3 Tips for Minimizing Condensation in Your Shelter

In the past I struggled with finding a shelter that was condensation free, because I hated rubbing my shoulders against the water coated walls of my shelter in the morning. Or in a worse scenario, being awoken in the middle of the night by water droplets raining down on me from sort of micro weather inside my shelter or tent. Shelter design does play a role in the equation, but the other factors at play seem to rarely get mentioned, so I hope that I can shed some light on things to think about when you’re setting up a camp.First though, I want to talk a little bit about the basic premise of what’s going on. Simply put, condensation is water from below the canopy of your shelter collecting on the non breathable layer of fabric as the air temperature cools and is unable to carry as much water vapor. It’s the same thing that occurs inside of rain gear from our bodies while it is in use. Breathable rain gear seeks to address the issue by allowing water vapor to escape, but while it helps, the rate at which it escapes is usually too slow to keep up with the amount of moisture being put off by our bodies especially under high exertion.Tarps Provide Endless Amounts of VentilationTypically shelters are not made with breathable fabrics, with the exception of bivy sacks. Bivy sacks usually suffer from the same problem as rain gear where the fabric is unable to breathe enough to allow the water vapor from either your breath, body or the combination of the two, to escape. Tents and tarps however, are not made from breathable fabrics, so the way which they deal with water buildup is through ventilation.Tarps will naturally have the least condensation, as airflow is pretty much unimpeded in most situations and can keep any buildup to a minimum. Having enough condensation on the belly of a tarp to cause dripping is rare except in very wet circumstances.Tents ventilate to a much lesser degree typically, but get around the problem with what I consider a band aid in some ways. By using a double layer construction the keep a layer of fabric between you and the outer non breathable fabric so that you don’t contact the wet surface of the outer wall. This makes life more comfortable, but it doesn’t keep the outer wall of the tent any drier, but rather just covers it up. The part or a tent that can help with condensation over a tarp or a single wall shelter is the waterproof floor. The floor will keep the water on the ground from entering the shelter.An example of a very poor camp site for condensationSingle walled floorless shelters don’t breathe any less than a double walled shelter with equal ventilation, but they cut weight by removing the inner fabric, and can have more condensation at times due to the ground and any moisture it holds not being covered up by a floor. The introduction of a wood burning stove can dry condensation inside a shelter as well, but remember that much of the water will be absorbed into the warmer air, and will reform as condensation when the fire is out and the air temperature cools again.Tents intended for warmer weather and 3 season use often have much more ventilation in the form of large mesh panels which allow air to flow more freely. When possible, setting up a shelter with as much ventilation as you can will minimize condensation.The following are a couple ways that I have learned to pick camp locations that have helped me minimize condensation issues in all types of shelters.

Find Dry Ground

Simple but not always easy would sum this one up for me. If the weather has been wet, it sometimes becomes a case of picking the spot that is the least bad. If you look around though you’ll find dry spots, especially near or under trees in heavy forest canopy, or in open rocky areas with soil that drains water very rapidly. These areas hold much less water that will come from the ground under your shelter during the course of the night.

Avoid Vegetation

Plants hold a lot water, and some of that water will end up on the walls of your shelter. I look for areas clear of all grasses and forbes. Once again, sometimes this is a matter of finding the best site available if an ideal one isn’t present.Sometimes there aren’t many options, and you take any spot you can find.

Keep Wet Gear Outside

This isn’t always the most practical in bad weather, but if you can find a dry spot to stash gear, or the weather has broke and your gear is still wet, keeping it outside will minimize the amount of water present inside the shelter.All 3 of these concepts will help to minimize the condensation that will form at night, but that doesn’t mean they are a cure all. The trick to a dry shelter is much like that of staying dry inside rain gear. There must be equal or more ventilation and airflow to overcome the amount of moisture present. Water vapor produced by your body and by breathing will always be present in the equation. However minimizing all the other introduced water when possible will keep things drier.It also doesn’t always take a lot to make a drastic difference. In one of my favorite hunting spots there are two old camp locations about 50 yards apart in a valley bottom. The first one will have so much condensation that it will rain under a shelter even in very dry weather. The second on is often bone dry inside a shelter even in prolonged rain. This was one of the first clear illustrations that taught me how much a little bit of difference in site selection can make.One last extra tip I have is to keep something to wipe the inner walls of your shelter off with in the morning. Doing so will help prevent mildew, will get your shelter to air dry faster during the day, and will avoid packing excess water weight in your pack when you load it back up. A small pack towel, or half of a sponge work well for this and they can be wrung almost completely dry and they weigh very little.

