Backpacking Gear – Air Mattress and Pillow Replacements

When you use your gear as much as I do, inevitably it’s going to need to be replaced sooner or later. Sometimes that’s great because you can go lighter or gain improvements. Most times you already know your desired product. Other times, you know it’s gonna suck, as was the case with this replacement.

My beloved air mattress is no longer manufactured. I should have purchased a second one before they were discontinued. I’m still kicking myself for that decision. I’d spent plenty of time over the past few years following reviews, recommendations, and popular choices. This was going to have to be another compromise decision while I wait for one that meets my needs.

My preferences for an air mattress:

  • Light and compact (around 10 ounces)
  • Uninsulated  (I carry a foam mattress as part of my pack frame for insulation)
  • Side sleeper friendly
  • Minimal air requirements (I have asthma)
  • Quiet! (I’m a restless sleeper)

After much consternation, I decided on the Klymit Static V UL Pad manufactured in partnership with Massdrop.

Driven to make ultralight backpacking more accessible for everyone, we (Massdrop) teamed up with Klymit to create a full-size sleeping pad with a great weight-to-performance ratio at an incredible value. The result is the Static V UL pad, designed for camping in warmer weather. Inflatable in 8 to 12 breaths, it’s made from 20d nylon fabric with a V-chamber design and 2.5-inch thickness that maximizes comfort for back and side sleepers alike. This uninsulated pad weighs 11.9 ounces and packs down to the size of a water bottle.

This pad has the packability and ease of use that Klymit is known for, along with a few improvements. It’s the industry-standard 20 inches wide and slightly tapered below the knees to save weight. The fabric is more durable and much quieter as you move around at night than comparable alternatives. Plus, it’s dark enough to dry quickly when it gets wet. Finally, the inflation valve has been moved to the side to minimize the risk of damage and provide more comfort for the sleeper.

Specs:

  • Fabric: 20d nylon
  • Color: Dark charcoal (top and bottom)
  • R-value: 1.3
  • Inflation: 8–12 breaths
  • Dimensions, inflated: 72 x 20 x 2.5 in (182 x 51 x 6 cm)
  • Dimensions, packed: 7.5 x 3.25 in (19 x 8 cm)
  • Weight, pad: 11.9 oz (337 g)

My experience:

  • The Air Beam pad is 25″ at the shoulder. I expected the Klymit at 20″ to be too narrow; however, during my test night in the back country, I didn’t have any issues and was pleasantly surprised.
  • Inflation seemed like an issue in the field but upon home testing I found that not to be the case. My Air Beam takes about 12 breaths while the Klymit took 14 breaths. The size contributes to the extra air needed. My Air Beam is 56″ x 26″ at shoulder x 20″ at foot. The Klymit is 72″ long, much longer than I need.
  • An upgrade Massdrop failed to mention is that they’ve added non-slip beads to the bottom of the pad. My pad stayed in place during the night which I’m sure greatly improved my sleep.
  • As a side sleeper I didn’t find any negative differences between the Air Beam and the Klymit.
  • The Klymit didn’t make any noise as I tossed and turned, a HUGE bonus over many of the popular pads.
  • Through Massdrop, the pad is being sold at $49, which is a remarkable deal in my opinion.
  • On my scale the weight is 12.3 ounces vs the 11.9 marketed, a couple ounces more than I would have preferred.
  • Massdrop was also offering the Klymit pillow for $15. As my ExPed pillow popped a baffle at the end of last season and I needed a replacement I decided to give it a try. I’m thrilled to say the Klymit pillow is much more comfortable than my ExPed. Weight is .5 ounces more.
  • I dislike increasing weight, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. My weight went up 2.4 ounces for my new air mattress and pillow. I’m hopeful I’ll find a better substitute in the future.

Anyone out there good at finding micro leaks? I tried soaking in the bathtub to find air bubbles as well as using the soap bubbles method.

Links:

Backpacking Gear List – Sleep System Jabber

My BASE WEIGHT is about 14 pounds, with my SLEEP SYSTEM representing 16% of the weight at a little over 2 pounds.

Click on graph for a better quality image and to activate the product hyperlinks. Right click on each hyperlink to open in new tab or window.

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Sleep System

This is probably the most important decision you will make. Finding yourself cold miles from a trailhead makes not only for a long, miserably night, but can also be life threatening. Of course, like any important decision, this one is complicated and includes many considerations.

Sleeping Bag Decisions

(1) Insulation:

DownType of down, fill weight,  baffle construction and fabric choice will affect price, temperature rating, weight and compressibility.

Water Repellent Down – Many bag manufacturers now offer this as an option, the downside is that as compared to down it is a bit heavier and has reduced breathability.

Synthetic – On the positive side, as compared to down, synthetic bags are usually less expensive and insulate better if damp; the negatives are breathability, compressibility and weight.  Tip: Based on my experience, if you prefer natural fibers and wear primarily cotton or wool, and sleep with a down comforter or cotton/silk/wool blankets at home, you won’t like a synthetic bag. I bought one, trialed it one night, found myself sweaty, and immediately exchanged it for a down bag. The cost savings wasn’t worth it.

(2) Temperature Rating:

Historically bags have been rated based on outside temperature (i.e. 25-degree bag), but since there was never a uniform method established to measure bag to temperature, this was an unreliable sales tool and a bit like comparing apples and oranges. We are starting to see labels using the European Norm (EN) 13537 testing protocol which divides temperature into upper limit, comfort, lower limit and extreme, with the comfort rating most applicable to women who usually require an extra 10 degrees of warmth. Tip: Unless you are going to have multiple bags for different conditions, I recommend a 0-20 degree bag. It’s easy to use as a quilt or go without in warmer temperatures. If you are using down, it’s important to fluff your bag well and redistribute feathers before going to bed to maximize thermal benefits. Proper storage and cleaning of down bags is also keep to maintaining loft.

