A Good Night’s Rest in the Woods – Nemo Cosmo Insulated Lite Sleeping Pad Review

So, once your tent is set up, what is going to keep you insulated and warm during the temperature drop at nighttime in the mountains?

*cue the Jeopardy theme music*

A sleeping bag? Thick, warm clothing? Those are important, but it’s been my experience that keeping a nice chunk of insulation between you and the cold, hard ground is The best way to guarantee a warm night’s rest. Everything else is also important, but without a sleeping pad of some kind, you probably aren’t going to sleep soundly. Now, knowing this, you would think that I probably took a long time deciding on which sleeping pad I was going to go with. Dear reader, you are indeed correct.


I pored over the online resources, searching through all the reviews, reading forums, and in the end, I went with my gut. I chose the Nemo pad because I wanted to have the comfort of an air mattress – some of you just snorted your drink at that statement – with the additional insulation that design can provide. Now, if you’ve spent the night on the pool floatie style air mattresses before, it most likely wasn’t that great. The long vertical construction of the baffles (the bladders that hold air) means that traditionally styled air mattresses tend to fold up around you as you lie on them. I never knew how much I loathed that until I bought the Nemo Cosmo Insulated Lite.

I got the 20R version, which means that it’s ‘regular’ length, plenty for my 5’10” height to stretch out on comfortably. The baffles on the Nemo models are horizontal, which means they offer increased support and stay flat on the ground rather than curling upwards. The insulation was a must, because I knew I would be sleeping at altitude in lake basin areas where cold air would pool during the night. I tend to sleep cold anyway, so getting a sleeping pad like this gave me peace of mind that I would have a solid foundation on my way to a great night’s sleep in the woods.

The mattress comes with a pack sack that collapses down to a size a little bigger than your two fists stacked on top of each other. The worst part about this mattress is having to blow it up at the end of the day, but it’s not that bad. When you float comfortably above all the twigs and rocks that you were too tired to sweep out from under your tent, you’ll realize it was totally worth huffing a puffing for a couple minutes. You can use the built in foot pump at the base of the mattress, but I never did.

Tough construction, a built in pillow, light and compact to pack – the Nemo Cosmo Lite sleeping pad is a winner in my book


A Good Night’s Rest in the Woods – Kelty Tempest 2 Review

I’m going to start my gear review series with this post because I believe strongly in the power of getting a good night’s sleep when you’re out in the woods. For most of us, that’s not our normal habitat and we are operating at a level far above what we would normally push ourselves to do. This is great, but, there also needs to be sufficient time to rest or fatigue will overtake you both mentally and physically. Tired bodies get hurt easier, tired minds make more mistakes. For my Wyoming trip, I spent more of my budget on sleeping gear than any other subcategory. Let’s dive in, shall we? (TL:DR summary at bottom)

Kelty Tempest 2 – 


I chose my tent after many hours of researching the conditions that I would be faced with where I was headed. I looked up weather reports from years past, lurked on forums, and called the people I was planning on working with for their local knowledge. Only then did I begin searching for tents that would meet those needs. Because I was trying to work within a budget, I figured that I would look for an older model of tent that had great reviews from people who actually used it as I would be. This is harder than it sounds, and took me three or four days of on and off searching to come to a decision. I am extremely happy with the tent that I chose – the Kelty Tempest 2. It’s easy to put up and take down, stable, and handled everything I threw at it without so much as a scratch. It kept myself and my backpack dry, helped keep me warm when it was cold, and provided a much-needed haven from the mosquitoes. The tent stakes provided with the tent were perfectly serviceable. I would however suggest getting some spares just in case. I purchased these from Kelty, but anything similar should do nicely.

The vented design kept condensation on the interior on cold nights from being as much of a problem as it is with non-vented tents. The ‘bathtub’ style floor kept all water out even without the addition of a ground cloth or tarp underneath. It was really nice to be able to bring in all my stuff (except boots) out of the frost and rain. As for the boots, they slept out under the vestibule, which for those who don’t know is like a built-in awning created by your rain fly. This is a great feature because it allows you to keep your muddy boots from getting rained on, yet keep them outside the tent.

The model I got, the Tempest 2, is great as a one man tent, or two people willing to get cozy. It’s an older model, like I mentioned, so it might be harder to find that exact one. If you’re looking for something for two to three people, or yourself and your trusty adventure dog, then the Kelty Tempest 4  tent is probably more your speed.

