Sleeping Pads For Ultralight Backpackers

Ultralight backpackers want to give up weight, not comfort. Sleeping pads are pretty much a necessity for backpacking comfort, but who wants to carry those monstrous old inflatables down the trail? Try some of these lightweight options instead.

You can make four-ounce sleeping pads - then sometimes carry two of them. Start with the plain blue closed-cell foam pads available from any backpacking supplier. These are made larger than necessary, usually 24 by 72 inches. You can just cut them down to a four-ounce size.

It's important that it reaches from your shoulders to your hips, so cut it to that length. Cut the width a little at a time, testing for comfort as you go. You want the pad as small as you can make it, while still big enough to insulate your torso from the ground. Your head can be on a pillow of spare clothes, and your legs on your empty pack to insulate them.

Sleeping Pads For Ultralight Fanatics

If you want it really light, cut pieces out of the pad. Half-inch holes in the pad don't seem to make it less comfortable. Cut out a hundred little pieces of foam, and you get to save an ounce and join the ranks of the fanatical ultralight backpackers.

To be comfortable with a thin pad, or none at all, try sleeping where the ground is soft. You can also pile up leaves or dry grass to sleep on. Please do this only where it won't harm the enviroment, and scatter the leaves in the morning so they won't kill the vegetation they're on. With fifteen minutes of work each night collecting materials, you can leave the sleeping pad home and be more comfortable. A thick pile of dried grass - now that's a nice camping mattress.

More Comfortable Sleeping Pads

Do you need more cushioning? Inflatable sleeping pads are no longer out of the question for lightweight backpacking. REI's Big Agnes Air Core Pad is a 3/4 length pad that weighs just 16 ounces and is an incredible 2 1/2" thick! I haven't tried this one yet, so if you've slept with Big Agnes, let me know how she is.

There are also several self-inflating sleeping pads that are reasonably light. My old Thermarest is actually only 21 ounces, but both Thermarest and others now have self-inflating sleeping pads that are under a pound. Now that's lightweight backpacking comfort!

Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking. His tips, photos and stories can be found at The Ultralight Backpacking Site: http://www.The-Ultralight-Site.com

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