Missouri River deer camp.jpg

A float trip down the historic Missouri River in the mid-1990’s was one of the many trips where the author relied on the comfort of a foam pad and his long sleeping bag, items he still uses today. (Photo courtesy Rob Phillips)

As I unfurled my sleeping pad and pulled my sleeping bag out of its stuff sack the other evening, setting up for yet another night under the stars, I starting thinking about just how many times I had slept in that bedding combination.

Frankly, I can’t even come up with a guess. I just know it’s a bunch.

The foam pad has been with me through many adventures. But the sleeping bag has been with me for even more. It was given to me by my then girlfriend, Terri. She is now my wife of almost 42 years, so the sleeping bag is at least 43 years old.

It was a very thoughtful gift for sure. Not only have I gotten years and years of use out of the sleeping bag, it was the very first sleeping bag I had ever slept in that actually fit me.

Before that I always tried to fit my 6-foot, 2-inch frame into a regular-sized sleeping bag and it never covered me from head to toe. I’d have to curl up in a ball like a dog to get completely covered, and then my knees would push against the sides and it was never a good night’s sleep.

Although I’m not known for my complaining, I must have complained about it at some point because to my surprise, on one of my birthdays, here was an 80-inch sleeping bag from my thoughtful future wife.

The new sleeping bag covered me all the way up to the top of my thick head of hair, and from then on nights spent outdoors were so much better. All my other tall friends were jealous. Heck, I didn’t even know sleeping bag companies made longer bags.

Somewhere along the line a colorful little burn hole appeared right in the middle of the sleeping bag, from a campfire ember, no doubt. But other than that it has definitely withstood the test of time. The zipper still works like the day I first slept in it and although not intended for very cold temperatures, the bag is perfect on these summer nights, or when I need to roll out somewhere indoors.

I have other sleeping bags, including a couple different bags that are rated to zero degrees, but when I have the choice, I always choose my trusty old 80-incher.

My sleeping pad didn’t come along until several years later. Before I had the pad, I slept on an air mattress. The air mattress was a quality item, and most of the time did an okay job of keeping me above the rocks, pine cones and tree roots, but it still had its issues. It was a pain to blow up, and if it got cold at night the air molecules would shrink and by morning I would be resting on a half-inflated bed that sagged in the middle, putting my back on the hard old ground.

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If it got really cold, it would be like sleeping in a refrigerator as the air that was still in the mattress would envelope me in a cocoon of cold.

I was introduced to the advantages of sleeping on a foam pad during a horse pack-in deer hunting trip in Montana in the early 1990’s. The outfitter made beds out of pieces of plywood set up on tree trunk rounds. On the plywood was a four-foot by six-foot, four-inch foam pad.

It was the bomb. I’ve slept on so-called luxury beds in fancy hotels that couldn’t hold a candle to the foam pads at that camp. Yes, I was terribly sick during that hunt, and I probably could have suffered through my infirmity on a cot or an air mattress, but from then on I was sold on a foam pad.

From that day forward I have always had a foam pad with me on hunting and fishing trips. And even though it is somewhat bulky and takes up a bit of space in travel, it is worth the effort to bring along. The pad has been down the Missouri River in Montana twice, through the mountains of Idaho and all over Washington.

My pad and sleeping bag combo gets used indoors as well as out. Many, many times I have slept on my pad, in my long sleeping bag on the floor of motels, cabins, and friend’s houses when there weren’t enough beds for the bodies present.

The only issue with sleeping on the floor, or the ground, is, as the years have gone by it is getting harder and harder to get up in the morning. No, it’s not difficult to wake up. It is difficult to get up…on two feet.

Last week, as I climbed into my old, long sleeping bag, on my thick, comfortable pad on the floor of my boat I thought about many of my favorite past hunting and fishing expeditions. And on just about every one my comfy pad and bag were with me.

There are not many things, or people for that matter, of which the same can be said.

Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at rob1@spdandg.com