Mr. W's Gear Guide - Sleeping Pads
"Comfort by the Slice", otherwise known as sleeping pads.
This article is based on the belief that a good sleeping pad can turn the roughest, coldest ground into a soft spot for the night, at least for the adult body.
I have peered into many a scout's tent at various times of the night, when cold weather camping, to ensure the boys are properly inserted into their sleeping bags, and not exposing themselves to "sleeping hypothermia". By so doing I have come to the conclusion that a sleeping pad is not necessarily an essential piece of apparatus for a scout. I have witnessed sleeping pads pushed into a bundle at the feet of the sleeper, pushed all the way up the side of the tent, the scout sleeping peacefully beneath his sleeping pad, in fact every which way except where the pad is supposed to be, beneath the sleeper.
However, I pen my input for those who like myself, would not get a wink of sleep if it were not for these slices of comfort. Looking at the "Gear Guide" in a copy of the April 1991 Backpacker magazine, sleeping pads are not even assessed, however in the March 2000 issue, 135 different pads are analyzed from 17 different manufacturers.
For years we have had the mangled slab of closed-cell foam, mine is of the BlueRidge brand. I believe the closed-cell foam pad is adequate for scouts just embarking upon camping. Cascade Designs (Therm-a-Rest) now make an "egg-crate", "Ridged" and Z-Rest" design which fold concertina style as well as the conventional flat closed-cell pads that roll up. The Coleman "Rest-Easy" and "Ultralight" are typical, Texport's "Pack-Lite" is also an excellent closed-cell pad, and generic versions found at Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target are OK, typically priced from $7 to $29. So, if a scout loses his pad, (I have witnessed such a pad being blown over the east face during a particularly windy visit to Mt. Whitney) it doesn't result in a major fiscal loss.
Technology has provided us the "SI" (self-inflating) design - unscrew the valve, unroll the pad, give the internal open-cell foam a few minutes to self-inflate, then blow a few breaths into the valve to firm up the pad, and the air bed of the backcountry is ready. The Cascade Designs "Therm-a Rest" "SI first appeared on the market in 1973. Many manufacturers produce the SI design. Appalachian Mountain/Artiach produce what they call a "Skin-Mat", a non-slip design which in theory prevents one from slipping off the pad during slumber. Backcountry Designs, Coleman, Marmot, Slumberjack "Airlite Composite", are a few of the many. Prices range from around $35 to $119. Be aware of Sport Store sales where you can seize a deal at 20% to 40% off these prices.
The down side of the SI pad is that they require care, compared to the abuse that can be extolled upon the closed-cell pads. They can also be puncture easily in the middle of the night by that pinecone beneath the tent. Reputable pads include an "RK" (repair kit), and an "SS" (stuff sack). Some, like the SunnyRec Corp "Hexagrip" model, and Paramount Outfitters incorporate a "PI" (pillow chamber at one end). SI's vary in thickness (3/4" to 2-1/2"), length, width and weight. The trade-off as far as backpacking is concerned is bulk and weight versus comfort. Personally I find my 1-1.2" Therm-a Rest a good compromise.
If you are now in the market for an SI pad, don't throw that closed-cell pad away. It can be used with the aid of some duct tape to make insulation sleeves for your water bottle, candle lantern, or stove. Cut out a piece the same shape as the bottom of your pack to serve as a platform, and also a kneeling or sitting pad. It can be used as crampon protectors and covered with foil it can serve as a base for your stove and as a makeshift cutting board.