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
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. Its 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 nights 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 its 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 (www.rei.com).
You can go lighter, of course—Cascade Designs Z-Lite pad weighs 15 ounces, costs $35 (www.thermarest.com), 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 Im usually willing to lug the extra eight to ten ounces to get that benefit. Call me a wimp.
Read more sleeping-pad reviews in Outsides 2004 Buyers Guide .