Backcountry Gear 101- Sleeping Bags

When I first was able to start spending some money on higher end gear back in 2010, the first purchase I made was a good sleeping bag. I had froze my butt off too many times in cheap 40 and 50 degree sleeping bags, because they were the only way I could afford a bag that was around 2 pounds in total weight. The old adage of picking two of the three qualities between lightweight, quality, and price held true. A $80 2lb bag that is rated at 40 degrees is a recipe for a lot of miserable nights, and after several years of putting up with not sleeping much at night in the woods, I knew where I first wanted to spend some money.When it comes to sleeping bags, there are a few various factors that separate them into categories. The first will be down vs. synthetic, to put it simply. Both have their advantages, and not all down and synthetic bags are created equally. The other main choice is going to be the temperature rating. While the EN test rating does provide some baseline numbers to go off of in backing up a manufacturers claim on warmth, it is still largely subjective, and different companies rate their bag on different figures from EN testing, while others don't use the test at all.The other factors are obvious but just as important. The amount of weight you want to carry, and the amount of money you are willing to spend for a sleeping bag are both going to frame your decision. So now, more in depth information on how you can find your ideal sleeping bag. 

Fill Type- Down vs Synthetic

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Down

Let's start with down. Most high end bags are going to be filled with goose down. The advantage to down is that it will give you the lightest weight bag for the warmth that you are looking for. In other words its warmth to weight ratio will be the highest. Quality down gear also lasts a very, very long time when treated properly, and can have a lifespan of well past 10 years. Down is also the most compressible option by far, often yielding a compressed sleeping bag that is half the size or smaller of an equal synthetic bag. All this makes down seem like the ultimate backpack sleeping bag option right?Unfortunately down has one major draw back, and that its useless if the bag is wet. Down dries incredibly slowly, and once it becomes wet, the feathers flatten, the loft of the bag is lost, and it no longer provides insulation. For the majority of backpackers and recreationalists this isn't much of an issue. The majority of people backpacking don't spend much time outside when the weather is bad. However, for a hunter this can become a major issue as the we plan our trips around season dates, and not weather.A couple things to keep in mind when going with a down sleeping bag is that you will need to do your absolute best to keep the bag dry. This includes avoiding outside moisture and inside moisture both. A good stuff sack, a good shelter, and dry clothes to sleep in are all an absolute must in my opinion when it comes to a down bag. If however, you are planning on using your sleeping bag in conditions that never break above freezing, down will simply be your option. If all the water around you is frozen, you wont be worried about water soaking into your down near as much. On the flip side, a packraft hunt where you are living on the water probably isn't the ideal situation for a down bag.Lastly, down is tedious to wash, and often is best done by having someone else who specializes in it wash it for you. Both the process of washing, and the long process of drying are tedious and must be done carefully to avoid destroying your sleeping bag.

Down Fill Power

Fill power is something that I find is often misunderstood. Simply put, the number of fill power is the amount of space 1oz of down will occupy when full lofted. So 1oz of 900 fill power down will fill 900 cubic inches of space when fully lofted in a cylinder. Typically you will see sleeping bags from 650 fill to 950 fill. The higher the fill power rating, the lighter your bag will be, because it takes less ounces of down to occupy the lofted space needed for insulation. However, each step up in fill power will also take a step up in price, as it requires a more premium and select type of goose feather.The other thing that I feel is more important to note is that a bag with a lower fill, like 650 down, will not be less warm. It just takes more ounces of down to get the same warmth, so you will get a heavier product in the end. Fill power numbers will apply the same to down jackets and garments as well. There is an argument that fill ratings above 850 are fragile and can degrade quicker, but I am not completely sure if this has solid proof, but it is a theory to be aware of. 

