The zipperless camping trip

SNEWS heads to the Colorado wilderness to see if an overnight camping trip in the backcountry can be accomplished without a single zipper.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

A zipperless tent, sleeping bag and pack walk into the wilderness …

It sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke, but once we realized that there were options to go zipperless within the three main tenants of backcountry camping gear, we wondered if someone could go an entire trip without using a single zipper.

O.R. Daily and SNEWS Deputy Editor David Clucas volunteered for the experiment and reports on an overnight trip in Colorado’s Holy Cross Wilderness:

“The first thing I realized was that there were zippers everywhere in my typical stash of gear. While I had secured a zipperless tent, sleeping bag and pack, there were still zippers on my jacket, pants … right down to the pouch containing my water filter. They all had to go.

My solution was to wear a pair of Champion basketball shorts with cheap (definitely not breathable) pull-on rain pants. As for a jacket, there are fewer options than one might think. Most pullovers have at least a quarter-zip. I ended up going old-school with a poncho.

My target for the weekend was Mystic Island Lake — a six-mile hike up to 11,400 feet.

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ZipperlessCampingTrip2

The Kelty TrailLogic PK 50 pack would be my first experience on the trail with zipperless gear. As noted to the left, there are still plenty of pockets and compartments using roll-down closures or Velcro, which I found to work pretty well. I did improvise by securing the pack’s detachable top on backward to access some pockets more easily, but that wasn’t a defect.

Zipperless_MultiDayPacks_Kelty_TrailogicPK50

At camp, it was time to test the zipperless Big Agnes Fishhook UL2 tent. I was anxious. It was the middle of July, and I was camping by a lake — the mosquitoes were ferocious. I needed to secure myself inside to avoid bites. The Fishhook set up easily — the hook system was pretty intuitive — but would it keep the biting critters at bay?

It did. I nervously checked the hooks and seals every minute at first, but soon I grew to trust them. The zipperless entry also was handy for quickly reaching in and out of the tent — I could tuck my hands through in a jiffy. This could be a great idea for mesh pass-throughs elsewhere in the tent — to reach and adjust the fly, for example — without having to open the main door or exit the tent.

Zipperless_FishhookUL2_Tent

The downside of this tent was that when I needed to go through the door, it took a little longer to unhook and rehook. My dog could also pass in and out, even if everything was fully fastened. I’m not sure yet if that’s a good thing or bad, but it made me wonder about how smart those Colorado marmots are.

As night fell, the last test would come with Sierra Designs’ zipperless Backountry Bed — I had the 800-fill, 15-degree model. I first noticed the lightness of the bag; it sort of just fluffs out of the stuff sack. Getting in the wide opening is easy, and attaching it to a pad provides some tension to tuck the top cover inside and snuggle under the hood. I tossed to the left and then to the right, and the cover stayed in place. Nice! But when I continuously turned to the left or right, or from my back to my side, to my stomach, to my other side and again to my back, the covers did shift. (I move around a lot in my sleep.)

Here’s the thing. It amazed me how natural it was, even in that dazed sleep mode, to simply pull up the covers and tuck them in — just like at home. When I got hot, I just threw the blanket down for a while.

Zipperlesss_SleepingBags_SierraDesigns_BackcountryBedWomens

But note: I was lucky to have great weather, even at 11,400 feet. Fitful sleepers might be a bit more skeptical of using the Backcountry Bed at colder temperatures because of the higher chance for heat loss when the blanket comes undone.

After a good night’s rest free of cold and bug bites, I deemed the zipperless camping trip a success. It won’t make me completely abandon the zipper, but I applaud the innovation, and perhaps it will spur better zippers down the road. And I’ll admit it: One zipper sneaked in on the trip, but I didn’t bring it. It was my dog’s fault. He couldn’t find a zipperless pet pack.”

--David Clucas

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