Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Sometimes “heavy” isn’t so bad.

When I was a kid, every now and then my parents would take me camping.  Our gear was likely the very best Montgomery Ward offered within the last decade or so.  We had two matching tents, both equally adequate at holding water as well as an aquarium.  My parents slept in one and my brother and I slept in the other.  Each night while my brother and I tried to think of new and innovative ways to annoy one another causing our mother to be quite creative with her empty threats, we’d overhear exchanges between my mom and dad.  Usually it started with sounds of tossing and turning followed by general discomfort.  My mom would attempt to remedy the situation and my father could be heard telling her he was fine.

In as much as I’d like to avoid all thoughts that they were working on giving my brother and I a sibling, I know the truth was that my father was uncomfortable sleeping on the ground.  While my mom, brother and I had old foam GI mats, my father had an early edition inflatable.  But, as someone over 300 pounds, the mat proved to be more of a test of his patience than a welcomed hope for a night of restful sleep. 

I always remembered those moments because the one thing I took away from camping with the family was that it was uncomfortable.  Whether it was the obvious difficulty in the middle of the night or the “I slept in a tent last night” facemask we all wear from time-to-time, it wasn’t an ideal situation.  Now with my own family, this retrospective is helpful as family camping is meant to be an enjoyable activity.
The first few times I went camping with my family, I brought my lightweight gear and we all huddled under an old cramped tent.  My kids and I were sleeping on foam at a public campsite that was overly loved, and my wife was sleeping on a women’s Thermarest Prolite Plus (something I had purchased for her along with a GoLite Jam with the hopes of motivating her to go backpacking with me).  I learned the same thing my dad did at those moments – this is uncomfortable.

Flash forward to our modern world where the number of choices for nearly anything is only outweighed by the number of places it could be purchased.  My goal was simple, to find the biggest most bed-like sleeping pad on the market.  I knew I couldn’t get an inflatable mattress because those never worked well for me, or more importantly anyone else sharing it with me.  While I squashed it to the floor, my partners were raised to circus heights only to eventually slide into me.  Realistically, there also wouldn’t be enough room for kids and I really didn’t want to lug around a giant inflatable mattress anyway as it would no doubt turn into the tent trampoline for anyone under the age of 6.

I ended up with the Thermarest Dreamtime - an inflatable pad with memory foam on top within a sleeve.  Now I’m not a fan of inflatables to begin with, or memory foam, but put them together on a hard surface which would be challenging in most any situation….and….oh my. 

With an R-value of 9, a 30” width and 78” in length, it was wonderfully big.  Pushing nearly 8 pounds, it was every bit of heavy I was willing to lug from the car to the tent.  It took all of one trip for my wife to remind me that I was buying another.  I used it over the Easter weekend despite my back reminding me that moving 11 cu/yds of mulch and dirt is an activity best left for more graceful youth who accept cash to help me avoid the suffering.  It was a great success.  I’ll be backpacking for an overnighter this weekend and will hook up with my family for a second night.  You can bet your sweet cheeks that my UL foam will be left in the car when I arrive and the Dreamtime will be making another tent appearance.

Find one on sale, use a coupon, and consider your REI dividend, and your wallet won’t suffer as much.

Dad would have been proud.

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