Synthetic

Synthetic insulations, on the other hand, perform virtually the same when wet as they do when they are dry. In my opinion, the main reason to go to a synthetic sleeping bag is if you are worried about water contacting your sleeping bag. They will generally be heavier, bulkier, and slightly shorter in lifespan than a good down bag. However, for certain hunts, the ability to go to sleep in wet clothes and wake up with them dry is a major benefit. Synthetic sleeping bags also dry much faster than down in the field, and they can be washed much more easily at home with proper precaution.The types of synthetic insulation are endless at times it seems, as many companies have a name for their own take on a synthetic insulation. It is impossible for me to list all of the variations of synthetic insulations, but I will say that the best one I have used personally for a sleeping bag is probably Apex Climashield. As a synthetic its very efficient for its weight, and it compresses decently well. It also handles moisture extremely well, and would be my choice when I need a synthetic bag. For jackets and garments, I prefer primaloft and Apex alpha, but I can touch on that much more in depth in a separate post. 

Temperature Rating

Personal preference and needs are really the entire game when it comes down to picking what temp rating you need. In general, I would recommend that you pick a bag about 10 degrees colder than the temperatures you expect to be sleeping in on most nights. However, like I mentioned before, there isn't a great temperature testing standard which to compare all sleeping bags to across the board. From what I have seen, bags that are cheap, and/or seem to be incredibly lightweight for their temp rating usually are too good to be true.Personally, I would recommend the following temperature bags for these times of year, but keep in mind that women and people who get cold often while sleeping should probably lean towards a bag with some additional warmth.40°+ Summer use and occasional 3 season use in warm climates30°- 35° Light 3 season use in good weather15°- 25° Solid 3 season use for mountain hunting-20°- 10° 4th Season use in very cold conditions.Out of these 4 categories, I will say up front that I would recommend down for the upper and lower ranges, and consider the debate between down and synthetic for the middle two groups. The reason for this being that temps above 40 degrees wont likely experience bad weather, and even if it were to occur, the temperatures will not threaten personal safety assuming that you have a decent clothing system. Also storms that occur in warm weather are short lived, and you will most likely have time to dry gear out the following day, or even sooner. On the cold side of the spectrum, weather well below freezing eliminates most of the possibility of water getting into a down filled bag. Synthetic bags much below 20 degrees also become so bulky and heavy that I don't consider them a good backpacking option.DSC00806

Quilt vs. Sleeping Bag

With as popular as the quilt has become in recent years, I feel like I need to address the topic a little bit at least. This past winter I bought a quilt and tried it for a few weeks of hunting. Last week I sold it and went back to a sleeping bag. While my opinion is probably somewhat biased, the quilt just wasn't for me.Typically I am not someone who gets cold sleeping, but with a 10 degree quilt I would find myself waking up even on 40° nights slightly chilled due to the quilt shifting and becoming drafty. The more I used it, the better I did become at managing the quilt, but it still wasn't as secure or comfortable to me as a sleeping bag. The other part of the equation that I believe that led to me sleeping colder was the lack of a hood on a quilt. There is so much heat loss through your head, that I would consider a down hood a must for any quilt use in relatively cold weather. A stocking hat simply didn't cut it for me, and left my head and face cold.There were some things I did really like about the quilt though that I will mention. The first of those was the weight. Cutting the bottom of your sleeping bag out cuts weight no matter which way you look at it. You get more thermal efficiency for the weight and bulk you are carrying in your backpack. The second was that the quilt was less restrictive. When sleeping in a quilt you don't end up getting wrapped in your sleeping bag as you roll over during the night. This makes it comfortable to sleep in, and very versatile to use.While the quilt wasn't my favorite, I still wouldn't recommend against people trying them if they are interested in doing so. I actually slept very well in mine the majority of the time, but with fall approaching I am anticipating spending several nights in the woods well below freezing, and I just didn't feel like the quilt was going to cut it for me. However, in fair weather or for hammock camping (which I really enjoyed with the quilt) it is a very hard option to beat.

