For mild conditions, a normal sleeping bag can simply provide too much warmth. Sure, you can partially unzip a bag that has a high temperature rating, but your legs and feet can still be uncomfortably warm. Fortunately, you can combine a Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad with a Tech Blanket and Fitted Sheet to create a sleeping system that's not too hot and not too cold. While backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in early fall, we found that the Tech Blanket/Fitted Sheet combo feels just right.
The system begins with the Fitted Sheet, which slips over a Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad. The sheet has sleeves at both ends, as well as elastic straps that keep the sheet securely attached to the pad. We didn't have any trouble slipping the pad through the bottom straps, and there's a handy socket that houses the pad's air valve. The surface of the sheet is brushed polyester, which proved soft enough for bare skin, even as we rolled back and forth during the night. One nice detail is the tacky material on the bottom sheet straps, which helps prevent the pad from sliding around on a slick tent floor.
The sheet is available in large, regular and medium sizes to accommodate all models of Therm-a-Rest pads. We used the large sheet (25 inches by 77 inches) with a 72-inch Therm-a-Rest pad, and it fit well.
The next part of the system is the Tech Blanket, which has a thin layer of synthetic insulation sandwiched between durable nylon. The blanket attaches to the sheet via snaps at three points along each side of the sheet, and two points at the bottom end. When attached to the sheet, the blanket kept our testers comfortable when temperatures ranged from the low to high 60s. We found that the openings between snaps served well as vents that allowed just enough air to flow through to keep us from overheating.
Keep in mind that if you travel during the shoulder seasons, you may encounter a cold snap that can overwhelm this sleeping system. If the weather goes from mild to a bit chilly, you are going to feel drafts. The highest snap attachment point for the blanket is at about the chest area, so the top of the blanket is open and exposes the shoulders. When a cold front moved through the Appalachian Mountains, and temps dipped into the 50s, one tester did put on a base layer, cap and socks to remain comfortable. One nice detail is the draw cord at the foot of the blanket that allows you to cinch this portion to regulate airflow and heat retention.
The blanket is not fitted too tightly to the pad and allows room to roll and turn over. The amount of space lies somewhere between what you get with a normal rectangular bag and a generous mummy bag. During the several nights we spent using the blanket and sheet, the sheet stayed put, and the pad never popped out, even as we turned over occasionally during the night.
We thought the blanket was an acceptable weight and took up a modest amount of space in a backpack. It's available in two sizes, with the large measuring 58 inches by 80 inches, and weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces. The regular, measuring 48 inches by 76 inches, weighs 1 pound, 5 ounces. The Tech Blanket fits into an integral pouch and packs down to something about the size of a football. The Fitted Sheet has a separate pouch that's 6 inches by 8 inches.
And speaking of football, we've spent a few afternoons in the house lounging under the blanket watching college games. It's nice that you can detach the blanket from the sheet to use it around the house, on an airplane, or as part of your winter emergency gear in your vehicle. Oh, one other nice feature -- the snaps allow you to connect multiple Tech Blankets, which is great if you want to share space with someone, or just want a larger-sized blanket.
If we had any criticism with the system, it's that the snaps are small and a bit fickle. But that's a minor issue, and overall, we're happy that we've found a sleep system that works better than a traditional bag in warmer weather.
SNEWS® Rating: 5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: Fitted Sheet $24.95 (large) $22.95 (regular) $20.95 (medium); Tech Blanket $59.95 (large) $49.95 (regular).
For more information:www.thermarest.com