As someone who has spent over three decades chasing elk in areas where my camp is on my back, and more recently with an assist from llamas, I’ve come to learn the benefits of comfort. Comfort is measured in hours of uninterrupted restful sleep in all weather conditions. Ounces weighed on the scales of conventional wisdom and armchair planning are left at the trailhead when comfort, a vital necessity in the backcountry, is the priority.
Like many, I went through the process of shedding every ounce, usually at the expense of most conveniences and comforts, at times, even at the expense of safety. When my life was only a three or four-day overnight with weeks to recover from such discomforts, I could possibly rationalize the risks of such decisions.
Now, my seasons are five months long, with sixty-plus nights in tents, often with only one or two days to recover between such trips. Comfort has become paramount. When I’m in the backcountry, I need deep sleep and comfort under every possible condition. Days of hiking and hunting, usually on the margins of quality nutrition, might be sustainable under perfect conditions. Like most elk hunters, when I’m out in it, imperfect conditions are the norm.
That background gets us to how I’ve had over 600 nights of high-quality sleep since buying my 2007 Hilleberg Nallo 2 GT. Yeah, I could save a few ounces here or a few ounces there. But, in doing so I am scaling down to gear that would likely have “folded the tent” before 100 nights. And if I were to have passed the 100-night marker, the few of those nights that were comfortable would have been those rare occasions of perfect weather: no wind, mild temps, no moisture.
Age and experience have taught me the value of good sleep and protection of my gear. After all, a tent is a shelter. Last I checked, shelter is to protect people and possessions. I don’t feel I should have to sleep with my gear in my sleeping bag because my tent is too small or cannot handle the conditions.
I was in the rugged Wrangell Mountains of Alaska in 2018, living my dream of a backpack Dall Sheep hunt. It was a true backpack hunt. With all our production gear, everyone was fully loaded, including the two packers helping us with camera, batteries, tripods, etc. With me was my proven Nallo 2 GT embarking on its twelfth season.
On the thirteen-mile trek to base camp, one of the packers and I struck up conversation about weight, loads, packs, tents, etc. I explained my mantra of “discomfort is expensive,” emphasizing that in another quarter century he would be my age and he would thank me for saving him many miserable nights of lost sleep. My sales pitch was not very compelling, as my tent, weight about ten ounces more than they deemed necessary, became the subject of some heckling as we crossed the pass and glided the last three miles to camp.
The heckling of my gear decisions that lean toward comfort ended soon enough. I came off the mountain, following my guide and my cameraman, with my first Dall sheep split equally among our packs. Greeting us were the two young packers, both good woodsman and good campmates.
Two more days of downpour and one of the packers approached me with a proposition, “Hey, Randy, got any real estate for rent in the Hilleberg?” Confused, I asked for clarification. Seems the ultra-light single-fabric option was as wet on the inside as it was outside. And most of the sleeping bags and gear were afloat, or maybe even sunk. Double tents with sturdy floors were now a shelter some would pay to share.
Not out of malice, but out of a need to be fully rested before the long return hike with our packs loaded with two sheep, I declined the rent offer. I did take a large sum of their gear that was being destroyed by moisture and secured such in the protection of my large vestibule. No more heckling about that two-man tent with the big vestibule that could withstand whatever the Wrangells were dishing out for those ten days.
My tent stories are filled with similar events; twenty inches of wet snow in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming; Red Flag winds in the Gallatin Range of Montana; five soaking days on Prince of Wales Island; and many more, all mixed in with those few amazing nights of calm and quiet along the spine of the Rockies.
I hope the point is well taken. Some of our most cherished times are those with a tag in hand, far from civilization, rekindling the instinctive need to hunt. The rarity of those times makes them invaluable to who we are as hunters. When we are there, we want to give it all we can, all we have, and know that no matter the outcome, our effort was worthy of the animal and the landscape.
To give that effort, day after day, trip after trip, comfort is a necessity. Yeah, I know there are the “ounce counters” among us who will never be convinced by my personal experiences. Time, some gear failures, and enough bad-sleep nights that cost hours of valuable hunting will eventually convince those last deniers who forsake the small comforts for the bragging rights as creative ounce counters.
So now that I’ve made my point that a few ounces of comfort are worth pounds of good sleep, you’re probably asking, “What makes comfort in a tent?”
Comfort isn’t that complicated; it just requires attention to detail: space, durability, weather-proofness, breathability, and a floor that won’t fail you.
Space to store my gear from the elements and space to accommodate a comfortable sleep system. My Nallo 2 GT has a large vestibule, keeping my rifle, boots, clothes, and other important gear from the elements without forcing me to forego sleeping space to do such.
I often carry a 2-person tent, even for my solo sleeping. In cold hunts, I want a better pad and bigger bag, all easier to manage with a 2-person tent. I don’t want to be squished up against the sides, especially in rain. The extra few ounces of this 2-person are well worth the upgrade from a single-person tent.
Durability is a lesson most people only need to learn once. A tent that collapses under snow, or that cannot withstand high mountain winds is not worth the effort to pack it up the hill. Failed zippers, broken poles – all deprive us of sleep and cost us days of hard hunting.
Weather is a reality of mountain hunting. You can’t ignore it. You must solve how to prepare for it. A tent must keep the elements out and the warmth and comfort in. Too many fabrics skimp on performance even more than they skimp on weight. Proven fabrics, with the strength and performance will keep the weather out while you’re in.
Breathability should not require keeping your tent door open. A good double-wall tent with high-tech fabrics will allow condensation to escape, leaving you and your gear dry. It seems rather basic, but anyone who has spent a drenched night in a tent that doesn’t breathe knows the pain of getting all that condensation out of your bag and other gear.
The last part that puts all this together is the strength of the floor. That comes from the design and the fabrics used. A durable, highly reliable floor is worth a couple of extra ounces. Add that together and a quality floor will protect you from more condensation, rain, and the other elements floorless tents expose you to.
Add up all of these high-quality enhancements and you might have a few more ounces in your pack. I can assure you that you will also have a lot more nights of great sleep. In the elk mountains, the investment in tents and great sleep pays the dividend of much better hunting.
To learn more, please visit www.hilleberg.com