What to look at before you buy
Jeff Barlow (Nimrod Outdoors)
It’s important to remember that each of us is different sizes and shapes and what works for me may not work for you or your hunting partner either. Each person has to decide what is the most important to them. As I get a little older I realize that after a few nights on the ground it would be nice to have a pad that had a little more cushiness for my old bones. I may be willing to part with a little more money to buy a thinker pad where as my collage age son may say I don’t have the money for the more expensive thicker air pad, but I am young and strong and I can handle sleeping right on the ground so I can get a thin lightweight inexpensive foam pad. Each person’s needs and wants are going to be different so this list is just things to consider while looking at purchasing a sleeping pad.
TYPE – There are 2 types of pads and they both have their pros and cons. There is the Foam Pad or the Air Pad. Like I said pros and cons.
Your foam pads are usually cheaper. You don’t have to do anything with a foam pad except roll it out, no pumping or blowing required. The other major benefit is that they can’t pop and leave you laying on the ground. The foam pads (at least for me) is not as comfortable to sleep on and is ridged and takes up more space in my pack. The Air Pads on the other hand are much smaller in packing size and they are much nicer to rest your aching bones on. They do take a little more effort to set them up (and at 10,000 feet elevation, oxygen is at a premium, LOL) and they can get holes in them at times so make sure to have a repair kit with you. Also look at the warranty on the different pads, there are some pads that can have issues with faulty valves or other things that a good warranty will cover. Think about your needs and where and how you will be using the pad when trying to decide which type to buy.
WEIGHT – This is a huge issue to consider if you are going into the backcountry (or for that matter any further than 10 feet from your car). You do have to carry these pads, they don’t just fall from the sky once you have reached your camping location. Pads can be a great thing in your pack or a miserable amount of extra weight.
The thicker the pad the more comfortable you sleep (most the time) but also the added weight you carry. Also, when you are talking ultralight weight, the lighter it is, most likely the more expensive it will become. Make sure to weigh out (Get that pun) what is most important to you. For a good backpacking pad you are looking anywhere between 13oz to 32oz depending on what you get.
WARMTH – Again, you need to look at the use of the pad when worrying about warmth. I remember not too long ago when I had an uninsulated pad sleeping on the frozen ground, mistake for sure. The question is, will you be using the pad (the majority if the time) in warmer conditions where you won’t need as much insulation (R-Value) or are you going to be doing a lot of winter camping? The higher the R-value, the warmer the pad will keep you, so to speak. Pads with R-values of 0-2 are good for warm weather, R-values of 3-4 are good for most conditions, and R-values of 4+ are good for nights you know you will be sleeping on the frozen ground. 1 thing to remember is that the more R-Value you have the more expensive and heavier the pad will become.
SIZE – There are tons of options here. There are supersized pads and there are minimalist pads (only covering down to about mid-thigh) out there. Some pads out there that have parts of the pad removed (locations where the padding is not as necessary and to help save weight).
Shoulder and hip areas are the most important places to have the pad, these are the 2 main pressure areas when laying on your pad. Most common pads come in a couple sizes, length, width and thickness. It is up to you to determine your needs and wants and what you are willing to pay the price for and what you can sacrifice.
PACKED SIZE – There are a lot of factors that go into Pack Size. Size and thickness of your pad are the main factors. The other factor is whether it is an Air Pad or a foam pad. Air pads will pack down much smaller than foam pads, half-length thin pads will pack down smaller then full length thick pads. You will have to determine if space in your pack is an issue and make your choice of pad with that in mind.
PRICE – Ultralight backpacking pads with good insulation, size and weight are great to sleep on, but they will most likely be your most expensive pads. Prices can range on pads from $15 to over $150. The most expensive one we found while writing this article was $179. Do your research and know your needs and wants and you can find a pad that fits your size, weight, comfort and pocketbook.
Make sure to go to a physical store when you can throw the different pads on the ground and lay on them. Test them. Feel how heavy they are or how much room they take up when packed. Do yourself a favor and look at lots of pads and make decision based on your feelings after testing them. The pad you choose will make the difference for you when it counts. It is very hard to go day after day if you are not sleeping well at night.
You can at this point buy the pad at the physical store or look on line for a better deal. Make sure to look at the return policy and the warranty of the pad when purchasing online. There are lots of choices for pads out there and with some good research you can find what works best for you.