I hope that this review helped you out with your tent choice – if nothing else, you know the struggle to find the perfect tent for that awesome trip is very real. If you have other tents to recommend or anything else you’d like to share, please, leave a comment below.

A Walk in the Winds, part 4

The next day dawned without any frost glazing my tent, which surprised me considering how high up I was. I climbed up on a rocky overlook searching for any signs of the fabled golden trout – not so much as a dimple. Ah well. Since the trout didn’t want to play, I put away my fly rod and broke camp, chowing on some trail mix for breakfast.


I had slept well in my Kelty Dualist 22 sleeping bag, although as the temperatures dropped during the night I was glad that I had both a warm sleeping bag liner and a knit cap. I’ll take time and detail my whole gear list in a later article, to let you know what worked and what didn’t.

Backpack cinched in place, rod tube firmly strapped and game face grim, I headed up the talus slope on course to break over the top of the promontory and get a view of my destination from on high. I think it was here that I first heard the signature calls of the high altitude rodents known as pica. Their warning calls often preceded ahead of me, and then popped up again behind me as I wound my way through the treeless areas of my hike. It was the first time I had ever actually seen them in real life, which I considered quite the treat. I tried to take pictures, but not only are those critters wary and fast, they’re perfectly colored to blend in with their rocky surroundings. So, thanks to Google, I give you a pica. Cute, huh.

I bet that would make some lovely dubbing.

I bet that would make some lovely dubbing.

So anyway, there I was, scrambling up the slope, occasionally trying to fall, and generally loving life. Making it to the top of the outcrop, I was treated to a unobstructed view of my goal.

Thar she blows!

Thar she blows!

I sat for a while, ate some more trail mix, and considered life. I decided if I didn’t catch a trout that day, I would try to make it to another one of the nearby lakes and see if fortune favored me more there.

As I moved around the edge of the lake, I walked through an area that seemed to have remained aloof from the human disturbances down by the water’s edge. It was pine trees and trickling rivulets, thick moss and the smell of growing things. The sound of running water followed me everywhere, a soft counterpoint to the wind shushing through the pines. As I rounded a blind turn at the base of a huge boulder, it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t being loud enough. This was griz country after all. Ah, what the heck. I wanted to see if I could sneak up on some of the elk that left the tracks I was following, and besides, the wind was blowing from my back. Any bear worth his salt would smell me long before I got anywhere near them… right? Maybe.

As I moved through the trees, boggy patches of soil sprouted beautiful flowers of different shapes and sizes. This one was my favorite – the Colorado Columbine.




I also stumbled across this – I was thrilled, in a totally unashamed, nerd-out kind of way. Because I had stumped across…



A slime mold! They’re so cool. Seriously. Check them out – they’re essentially aliens. Wikipedia link for slime molds. I had never found one in the wild.

And since this is apparently ‘geek out about all the cool stuff I found’ time, I also happened to come around the corner and see this beautiful scene.


So, the water coming down at this spot was roaring, and I was walking slowly towards the log but still a few yards off to the side. Poof! Out of nowhere, a Boone and Crocket sized pine marten springs up on the log and lopes across with that funny-looking run that all cousins of the weasel seem to have. I had never expected to get to see one in the wild – it was a great moment. He never saw me, or ever figured out that I was there.

I wanted to finish this series today, but 5:30 comes early. Tomorrow, I finish this.

A Walk in the Winds, part 3

As I pushed onward and upward, the obvious choice seemed to be to closely follow the creek as it wended down through a narrow slot that water had carved over the millennium.

Picking my way through even more deadfall, I finally gained my first glimpse of the lake. Victory!


I eagerly began moving along the shoreline, looking for good places to scan the lake for trout activity. However, I was immediately confronted by a freshly vacated campsite. I checked the ash in the fire ring – still warm. Someone had just left the area, probably this morning. And there, sitting on top of the ashes at the edge of the ring, was a Jolly Rancher candy wrapper. I picked it up, feeling thoroughly annoyed.

Trying to keep my spirits up, I headed on around the lake, searching for my own spot to set up camp that would be far enough – 200 feet or more – from the water, as per the wilderness area guidelines. As I walked, I noticed first one additional campsite, then another, then another. They were in varying degrees of freshness. What was this, Yellowstone?!

I was practically stomping along by this point as I rounded the lake and came smack up against a large vertical thrust of rock. My fatigue was really starting to catch up with me, and I made the decision that I wasn’t going to climb the scree up and over the prominence. It would’ve been too easy to take a misstep and get hurt.

