Sleeping Pads 101

Let’s start with the basics. There are backpackers who consider sleeping pads unnecessary. I’m not one of them. Sleeping pads provide a little comfort but, more importantly, they provide a layer of insulation between the backpacking body and the ground. If you’re cold, you don’t sleep well. 

There are several basic types of sleeping pads:

  • air mattresses
  • foam pads
  • self-inflating pads

Air mattresses are comfortable and relatively cheap, but they are also bulky, have a tendency to puncture easily and because of the large pockets of air, don’t insulate well. Save them for summertime car camping.

Foam pads come in two forms – open cell and closed cell. You might know open cell pads better as “foamies” – cushy, soft and easily torn. They are also quite bulky and will soak up water should your tent floor get damp in the night. Closed cell pads are made of dense foam. They’re cheap, insulate well and are durable, but they don’t provide a lot in the way of cushioning.

Self-inflating pads were introduced many years ago and they are still one of the top products on the market. These pads are made of open cell foam wrapped in a nylon shell. As you roll the pad, the air squeezes out, condensing the bulk. A valve can be closed or opened to let air in or out.  Self-inflating pads are comfortable, provide excellent insulation, but the downside is that they can puncture and cost more than the previous options.

Brooks-Range offers several light-weight options. The Backcountry Sleeping Pad is a full-length, lightweight pad. The Alpini Sleeping Pad  is a pared-down version. It insulates just the torso of your body – while legs are kept off the ground by using your backpack. Both have something I’ve never seen in a sleeping pad before – graphics for SOS Signals and Helicopter Landing Zone protocol. Multi-purpose functionality – gotta love it!

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