Other Thoughts

I hope this has put a good dent in the surface of sleeping bag research for you, and given you a few things to think about. One thing I didn't mention was the introduction of water resistant down. I'm aware of it, and I have tried it, but from my personal experiences, it doesn't live up to the hype. I don't believe that it is a bad thing to have, as it wont hurt the performance of the down, but I really haven't seen it help a whole lot either after trying several companies products which include it. I believe there is a reason that the companies making the highest quality down gear aren't using it, and I tend to view it more as gimmick than a necessity.Lastly, if you're looking for a product suggestion or have a question on something I didn't cover, please comment below or reach out to me on social media. I'd also greatly appreciate it if everyone gave this blog a follow as it will help me to continue creating content.Cheers   

Backcountry Gear 101- Introduction

The Plan

Over the next several weeks, as you prepare for the fall hunting seasons, I want to share what I have learned over the years in terms of gear. Good gear can make or break a hunt, but there are also priorities when it comes to choosing what to spend your hard earned money on. Is it better to upgrade your sleeping bag, or buy a gps? Will expensive broadheads benefit you over the economical option? Is a 20d nylon better than a 10d nylon? These are real questions that can often be confusing and take a lot of time to sort through.DSC01052Over time I have been fortunate to try a ton of different gear, but unfortunately most of it was through trial and error by buying the same item multiple times from various manufacturers until I sorted out what I really needed. What I came to find over time, was an understanding of what specs matter, which ones didn't, and how to base my purchases based on how those specs related to what I knew I needed.I relentlessly pick apart my gear list every winter and evaluate how every item I packed worked, didn't work, or maybe wasn't used. After doing this for multiple years now I feel like I have figured out quite a bit, but I also still seem to have room for change every season. Just this last week I decided to once again change my sleeping bag, rain jacket, and to try another puffy jacket. (Those reviews will be coming up at a later date as well.) 

What I Need

In the coming posts I will document what I have learned to date, and where I am still searching for the a better fit in my gear arsenal. But for now, I want to hear from you. What gear are you researching? What do you have questions about? What gear has been great and what has given you trouble? Please comment below and subscribe!dsc01018 