I found a flat area at the base of the scree in a clump of pines that – no surprise, at this point – had another old camp site in evidence. I set up my Kelty Tempest 2, a great little tent, and prepared my air mattress and sleeping bag. I gotta tell you, reader, that at this point I was in a serious funk. Melancholy was the mood as I halfheartedly fly fished for a bit (no trout anywhere to be seen or felt), and snapped a picture of the beautiful sunset over the lake.



Tomorrow I would climb the scree slope, top the promontory, and go to the head of the lake where the creek fed in. There had to be fish there. In the meantime, I was exhausted, in a bad mood, and ready to give up on my day. I clicked on my headlamp for a bit of journaling, plugged my phone into my external battery, and I slept.



A Walk in the Winds, part deux

A glacier-fed drinking fountain.

A glacier-fed drinking fountain.


As I bushwacked my way up the creek drainage, it became apparent that I needed to take my time and be careful. If I fell off a blown down tree and got critically injured, I was on my own. Another thing was maintaining my hydration level. Fortunately, I was in the Wind River Mountains. As long as I stayed along the creek, drinking was no problem, but as I was forced to venture higher up on the mountain it wasn’t long until my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I came across the rill pictured above and drank over a liter of its clear, cold goodness. Thanks, Sawyer squeeze bottle.



I continued upward over the increasingly rugged terrain. Breaking out of the deadfall, I scrambled upward through the scree field. For those not familiar with the term ‘scree’, it refers to the boulders and rocks that are shed from the mountain face over the eons. These rocks tumble down the mountainside, eventually coming to rest on other rocks that came before. Eventually, the entire lower slope can be covered with scree, forming a dangerous obstacle for hikers. Scree is known for being predictable only in its unpredictability. Even large rocks resting in scree can shift and tilt, sliding or even tumbling down the slope from under a hiker’s foot, or onto their head.

There was no way to judge exactly how the rocks are going to react, so when traveling across scree I was extremely cautious. The lichen on the rocks was beautiful, creating a living mural across the entire rockslide area.



I admit I was annoyed when I came across signs of human passage; cairns. On the high rock in the middle of the above picture is the first one I found. I was annoyed because I didn’t want anyone else to be up where I was going. I had hoped that the gnarly approach through deadfall and across scree would keep most casual hikers at bay. Still, it was nice to know that the ‘trail’ I had chosen to follow was going somewhere useful.

At this point I had about three hours ’til nightfall. I needed to make it another mile or so up to the lake, and assess the terrain before I decided where to bed down for the night. I pushed onward, excited to be so close to my goal.


A Walk in the Winds

I shut my car door and swung my pack on. As I clicked the waist and chest straps closed, it hit me – I was going in, with no help, and there was a small chance I might not make it back out.

I had planned this trip for months: a solo jaunt back into the mountains chasing rumors of the fabled golden trout. Spending hours on my laptop, I had scoured relevant forums, researched the best gear, sniffed out online deals, and generally glutted myself on the euphoria of hardcore gear prep. I perused maps both old and new, digital and paper, hand-drawn and satellite imaged. I was as materially ready as I could be, and as knowledgeable about the area as other people’s experience could make me. A true adventure, a trip past where I had pushed myself before. I was stoked.

As I drove back into the national forest lands towards the trailhead, I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings. The light green of the rolling sagelands splashed against the dark green canopy of the pine forest. Streams and creeks dissected the verdant scene, powered by meltwater from unseen glaciers and mountain springs.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot and glanced at license plates as I pulled in. Georgia, Arkansas, Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota, with plenty of Wyomingites too. As I made one last check of my pack, I hoped that most of the hikers had set off down a different trail than I planned on using. I locked the doors, stowed the keys, and swung my pack on. Time to go for a walk.

The trail crunched under my hiking boots as I moved away from the trailhead towards the mountains. I carried no water, just my Sawyer filter and squeeze bottles. I knew from the maps that streams were common and slaking my thirst would be easy without the 8 pounds to a gallon of water weight on my back. Mountains lifted away from me on either side, towering into the sky. The rugged granite faces were creased with fault lines, and shadowed crevices hosted hold-out patches of snow throughout the year.

I steadily worked my way upwards, headed back into a creek drainage littered with deadfall and other nasties that slowed my forward progress. Between crawling over trees and figuring out how to cross the swift, frigid streams, I was making a good 0.5 mph.

