Tents have come a long way over the past few decades. For $200 you can purchase a decent tent that weighs just over 5 pounds and comfortably sleeps two. While that 5 pounds may not seem like much, when you weigh out your whole pack for a 10-day hunting trip, the 60 items you need to pack all add up quickly. For $4-500, you can get down into the 2-3 pound shelter category with tents made from silnylon. $1000 buys you a tent constructed of Dyneema, the most advanced tear-proof ultralight tent material in production right now. All three tiers of tents from standard backpack tents, lightweight tents, and ultralight tents offer different pros and cons. If you can afford it, going to the 2-3 pound range can save you 2 pounds off your total pack and still provide a great tent. The Dyneema options are very expensive and can be prone to punctures. They require much more care when pitching than other materials. However, if you are easy on your gear, have extra money, and demand the lightest material then it’s worth checking them out.
Sleeping systems offer a range of options as well. Typically this encompasses a sleeping pad and bag. If you are only backpacking in the summer then you could get by without a pad, but for the extra 15 ounces or so to pack one it’s probably worthwhile for the comfort. Similar to tents, you can get a basic 30-degree sleeping bag that weighs between 3.5-4 pounds and will cost up to $200. It is a great option to start, but as you plan longer trips, need to shave weight, or need a warmer bag, you may want to upgrade. Most sleeping bags designed for backpacking will be made of down. The quality and amount of the down used will determine the weight and insulation present in the bag. Down is a great material in that it is lightweight and packs down very small. However, if it gets wet it can lose its insulating properties quickly and takes a while to dry out. There are some synthetic sleeping bag options, but these are generally more expensive and heavier than their down counterparts. Unless you will be in an extremely wet environment, down will be your best choice.
When choosing a down bag, you will be deciding on a temperature rating. Keep in mind that the listed temperature for the bag is typically the survival rating. This means that a 30-degree bag may not keep you comfortable down to 30 degrees, but will keep you alive. The comfort rating is typically about 10 degrees higher than the listed temperature. The ratings are also based on assuming the following factors: you are wearing a winter hat, you have on socks and base layers, and that the bag is being used in conjunction with a sleeping pad of at least 3.5 R-value.
That brings us to our final point which is sleeping pads. For starters, I know there are still people out there who are hesitant to use inflatable sleeping pads. Yes, closed-cell foam pads are always an option, but they are bulky, weigh the same or more than inflatable pads, and do not insulate as well. The air that is trapped inside an inflatable pad is what creates the insulation which keeps you warm. There are now inflatable pads that have an R-value of 6.9 (that’s a lot), weigh in at 15 ounces, and take up as much space in your pack as a Nalgene bottle. Carrying a patch kit is a good idea as inflatable pads can occasionally develop holes. If you are cautious about where you pitch your tent and use a footprint under the tent, you can avoid punctures to your sleeping pad.
Thinking of your sleeping bag and pad as an integrated system, you can begin to see how they function together. A great 0-degree sleeping bag won’t do much to keep you warm if you’re sleeping on the frozen ground. Conversely, a high R-value sleeping pad will not keep you warm by itself. Functioning together, a good lightweight bag and pad will keep you warm and comfortable in even the coldest conditions.