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Gear Guy

What type of sleeping pad will ensure a good night's sleep?

My family and I enjoy car camping in Alaska's interior. However, as I get older, I'm finding that my back gets stiffer using my old sleeping pad and that my air mattress doesn't give enough insulation. What type of pad or combination of pad and air mattress do you recommend to minimize back pains, provide insulation, and allow for a comfortable night's sleep? Shane Juneau, Alaska

A: Lots of people are in your boat, so there are several super-luxe pads from which to choose. Probably the best, in my view, is Cascade Designs' LE Megarest ($200). This pad is to most self-inflatables what Moby Dick is to Goldie the Fish. It isBhuge—80 inches long, 30 wide, and 3 inches thick. It really has to be thought of as a portable bed, not a sleeping pad. It's bulky and heavy, of course—nearly six pounds—but for car camping, who cares? And, it's very warm. Has an R-value (a measure of insulation) of 5.7, which is about twice that of most other insulating pads. Cabela's sells a similar pad called the Ultra Double for $159. It claims an inflated thickness of three-and-a-half inches and, like the LE Megarest, has foam padding for insulation.

Of course, you don't necessarily have to give up your air mattress, particularly if you like the comfort of it. You can always add a layer of insulation to its top by using a closed-cell foam, non-inflating pad. A good one is Cascade Designs' Strata Rest 25 ($55). Mountain Hardwear's Trailhead 77 ($100) is a BIG closed-cell foam pad, big enough to cover an air mattress, while providing what I should think would be more than adequate insulation.

Sweet dreams!

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