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Do you prefer self-inflating or inflatable sleeping pads?

Which is better, an insulated inflatable sleeping pad (such as the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core) or a self-inflating pad? I want to pack light, but I also want something durable and warm enough for three-season camping. Rick St. Louis, Missouri

A: It’s surprising to find how light an insulated air-filled sleeping pad can be. The Big Agnes Insulated Air Core in the 78-inch length and mummy configuration (meaning it’s tapered at the foot and head) gives you a comfortable cushion of air-filled chambers plus insulation from PrimaLoft. Yet it weighs a very competitive 23 ounces, and costs an equally competitive $75 ( Not bad.

ProLite 3

Its chief competition would be something such as the Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 ($80), a super-light edition of the famous, and original, self-inflating pad. It’s not as thick as the Big Agnes pad, and not quite as long, yet despite its high-tech materials it still weighs a fairly porky 20 ounces. So for a few extra ounces, you get a more comfortable night’s sleep on the Big Agnes pad.

Both, I will say, are perhaps a bit fragile, as they use very lightweight materials. The ProLite is even billed as a pad for extreme conditions, meaning it’s not an everyday knock-around pad. That would be something such as the Therm-a-Rest Trail ($50), which is a good everyday pad but weighs more than two pounds. Or, the InsulMat Max-Lite 1.5, regular length, which sells for $63 and weighs 29 ounces (

You can go lighter, of course—Cascade Designs’ Z-Lite pad weighs 15 ounces, costs $35 (, and is really pretty comfortable (this being a relative term, of course). These days I find that while I can sleep on a non-inflatable pad such as a Z-Lite, I really, truly prefer the comfort of an inflatable pad and I’m usually willing to lug the extra eight to ten ounces to get that benefit. Call me a wimp.

Read more sleeping-pad reviews in Outside’s 2004 Buyer’s Guide .

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Filed To: Sleeping Bag Accessories
Lead Photo: courtesy, Therm-a-Rest