I've been thinking about 2014 coming up, and realizing that one goal for the new year will be to replace something major I have now with a new piece of equipment. And I have narrowed it down to three possibilities, since in the last few years I have replaced my boots, water filter, and sleeping pad, and bought a tent and camping stove. I also bought a warm sleeping bag, good to 15 degrees, and was very glad that I did on two trips in particular when the mercury dipped to or below that point.
My three possibilities for gear replacement in 2014 are: a new backpack, new rain gear, and yes, a new sleeping bag.
I list the backpack first because that is the most likely. I've had my current backpack about six years. I bought it without a lot of thought for a backpacking trip in New Hampshire, and it has served me well. It has a lot of nice features. But it just never seems to have enough room for bulky stuff, especially the sleeping bag. When I packed up a month or so ago for the overnighter that I cancelled because I hurt my back, my bulky sleeping bag took up most of the room in the main pack. I had to cram my other gear around it. I am somewhere between the ultra light hiker and the guy who carries everything but the kitchen sink, so I do have a challenge getting everything into the pack.
A couple of trips ago, I think the Mount Rogers trip with my friend Hawkeye, he let me try his fully loaded pack the morning we left. I hoisted it on, and without any adjustments, it was so much more comfortable and balanced than my pack. We were both carrying about the same weight. That has made a lasting impression, and I've had "pack envy" ever since.
But if I don't get a pack, maybe I should replace my rain gear (not my reindeer, my rain gear!). It is at least a dozen years old, fairly heavy, and seems to have lost its water proofing. The last time I hiked in the rain, up at Savage River State Forest, I got soaked right through my rain gear. So, replacing it would be useful on both day hikes and backpacking trips. But there also may be a way to restore the water proof characteristics. Still, it might be better to replace it.
Which brings me to my sleeping bags. I have two, neither of which is a down bag. The first is comfortable to about 40 degrees, and although it is heavier and bulkier than a down bag, it is not bad. The other is just a few years old and is a comfortable bag even in 15 degree temperatures - field tested by me twice at those levels up in the mountains. But a down bag that has the same temperature rating would shave maybe a pound off the weight and significantly free up bulk. When I camped at Mount Rogers, I used my lighter weight bag so I would have more room in my pack, and suffered a bit that first night when the mercury dipped into the upper 20's. On the other hand, a roomier pack would mean that a somewhat bulkier sleeping bag is less of a problem.
Pack? Rain gear? Sleeping bag? One of those three is likely to be replaced in 2014. But which one?