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Sleeping Pads

March 26th, 2010

Choosing the right backcountry sleeping pad is vital for two reasons:

Cushioning while sleeping on the naked earth, and just as important

Insulation against the chilly ground, which can be really cold.
Certain mattresses offer more insulating value than others, so make sure you look into this.

There are estentially three types:  Self-inflating, foam and manual-inflating.

Self-inflating mattresses, blowup or foam pads all of which can vary in weight and thickness.  So you need to balances weight against comfort and price of course.  While self-inflating mattresses are two or three times pricier and heavier than manual inflators and foam pads but are more popular.  Self-inflaters inflate in minutes at the twist of a valve, though you usually have to firm them up with a few breaths.  Thermarest is the leader in this category and the ProLite 4 is their flagship backcountry pad.   It weighs 24oz and has a mummy shape.  You can also buy a kit that converts the pad into a chair.


Common are ridged pads that look like a washboard and are very popular and durable, and an egg-crate pattern, which is comfortable but provides little pockets where moisture or water can collect if it gets wet or you have lots of condensation inside a tent on a cold night.   Thermarest also makes one of these.


I personally own the insulated air core inflatable mattress made by Big Agnus.  It comes in a mummy shape that fits into a Big Agnus sleeping bag, but I have the rectangular version.   It’s about the same weight as a Thermarest and is a little less expensive.  It offers about 2.5 inches of loft off the ground.  It also packs up really small and comes with a stuff sack. Thermarest makes an award winning inflatable called the NeoAir. It is very warm and comfortable, but also expensive at $150.

Another tip if the weather is really cold is to lay out a emergency space blanket on the bottom of your tent, then put your mattress on top.  These blankets can be purchased for a couple bucks and pack up really small. They kind of look like aluminum foil.

So best of luck choosing a sleeping pad that’s right for you.


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