The Search for the Perfect Sleeping Pad

The following is a lot of crazy gear jargon… don’t read unless you are really into sleeping pads…

This summer we bought most of the gear we will be using on the PCT so we could test it out on the Wonderland Trail.  For the most part I was set on the different items I wanted.  I knew which tent I was going to buy, I had my eye on a double quilt, I had researched a new stove, but there was one thing that really had me in a tizzy: sleeping pads.

On the AT Kyle and I used our Therm-a-rest Prolite Pads, which we had been using at ACE and were comfortable with.  We already had them so they didn’t cost us anything and they are fairly light.  But for the PCT we both wanted to go lighter so I began my research.  We had a couple of requirements:

  • Lighter than our current pads (Kyle: 16oz, Lindsey 20oz)
  • As comfortable as our current pads
  • Similar R Value to our current pads
  • Great reviews
  • Can be strapped together easily and wide enough for us to be comfortable as a couple

The obvious choice amongst ultralighters is the Therm-a-rest Neoair Half pad.  Kyle and I both receive pro-deals through Outdoorprolink and they had the Half pad on there for 99.00 dollars so we decided to try it out.  Before we bought these pads I had read reviews on the pad and people, even couples, seemed to love it!  Zpacks sells the straps, custom-made for these two pads, so you can strap them together into one pad.  After having tried them for ourselves I can only deduce that everyone who uses them has a slight waif like build, is able to sleep in a tight spooning position all night, or is just comfortable with a lot of discomfort.  Even though the Neoair is theoretically the same width as our Prolites, I think it looses an inch or two of width once inflated.  When Kyle lies on it his shoulders hang an inch off either side.  This means that when strapped together he is taking up two inches of my pad.  And I barely had enough pad to begin with.  On top of that the only way to keep your hips on the pad is to have a hefty pillow placed above the pad.  If you are traveling light in the summer time you might not even have enough clothes to made  the pillow necessary for this configuration.  If the pad was a mere two inches wider this would be the perfect system.  Why don’t them make a wide half pad?  Enter: the root of all my frustrations.

The bottom line is I don’t mind the half pad thing, I like the idea of getting to have my pack inside the tent and under my feet, it makes perfect sense to me.  But none of the half pads out there are wide enough to accommodate Kyle and I as a couple.  And if they are wide enough they don’t end up actually being any lighter than our current pads.  For example, Gossamer Gear makes a wide half pad that weighs 12.5oz.  However, it is uninsulated so it doesn’t meet our requirements for R-value.  In order to make it warm enough one has to also buy their one of their closed foam pads to go underneath which range in weight from 2.8oz to 12.2 oz or you need to buy something like a Therm-a-rest Zpad which weighs 14oz… so that doesn’t make any sense.  The Therm-a-rest Neoair Trekker comes in a L Torso size, meaning it is wider, and they make the Trekker square, which would be great for a couple!  But alas, the L Torso is 15oz, meaning you have to decide if that ounce lost is worth having a half pad for… personally if I am going to switch to a half I want it to be worth it weight wise.

So them we started looking at other pads all together.  Sea to Summits new Comfort Plus?  Too heavy unless you sacrifice R-value, their lightest option only has an R-value of 0.7.  The REI Flash is literally exactly the same as our current sleeping pads in weight and R-value.  Then we discovered the Exped SynMat Hyperlite Sleeping pad.  The Medium is the right size, has an R-value of 3.3 and weighs in at 12.3oz.  Collectively that allows us to lose 11.4oz out of our pack.  The only question with the Exped is how much are you willing to pay for 11.4oz?  This pad is pricey, the Medium size, which is the cheapest, still rings in at 169.00.  We decided that it was worth it.  We have been using our Therm-a-rest Prolite pads for almost four years now.  They took quite a beating on the AT.  It was time for new pads and it seemed like these were the ones.  We bought them and used them on the Wonderland Trail and I have to say, they are awesome.  They are super comfortable, designed so that they fit together nicely (great for a couple) and wide enough that we both have plenty of room.  Our only struggle was with them sliding apart on the cuben fiber bathtub of our tent but with a simple strapping system we will have that sorted out in no time.

My only residual concern is that a lot of people warn you against inflatable pads in the desert on the PCT.  This is because there are A LOT of pokey things in the desert.  Either we are super-duper careful when picking a campsite and cleaning all of the debris out of it, or we buy something like the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Pad to go underneath our pads to protect them in the desert.  Decisions, decisions.

So now I ask Exped, why not make the SynMat HyperLite in a small size?  Same width and everything, just take a foot and a half off the bottom and a couple more ounces out of my pack.  Please and thank you!

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

5 thoughts on “The Search for the Perfect Sleeping Pad

  1. They’ve had baffle separation problems, but I have had one for two years and no problems for two thru hikes. Have a great time on the PCT!

  2. Excellent review. Another friend speaks highly of the Exped pads. Didn’t realize there was an ultralight version.

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