You know those “from the tent” Instagram shots? The ones of some gorgeous view bathed in misty morning light, framed by nylon tent flaps, maybe a hand wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee in the foreground? Clearly those people have never had a case of camp shoulder.
Yeah, waking up in a tent isn’t usually something to complain about, but it’s not always the most blissful experience either. Maybe your tent-mate took over your sleeping pad and you woke up shoved into a condensation-covered corner. Maybe you’re snow camping and slept on top of an empty backpack to insulate your tired, furless, useless-in-the-winter body from the frozen ground. Maybe you’ve got a braid of knots wrapped around your shoulder blade and an altitude headache. All we’re saying is sleeping on the ground isn’t always easy. But these great sleeping pads are here to help.
Therm-a-Rest’s Ridgerest hasn’t changed much since it first hit the market, and for good reason. It’s inexpensive–$20–and reliable. We’ll get to the fancy, inflatable, super-lite stuff in a minute, but the classic black foam won’t pop when it gets packed next to a wayward crampon. It provides great insulation when cold-weather and snow camping (and for $10 extra you can purchase the SOLite, which has a thin layer of aluminum inside to reflect body heat and keep you warmer). You can buy 5 of ’em for family camping trips and not break the bank. You can fold it up and sit on it next to the campfire, wrap it around your waist under your backpack strap when the hip hickeys get gnarly (I’m serious, this looks goofy but can be a life-saver on long backpacking trips), and roll it out on the car seat before your dirty friends pile in. And even though it might not be all that easy to pack, it weighs just 0.1 oz more than the “ultralight” inflatable below. It’s versatile, simple, and a true classic.
Despite the fact that, at 13.9 oz, the UltraLight isn’t much lighter than the RidgeRest, this is an incredible sleeping mat. It packs down to about the size of a Nalgene, and unlike other inflatable mats is quick to inflate and deflate and really easy to pack. I still have stress dreams about trying to fit my parent’s 1985 Therm-a-Rest inflatables back into their stuff sacks and for the longest time shunned inflatables because of the hassle factor. Well, the hassle factor isn’t a factor with the UltraLight. When you first inflate the mat, it might seem diminutive but don’t be fooled: just because it doesn’t look burly doesn’t mean it isn’t durable and super-comfortable. Though the UltraLight isn’t remarkably warm–I wouldn’t use it for camping in weather much below freezing–you can get an insulated version for just an extra 1.6 oz that helps keep your body heat from seeping into the ground. Both the insulated and non-insulated versions come in three degrees of “comfort” as well. If you’re not worried about an extra five ounces, extra layers of Sea to Summit’s “air sprung cells” give you a softer sleep without sacrificing packability. The bare-bones UltraLight will run you $100–so, a far cry from a foam mat, but a pretty reasonable price for an ultralight inflatable.
Therm-a-Rest’s best inflatable option, the XTherm, has a great warmth and comfort to weight ratio. It weighs in at just 15 ounces, but is appropriate for all-season camping and packs down well (though not quite as small, once packed, as the Sea to Summit above). An awesome inflatable option for side sleepers, the Xtherm’s inflation pattern makes sure pressure points–so, hips, elbows, shoulders–don’t press through its 2.5 inches of cushion to the ground. It has won awards from many gear testers and outdoor publications and might be unbeatable when it comes to lightweight inflatables. Well, the price, which starts at $200 and goes upward for larger sizes, could definitely be beat. On the flipside, Therm-a-Rest has a great lifetime warranty, and once you’ve rested your weary head on an Xtherm, you won’t be sleeping mat shopping for a long time. The only other downside, which plagues many lightweight inflatables, is the noise. This one crackles a bit when you roll around at night, but that’s nothing compared to your tent-mate’s snoring. (If you prefer a rectangle pad, there’s the NeoAir XTherm MAX.)