pockets.

– Vertical mounting of a sleep pad works well on the back of the pack.

– The small bottom pocket holds pack cover for quick access in case of rain.

– Initial impressions are that durability will be good with 20 lb or less loads.


All this for $59!  We are, obviously, pleased with this purchase.

As always, please post any comments or questions.

New (to us) Trail Food Ideas

14140_DoubleChocoMousseSupremeCA3D_140_177.gifThese trail food ideas are new to me, and after trying them, I highly recommend them….

1. Bota Box brand Cabernet Sauvignon 500 ml box of wine….3 glasses of very good wine in a small, packable box.  You will find many satisfied backpackers referring to this wine on the Internet.

2. Nestle Nido powdered WHOLE milk. (found with the Hispanic foods in our grocery stores)…relatively awesome, thick, rich milk compared to non-fat powdered milk.  This also seems popular with backpackers across the Net.

3. Dr. Oetker’s Mousse Supreme Milk Chocolate Mix. (found near the cheese cake mixes in our grocery store) Made it with Nido powdered milk.  Turned out thick and very rich like real mousse when I mixed and shook it thoroughly in a 1 qt Ziploc bag.  Make it before cooking dinner then let it sit and thicken while you cook and eat dinner.  Seriously, it is rich and thick.  I tested this while air temperatures were in the 40’s, and I am not sure how it would thicken in warm temperatures (>55F).  In warm weather, I would place it in a cool stream to thicken if I had the option.

I highly recommend all of these.  If you have any questions, just let me know.

Feature-packed, Bargain Backpack

We just made quite a bargain equipment purchase for our oldest…a new Outdoor Products Stargazer backpack from Walmart for $59.  It is a full featured pack of good size and fairly low weight without being cheap or fragile.  Outdoor Products warranties their backpacks for the life of the original owner.  In my experience most items from this company are a real value…typically they employ good, current design with quality materials.  But the materials are not quite cutting edge…they are reliable and adequate and affordable, if not the lightest.  (I commented similarly on Outdoor Products’ stuff sacks.)

Key Specifications:

volume: 56 liters (3440 cu in)

weight as purchased: 1,607 g (3 lbs 9 oz)

with the plastic/aluminum frame sheet removed: 1,346 g (2 lb 15 oz)

Minimum weight after trimming excess strap length, functionless mesh, and zipper pulls: 1,282 g (2 lb 12 oz) (plastic/aluminum frame sheet removed)

For this price point and volume, this is not a bad weight, and all of the straps are much too long.  I plan to trim them down and remove a few elastic strap keepers.  I will update this post with that weight savings.  If gear weight is kept low (a given for a 10 year old), the aluminum frame brace is not needed because the pack has another thin plastic frame sheet that can NOT be removed.  (The removable, aluminum-reinforced frame sheet is shown as it slides completely out.  The light weight plastic sheet I mention is completely enclosed in fabric and can not be seen or removed.)

Here are shots of the little elastic strap keepers that are just dead weight.

Also notice how the side pockets nicely swallow long, thin Smartwater bottles.

The pack also has the nice feature combo of being both top-loading and front panel loading via a full zipper behind the compression “wings.”  In the photo, I have our light gray colored sleep quilt stuffed inside and the panel load zipper open (the compression wings are unbuckled and flipped completely open).  This panel loading feature allows you to retrieve something from low down in your pack without pulling everything out the top to get to it.  This is handy at lunch or if the weather changes quickly while you are hiking.  There are also two small compartments to either side of the panel load zipper.  These are about the size of a pair of winter gloves or a rain shell…something stored for quick access but compressible behind the wings.

There is also a fairly small compartment in the very bottom of the pack.  It is wide and fairly flat.  This pocket would be good for something small and tough like a camp towel or maps.  Also worth mentioning about the pack’s bottom is its steep slope toward the wearer.  This encourages the load to stay snug against the wearer.

As is common with most packs today, the pack can be over-stuffed vertically, the drawstring closure and top pocket floating on compression straps can accommodate a lot of extra bulk.  The very top compartment is not huge, but it can hold a fleece or a dozen granola bars or a headlamp, camera and stocking cap.

