Monday, March 7, 2011

A Restful Night's Sleep

REI 2.5-in. Sleeping Pad
At the end of January I wrote about the trip to the lake to test all the new gear. The night wrestling with the blue dense foam sleeping pad left me convinced there had to be a better alternative. I searched high and low, Therm-a-rest, Big Agnes. I even e.mailed a couple paddlers that had done the Inside Passage to Alaska and slept on some pretty unforgiving surfaces, and asked for their input. In the end, it came down to the REI self-inflating sleeping pad. What threw me off was the label “base camp” mattress. Initially I interpreted that to mean it was too large to carry in a canoe. I read all the consumer reviews, and what sold me was a kayaker who had bought the 3.5-inch sleeping pad. He felt it was indeed a bit big for his kayak, so he took it back to an REI outlet, tried the 2.5-inch, and made an exchange. I figured if he could carry the 2.5 in a kayak, I certainly could carry it in a canoe. The REI literature says the pad rolls to 8.5 X 30”, but I found I could roll it easily to 7 X 30”, which considering the importance of a good night’s sleep, is plenty small enough to carry.

REI Pad with the Old Foam Pad on Top
Carry Bag and Two Cinch Straps

One problem with other brands involved complaints about sand burs or other sharp objects coming through the bottom of the tent and puncturing the bottom of the pad. One paddler solved this by making a pillowcase-like sleeve for the pad to slide into. It had one dense side to protect the pad, and a soft side that would feel comfortable against bare skin in the summer. The REI comes with those features already incorporated into the construction of the pad. The bottom side is a black 150-denier cover, and the top is a softer material. An added feature is the top material is also non-slip, which should end having to chase the pad around the tent all night.

Comparing Foam Pad with REI on Top
Showing its Two-Fabric Cover

Some of the reviews complained of having trouble compressing and rolling the pad. Following the tip offered by one reviewer made it simplicity itself, and it can be deflated, rolled, cinched, and bagged in about two minutes. The pad has two self-sealing valves in the corners of one end. If you open the valves and let the pad breathe, it will self-inflate about 75% of the way. If you want to top it off for a firmer pad, some air added by mouth will give the feel you want. To deflate, open the valves. Fold a fifth of its length over on itself and press to force the air out. Fold another fifth and press, and so on. That will get most of the air out. Then open the pad out flat again and start a tight roll giving the remaining air ahead of the roll time to escape. The pad comes with two Velcro cinch straps. Put them on and drop the roll in the carry bag, which is also included.

The 2.5-inch pad comes in two sizes. At 6 ft.-2, I went with the larger of the two, which measures 78 X 29”. The rolled weight is 5-lbs. A backpacker may consider the extra couple pounds too much, but I look at it as five pounds of comfort, rather than five pounds of cargo. I’m sure I’ll find a use for that blue foam---seat pad, knee pads, etc.

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