Nothing wrecks a vacation like not being able to sleep. After four or five nights of backpacking and sleeping on hard ground I don’t really need the mat any longer — but by then I’m usually on the way home. A good sleeping pad is a luxury I can afford. What I’m presently using is a Coleman self-inflating pad which isn’t manufactured any longer. I expected it to last about one season and it’s more than fifteen years old now. With three individually valved self inflating chambers increasing in thickness where you need the most cushion, plus a built-in blow up pillow and attached cinch straps, it’s the best pad I’ve used so far.
If I have to replace it I probably will go ultralight. The one complaint I have about the old Coleman is the weight, about a pound more than necessary. The AeroBed Extreme Ultra Light Self-Inflating Camp Mat weighs only two pounds and has the same tough build but with fewer perks. This is just a mat, enough to tone down the lumps and cold spots. If you want a pillow you’ll have to wad up your shirt.
Hikers and campers new to the self-inflating pads often find them immediately disappointing. Self inflating does not mean plump and cushy in seconds. Inside the mat is a layer of tough foam that gradually expands and fills out when you unroll the mat and open the valve. If it’s been in storage a long time this could take hours. When I make camp I expect that–I set up the tent, toss the mat down with all valves open, and when I get ready to turn in I seal the valves and blow some air in the pillow. Although you could blow the mat chambers up a little more, I’ve never found that necessary. Inflating it to air mattress levels could put too much strain on the seams. Self inflating mats do work, but you’ll have to lower your expectations a bit to be happy.
If you do insist on something better, the Pacific Outdoor Peak Oyl Mountain Sleeping Pad gives the restless hiker bed rails and a center grip surface so you won’t tumble out of the comfort zone on slopes. Critical points get extra padding, raising the thermal insulation value by ten to fifteen percent. The outer shell fabric comes from recycled PET plastics, and the foam core is made from palm oil. The Oyl Mountain potentially is a very comfy ride, with an R-value up to 5.0 and precise diamond-cutting to reduce weight without reducing that shielding warmth. As with any self inflating pad, some patience and tinkering are essential. Hipbones may punch through that cushion anyway. Sometimes the only thing to do is learn to sleep flat. Save a few ounces with the Pacific Outdoor Equipment Peak Oyl Lite Sleeping Pad if you’re willing to sacrifice width. The narrow mummy design of the Lite version won’t cooperate if you toss and turn.