Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stephenson's Warmlite

There’s always a lot of chatter during this time of year regarding ways to keep warm in the cooler months. Most of us know the standard methods which include camping below the treeline on soft ground duff, dressing in layers, stopping drafts, keeping your head covered, drinking something warm or eating spicy foods before going to bed, putting a hot water bottle in your sleep system, and of course getting a warmer sleeping bag or quilt and cozying up to a fire.

Another key method to stay warm is to ensure you have a solid sleeping pad capable of keeping the cold ground from sucking the warmth out of your body. Most people are familiar with r-value and throw it around as if they are pseudo scientists. Most can articulate that it is a measure of thermal resistance with the larger the number translating to the warmer you’ll be. What is missing, however, is the r-value that will keep YOU warm given whatever conditions you're in. Meaning, it is 1, 2, 3, 4? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer other than claims from those who are experienced, but either way many people like to lose sight over the reality that someone sleeping on snow could very well be plenty warm with a sleeping pad with an r-value far less than manufacturers are putting into their sleeping pads. The truth is, you really don’t know until you try. What the r-value tells us is what items are warmer than others and ultimately through thorough testing it tells you what value works for you. Keep in mind, r-value is relevant to clothing, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and anything that will keep you warm.

There are a ton of websites that discuss the relevancy of warmth and ultimately how to achieve it, but my point today was not to address all of these things, but to very briefly mention a rarely discussed manufacturer known as Stephenson’s Warmlite (

All signs point to the fact that this business was started by hippies, or at the very least, nudists. Their lifestyle is inundated throughout their marketing. In addition to pictures that may or may not make you feel uneasy, information on their website, throughout their product guide, and within all distributed literature is a blob of overwhelming information and directions. If you’ve ever seen a large Dr. Bronner’s bottle of soap, you know what I mean. Aside from the unusual marketing, they offer outstanding products from tents, to sleeping bags, and yes, sleeping pads. In fact, their founder was a fairly well known intellectual who talked about r-value, vapor barriers, and the foolishness of crushing down in the 1970's, long before it became popular. Much like many others within the small lightweight backpacking community, their customer service is top notch.

Many have compared the efficacy of sleeping pads and you can find detailed comparative information reflecting r-value, size, cost, etc., on various blogs to include some earlier posts here. The reason I think it is important to mention Stephenson’s Warmlite is because they will make you an air mattress full of high quality down to whatever size you want. They also put extra down in the footbox, something I don't know of anyone else doing. If you’re comparing, for example, one of their stocked items is a 19 ounce Down Air Mattress (DAM) which is the same weight as the biggest NeoAir by Thermarest. If you didn’t care about pack size and were only interested in warmth, the Stephenson’s DAM is substantially warmer than the NeoAir…for the same weight. So while shopping for something to keep you warm in the form of a sleeping pad, don’t forget to take a look at a little know company that makes good high quality gear and offers customizations at your request. Can you stay equally warm with less weight – YES…but it depends on your personal comfort zone within the magical r-value conundrum. If carrying less is your goal, consider layering a 1/4" or 1/8" Gossamer Gear CCF with anything from a NeoAir, Backpackinglight Torsolight, or even a small (or customized) Thermarest Ridge Rest or Ridge Rest Deluxe and you'll be able to sleep quite well in cold temperatures and even snow. Regarding Stephenson's, take a look at their other stuff too, especially their tents as I think many of you would be surprised at their lightweight and very special 4-season designs.


Hendrik M said...

Good post, and your comments about the Stephenson's marketing is spot on, its rather "interesting". The DAM is a pad I am interested in (or a Exped 7/ 9), but I am not sure if I want to carry an inflatable into the backcountry, as there is always the risk of it deflating. I am thinking of taking an Exped Doublemat and a RidgeRest, size is big, weight is low, and nothing can go broken.

What do you use pad-wise for winter camping?

Jolly Green Giant said...

Hey Hendrik,

Thanks for stopping by.

You hit the nail on the head regarding inflatables (i.e. they pop) which is why 99.9% of the time I don't carry them. On snow or in extremely cold conditions, I use either a cut down Thermarest Ridge Rest or Ridge Rest Deluxe and put a 1/4" or 1/8" CCF under my legs. Most people I know either use this system or a Torsolite instead of the Ridge Rest/Ridge Rest Deluxe. The Stephenson's product is nice, however, and extremely warm. If you can get buy with the smaller size, it might be worth it to give it a shot as the weight to warmth ratio would be difficult to beat.