|Packing for Flying Light
And it is important to keep the load light! Please don’t load your aircraft down as if it was a 4WD! Every once counts when your wing has to carry it. Pack as if you were going to carry it all on your back, up a big mountain......
It’s always a problem – so many compromises have to be made. The old adage, "If in doubt, leave it out ...", needs to be applied often, but there's still lots of pondering, hefting, agonizing, and re-packing. I've gone through the process dozens of times over the years, preparing for long back-packing and motorbike trips, and now ultralights. It does get easier, especially with the light-weight gear now on the market, and I’ve learned a few tricks that I'll pass on to anyone interested. I like to be cozy and comfortable for a good sleep, and this works well for me.
There are lots of light-weight tents on the market these days. Mine weighs just 2 kg, and is a great little 'cocoon'. It not only keeps the mosquitoes well away, but it stops that chilling draught, keeps the dew off, and provides shelter to keep my gear and boots dry if there's rain in the night.
I would never leave my self-inflating mattress behind. It's 3/4 length, 25 mm thick when inflated, rolls up to a small bundle deflated, and weighs very little. You'd think that thinness wouldn't be of much use, but it does wonders for a comfortable sleep, even on concrete! The cost ($90 when I bought mine) seems a lot, but I’ve had so many comfortable nights that it’s well worth it. I also carry one of those 8mm blue mattresses, full length that goes under the ¾ length inflating one. This protects the inflating one from sharp prickles, and adds more insulation and comfort for my legs. I roll both mattresses up together in a tight roll and use a couple of short pieces of bungee cord tied in loops like strong rubber bands to keep the them rolled-up.
A sleeping bag is the next obvious necessity for camping out. There are lots of options here, but I find that combining a light-weight summer sleeping bag with lots of cold weather clothing gives the most flexible combinations for all-weather flying and camping at minimum weight. You often need the cold weather clothing for flying and general day wear anyhow, so doubling up saves weight.
Let's start at the inside, where you can make the biggest gains in warmth. I really don't understand why long underwear gets the jokes and ridicule that it does. It's by far the most effective warm clothing of all, especially for it's weight. The polypropylene thermal underwear available these days is soft, form-fitting and stretchy, and easily fits under other clothing. It wicks moisture away from the skin and provides a layer of warm air next to the skin, just like I would imagine the layer of fur does for a cat! When not being worn it packs into a soft bundle and weighs very little.
Next are a couple of lamb's wool sweaters or those lightweight 'magic fibre' tops. Two layers like this is much, much, warmer and lighter than one heavy sweater, and more flexible and comfortable. When not needed they stuff easily into your travelling bag. When your flying jacket goes over all this fluffy bulk you'll feel like a fat teddy bear, but at least you'll be a warm and cosy bear!
But it's no use being a cosy bear on the top while losing all your body heat from your legs. Those insulated ski pants are ideal – have a look in the second hand stores. They're wind-proof, warm, light-weight, and slippery so they don’t bind when you roll around in the sleeping bag. It’s sort like wearing part of your sleeping bag....
There’s an old adage, “..... if your feet are cold then the rest of you will be cold as well....”, very true, there is a lot of heat loss from feet. I carry several pairs of light wool socks so always have warm feet at night. 20% of heat loss is from the head, so a beany or balaclava worn on really cold nights makes a heck of a difference. Reduce heat loss from both ends and the middle will stay warm.
So I just carry a light-weight summer sleeping bag most of the year year. But a roomy one, because inside it I wear as much of the flying clothing as is necessary for the temperature of the night. I don't know where the myth comes from about it being warmer in a sleeping bag with your day clothes off – I find just the opposite, and I've had many teeth-chattering nights to put it to the test. There are several advantages to wearing lots of clothing inside a sleeping bag; not the least of which is, if you need to get up in the middle of the night for whatever reason, it's no sense exposing any more skin than necessary to that chill night air! The sleeping bag should have a hood to keep your head and neck warm. And it must have a ‘silky’ inside, not a fleece lining – the fleece feels nice on bare skin but it drags on your clothing when you roll over, and collects every bindi burr in the west if it gets a chance.
For really cold frosty nights in winter time, I have another very light summer-weight bag that I put inside my regular bag. The two layers are far more effective than just one heavier bag. Ideal is something like the 'Roman Palm Gone Bush'
It weighs only 0.9kg and fits in the palm of your hand. It's also very good for those warm summer nights when your regular bag is too warm, and it has a mosquito net for those summer pests. I carry it in my aircraft all the time just in case I get stranded somewhere overnight.
As a minimum I use my track suit as pyjamas, and if the night is cold enough, then thermal underwear as well. The track suit is the type with two layers of light fabric rather than the thick fleecy ones – lighter and easier to pack away and quicker drying. Then when I get up in the morning to stir up the fire, I'm already dressed enough to be comfortable, without having to get into cold clothes. If it's a really freezing cold night then I'll wear everything (except jeans, they're just too uncomfortable), including flying jacket and ski pants, not forgetting a couple of pairs of dry wool socks and a beany on my head.
With all these options I’ve been comfortable everywhere from the tropics to the frosty high plains.
The next essential for light-weight camping is a 'space blanket' (that may be a trademark name, but I'll use it anyhow). If your sleeping bag isn’t warm enough, then lie on part of the space blanket with the rest loosely draped around your back, but leave one side open to reduce condensation – makes an amazing difference to warmth! It's also an essential part of any survival kit so I have a couple of space blankets permanently in my aircraft, even for local flights.
So what do all those combinations add up to?
The ski pants, track suit, 2 sweaters, 5 pairs wool socks, and thermal underwear – weigh 3 kg. (The flying jacket is so much a part of me that I consider it as part of my personal weight.) The sleeping bag, small pillow, mattress, and space blanket adds another 3 kg, and the tent is 2 kg.
That's 9 kg (20lb) – not too bad for a kit that's sufficient for flying and camping in just about any weather, and in good comfort.