Deciding on a sleeping system is a major consideration for backpacking. A good nights sleep can make the difference between feeling lethargic and sore in the morning or energized and raring to get hiking. Of course the mat that you choose should be appropriate for the time of year and climate where you’ll be sleeping. The market is filled with a variety of mats to choose from that will suit your needs.
There are three basic types of sleeping mats available for backpacking: closed-cell foam, self inflating and inflatable. Please note that the two mats that I compare here have low r-values and are designed for 3 season use.
Outdoor Gear Lab has a very good write up about sleeping pads that is worth looking at if you are in the market for a mat. If you are unsure about which pad is the correct one for you then you should consider renting. There are many outdoor shops around the country that rent gear.
In a pinch I found my salvation!
My Klymit Inertia X Frame crapped out on me during my thru-hike of the Trans Adirondack Trail and I found myself in a pinch so I hitched a ride into Lake Placid to buy a new one. I checked around and the only shop that carried a mat with the features that I was looking for was EMS. I perused the store looking in the returns to find nothing and finally broke down and paid more than I wanted to for a Sea To Summit UltraLight Mat.
Klymit X Frame
On the Finger Lakes Trail the X Frame worked quite well for me. I did not find that to be true on the Trans ADK. Although the X Frame packs down to the size of a soda can, it felt like I slept on that soda can when I woke up in the morning. Perhaps my body is just changing with age.
So what are the positives about the X Frame? Initially I was drawn to three specs that are important to me. First is the weight. At only 9.1oz the X Frame was considerably lighter than any other mat that I had used in the past. Secondly the mat really does pack down to the size of a soda can which is a plus. Another nice feature is that you can inflate the mat using only a few breaths. The mat’s pressure after initial inflating can also be increased to your desired liking by using the hand pump that comes with the mat.
There are some flip side considerations you may want to think about. This pad is not friendly if you sleep on your side. I did not find that there was ample support in the hip area and therefore I felt very uncomfortable. The X Frame sleeping pad is quite narrow and does not have as much loft as its competitors.
Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat
On my first use with the Ultralight Mat I was impressed and surprised at how well I slept. Purchased out of necessity, the mat turned out to be a solid purchase.
The Ultralight Mat provides excellent comfort for sleeping both on my back and side. The mat is made up of air sprung cells that form a matrix that provides support across my whole body and not just in selected areas. The pad is wider and fits my body very well. The weight is 3.4oz heavier than the X Frame, but not enough to be noticeable. Deflating is quick and easy and it packs down smaller than a Nalgene bottle.
One thing that I do not like is that the dimples created by the welds that create the sprung cell matrix collect dirt. You also need to put a little more effort into inflating the mat as compared to the X Frame.
Choosing a sleeping mat is a personal choice and only you truly know the level of comfort you need in order to sleep soundly. Give some thought about the terrain that you’re going to be sleeping on. If you are winter camping or possibly mountaineering, be sure to choose a mat with insulating properties. Take the time to consider how you will use your sleeping mat in order to narrow down your choices. Try to find the mattress that will function perfectly for you and provide you with the best quality sleep.