The suspension system looks to be quite sturdy.  The padding is a little softer than I’d like.  In other words it feels nice when the pack is empty, but when the pack is loaded heavily the soft foam will tend to squeeze flat offering little cushioning.  But if we keep the gear weight low, this will NOT be a problem.  Outdoor Products has also designed some air circulation channels for the wearer’s back.  They cover the channels with a mesh fabric that is purely for looks.  The channels are supported by padding, but the mesh fabric is too soft to do anything.  We will probably trim it out.  From a distance it looks like a Deuter trampoline suspension, but it definitely is not.  But to be fair, the air channels do look very functional.  The shoulder straps are sturdy and well padded.  They have load straps at the top to pull your pack snug or drop it away as needed.  The sternum strap offers a large range of quick adjustment up or down the shoulder straps via smartly designed “sliding clips on piping.”  They are hard to describe.  The suspension stops short of torso length adjustment…that would add cost and weight.  I would estimate this is a small to medium torso length.  It will work for my oldest son and my wife but would not be an ideal fit for me.

In summary, this pack has several features found in high end ultralight packs that I am considering for myself….

  • large side pockets for water bottles,
  • both top loading and panel loading,
  • bottom sloping steeply toward the wearer,
  • horizontal and vertical compression / expansion,
  • and several designated pockets beyond the large main compartment.

And this pack offers all these features, that I consider very functional, in a durable, comfortable, fairly lightweight package at a price that I can justify for my son!  I highly recommend you check this out if you can find it at your local Walmart, or possibly Target.  At the time of this writing I can not find this pack at Walmart’s or Target’s websites.

You may want to compare this pack to some of the true ultralight packs out there….

As always, please post any comments or questions.

Big Decision…Lightweight Shelter(s)

I have been very pleased with my years of service from a North Face Big Frog 3 man tent.  I purchased this tent new in 1991.  It only saw a couple of nights use each year on average.  It still works well.  No tears, leaks or serious mildew.  (I alwas dry it thoroughly before packing it away.)  All three of my sons and I fit comfortably, if snuggly, in this tent.  In ’91 it was one of the lightest tents of this size.  With a plastic ground sheet, its original storage sack and 7 stakes it weighs about 7.5 lbs.  So, in this case, buying an expensive, fairly cutting edge tent paid off with years of service.

But, I am looking for something new, and lighter in weight!  Originally, I surveyed the shelter market, and decided to just keep using the Big Frog and add an ultralight 2 man tarp-tent.  After all, we need to sleep five when Robin comes along.  There are literally dozens of lightweight 2 man shelters out now.  But then I found the Tarptent Rainshadow 2.  This tent is almost as big as the old Big Frog, and it reportedly weighs 47 oz, using their poles (not heavier trekking poles) and excluding a ground cloth.  That is nearly half the weight of the Big Frog.  Given the good reviews found by a quick Google search, I hope to purchase one of these very soon.

Here is my list of shelters …some of the lightest I could find.  These all have floors and bug netting.  The list does not include hammocks or pure tarps.  I highlighted some of the lightest per square foot as well as some good values.  The prices should be current at the time of this writing.

Your shelter is one of your heaviest items, along with your pack and sleeping bag/quilt, and probably your most expensive, so choose it carefully.  As always, please post any questions or comments.

Reminder: Asheville REI Garage Sale this Saturday

The Asheville, NC REI store is having their MEMBERS ONLY Garage Sale this Saturday, March 19, starting at 10 AM.

Besides being an REI Co-op member, you must have/donate 2 canned food items to shop.  Collected food will go to the local Manna Food Bank.

The garage sale is their clearance sale of all used, returned goods that they can’t sell at full price.  There may be some real bargains.

Happy bargain hunting.

Cheap and Cheaper Stuff Sacks

Walmart carries many affordable and decent backpacking items in their Sporting  Goods department.  The Outdoor Products brand is generally well worth the money…fairly lightweight, functional and durable.

I purchased a 3 pack of small Outdoor Products stuff sacks for just under $10.  The largest of the three holds my pot/stove kit nicely.  It has a roll down  and buckle enclosure which is much more useful and durable than a draw string.

I also made my own mesh sack using an old bag that oranges came in.  In the side by side photo, look closely to see the drawstring that I threaded through the mesh to close it.  I used a straw for threading…a large sewing needle would have been faster.  The mesh sack is good for any larger items that stay won’t fall through the weave and need air…like dishes or bear bag cord.  It will not carry much weight, but it will keep things from scattering in your pack or around a camp site.

Weights: Outdoor Products sack: 28 g,  homemade mesh sack: 6 g (79% lighter)

Enjoy the early Spring warm spells when you can!

Passing on your Passion to your Children

I am trying to avoid just re-posting other blogs, but I love the truth in this statement from Kristen Laine at AMC’s Great Kids, Great Outdoors

I’m aware of a paradox: The more we parents want to pass on a love of anything, including being active in the outdoors, the less we may get to do of it. But by taking the time to share it with our children, the more likely they are to learn to love it. And that makes the time we don’t spend doing our sport worthwhile.

Check out the rest of that blog post and her blog,  in general….