Working on my balance.

Working on my balance.

I can't see the deadfall for the trees.

I can’t see the deadfall for the trees. Not my most joyous moment.

Impressive, I know.

However, I figured that the harder the trail was, the higher probability that I would catch some big fish.

Well, that’s assuming nothing funny happened along the way, which, knowing me, would definitely happen.


I crossed the stream over those logs in the foreground. Then I had to cross back.

I crossed the stream over those logs in the foreground. Then I had to cross back. Good times.

It’s not even spring yet?

Sleet dribbles steadily from a glowering sky, the last vestiges of Winter returning to haunt us. To prove it, thick wet flakes fell earlier in the morn, managing to stick just enough. Parked cars now sported frozen, sloughing calluses of ice from windshields and hoods. My feet are cold, and the sleet’s windblown patter skitters across the roads, freezing and melting by turns.

But now the central heating kicks on. Ah, isn’t living in this time and place so grand sometimes?

No, today I am not crazy enough to go brave the cold and nasty to catch more pike. I have caught them, and walleye, though little else. I tried for smallmouth last week, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have much to catch you up on, dear reader, so off we go.

My arrival in North Dakota you’ve already seen, culminating a grand journey through the plains which allowed me to see and enjoy country that I’d never been to, as well as savor the parts that I knew and loved.

But once I got here, then what happened? Well, of course I immediately tried to start finding places to fish. I was hungry to catch a northern pike. The only issue was that Nature hadn’t caught up with me yet. The ice was still on the lakes, and fish were, for the most part, inaccessible to fly fishermen.

I scouted out a couple local dam tailraces that were clear of ice, but the flows were extremely low and locals had fished those areas hard all winter. I had no recourse but to be patient while Spring got things kickstarted, opening the lakes up and getting the fish thinking amorously. The pike spawn soon after iceout, and then linger in the steadily warming shallow bays and wait for other fish to move shallow.

I knew that, and I went looking. I focused on shallow water, especially edges thick with cattails and brush. I got hung up enough that I started tying big flashy bendbacks to slither through the sticks.

Finally, after a couple of weeks of searching, I hook a stick that wasn’t a stick. Fish on!… off. Though I had lost the first one, I felt triumphant. The next sunny afternoon, I went back.

Working the edge of the marshy slough, I moved down the bank towards a fishy looking clump of timber. Probing casts hit every likely pike lair, but no strikes. Somewhat perplexed, I started to move on down the bank. Out in the open water past the trees, I got my first solid jolt – hooked up! A few moments later, I said hello to my first northern on fly. I was stoked.

First pike on fly!

First pike on fly!


Their tails are beautiful.

Their tails are beautiful.

Hard work, research, planning and execution… plus a good dollop of that secret sauce, luck. I’ll take it! 

A Bass to Remember

The river wasn’t a big one by most standards. Brandon Fox of Sea Level Apparel and I had decided to take a drive and see if we could find any hill country carp.The cypress trees along the river, buttressed against the threat of flood, spread branches thickly curtained with Spanish moss. A dense deposit of rounded cobble and gravel crunched and shifted underfoot, sculpted by years of flood. In the shade of one of the towering cypress, we stepped lightly into the water.   Minnows scattered from around our legs and curious bluegill stared for a moment before darting away. I moved downstream, casting where it seemed I should. Cool, clear water embraced my calves as a light layer of bottom muck covered my toes. A few panfish nibbled to indicate their interest, and a sudden bump prompted me to lift the rod into the first bass of the day, a little guy who was swiftly returned to the water.

As he darted for the deep, I turned and studied the bank downstream. It curved lightly back to the left, with several large trees shading the inside curve. There was a shallow mucky area right before the curve, and a dropoff just past that. It looked like prime carp territory. I carefully approached the shallows, scanning for any signs of mud puffs or cruising fish. No one was home on the flat, so I eased over towards the dropoff.

A shadowy spot underneath a big cypress caught my eye down the way, and I laid out a cast to see if any fish were willing to play. Nothing for the first and second casts, but I caught a nice redbreast sunfish on my third cast. Encouraged, I laid one more extra long cast past the shadow, working the fly slowly along the bottom.

Hop… hop… the fly stopped with the subtle feel of a sunfish strike. I struck back, raising the rod and coming tight to a fish that suddenly grew much larger than the bite had indicated. I didn’t know what I had, but I knew it was a good fish; it ran hard enough to take some drag and made me think I had latched onto a big channel catfish. The fish came up and showed its flank; my first thought was holy crap! That’s a bass! A big bass!