Tarps- the ultimate ultralight shelter

Over the last few years, it has seemed like floorless shelters have been the hot new thing. However, my absolute favorite of floorless shelters is nothing new at all. The tarp has been around for a very long time, and for good reason. Very few things can compete with a tarp on an all around scale that involves, weight, livable space, and versatility. So, I thought I would sit down for a moment and write some of my thoughts as to why the tarp is my ultimate 3 season shelter for backpacking and hunting.WEIGHT VS. SPACEA tarp packs an incredible punch when it comes to this first category. I mainly use two tarps currently, one being a Kifaru Sheep Tarp (roughly 9'x5') and a Hilleberg Tarp 10 (roughly 10'x12'). The Kifaru is under 1lb, and the Hilleberg is well under 1.5lbs after I switched guylines from what it originally came with. Its nearly impossible to find a good tent that weighs less than 2lbs, and when you do, the amount of space is miniscule compared to what either of these tarps can provide. I often pitch either of these tarps 5 or 6 feet off the ground so that I can walk in and out of my shelter, which is a luxury that's impossible with just about any backpacking tent. A 10x12 tarp, at less that 1.5lbs, is more than a comfortable amount of space for two people plus gear.VERSATILITYAnother major advantage that I find to tarps, is that they can be pitched in about as many ways as you can imagine. This is especially helpful in hunting situations where you find yourself far from anything resembling a suitable campsite many times. A tarp can be pitched over a deer bed for example giving enough extra space for gear, and just enough of a flat spot for one person to sleep in. A tarp also serves a good sun shade in the middle of the day, or a quick pop up shelter to hunker under in a thunderstorm.It seems that even though I use a basic a-frame pitch most of the time, I never pitch a tarp the same any two days on a trip. Being creative to make use of a combination of trees, rocks, stakes, and whatever else you find is the real freedom that a tarp comes with. Almost any situation that I seem to find myself in, I can come up with a way to set up shelter for good or bad weather.SIMPLICITYNot much could be more basic than a flat piece of fabric for a shelter, and the fact that there are no poles to break, no zippers to fail, and no space requirements to deal with really lets me adapt to wherever I find myself at the end of the day. A simple shelter makes for fast setup and takedown, and just one less thing to worry about while backpacking.MY TARP SETUPThese are a couple things that I have found useful while tarp camping over the years and they have helped me become more efficient at doing so.The first thing I will mention is having good guyline. The best that I have been able to find is 1.2mm Dyneema from ZPacks.com that is called zline. It has virtually no stretch to it, it will hold several hundred lbs, and it weighs .55oz for 50'. Its incredible cordage, and I would say that its the best utility cord/rope that I could imagine finding. For example on my Hilleberg tarp, I over half a pound by switching the guyline, and I think this guyline performs better than what was on it originally to boot.My next tip would be in how you tie on your guyline. Learn how to tie a friction hitch, and tie one to attach the tarp on every guyline. Having the friction hitch on the top end of the guyline will allow you to adjust tension without having to re-tie or adjust you stakes or tie-down points. This makes things much faster and simpler in the field, and can save several minutes every time you set up your tarp. These knots will take the job of a line runner or tensioner, but without adding a piece of plastic to the guyline to get tangled in your stuff sack, or just add weight to your overall setup.Finally, I try to carry a few good, strong tent stakes and couple extra 10' sections of cord. The tent stakes are obvious as to usage, but I will say that I prefer a good strong DAC aluminum v-peg. For me, these have been the strongest and I rarely end one even when kicking them into the ground. Several companies sell them, but I am still using a set that came with a Hilleberg tent because I really love the yellow color which seems to really help me keep from losing them. The extra guyline I also keep in the bag that stores my tent stakes, and I use it anytime I want to add some length to a ridgeline, or maybe reinforce the stability of a pole holding up an end of the tarp. Having a couple pieces already cut to 10' or so and with your stakes makes life a lot easier when you find that you need to reach a little farther to tie off.

