a walkthrough of our sleep systems

If you read our post about what we eat on road trips (here), it should come as no surprise that we do everything we can to keep costs down for our adventures. One thing we’ve learned is the importance of knowing the things that are worth investing in so we can save money later! Callen is here today to talk about what is debatably the most important aspect of our trips, sleep systems!

Not only is Callen a former REI employee (meaning he knows what’s on the market and has talked many customers through this), he is also extremely detail oriented when it comes to purchasing anything (just ask him about his calories-per-dollar theory), so he knows a ton about pretty much every product out there and has put a lot of thought and effort in to our personal sleep systems. I hope this helps! As always, if you have any questions feel free to e-mail us directly, we love helping people learn to camp well!

One of the best ways to save money while traveling is avoiding accommodation costs (i.e. hotels, camping fees, etc). Comfort however, is not to be overlooked.  Especially when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. This brings each adventurer to purchasing and crafting a sleep-system that suits his or her needs on the road.  Sleep-systems vary greatly, but often consist of the following:

  • Sleeping Pad
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Bag Liner
  • Pillow
  • Storage

This blog walks through our tent camping sleep-system. It is important to note that sleep systems are not one size fits all. Think about what you want to do, climate, weight, and ease of use and test multiple systems at an outdoor store before pulling the trigger on something flashing by on steep and cheap. It’s also important to note that the temperature ratings are based on the average man or woman dressed in base layer pants and top, socks, and a beanie.

The Sleeping Pad:

I want to start with the sleeping pad because it has been the most important detail of our systems to attain real comfort on the road and in the backcountry. A lot of people neglect the importance of a good pad and suffer accordingly (note that some people are content in this suffering). We don’t like sleeping discomfort, so we invested in some nice insulated pads. 

Abbi uses a self-inflating foam pad by Thermarest. Thermarest invented this type of pad and it has been an industry standard for decades. It’s easy to inflate, deflate, and store. Abbi has had no complaints since switching to the Women’s Specific ProLite Plus last fall.

I use an air pad by Sea To Summit. As a stomach sleeper, finding a comfortable pad that wasn’t too heavy was quite a challenge. Sea To Summit released a line of pads within the last year or so that immediately grabbed my attention. I went with the UltraLight Insulated pad in a size Large and have not looked back.  

It takes us about 1-2 minutes to unpack and inflate our pads, while deflating and packing takes about 3-4 minutes.

The Sleeping Bag(s): 

Managing warmth is imperative for comfortable nights on the road. Being native Texans, we quickly discovered that our 30ish-degree bags were insufficient for colder climates and ultimately decided to get two bags each; one for warmer adventure, and one for cooler nights. We car camp 70% of the time, but wanted bags that were packable and light enough to backpack when we want to. 

Abbi has a synthetic Rei Lyra 24 for the warmer nights and a down Marmot Teton 15 for the cold nights.

I’ve got an old Rei Lumen 20 that I lived in during my nomadic times at UT in Austin that has lost heat retention and is mostly my loaner bag for bringing friends camping in mild weather. My current warm-weather bag is a synthetic Marmot Cloudbreak 30 and my cold-weather bag is a down Marmot Plasma 15. I scored the Plasma 15 at an REI garage sale when I worked there for $100… The synthetic Marmot Trestless 15 is a more budget friendly option.

Bag Liners:

An accessory that I advocate is a sleeping bag liner, although it is not absolutely necessary. Liners prolong bag life by reducing the number of times you need to wash a bag, aid in moisture management, increase comfort, and can add extra insulation to a system or be used as a stand alone bag in hot weather. Liners come in a variety of shapes, warmth, and materials.  Our liners claim to add up to 15-degrees of warmth to our existing systems. We both have Sea To Summit liners that were, once again, scored in REI garage sales.


“I’ll just use clothes, they said. It will be fun, they said…”  Yeah too many restless nights bundling smelly garments under my face brought me to purchasing an ultra light air pillow for backpacking. When we car camp we just bring pillows from home, which is awesome. Abbi still uses her Patagonia Nano-Air jacket for a backpacking pillow, mostly because I’m a bad husband and haven’t gotten her one like mine. Let’s be honest though, I trade her my pillow in the backcountry when it really comes down to it.


Not glamorous, but super important. Sea To Summit has an incredible waterproof, air permeable, compression stuff sack that is industry standard. Quality materials, and workmanship make the eVent compression dry sack a must for any sleep system.

So there you go! Like Callen said, sleep systems are not one size fits all, but I hope this helps you know what to look for! Try things out at your local gear store and make sure you get what’s best for you! While we did splurge on some of these, some we were able to find at REI garage sales or purchase with our REI dividend. Sleep systems are a worthy place for your money! You never want to find yourself lying on your back in Alabama Hills, unable to sleep, wishing you had just bought the better pad or bag when you had the chance! If these prices intimidate you, I suggest adding up what you'd spend on hotel nights for a week long trip and then think how how many more trips you'll get out of your wonderful sleep system!

If you found this post helpful, you might enjoy reading some of our other Advice for Adventurers posts:

Backpacking Favorites

Bringing Your Dog

Finding Free Campsites

Roadtrip Food