Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lightweight Sleeping Pads

With winter grabbing hold across the country, I figured I’d address one of the most important topics regarding winter sleep systems – the sleeping pad.

Sleeping pads come in all shapes and sizes and are manufactured with different materials. Some are foam (like PVC or Evazote), others have Aerogel or are lined with down or foam, and others are merely a lightweight inflatable nylon shell. Others are a combination of all of these and even newer technologies offer a reflective coating.

99.9% of the time, my preference is a lightweight Evazote foam pad like those manufactured by Gossamer Gear ( They are light, durable, inexpensive, and do the trick. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of inflatable options, not because I don’t think they are comfortable, but because I don’t like sitting up so high as it causes me to roll off it, I don’t like the potential for it to pop, and I don’t like the extra weight. In the winter months, however, I take a long hard look at my sleeping system to ensure my pad will keep me warm as what I use during non-winter months likely won’t be sufficient year-round.

“R-value” is a measure of thermal resistance and becomes an important consideration when sleeping outdoors in colder weather. In a nutshell, the higher the R-value, the better off you’ll be when it comes to your body heat being transferred to the cold ground. As you can imagine, increases to higher R-values pads often costs more and is more expensive. Since the goal of lightweight backpacking is to cut weight wherever possible without sacrificing comfort or safety, fortunately there are some good options.

For me, once the warmer months start to dwindle, I choose other options based on the environment and temperatures. Many times I don’t discard my Gossamer Gear 3/4” Evazote pad. Instead, I merely add another similar pad to it. Carrying two pads is not only usually enough, but it still remains lighter (and less expensive) than purchasing an alternative. When it gets really cold, I either discard this system, or replace the lighter Evazote pad with a Stephenson Warmlite DAM ( to be used in conjunction with my Gossamer Gear 3/4" pad. The Warmlite DAM comes in a variety of sizes which can be as little as 18 ounces for a pad with an R-value of 9. Many shorter folks also like the TorsoLite from Bozeman Mountain Works ( At 10 ounces for an increase of 3.5 in R-Value, it is really the best lightest alternative for folks who can stand a 32" pad.

As I was researching this issue in the past, I tried to get as much information as I could so I could make an informed decision before I started to waste money on expensive purchases that wouldn’t keep me warm. The chart above represents information I came across during my research. This information came from manufacturers as well as others who were interested in compiling the same information. With that said, I cannot say with absolute certainty that all the information is absolutely correct, but it is as accurate as I can make it for these purposes. I am also aware that other pad manufacturers are not identified on this list which may be just as good, simply, I didn’t have the time to research “every” option, just the most “popular”. Lastly, there was no good way to organize this information, so I did it alphabetically. I figured weight and R-value were the two most important pieces of information, so that’s what I included. I also included "ranges" for several as the manufacturer offered different sizes which changed the weight. Obviously cost, length, cut, materials, preference, and other options come into play, but that’s for everyone to decide on their own merits.

1 comment:

Philip Werner said...

This is a great compilation and a very handy reference. Can I suggest one addition: the Big Agnes Clearview. At 13 oz., it doesn't have the insulation of the air core, but it is exceptionally comfortable for summer use. I've copped out and often use it now instead of my GG 3/4 and BMW Torsolite.