My Binocular Harness and what's inside

The ever popular "Bino Harness" seems to have taken the industry by storm over the last couple years, and at this point it seems that everybody is making one. So, with as popular as it is, I thought I would share what I like, and what I carry in it.With so many options, this is obviously a thing of personal preference, and for me, the FHF gear harness has worked out about perfectly. It has just enough space to carry exactly what I want on it, but while still maintaining a low profile on my body. It also needs cleaned in a bad sort of way by now...So for starters, my binoculars obviously go inside the main compartment of the pack. I carry a pair of razor 10x42s with an outdoorsman's stud mounted to them to adapt to my tripod. I have played around with keeping the outdoorsman's adapter post in my bino pack, but honestly I haven't found the need to. Anytime I am using a tripod then I need to be packing my tripod around which involves my backpack. Simply put, I like keeping the post in the hip pocket of my pack where I can get to it easily any time I break out the tripod. A knock against the FHF harness I sometimes hear is that it doesn't have full closure to protect your glass from dirt. I leave the lens covers on my binos all the time so that negates that issue and keeps the eyepiece end free of dirt and dust.Next off I'll mention game calls. You wont see any in the photos basically because it's not elk season right now. One of the things that originally appealed to me about the FHF harness though was the two slotted pockets on the lid for diaphragms. I like these so much that I would wear this harness for calling even if I never needed my binos. They're always at my fingertips, and it allows them to still dry out after I take them out of my mouth. I also always keep an open reed cow call in the mesh side pocket on my ride side, which I tether off with a short piece of cord. I like it on my right so that I can drop it and let it hang if I need to draw my bow in a hurry, and I don't have to worry about it ever coming in contact with my bowstring on that side of my body.In the long vertical pocket in the front I keep my pocket knife which is currently a benchmade bug out. Its a great EDC blade made from S30v, and this is a place where I can always get to it quickly for any time I need it around camp at night or throughout the day.In the left side pocket I keep my flashlight/ headlamp. This one is a zebralight H32 and it runs off of a cr123 battery. I like the cr123 for a couple reasons. Mostly, a single cr123 contains more power than 2 AA batteries, yet it weighs less than one. It also is a more compact battery which allows for a small light. This lamp fits into a great head strap that makes it a phenomenal headlamp. I keep the head strap in my pack for when I want it, but I carry the light on my chest in case I need it in a pinch if it gets dark on a stalk and I have to find my way back to my pack. This lamp puts out up to 480 lumens, yet I can still get 11 hours out of it on medium output which is what I typically hike with, or up to 8 days on the brighter of the two low settings which I use in camp.Next, in the zippered front pocket I keep a spare cr123 battery, and a mini bic lighter. These are pretty self explanatory. I have other means of starting a fire in my pack, but I like having a lighter on me at all times just in case, and this one in my harness is the one I use on a daily basis to light a stove, start a fire, ect.In the flat pocket on the back of the harness I keep my license and tags, a tyto 1.1, and some replacement blades for the tyto. I'm a big fan of scalpel blades for breaking down game, and I've never had an issue with breaking them. They're razor sharp and I can carry the handle and 5 blades for well under 2 ounces (yes I know there are no blades in the container in the picture.) The tyto and blades are flat enough that I can't tell a difference in the feel of the harness against my chest whether they're in it or not. I also like the plastic blade case from havalon so that I have somewhere to put the dull blades, as well as somewhere to put a blade that is still sharp when I am done using the knife.Carrying this stuff on my chest allows me quick access to the things I use frequently, and it's also just enough to get me by and get me back to my pack after a stalk, even if that is in the dark. I will most likely add a rangefinder pouch back onto the right side of the harness for bow season this year, but lately while I had been rifle hunting for bears I preferred to keep it in the hipbelt of my pack since its a little less critical to have at my fingers.I fully subscribe to the theory of having your gear organized and in the same place 100% of the time so that when things happen quickly, you're organized, prepared, and don't need to make any more movement in close than is necessary.

Lightweight Backpack Hunting Gear List

To start off, I'm going to stay away from the word ultralight. I've spent enough time around and with the backpacking crowd to know that ultralight base weights would be under 10lbs. While for hunting this list is pretty lightweight, its not as light as it could possibly be, but rather its as lightweight as I need it while still being functional and durable for my use.Secondly, this is just for informational purposes. I'm not trying to convince anyone to go out and buy stuff on this list. I honestly don't care what gear someone uses, but for those who always have questions as to how I hunt with a certain weight of pack, maybe this will answer some of that.I have set up my gear over the past 10-15 years so that I am more easily able to hunt with everything I need on my back for the full duration of the day. I find that for me, this gives me more freedom to hunt effectively, and to use the entire time of the day more wisely as I don't have a need to return to base camp for lunch, or to sleep at night. My goal for this has always been sub 30lbs with a week of food, and with a spotting scope and tripod. Also, I own a lot of other gear than what is on this list, and it gets substituted in when appropriate based on temperatures and weather forecast. I wrote this list up as what I tend to use most often in the shoulder seasons of Spring and early Fall.When temperatures drop significantly, or when the weather turns bad things like a bigger shelter or raingear are something I often add in my pack. Game calls would be another thing that comes along when appropriate. However, this list should give a general idea of what type of gear I have found useful over time. I have paid for all of this myself as of now, although I did get a few things at a discounted prices through friends or contacts that I know. That being said, I'm not taking a check to support any of the companies listed, and I want to make that known upfront.Over time, I have researched every single item on this list from the smallest of things to the biggest, and have usually tried 3-10 of one item in the field before I have found the one most suited to my use. This list wasn't thrown together. Rather it was researched for thousands of hours and field tested for hundreds of days.If anyone has questions about a product and my experience with it, or as to why I chose it over something else, please don't hesitate to comment below or email me. Screenshot (1)