After a few tense moments, the fish was in hand. It was the biggest bass that either myself or Brandon had seen landed on that river, and my personal best on fly. I will never catch a bigger bass from that river system, fly or otherwise.




Where the Whooping Crane Goes

North Dakota has never really made it onto the ‘list of places I’d like to go’. The fish that are here I can catch elsewhere, and there are no steelhead or giant trevally.That I know of.

The first thing I did after I got the call offering me the job was to start researching the local fishing opportunities. Turns out there are lots of choices, as long as you want to catch walleye, yellow perch and northern pike. I’m told that 40″ is the magic trophy mark to break, and I’m chasing it. The funny thing is that the locals refer to pike in pounds, which doesn’t help me a bit. A little internet searching reveals that a 40″ pike might weigh 20 pounds. That’s a lot of meanness on a fly rod. They ought to hit a popper like a freight train. A bit of a drive gets me a shot at smallmouth on fly, and a longer drive gets me within range of big pike, rainbows, browns, lake trout and even salmon. You can bet I’ll pick a pretty weekend and make that trek.

So what am I doing up here? Well, you aren’t the first one to ask that. In fact, since I’ve gotten here, mostly everyone seems to want to know. They’re a clannish sort, prone to be suspicious of outsiders. That’s fine with me; these are my people, and I know how to talk to them. Hard working farmers, country folk, and the kind you want on your team. So I’ll tell you what I tell them – I’m up here keeping an eye on the whooping crane migration. Yep. The outfit that I’m working with has a few of the birds tagged with GPS trackers, and every couple days I download the updated data and display it on a map to see where the cranes have stopped along the way. The short story is we use this information to send in a ground crew – that’d be me, plus a partner – to go check out the rest stop areas and see the types of habitat that the birds are using on their way north. Pretty cool eh?

Also cool is the journey the birds take – they winter down on the Aransas Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast and then fly on up to the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. I left at the same time as the first whoopers started their journey and barely beat the first birds to North Dakota. They can cover some territory when the conditions are right.


Below are some pictures I took on the trip up. They’re in chronological order through the plains states.









Welcome to North Dakota. Let the adventure roll on.

The PB and Friends, picture edition.

The last afternoon of the Louisiana trip faded quickly into evening. We had been off the fish for an hour or so, searching new water and scouting different areas to add to Jeremy’s bag of tricks. Rounding a shell point on an island thickly populated with white pelicans, we fired up the engine and started putting our way towards deeper water, and home.

We nosed into a broad channel created by two islands close together. Cruising forward, we noticed big pushes and wakes from fish reacting to the engine sound. Some of the fish looked huge.

Shutting down the engine, Jeremy hopped up on the poling platform and heaved us forward. I stood on the bow, battered but freshly sharpened fly in one hand, 7-weight in the other. The low angle of the sun coupled with the off-colored water meant that our chances of seeing anything were pretty low.

Suddenly, a fish spooked out beside the boat. The huge wake it made while stampeding down the waterway ahead of us literally made my chin drop. There it went, the fish I had dreamt of catching in Louisiana. She gon’ now, boy.

It was all happening quickly now; more fish blew out beside the boat as I grew frustrated, trying to watch every bit of water all at once. A redfish rolled to the surface, giving me a glimpse of a big orange flank; obviously spooked, the red went right, then back left. I flopped a cast where I thought the fish might go, trying to intercept it. Somehow, she did just what I wanted, and as the red barreled past my hastily stripped fly, I saw a gill flare. Left hand goes back, rod hand lifts – fish on!

Running hard, the redfish unwound line from my reel at an impressive rate, not stopping ’til it was about 20 yards deep into backing. Fighting a dogged battle, the fish made several more short runs. I enjoyed the fight, but I really wanted to put my hands on this fish. This was the one.

At boatside, I lifted her head from the water and admired her huge maw before carefully lifting her into the boat for pictures and a measurement.

She taped at 43″, not the biggest fish in the marsh but definitely on the upper end. A big thanks to Capt. Jeremy Chavez for his hard work and dedication. The following are all pictures taken by him of fish caught that day.


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


Sightcast in less than 2' of water.

Sightcast in less than 2′ of water. Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


And drumroll (drum! ha) – here she is.


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez



Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


A trip I will never forget. I’ve been looking forward to the next time since I left. Fair warning – that place will spoil you.