A sleeping pad is the one luxury that even the most lightweight backpacker is likely to have in his pack. Sleeping pads are not just about comfort, but also warmth and health. Elevating you from the ground, a sleeping pad can help keep you dry while also ensuring that your back muscles get some much needed rest before the next day's hike. Choosing a sleeping pad can be difficult, with several different varieties suited to different needs. Ultimately, it boils down to personal preference and your intended uses.
Air mattresses are light and ultra comfortable. They can be adjusted to have as much or as little cushioning as you might want. Unfortunately, they can be a bit of a pain to inflate, either requiring a lot of time or custom pump. Their biggest weakness however is their vulnerability to being punctured. A punctured air mattress is essentially useless.
Foam Roll Pad
Likely the lightest solution, a foam roll pad is simple and durable. You can cut the foam to any length or width you want, allowing you to tailor your purchase. Some backpackers will cut their foam pads so that they are the bare minimum needed to provide some back support. Foam pads have the disadvantage of being bulky, requiring that they be rolled up and strapped to the outside of a backpack. Foam pads are also prone to bending into a certain shape, meaning that a frequently rolled up pad will tend to curl up when weight is not forcing it flat.
Foam Folding Pad
Several sleeping pad makers have perfected an egg-shell foam pad that folds up accordion-style, rather than rolling. This can make the pad more compact, more easily stacked and less likely to curl up. A folding foam pad often has ripples or divots that can enhance comfort. However foam folding pads are more prone to rips along the fold seams and are also impossible to compact, since there is no way to roll the pad tighter than it naturally folds.
This variety of pad combines a foam pad with an inflatable air mattress. The pad interior is lined with foam chambers that can be compacted, allowing the pad to be rolled tightly. When a valve is open the pad will fill with air, expanding the foam inside. These pads are more durable than air mattresses and more compact than foam pads. The main disadvantage is weight and price. These pads tend to be a bit heavier than other varieties while costing more.
Article Written By Louie Doverspike
Based in Seattle, Louie Doverspike has been a professional writer since 2004. His work has appeared in various publications, including "AntiqueWeek" magazine, the "Prague Post" and "Seattle Represent!" Doverspike holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hamilton College.