AT Backpacking Gear: Sleep System

I’m preparing for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike next year. In addition to physical and mental preparation, I’m working through what gear to carry. My goal is to have less than 25 total pounds for a week’s hike, including food, water and fuel. One of the key items is the sleep system, since getting a good night’s rest is paramount. Hiking for 6 months across the eastern United States is hard, physical labor and you can’t do it on a couple hours of fitful sleep. As I’ve said before, the weight of your pack is all about what you are afraid of. My biggest fear is being wet and cold and freezing to death, so it’s not surprising that this category is a heavy one, over 4 pounds.

Sleep system

  • Sleeping bag: Big Agnes, Juniper SL 25F, Petite, 34 ounces   $224
  • Silk liner: 5 ounces  $70
  • Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes, Insulated Air Core, rectangular, 20×66, 22 ounces    $85 (THIS ITEM HAS CHANGED. I NOW USE THE Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad, R, 20×72 AT 16 OUNCES)
  • Bivy SOL Emergency Bivy 4 ounces    $17 (NOTE: After a November shake down hike, I ditched this item. With a better tent, I didn’t need it)
  • Pillow Cocoon Hyperlight Air-Core Travel Pillow 3 ounces $30

Sleeping Bf96e7781-662c-483e-96db-d0b603c854afag

I chose a down bag to keep the weight-to-warm ratio high. I upgraded from my Mountainsmith Vision 15F bag (under 2 pounds) because of moisture. The down feathers and the outer cover of the Big Agnes bag are treated to repel water. That adds weight, but a wet bag is worse than useless—it’s heavy and it won’t keep you warm. I also plan to carry the bag loosely in a trash compactor bag inside my pack, rather than forced into a stuff sack. It’s been my experience that I’m colder each successive night of a long hiking trip. I theorize that the loss of loft in the bag is a big part of this issue. It’s the trapped air inside the loft that keeps you warm. If you keep crushing it into a tiny stuff sack the bag simply traps less air.

78536664-aeb1-4bd5-bec2-e0089996a351Silk liner

A silk liner will add 8-10 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold night. And it can keep your bag cleaner, reducing the number of washings (since that will eventually wear off the anti-water treatment). Wear it on the inside to protect your bag from your dirty clothes and body. Wear it outside your bag to protect it from the surroundings (like at a hostel). And in the summer I can use it as a light sleeping cover. This is an item I’ve had for years. Personally, I slip the silk liner over the outside of my bag because it don’t lose it in the dark recesses of the bag. I’ll also slip the foot of my sleeping bag into my backpack (and the trash bag liner) if my feet are still cold. I also keep an extra fluffy pair of socks just for sleeping in and will add my coat, gloves and hat if I need it.)

aa544dd6-8600-4cb8-8c96-b7f06ce7df1dSleeping Pad

This is an area that I could cut some weight on, but at least for the colder parts of the hike, I want the comfort and warmth of a full length air mattress. I sleep cold. The Big Agnes pad gives me some reflective heat AND it will insulate me from the ground. Plus it’s long and wide enough that I won’t have any part of my body on the cold, hard and possibly wet ground. I can switch to a closed cell foam to reduce weight. This pad replaces an older model Therm-a-Rest, which has served me well, but weights too much.

As an aside, I gave the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad a very serious look. Though horribly expensive (about $200) they weigh less than a pound and have a shiny, space blanket material inside to reflect back your body heat. But honestly I rejected it because of noise. I don’t want to hear it every time I move. It would be like sleeping on a bag of potato chips. And it looks fragile.

(THIS ITEM HAS CHANGED. I’VE REPLACED THIS WITH THE Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad, R, 20×72 AT 16 OUNCES. Part of the change was weight, but also the amount of time/energy it took to blow up the mattress. The Therm-a-rest is partially self inflating.)

78a4e9f7-6941-4b4c-b066-dc3bc06f2b33Bivy (NOTE: After a November shake down hike, I ditched this item. With a better tent, I didn’t need it. If I were starting my hike in early March or–heaven forbid–February, I’d carry it.)

