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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Backpacking Sleeping Pad Choices

from Great Outdoors Information

When I first started backpacking, there was no such thing as a backpacking sleeping pad. We would find the most level spot we could, clear off the loose rocks and sticks and dig a hip hole for our hips. If there were any available, we would drag in as many pine needles as we could find. The trick was to not drag in pine cones (the little ones were hard to spot, especially after dark) along with the needles. Somehow, we slept.

Rolled sleeping padImage via Wikipedia
Image via WikipediToday, life on the trail is much more cushy and you have some choices for nighttime padding.

Three Types of Backpacking Sleeping Pads

I’ll briefly discuss three types of what we used to call “sissy pads” – backpacking sleeping pads.

Air Mattress

At one time in the past, if you wanted anything better than a hip hole, an air mattress was the only solution. Nowadays, you hardly ever see them on the trail, and for good reason. Imagine having to blow up an air mattress at the end of a long day of hiking. Huff, huff, huff. It’s enough to make you dizzy just thinking about it.

Yes, you can take a foot pump along, but that’s just more weight to add to your backpack. It’s also difficult to operate an air mattress foot pump inside a backpacking tent.
But, the main drawback to an air mattress is its annoying weakness for getting a hole in it. Phssssssshhhhh. Out goes the air for no obvious reason and down you go to the rocky floor of your tent.

Foam Pads

Foam pads are light, but bulky. They also provide a decent cushioning effect for the sleeper.
There are two types of foam pads: the roll-up type and the fold-up type.
The roll-up foam pad compresses more than the fold -up type. You can also cut it to size, giving a weight advantage to the ultralight backpacker. But, the roll-up foam sleeping pad has the nasty characteristic of having a hard time lying flat when it is time to sleep.
The fold-up foam sleeping pad stretches out flat more willingly than the roll-up type, but tends to rip at the creases where it folds. It is also bulkier than its roll-up cousin.
Foam sleeping pads are relatively cheap and give good value for their price. You’ll have to carry it on the outside of your backpack, though, because of its considerable bulk.

Self-Inflating Pads

A hybrid of the air mattress and the foam pad is the self-inflating sleeping pad. Instead of just air inside, this Ferrari of sleeping pads contains highly compressible foam. Open the valve fixed in one corner and you can roll up this pad to very small dimensions. Then, close the valve to keep these tight dimensions. Open the valve and air rushes in automatically to inflate the device. Close the valve when the pad has fully inflated (it just takes seconds), and you have a very durable and comfortable wilderness mattress.
They’re a bit heavier than their competition and a good deal more expensive, but self-inflating sleeping pads last a long time, And, in my opinion, they are worth the price in the long run.
Analyze your financial and backpacking situations and make your informed choice among these three types of backpacking sleeping pads. I hope you snooze soundly all night.
by Richard Davidian, Ph.D.
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