Gear Guy

What are the advantages of a shortened sleeping pad?

I'm looking for a decent sleeping pad to use when backpacking. Cascade Designs' Therm-a-Rest seems a good buy, but I'm not sure. Does the three-quarter pad mean my legs will be hanging off the end? Does that even matter? What are the benefits of the larger, wider pads versus the ones that fold in half length-wise? Matt Albuquerque, New Mexico

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There are indeed many pads out there these days, so a little pad confusion is understandable. One big distinction, of course, is in the length. The shortened, three-quarter-length pads are cut that way to save weight, 25 percent to be precise! And of course, your hips, back, and shoulders are what really need padding, so in most cases your feet will do just fine on the ground (or on a ground cover).

The exception is when you’re on cold ground or snow. Then your feet are apt to get cold. But I’ve used “shorty” pads a lot, and they work fine. In some cases, I’ve carried a lightweight, foam butt pad, which I stick under my feet at night. The wider pads are designed for car camping or other applications where weight matters less than comfort. They’re great for restless sleepers, or when you’re using a rectangular sleeping bag.

The market leader in pads has for years been the Therm-a-Rest from Cascade Designs, a self-inflating pad with a foam core for insulation. The Classic Standard ($65, or $50 for the three-quarter length; remains the pad against which all others are judged; it’s a full-length pad that offers good insulation, plenty of comfort, and durability. The Therm-a-Rest Ultralite 3/4 ($60) weighs about one-third less than its Standard cousin, yet still offers good comfort. A good lightweight full-length pad, meanwhile, is the Slumberjack Denali Cross-Core Long ($65;, which weighs just over two pounds. Any of these pads will give you years of good service and sweet dreams.