I’ve had the SOL Emergency Bivy in the trunk of my car for months and I’ve carried it once or twice on a trip, but I hadn’t even unrolled it from the tiny stuff sack until my last trip. At 4 ounces and $17, it’s surprising how nice this is. Totally reflective inside to trap heat so it might add up to 10 degrees F on a cold night. But the material is both tough and stretchy so it doesn’t tear like an emergency space blanket. It’s large enough to fit my sleeping bag, sleeping pad and me inside. And it doubles as a ground cloth. That’s a lot for 4 ounces. I’ll destroy it within a couple months of hiking, but by then it will be warm weather and I won’t need it. And they’re cheap to replace. Most bivys are $150+. Even the SOL Escape Bivy is $50 and double the weight. It’s possible that I don’t need both the bivy and the liner. I certainly won’t need this item in summer.

0cb41cb8-687d-4efc-9a32-36e629397611Call me a wimp….

..but I need a pillow. Lately, I’ve been carrying my clothing in a stuff sack that has a silky feel on one side and a brushed surface on the other (fairly heavy for a stuff sack). I’ve used it as a pillow by stuffing extra clothing into it. That works as long as you have extra clothing to put into it. But the essence of Ultralight backpacking is to avoid  “extra” weight. I’ve just added the Cocoon Hyperlight Air-Core Travel Pillow to improve my sleep. I’ve ditched the stuff sack and will just keep it inside my sleeping bag. According to the advert, it weights 2.4 ounces. My scale says it’s 3 without the stuff sack. Grrrrrr


(With changes, this category now includes a Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow, rust at 2 ounces. The total weight is now 60 ounces)

Civil War burials in Oakland Cemetery


This is part of my occasional series, learning the history of Atlanta and beyond by featuring the residents of Atlanta’s most historic cemetery, Oakland.

Established in 1850, Oakland Cemetery has 6,900 Confederates buried in its grounds, including 5 generals. (More on this at the bottom of the page).

Surprisingly, some of the first soldiers buried here, though only temporarily, were from the North. In April 1862, Union operatives known as Andrews Raiders commandeered a locomotive, The General, plus a tender and three boxcars at present-day Kennesaw (then known at Big Shanty). They raced north to Chattanooga on the Western & Atlanta Railroad. Their plan was to destroy a supply artery vital to the Confederacy by cutting telegraph lines and burning bridges as they went. They had covered 87 miles when The General was overtaken by their Confederate pursuers led by Conductor Fuller. Of the Raiders, only these seven plus James J. Andrews, their leader, were executed by the Confederate Army. They were captured and condemned as spies. Seven were hanged on June 18, 1862, near Oakland’s southeast corner and interred in the cemetery. In 1866, remains of the seven were exhumed from this location and reinterred at the National Cemetery at Chattanooga. Andrews’ remains were reinterred at the National Cemetery in 1887. The first awards of the Congressional Medal of Honor were made to members of the Andrews Raiders.

The first Confederate soldiers were buried at Oakland as early as September 1863, following the Battle of Chickamauga. Since several of the largest military hospitals in the area were within a half mile from Oakland, many soldiers who died from their wounds were buried here.


But far and away, most of the almost 7,000 Civil War soldiers’ graves came as a result of the Battle of Atlanta, fought July 22, 1864. Of this total, about 3,000 are unknown. This battle was a continuation of the North’s summer campaign of destruction in the south and Atlanta was an important rail and supply center. Union forces commanded by William T. Sherman overwhelmed and defeated Confederate forces defending the city under John B. Hood. On high ground north of the Oakland Cemetery Bell Tower, a two-story farmhouse stood. It served as headquarters for Confederate commander John B. Hood during the Battle of Atlanta, which was fought to the east of the cemetery. Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson was killed during the battle. The city did not fall until September 2, 1864, after a Union siege and various attempts to seize the nearby railroads and supply lines. After taking the city, Sherman’s troops headed south-southeastward toward Milledgeville, then the State capital, and on to Savannah to continue their destructive March to the Sea.

During the Battle of Atlanta, Union soldiers vandalized the cemetery; they stole nameplates, broke into crypts, and exhumed Confederate dead in order to place Union corpses in their coffins. (Wooden markers in the cemetery were replaced by marble ones in 1890.)


