Camping in the wilderness is one of my favorite pastimes and there are only a few things which can detract from the experience; relentless rain, biting insects and sleeping on the hard ground with a rock or root poking me in the back all night. You can do nothing about the weather, little about the insects but there is a solution for the pesky “stuff” on the ground.
Back in the day (I’ve been around long enough to have earned the right to say that) your options for dealing with rough sleeping conditions were limited. Truly comfortable “mattresses” were simply too cumbersome to lug along on anything but the shortest of trips. When all your amenities have to pack manageably on your back, a thin foam roll-up was about all you could hope for. While an improvement over bare ground sleeping, foam mattresses eventually mold themselves to their surroundings (including rocks and roots) and, while taking the edge off, still leave you with an uncomfortable lump poking you in the back.
By comparison, today’s air mattress beds are a modern luxury. Generally called “sleep pads” the inflatable varieties compress into a convenient roll as small or smaller than the foam models. They come in self inflating models, as well. When the valve is twisted open, “shape memory” makes the pad want to reform into its inflated shape. The pad draws in air as it expands and simply twisting the valve closed leaves you with a mostly inflated air mattress bed. But be warned that even the self inflating variety can benefit from a few extra puffs of air from your lungs to be truly full and comfortable.
As mentioned already, inflatable air mattress beds for backpacking are wonderful in that they do not “learn” the shape of the ground or debris under them in the same way a foam sleep pad would. Ensure, though, that you purchase a pad thick enough to keep you comfortably elevated or you will definitely compress the pad when you roll around. Super compacting models come in different thicknesses and measure in anywhere from 1” to 4” inches (becoming less compact for travel as you increase in thickness). I personally own both a 1” and 2” model. The 2” is definitely luxurious but if I’m packing in so much climbing gear that inches and ounces count, I sometimes opt for the 1” model.
The last point to make with backpacking in mind is that air mattress beds or inflatable sleeping pads go a long way to helping you keep warm. Air is a surprisingly good insulator. Being elevated off the ground with an inch or two of air between you and the cold ground goes a long way to keeping you toasty (or at least warmer than you’d be without). Some manufacturers, such as Coleman, take things a step further and include reflective coatings that reduce the loss or transfer of body heat from you to the pad.
I’ll close by recommending that you visit your local outdoors supplier and try out any air mattress beds you’re considering buying. My local REI keeps inflated floor models of their sleep pads handy so that customers can try before they buy. It’s best to know what you’re getting upfront rather than discover any inconveniences or dislikes when you’re already miles into the wilderness.
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