In our last newsletter we talked about the Big Agnes Sleep systems which combine a ? insulated bag with an insulated pad. Big Agnes offers several pads to choose from. We also carry Therm-a-Rest pads and will soon be carrying Sea to Summit pads. So how do you choose the perfect pad, when there are so many choices?
Basically there are three different types of pads: air pads, self inflating pads and foam pads. Air pads are the thickest of the three 2.5-4 inches and usually come with insulation, but they must be inflated manually. Some models include an external battery operated pump or have an integrated hand pump to help inflate the pad. Air pads are comfortable and lightweight. Most are fine for backpacking or camping in warm conditions and insulated models can be used year-round. Self-inflating pads pioneered by Therm-a-Rest? offer a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air. Open the pad's valve and air fills the vacuum, as they age they may need a little help though - don't we all! These pads are comfortable, compact and offer insulation. Foam pads are made of dense foam that is filled with tiny closed air cells. They're lightweight, inexpensive, durable and offer excellent insulation, but they can be less comfortable and tend to be bulky.
The main things to look for when choosing a pad are: insulation (R value), size, weight, pack size, and thickness. These will vary according to use. If you are hiking long distances and want to minimize weight than you will want to look for the lightest possible pad and a small pack size. For those who prefer more comfort when backpacking, look for pads with a greater thickness and durability and for winter camping you will want a pad with more insulation. The higher a pad's R-value, the better it will insulate you from cold surfaces.