After the war, space was added to provide a proper final resting place for soldiers who had been hastily buried on area battlefields. Space was added to Oakland Cemetery and those buried on the battleground were moved to the Confederate grounds in Oakland. (By 1867 the cemetery reached its present size.) The Civil War area is marked by a large monument known as the Confederate Obelisk. This 65 foot tall obelisk is made from granite quarried from Stone Mountain.  It was raised and dedicated by the Ladies Memorial Association on April 26, 1874, the anniversary of Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to William Sherman and thus the end of the American Civil War. (The base had been dedicated four years earlier, in October 15, 1870, the day of the funeral of Robert E. Lee in Virginia) For a number of years, the Confederate Obelisk was the tallest structure in Atlanta. To the south of the obelisk is a large section of marked military graves.


Of special note are the 16 marked graves of Union soldiers that are buried alongside Confederate soldiers. This practice was very uncommon at the time, but was likely done at Oakland due to dwindling burial space.

Also located in the Confederate section is one of the most striking monuments at Oakland, the Lion of the Confederacy, or Lion of Atlanta. The lion, which guards a field containing the remains of unknown Confederate dead, was carved by T. M. Brady in 1894 out of the largest piece of marble quarried from north Georgia up to that time. Though Brady claimed that the design was original, with a few exceptions it is actually a near copy of the Swiss Lion of Lucerne. Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens was briefly interred there after his death in 1883, but his body was later moved to his home at Crawfordville, in Taliaferro County. d98a1d983057c32a0be809ee570a7237

More on the Confederate Generals buried here:

Five of Georgia’s Confederate Generals are buried at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.

“Three Generals can be found resting in the Confederate Generals section…..

John Brown Gordon (1832-1904) was a native of Upson County and Major General, Confederate States Army. It has been said that General Gordon was one of General Lee’s most trusted and outstanding officers. At Antietam he was wounded in the calf. Then, a second ball hit him higher in the same leg. A third ball mangled his left arm and a fourth entered his shoulder. He bravely continued to lead his men. General Gordon finally left the field when he was hit in the face. He led the War’s last charge, and following the Appomattox surrender, returned to Georgia. He was idolized by the populace, General Gordon served his state three times a U.S. Senator and as Governor from 1886 until 1890. He was Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans from its inception until his death.

Alred Iverson, Jr. (1829-1911) was a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army, but he began his military career in the Mexican War. Commissioned a First Lieutenant in the First U.S. Calvary, he served on frontier duty in Indian Territory and in expeditions against the Comanche and Kiowa. Commanding a Georgia brigade of cavalry (1300 men) on July 31, 1864, he captured Union General Stoneman after his brilliant strategy defeated Stoneman’s cavalry (2,300 men) near Macon, Georgia.

Clement Anselm Evans (1833-1911) was also a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and began his military career in his native Stewart County, Georgia, where he was commissioned Major in Company E, 31st Georgia Infantry. He led his men in virtually all battles of the Virginia Campaign and was engaged in the last charge of the War and surrendered under Lee at Appomattox. The remainder of his life was spent in public service as a Methodist minister. Some of the churches he served in the Atlanta area had over 1,000 members. Evans was also a trustee of three colleges and the originator of an educational loan fund to aid young men to gain a college education. He was editor of the twelve-volume “Confederate Military History” and served as Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans.

The remaining two general are buried in their individual family lots.

Lucius Jeremiah Gartrell (1821-1891) had already had a very successful career as an attorney and solicitor general for the northern judicial circuit. He also served in the Georgia House of Representatives and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Once the war was underway Gartrell formed the Seventh Regiment of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry, but after a year decided politics was a better choice. He was elected to the Confederate Congress in 1862. Following the war Gartrell ran for governor, but lost to Alexander Stephens.

William Stephens Walker (1822-1899) was actually born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but raised in Mississippi by an uncle. He spent the early days of the Civil War mainly doing administrative type duties. In fact, he didn’t see his first action until May 20, 1864 when his horse was killed out from under him and he was injured after managing to get behind Union lines close to Richmond. Walker spent some time as a prisoner of war until he was exchanged. Following the war he settled in Georgia.