The Sleeping Bag: Ultra-light or Lightly Humorous?

Summer 2010 is not over yet, and some among us are still making plans to head to the woods. We cannot wait to sleep out under the stars on a cabin deck or rocky slope above timberline. Even now in late July, backpackers among us are spreading out provisions on the bedroom or living room floor, pondering which items are essential, and which must be left behind. To save on weight, should I leave the ultra-light, self-inflating sleeping pad at home? Should I follow the advice of best-selling backpacker-author Colin Fletcher (1922-2007) and cut my toothbrush in half as he advised in The Complete Walker? Lots to think about! Though the need for reducing weight on back country trips cannot be regarded lightly, it is unfortunate that backpacking equipment has tended as a result to favor minimalist, spare, and humorless equipment designs.

Car campers never have to worry about how much equipment to carry. They usually don’t need to search, looking for backpackers’ forums that discuss whether a mountain mummy bag should be filled with down or if synthetic stuffing is okay.

Though I have designed backpacking equipment since the early 1980s, neither Northface nor Coleman has phoned me asking for advice. Is it because my designs don’t seem serious?

Granted, the experience of lying on one’s back communing with the stars seems like an opportunity for feeling spiritual and transcendental, and for mulling over the path of one’s life. Do I really want to be lying in a silly-looking sleeping bag at that moment? Would my caterpillar bag and tent combination – which do not weigh an ounce more than similar, conventional-looking equipment, take all the seriousness out of my wilderness experience?

When I was a Boy Scout pup tents were the rage.  Later in life I thought up a tent that would literally look pup-like. A matching sleeping bag would look like a spotted dog, and be sized for adults and children (child’s size is shown above).

Today I find there are sleeping bags marketed that are similar to my Midnight Mummy (1983), having rudimentary legs’ or leg-like projections, as well as arms. But I have never seen a bag like The Meditator, shown below. Have you ever tried to sit up in meditation posture under the stars on a freezing night while inside a sleeping bag?

Car campers never need to worry about bringing along a bulky, heavy item like my Earth Bag. Admittedly, this bag is thermally inefficient. Yet its outer ripstop nylon covering looks beautiful with its green land masses and blue water areas. The bag serves as an awesome reminder of the precious, lovely planet we live on. And it is conveniently shaped to allow for stretching one’s legs wide on a hot summer night, or for two people to engage in romantic activities.

Yet some would say this perfectly round bag, either in Earth or Plain styles, typifies American wastefulness.

There are currently available several sleeping bag models that can be paired and zipped together. However, I have never seen any of my designs, above, on the market. Two Half-A-Heart bags could be zipped together. Two Footsies bags could be zipped together at their bottoms. The Tickling bag includes arm “tunnels” that connect three separate bags, making it possible for occupants of outer bags to hug or tickle the middle occupant. No one would get much sleep at night in this bag! Another bag style, one that admittedly needs further design study, allows for an entire family to be zipped together and to enjoy their collective warmth.

Bags can be designed with a theme. Here, the concepts of reptiles, snakes or ocean creatures have been applied to sleeping bag styling.  Quite possibly a parent might hope that their grouchy, ill-tempered child – who dislikes family camping trips – would be cheered up by sleeping in an interesting bag. On the other hand, such a bag might not amuse the child at all!

No doubt, unusual sleeping bag styling – mostly for children -- is no longer the novel idea that it was when I began creating these in 1983. There are many such bag types available now. A bag similar to my Mummy Bear bag is now available. Perhaps some of the models that I have imagined have not yet been conceived nor test-marketed for good reasons! The Great White Shark bag would likely be criticized in serious magazines like Parenting, on the assumption that it would traumatize a child. Facing one’s fears is a good thing, but perhaps it is not advisable at all times, or for all ages. For example, forcing your daughter to confront her fear of sharks by making her sleep inside the body of a soft, cuddly shark might simply add to her fears! Yet, on the contrary, she might end up later in life as an undersea diver and world expert on shark-human interaction!

Visit Steven M. Johnson at his website..

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Maybe some kind of bear-resistant bag, made of solid wood or metal, but lined with quilted silk for comfort. And a lid for complete safety.

Oh wait. That's a coffin.
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Hey anony: We could go into business together. The Half-A-heart would be available only in pink, of course. The single bag would be just a bit awkward feeling, leading one to seek out a mate (in the form of a person)! Yet relationships are so short and impermanent these days.
I haven't yet split up with my wife of 44 years. Don't plan to,either. But if I did, who would get both halves of our Half-A-Heart? So many questions.
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