Gear Guy

Is an inflatable sleeping pad more comfortable than fo?

Can you help me pick out the best-value sleeping pad? I'm new to backpacking and need my comfort while sleeping. Heck, I'd take my electric blanket along if I could. I want to find a pad that will be worth the money, but will last a long time too. I can't decide between a less expensive closed-cell pad and one of the inflatable ones. Are the inflatable kind that much better to justify the extra cost? Please help this confused backpacking novice! Kendra North Ogden, Utah

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C’mon, you’re young, what do you need a sleeping pad for? When I was in my twenties and wanted to save weight while bicycle touring, I didn’t even carry a pad. I’d just toss my bag down on a likely looking piece of flat ground and climb in. Of course, come to think of it, that could account for the back spasm that cropped up again this morning. So maybe it’s a good idea to use a pad. I never slept that well on the bare, hard ground, anywayB

What you’re looking at is essentially a comfort-versus-price issue, with weight as a tertiary factor. Non-inflatables cost less—and weigh less, too—but they aren’t quite as comfy. Still, they work pretty well. You can, for instance, get by reasonably well for a mere $16 with a full-length pad of closed-cell foam. One mountaineer told me this was the greatest gear revolution of the past 30 years, as for the first time you could sleep on the snow or ice and not freeze. Mind you, you won’t mistake a blue pad for a feather bed, but it’s not bad. Or, step up a little. For the money and the 15-ounce weight, it’s very hard to beat Cascade Designs’ Z-Rest, which uses an egg-carton-like pattern on bi-density foam to pack a surprising amount of comfort into a thin, light package ($36;

Some of the non-inflatable pads these days are really pretty cush. Mountain Hardwear’s Back Country 72, for instance, uses a one-inch sandwich of closed- and open-cell foam to make a pad that’s well insulated and comfortable. One further advantage of these pads is that they’re not prone to punctures. But, with comfort comes more weight (two pounds, six ounces in the case of the Back Country 72) and expense ($69;

That said, for years I’ve preferred inflatable mattresses. The gold standard for these, of course, remains the Therm-a-Rest, a Cascade Designs’ product that was the first workable, well-insulated inflatable pad on the market, having made its first appearance some 30 years ago. The Therm-a-Rest Classic Standard ($65) is the direct descendant of that first pad, and it’s a fine all-around sleeping pad. To save weight, go with a Therm-a-Rest Performance UltraLite in the three-quarter length, which weighs just over a pound. Cost is $55. There’s also the InsulMat MaxLite 3/4, which weighs a touch over one pound and costs $48 ( So that’s not bad, price-wise. You might also find some pads at close-out stores such as Sierra Trading Post (

Sleep well! And remember, snoring attracts predatorsB

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