I carry a lot of “luxury” items when I head outside, ultralight be damned. On overnights, it’s an inflatable pillow and real, live book. On day trips, it’s roughly ten pounds of Swedish Fish (full-size, red only). And anytime I’m headed to a place where I might be tempted to take a photo or thirty, I bring paper, a paintbrush, and a small watercolor kit, which I then use to craft truly mediocre renderings of real knockout scenery.
My favorite luxury item, however, is a small, square piece of closed-cell foam—my sit pad. When folks see me whip it out on trail, most either do the same with their own or ask if it’s worth carrying; in fact, the only people who’ve ever outwardly scoffed at my sit pad are the same type who insist that not only can you dig an appropriately-sized cathole with a twig, but also that swiping a rock down your butt crack after making a deposit in said hole is far superior to using toilet paper. My response to these folks is usually to smile politely, then exhale a drawn-out and incredibly satisfied “Ahhhhh” as I settle my booty into that sweet, sweet foam.
Listen, I think that even the most stalwart gram weenie can get on board; my sit pad weighs a scant 2 ounces, and folds up tight to disappear into my pack. Plus, they’re cheap—my fanciest model, the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat, set me back about fifteen bucks. And my dirtbaggiest version, which is roughly one-third of a cheap, blue roll-up mat that I bought at a big box retailer, cost just about $3.33. What a steal!
I mean, have you ever plopped down for a lunch break in the desert, only to shoot back up immediately after discovering an errant cactus spine jammed into your tender cheeks? I haven’t. Have you ever groaned in discomfort while kneeling at a gravelly riverbank for far too long while trying to get your stupid filter to work faster? Not me! Have you ever lost all feeling in your precious buns while sitting in the snow after a long afternoon of breaking trail? Honestly, I feel bad for you.
What’s even better is that the humble sit pad can do a whole lot more than just putting some cush under your tush. It’s also a protector of pants, preventing abrasions and putting up a brave front against not just dirt, but also more devious substances like tree sap. And then there’s closed-cell foam’s magical powers of insulation. In fact, I carry two small pads when I snow camp—one to slide under my butt or feet, and another to slip under my canister stove. If the wind picks up while you’re cooking, you can even press one of them into duty as a windscreen. Sit pad: 3; Jack Frost: 0.
And there’s more! At night, I fold my sleeping pad up into a second pillow, used to prop my head up at just the right angle to read my book (i.e. one sentence, over and over) for the two or three minutes I have before falling into a deep slumber. And if you’re traveling through, say, a six-mile-long burn zone in early summer, where all of the vegetation has been scorched into oblivion, and you decide to slither your legs under a bush like a small animal in hopes of cooling down your core body temperature, then a sit pad makes a really nice sunshade for your very sweaty face. It’s also quite useful to hold one above your head when the gates of hell open directly above your very exposed position on a high plateau in the Rockies, unleashing a violent barrage of giant hailstones upon your tender flesh. Trust me on this.
The moment during which I became a true fan for life, however, occurred after I’d been hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail for about six weeks. Despite inhaling a truly hideous amount of food during that time, I still lost roughly fifteen pounds. My clothes were dirty, salty sacks draped over my body, but even worse, my pack belt no longer sat tight atop my hips, forcing the entire weight onto my shoulders. I tried to cinch the belt using a safety pin, which flew off within a few steps, and then I tried stuffing my puffy between my pack and person, to no avail.
But then I realized that I had a bit of lightweight, comfortable, malleable, squishy salvation tucked just beneath my pack lid—my trusty sit pad. I folded it a few times, then slipped the foam between the belt and my right side. I tested it with a few steps, then kept on walking, my pack—and the future of my hike—back in alignment. Of all the things I carry, my sit pad might not fit any strict definition of “luxury,” and it definitely doesn’t help me hike better, faster, or stronger, but it sure does come in handy sometimes.