Enjoy your weekend.

Ultralight Stove & Pot

As a mechanical engineer and a tinkerer, I enjoyed putting together my ultralight stove and pot system.  Homemade, ultralight, alcohol stoves are extremely popular on the Web.  So, I read up on many of the designs out there.  I found that the challenge is to find a stove that works well (efficiently) for a family or group…like boiling 6 cups of water at one time.  There are many designs and tests for alcohol stoves that boil 2-4 cups of water for one or two people, but good, fuel efficient stoves for groups are much less common.  A great understanding of the basics of these alcohol stoves can be found at, so I will not discuss details here.

I built a few other stoves, but they never really worked well for 6 cups of water.  They burned out too quickly, heating lots of air rather than the pot of water, or they didn’t hold enough fuel to begin with.  I found this design by a prolific stove designer, Zelph, and I made a variation of my own.  It has worked very well with my 6 cup grease pot and homemade wind screen.  I have used it at 21F and 85F with no problems.

Included in our kit…

  • 6 cup aluminum grease pot available at Walmart and K-mart for $7
  • 11 oz “Aqua-pod” bottled water bottle – safely holds enough alcohol to boil about 24 cups of water
  • my homemade version of Zelph’s Fancee Feest stove.  The stove can be purchased here for $18 if you do not choose to make your own.  He also has some other large volume designs worth researching for your family.
  • a circle cut from an aluminum oven liner to go under the stove to reflect heat and protect the ground
  • a windscreen made of roof flashing…oven liner can work as well
  • small, 2.5 oz Tupperwear cup for measuring alcohol to match the amount of water to be boiled
  • a single leather glove as my hot pot holder
  • a backpacking can opener usually available at Walmart or Kmart
  • at least one mini-Bic cigarette lighter, individually bagged to stay dry

 All of this fits into the pot nicely….

For fuel I prefer Heet fuel line antifreeze in the yellow bottle.  It is very affordable at Walmart, in the automotive section.  The yellow bottle is clean burning methanol, but remember that methanol is poisonous.  (If you want to eliminate the hazard, Everclear grain alcohol will work (ethanol).  It is much more expensive, but you can drink any leftovers.)

Having such a lightweight stove and pot has been a real pleasure.  It’s so light that besides backpacking, we often take it on day hikes, scoop up some creek water, boil and enjoy hot chocolate or Russian tea.  As with all alcohol stoves being used with more than 4 cups of water, this stove requires patience.  It takes about 15 minutes for 6 cups to boil.  This slow pace is only a problem if someone has gotten dangerously chilled, which hopefully never happens.

You can put together your stove kit for less than $30 buying the stove from Zelph.  Commercial stoves of low weight start at about $40 without any fuel cannister or the pot.  As always, please post any questions or comments.

First Aid Kit

I mentioned in a previous post that my philosophy regarding first aid is to only take care items/supplies that you would really use or know how to use.  For everything else, the plan is to get out ASAP.  In other words, if a child gets very sick or severely injured, bundle them up as needed to deal with shock, and carry them out to the nearest vehicle or point where rescue personnel could assist you.

You the parent are at the greatest risk, if you are alone with your young kids.  My 8 and 10 year olds are fairly prepared to help me if I am hurt.  If I become unconscious, they know to bundle me up with my clothes and sleeping quilt and then to back-track toward civilization to find help or a cell phone signal (we carry a cell phone usually).

Here is what we currently carry for hiking or backpacking trips of a few days or less…

Clockwise from top left…

  • first aid wipes / alcohol wipes – to clean out, or around, a bad cut
  • sterile gauze – to cover or pack a wound too large for a band aid
  • medical tape – for large bandages and home-made butterflies
  • chewable Tylenol – for discomfort or fever on your way back to civilization
  • Band aids – for small wounds that need some cover
  • chewable Pepto Bismol – for upset stomachs (PLEASE READ WARNINGS ABOUT REYE’S SYNDROME RISK)
  • (not shown) – chewable Benedryl – for mild allergic reactions
  • (not shown) – bandana and string/cord (from food hanging bag) for splinting breaks or binding large wounds
  • (not shown) – epipens for severe allergic reactions, if necessary
  • (not shown) – inhalers for asthma, if necessary
  • (not shown) – medications specific to your family
  • (not shown) – emergency blanket (silver plastic) – we do NOT carry these, since, if the need arises, we plan to wrap up the injured with other items such as tent or sleeping quilt or clothes from other individuals

This kit has served us well on our fairly mild adventures, but I certainly do not make any claims that this is what’s best for you and your family.  Googling this topic will provide plenty of other thoughts.  I welcome any comments and discussion on this very important topic.