Backpacking Flat Tarp Sleep System Field Test


As I promised in my last post, I Never Learn....Backpack Shelter and Sleep System Redux, I am home from a field test of my new shelter and sleep system. I did a 12 mile hike in Nantahala National Forest, I know I said I was going to Pisgah National Forest but changed plans at the last minute. My starting total pack weight was 22.5 pounds, this is total carried weight including fishing gear, food, fuel and my empty water bottle with Sawyer Squeeze filter. I typically don't carry water because where I hike there are so many water sources it isn't necessary. This particular trail has over 30 stream crossings, everything from small branches to main creek crossings, so water is never an issue. 

The start of the trip was cool, 58 degrees, and overcast. The trail head is at almost 5300 ft, nothing by western standards but pretty high for the east coast. When I got out of the truck in shorts and a t-shirt I was a little worried about my clothing choices, but after a few minutes on steep terrain I warmed right up. As you can see the actual start of the trail was a short road walk before we hit the real trail. 

One of the very good things about this hike is that for the most part it is all down hill. This is a thru hike so we park our cars at the end of the trail and get a shuttle to the top. My cousin, Todd, was nice enough to shuttle us to the top. 

On the first day we walked a little over 3 miles before we set up camp. This is predominately a fishing trip and Patrick and I were ready to get into some fish. I will say that the fishing was absolutely fantastic. This stream is all native southern strain brook trout and they are almost never shy about attacking a dry fly and this trip was no different.

Our first camp was just a small clearing and I couldn't make up my mind where I wanted to set up my shelter I finally settled on a small mound covered with moss and ferns. One of the most important aspects of setting up a floorless ground shelter is site selection. You really want a spot that does not have any low areas where water can settle or run under your tarp. I think this site was perfect and even though we did have some rain in the night I stayed snug and dry.

Looking at the picture you can see my set up with the polycryo, foam pad, and on the right the gold colored folded item is the thermarest. I wish I would have taken a pic of the entire set up together but oh well. 
The first night I had a bit of a struggle getting comfortable. The thermarest is a torso length pad and it was much more uncomfortable with my lower legs hanging off than I had anticipated. I placed my empty pack at the end of the pad and put my lower legs and feet on that and it was bliss, I slept very well, at least as well as I do in my hammock. 

The next day we got up, ate breakfast, and moved out down the trail. 
I will say that the trail was in very, very good shape. Once a year the forest service allows volunteer trail maintenance crews to bring pack mules into this area to do trail maintenance and they have done a great job clearing the trail. Four years ago it was so grown up it was hard in places to find a trail. 

We hiked another 3 miles and set up for the night. My setup was very similar to the first night.
I again found a small piece of high ground with a gentle slope. On the second night I new exactly how to set my bed up and it was honestly one of the best nights sleep I have had in the woods. Patrick said he heard me start snoring just about as soon as I went to bed. The fishing was just as good with lots of 8, 9 and 10 inch native brook trout, which are a very respectable size for this area. 

The next morning Patrick and I got up and headed out early with a 6 mile walk out to our vehicles. Knowing that we had many creek crossings ahead of us Patrick kept his small spinning outfit out with a size 8 single hook spinner so that he could fish at the creek crossings. Just making a few casts at the crossings he caught at least 5 or 6 fish including the one I got on video below. 

It was a great trip and a great test of my new lighter weight system. The rhododendrons were in full bloom, water levels were great and the fish were biting, how could it possibly be better? I will leave y'all with a few more pics and thanks for reading. Chris


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