by Mason Strehl July 22, 2020 3 min read
A year and a half ago, I packed my bag, a relatively small 55L backpack I'd be living out of for about three months while I traveled the rugged landscape of Patagonia. With a trip like that, gear choices are essential - everything has to serve a multiple purposes with a pack that small. I packed up my sleeping pad, a small tent, trekking poles, pounds of camera gear, my Zenbivy Bed, and plenty of outerwear to face the conditions we knew we'd meet in one of the most rugged places on earth.
We set out to get to know the place and put ourselves at the center of a new place and new culture. El Chalten, the famous mountain town at the base of the Fitz Roy range, was where we spent most of our time - we wanted to travel slowly and explore thoroughly. When we got into town, we set out on the trails almost immediately headed out to Laguna Torres. We made it to the lake just before sunset as it stretched out the reflection of Cerro Torro along its milky waters. We set up our tents, I grabbed my quilt, and we watched the sun go down.
Throughout that trip, there were many moments spent relaxing and moving from one great view to another. Nights wrapped in my quilt around the fire as the locals held "asados", grilling up meat enjoyed by all. I spent nights sleeping out under the stars with the whole South Patagonian ice field stretched out below me, and nights by glaciers creaking and breaking off in the surrounding mountains. It was a surreal experience to spend three months living with just the bare minimum, and I was glad always to be warm no matter where I went.
Fast forward another few months, and I was packing again. This time it'd be a trip on wheels, making my home on the right side of a steady yellow line. I headed out for a few months on the road, covering the west coast of the United States, into the interior through Arizona, Colorado, and Utah before heading north back to Washington. Again, space was essential, and I found myself packing the same essentials with a few added luxuries that come from having the space of a vehicle. I left home with my Zenbivy Bed set up in the back, used every night whether I was in the backcountry or just boon-docked on public land somewhere in the west. There were times it was packed and unpacked throughout the day, going from the back of the truck to be sat on down by the river, packed again into a pack, hauled up to a mountain or a cliffside or a little backcountry camp somewhere down the trail. It'd be unpacked and wrapped around a group of visiting friends while watching the sunset or cooking up dinner. Then tucked back away in the tent for a night of sleep. It helped warm us all up after evenings surfing in the cold pacific waters of Oregon. It warmed me on the icy summit of Mt. Whitney.
A short bit later, and I'm packing for another trip - this time, attempting to through-hike Washington State on the PCT, all while trying alpine objectives along the way. The same essentials filled my bag, as that first trip way back when - a small tent, too much food, a sleeping pad, my Zenbivy, and a few other odds and ends. Alone, I set out for three weeks, and though I only managed about 250 miles of the trail, I got some worthwhile alpine stops. I rolled out of my Zenbivy the morning I summited Mt. Adam's, shivered through evenings so rainy it had wet all my gear through and through, and sat in the sun on my quilt in the little towns along the way.
I have been using my Zenbivy for years, and I've spent well over 800 nights sleeping soundly in it. I've carried it in my pack over thousands of miles on foot - no matter the change in my lifestyle throughout the years, the gear stays the same. I'll swap boots for surf booties, trekking poles for ice axes, tents for nights cowboy camping under the stars. But no matter what the adventure, you can guarantee that my Zenbivy will be the first thing in the pack.
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