Yesterday I came home to a package on my doorstep. Inside, a critical piece of equipment for my Greenland/Iceland trip in four months. I dutifully tracked down our on-the-lam scissors, sliced through the packing tape and pulled out my brand-new sleeping bag.
Always the budget traveler, I will be hopping between hostels and the occasional family run bed and breakfast as I traverse the reaches of the sort-of-far-North (I am not going north of the Arctic Circle, just really, really close.) Unlike the rest of Europe, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands have a network of “sleeping bag accommodation”, a classification that includes hostels, campground dorms, B & B’s, and even some hotels. Essentially, you get to lay your head in a bed or bunk bed for an astoundingly cheap price, as long as you provide your own bedding. The most versatile and packable of bedding? The humble sleeping bag.
Only it’s not so humble anymore.
Sleeping bags, as far as I always thought of them, were fairly simple. They were rectangular and thick. You crawled into one while camping under an open sky or giggling at a slumber party. To carry or store them, you rolled them up into a bulky mess (at least for someone with my lack of coordination). Then you threw them into some forgotten corner of the garage to collect dust and insects until your next youth group backpacking trip or teenage girl all-night gossip-thon.
Well, I have grown up, and so apparently has the sleeping bag. As I scanned REI’s prolific sleeping bag offerings, I began to panic. Temperature ratings? Bag silhouettes/shapes? Hood or no hood? Insulation and shell material? Regular stuff sack vs. compression stuff sack? Weight? Double zipper systems? What features did I really need in my sleeping bag?
As a one carry-on bag kind of gal, even for a 6 week trip, I wanted something light as air and as small as possible. Obviously my old fire-engine red middle school sleeping bag no longer cut it. But I am prone to feeling cold even in the height of a wilting Midwestern summer, throwing on a blanket when it’s in the 70’s. I began to feel anxious – what if I bought a bag with the wrong temperature rating? Shivering through Greenland did not sound appealing.
Finally, after much hemming and hawing, I settled on what I can only hope is the holy grail of sleeping bags – a bag designed for backpacking in three seasons, super lightweight, packs down to the size of a couple of pairs of jeans with the help of a compression sack, and rated to temperatures 35 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for an indoor bunk bed. Now all I can do is cross my fingers and hope this is a blissful union, and not ill-fated. The joy of my summer sojourn depends on it.