(3) Shape and Dimensions:

While the most common shape may be mummy, other choices include rectangular, female-specific, hooded, wide, tall, short . . .

I’m a bit claustrophobic so when I found a wide-width, female-specific, hooded bag I thought I struck gold. The integrated pad sleeve was a bonus, or so I thought. Lessons learned: (1) the pad sleeve prevents side sleepers from being able to snuggle into their bags and positions the hood at an awkward angle; and (2) wide bags for smaller people create lots of dead space impossible to keep warm.

I was concerned initially when I switched to a mummy bag without a hood. Although I’d prefer it a tiny bit wider so I could sleep in fetal position, I’ve adapted and sleep much warmer than in my previous bag. ZPacks bag length is intended to reach your chin; they recommend increasing by a size if you want to cover head. However, it’s best not to breathe into bag as it will increase condensation. A better option is using your down puffy to regulate head/face temperature. I bought up one size so I have room to shelter my shoulders and neck.

(4) Weight and Packed Size:

Your budget will most likely affect this choice and one of the reasons you should select your pack last. Sleeping bags can take up a lot of room. Tip: Except in inclement weather, I don’t pack my bag in a compression sack, electing instead to use it to fill space around my other packed items.

Additional Resources:

REI blog on bag selection (excellent very detailed article)

Options to a Sleeping Bag:

Don’t feel married to using a sleeping bag. There are several other choices to be considered.

Quilt – These have become more popular the past few years (be aware of drafts)

Fleece Liner – For those camping in warmer climates this could be an option

Blanket – This is a great option for those on a budget

Space Blanket – Don’t laugh, I’ve heard it works

Accessories:

Pillow – Most use clothes in a stuff sack as their pillow, but lightweight inflatable pillows are now a very viable option. Tip: under inflate for improved comfort.

Liner – If you need a little extra warmth, you might consider a silk or fleece bag liner.

Sleeping Pad Decisions

The sleeping pad industry has been busy coming up with lighter, more compact, and more comfortable pads. There is nothing like a bad night’s sleep to ruin your trip. Previously I always experienced hip pain, as I’m a side sleeper, but when I found the right pad, it became a thing of the past.

(1) Type of Pad:

Closed-Cell Foam – These are a solid foam type mattress. What you see is what you get! Definitely more durable and since not inflatable, no worries about leaks. Very popular with long-distance hikers. The least expensive option.

I’m currently using the Gossamer Gear 1/8″ Thinlight Pad in conjunction with an air chamber type pad.

Open-Cell Foam – This is probably the most popular type of mattress. They usually self-inflate.

Air Chamber – These will remind you of pool blow-up mattresses. The benefit is they are light and pack very small. They are the most expensive option. Tip: underinflate to improve comfort.

While I’d prefer to use the very popular Thermarest NeoAir XLite, I can’t tolerate it’s surface noise (think potato chip bag). Thus my compromise pad is the Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleeper mattress.

(2) Size:

Length – To save weight and space, some campers will use a torso length pad. The trade-off is contact with cold hard ground. Pads also come in regular, petite, tall and wide. Dimensions of those sizes vary by manufacturer. Tip: you can elevate feet on pack to lengthen your “pad”

Width – You’ll want to take note of the manufacturer specs. My regular size is quite narrow thus requiring me to be mindful as I switch positions.

Height – Varies considerably from about 1/2″ to 4″. Your level of comfort may be affected by the thickness of pad, but not necessarily.

(3) Temperature Rating:

This is probably the most important decision second to comfort. Look for an R-Value rating (0-6). The higher the R Value, the warmer the pad will be. Temperature transfers directly from the ground through the pad. Technology has improved the weight and size of the higher R-Value mattresses. Good resource: Section Hiker’s Blog

The Air Beam Sleeper mattress I’m using has no R-Value, thus I use the ThinLight pad on top of it when warmth is needed. To my knowledge this pad has not been rated, but it doesn’t seem to transfer cool temperatures.

(4) Weight and Packed Size:

As with your everything else, your budget will affect these variables. Pads can take up considerable space in your pack, another good reason to purchase your pack last.

Additional Resources:

REI blog on mattress selection (excellent very detailed article)

Other Decisions

Having the right bag and pad will help keep you warm and comfortable, but there are other factors which will affect a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Clothes – Having warm dry clothes to sleep in will not only help keep your sleeping bag clean but will eliminate chill from perspiration absorbed into your hiking clothes during the day. I’ve heard slightly loose-fitting clothes keep you warmer than tight fitting, of course I’ve also heard naked is the warmest.

Layering Options – Items such as hat, gloves, buff and jacket will help regulate your temperature

Shelter – Drafty shelters require more warming options (Tip: use your umbrella to shield wind, use a solar blanket on the floor)

Experience – Learning to sleep warm is a skill. The lessons I’ve learned include:

(1) Don’t go to bed cold (run around camp, do jumping jacks or sit ups, eat something fatty such as nuts, drink something hot, etc)

(2) Don’t wait to pee (if you wake up with a full bladder, you’ll make yourself colder trying to make it go away, to say nothing about ruining your sleep)

(3) When it’s really cold, fill your water container with boiling water and place in your bag

(4) If your feet are cold, place the foot of your bag in your backpack.

(4) Campsite selection can make a huge difference (shelter in the trees, away from water, avoiding low spots and ridges)

Lightening My Load

YES, I know there are ways I can lighten my base weight. But in my sleep system department, I’m about as low as I can go except for eliminating my pillow at 1.5 ounces.

Links

Grams = Ounces, Ounces = Pounds, Pounds = Pain

Choose your pain wisely!