Friday, October 2, 2009

Rock and Ice Gear - Sleeping Bag

I thought I would share with you the various items I'm acquiring for the Rock and Ice K-Rock. Maybe some other poor souls are in the same predicament I am in and they can learn from my experience. This is not really a gear review, since I haven't really tried the item yet. This is more a "buying experience" review. Yes, it's easy to buy most things online, but spending big bucks on something I've never seen scares me a bit.  After the race, I'll go over every item and let you know how they performed.

The single most expensive item I need for the race is a -30C (-20F) rated sleeping bag. Rock and Ice is a staged race, so every night we get to sleep in a tent, but the tents have no floor and minimum heating. Basically, you have to put your sleeping pad on the snow and you sleep on that. I heard from past racers that sometimes the heater stops unexpectedly during the night and it can get pretty nippy in the tent.

For all those reasons, one can't really take a chance. I need to know that I can slip into my bag and be warm.

I had been looking around for a sleeping bag for a while. My plan was to buy it later, but someone told me that they can be hard to get in the Winter months so I decided to bite the bullet. I have to say that in the end, I didn't have too many choices. It basically came to a choice between the North Face Solar Flare ($750Can at Europe Bound) and the Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) Thor ($480Can). Both are filled with down and had good reviews. I know someone who has a Solar Flare and he has only good things to say about it. The reviews for the Thor are all outstanding.

It just happened that there was a North Face sample sale in Toronto yesterday. The sale was cach only so I got there at opening time with loads of cash in my pocket. After waiting over an hour outside the store to get in, I found out there was no Solar Flare. They had a Tundra for $220, which is filled with synthetic material instead of down. Some of the reviews questioned the -20F (-29C) rating. I just couldn't take a chance. I imagined myself shivering all night and put it back on the rack. So much for saving money. They had no base layer items whatsoever, so I couldn't get the Merino wool shirt I had hoped to find. Pretty much all the clothes are MEDIUM in a sample sale. In things like winter jackets, medium is a bit tights for me so no luck either.

On the way home, I decided to detour to MEC, where I ran upstairs and got a Thor. Done. The Solar Flare was seemed nice, but in the end I just couldn't justify spending that kind of money ($750) on one item. On the way to the cash register, I detoured to the trail shoe section and looked at them longingly. Why? I have shoes already. I have a running shoe fetish!

Last night I slipped in my Thor for a few minutes and it feels nice and cozy. It's a left zip, so I can operate the zipper with my right hand. Couldn't stay in it long because one gets a bit toasty at room temperature. I might buy a Vapour Barrier and a liner to prevent my perspiration from getting the down wet. I tend to sweat a lot when I sleep.

When nights start getting below freezing, I'll get a bivy sack (also on the list) and sleep in the back yard to try it out. Maybe I'll get lucky and we will get some snow soon! The only thing that scares me is racoons. There's a family of 4 living near my house and they will for sure investigate this potential source of food. If they sniff in the face opening and I wake up I would probably freak out. They probably would know better, but I keep imagining it.

So this was the story of my sleeping bag. Next on the list are the Snow Shoes (already purchased) and the ongoing backpack saga. Then, all the other stuff!


Sara Montgomery said...

Great to get the bag. It sounds perfect. Gear gathering was by far my least favourite part of the race. Buying and then hauling it around made me SO cranky. Derrick loved it. ;)

I got lucky in that I could borrow a bag from my sister-in-law. (It had just been with them to Everest Base Camp, so I was rather honoured to use it.) With two of us doing R&I last year, this was a huge deal to not buy another one.

Sara Montgomery said...

p.s. I'd go with MEC hut booties for camp. They're warm, comfy, packable and cheap (a winning combo).

JD said...

They look so comfy! Damn, one more item on the list.

Sara Montgomery said...

I meant for them to take the place of the boots for $250 you have on your list!

Believe me, I'm soooo not about adding to a gear list. ;)

JD said...

Ah. The boots. My wife sold my Sorel winter boots during last year's street sale. My wife and kids get real excited during that street sale and anything of mine seems to be fair game. With the money, they then buy crap from the neighbors. Zero sum game.

Anyway, I have no winter boots, only ankle height "Toronto slush booties" which are not very warm. I don't know that I want to wear that going around Yellowknife. I will probably stay until the Wrap up party.

Derrick said...

Funny, taking a peak at your list I was going to suggest the booties too. Perfect for camp.

You can probably get both a decent pair of boots and the booties for less than $250. Salomon makes some good winter boots that are reasonably priced...

David said...

I managed to get the Solar Flare for a ridiculous price at the end of the season last year.

For winter boots I went with the Mukluks that Scott recommends (kim got them for me for my birthday), and with Puppy Strider they will get a lot of use. I also got the Mec Booties, but then a pair of Sierra Designs came up on Steep and Cheap for an amazing deal.

I plan on a lot of winter camping in the backyard (in a tent). I want to work out all the bugs before R&I - Sleep will be important.

And the list goes on....

David said...

We are sticking around to the wrap up party too. Is your wife coming up? Her and Kim could keep each other company.

JD said...

My wife has to stay home because the kids are still in school. That's her story and she's sticking to it.