I recently joined REI (finally!) and one of the benefits is access to the several times a year "Attic Sales", basically where they sell everything that has been returned used or with relatively minor problems, at fire sale prices. I went for a sleeping pad and anything else I might come across, and left happy. Staring at my purchases I couldn't resist so I took off for a night camping on Skyline Drive.
First, the sleeping pad. I have a 15 year-old Thermarest self-inflating pad, it still works great but the 1" thickness no longer makes for a comfortable sleep and the full 70" length makes for a somewhat bulky fit on the bike. I initially snagged what I was after, a 2.5" Big Agnes Air Core inflatable mattress pad (regular $50, sale $20). I really wanted to like this but it is a real pain to blow up - matter of fact I gave up half way though inflating it to check for leaks as it did not seem like something I'd want to do after a long day of riding. Instead, the REI person recommended an REI offering:
REI Trakker 3/4 Length 1.75" Self Inflating Mattress Pad
$54.50, comes with stuff sack and velcro compression ties
I was torn between this and the Thermarest 2" offering, the real deal-sealer was the REI pad's smaller size and the fact that it comes with the stuff sack (Thermarest wants $14 for theirs) and the velcro straps. The difference in comfort was negligible.
I used it last night for the first time and it was a real treat! I was a bit worried about the short length but I really didn't notice it. I used one of my bag liners as a pillow so the pad started right above my shoulders and ran to about mid-knee. The non-skid surface made staying put in the sleeping bag easy and I didn't notice my feet not being under the pad. Best of all, it rolls up nice and tight and no more struggling to get it in the stuff sack with the velcro compression straps.
Pros: Compact, even thickness, non-skid, self inflates quickly, velcro straps
Cons: No included repair kit ( the optional Thermarest kit works as well as with the Thermarest but there is no pocket for it like with the Thermarest stuff sacks.)
Conclusion: I'd give it a recommended buy - inexpensive, well made and very comfortable.
Next up was the tent. I recently bought a Marmot tent and it is a great buy. That said, it is not a hot weather tent with limited mesh but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better tent for mild to cold temps and harsh weather. But I came across an REI Quarter Dome T2 that packed was just TINY for a 2-person tent, on the smaller side of a loaf of bread or two-liter bottle of soda. It had been used only once and was marked down from $269 to $69.
REI Quarterdome T2 Two-Person Ultralight Tent
$269, comes with matching ground pad and compression stuff sack
I originally took an interest in this tent because it is completely mesh from the floor tub up, perfect for warmer weather camping.
The free-standing design also comes with a full-cover fly with adjustable storm vents:
I really like this tent, it has a lot of great features that make for a comfortable sleep.
First, it is an ultra-light tent so the floor tub is a thick rip-stop nylon. While waterproof and quite durable, it is not as durable as traditional tent floors and the included tent footprint must be used if you are set up on a gravel pad. The tub seams are factory sealed and at least mine, completely waterproof.
Second, the tent itself is entirely mesh. I am a big fan of this, especially on warmer summer nights. Without the rain fly you can feel every slight breeze and there is none of that stuffy, clammy feel of tents with less mesh. There are two pockets built into the side to hold keys and such, though I would have preferred the gear loft that comes with the Marmot.
Third, the fly is full coverage and with tent pegs will create two big vestibules, and without the vestibule folds over on itself to resemble a dome tent. The fly itself has two clever "vents" built in with well-protected mesh underneath with an attached rigid arm that can be adjusted to full open to completely closed - in last night's short downpour and heavy winds I had it set to full open and no water entered. Nevertheless, I could stiff feel the breeze coming through - a really nice feature.
Fourth, the pole structure. The pole structure is a single design with three poles going through two hubs, sort of like a "#" with one of the lines missing. I had a bit of trouble setting this up in the dark at first, then I figured out the poles and appropriate placements are color coded red or silver and it is a simple matter of seating the poles and laying the single pole grid on top of the tent, then plugging things in and attaching the clips. Another great design element is that the poles sit a good 2" above the tent, and are spaced so that with the rain fly on there is no sag any place where the rain fly and tent would come into contact in heavy rain. I have found careful attention to this in tent design means far better air flow and far fewer leaks. Lastly, the footprint, tent and rain fly all use the same four color-coded corner points so the whole tent can easily be picked up and moved.
Fifth, easy to take down! The single pole structure (three actual poles connected together through two hubs) makes that part a cinch, plus the tent itself has little sewn hash marks at the fold points - tent with footprint is folded 1/3 left-over, 1/3 right-over, then the fly is folded in half then half again and placed on top. With the pole stuff sack as the starter, just roll it up and drop it into the stuff sack Then use the stuff sack compression straps to tighten it all up.
Sixth - size. It was a bit comfy in there with all my riding gear, tank bag, side case liners (aka pillows) and such though it was still plenty roomy. The floor is 4 and 1/4 feet wide and 7 feet long, plenty enough for one but no-way would it fit two people if anything other than sleeping bags was involved. Tent height is 40", enough for plenty of room to sit up in and similiar to my Marmot, but quite a bit less than my heavy and large 15 year old LL Bean 2-person Dome tent (the one made by Moss, before Beans replaced them with a cheap version from China.)
Seventh - the tent is a mirror copy, each half has a door and vestibule.
Cons: You know there had to be some
First - the tent door zippers are small and get stuck easily. The ones on the rain fly work great, not sure why they went with the small ones for the tent.
Second - the included footprint is about an inch undersized, personally I prefer foorprints to be about an inch oversized. It is super durable, fits well and the color-coded common attachment points are great features, but it would be nicer to have the whole tent on the footprint rather than everything but the edge.
Third - Both the footprint and rain fly appear very similar top and bottom, setting up in the dark it was a bit of a pain looking for the label to find the "TOP". It would be nice if they embroidered "TOP" and "BOTTOM" on the corner straps. That said, after a few times setting the tent up I think it would become easier to tell the difference.
Conclusion - I really like this tent for warm/hot weather camping. It packs down to smaller than my sleeping bag and is well designed and durable. For colder or really stormy weather I'd probably prefer the Marmot Limelight-2.
On a final note, I also got a brand new pair of Keen sandal shoes for $20 down from $100, a few assorted things like stuff sacks and such, a lightweight gore-tex jacket, and was beaten to a new but torn packaging Jet Boil for $20 by a guy who shot me an elbow and grabbed for it