Foam Sleeping Pad for Backpacking

Every Christmas, parents come to me looking for ideas on camping gear to get their scout.  I typically look at our Troop’s equipment list for scout camp and think about what items they were missing.  While a lot of those items have already been covered in the “Gear Guide” category of this blog, there is one piece of equipment in particular worth mentioning.  It’s a foam sleeping pad for backpack outings and cold weather camping.

Different than the foam pad for car camping, this one is a closed-cell style that provides an essential layer of insulation for winter camping.  It is also the style of pad that rolls up nicely and straps to the outside of a backpack for any season of outdoor sleeping.

There are many “foam mats” out there that can provide a somewhat comfortable sleeping condition.  However, my choice is the original RidgeRest sleeping pad by Therm-a-Rest.  This is a classic lightweight foam pad that I’ve used for over 10 years.  I recommend this one because it’s high quality, durable, inexpensive and one of the thicker foam closed-cell sleeping pads out there.  For example, others brands you might consider are only 3/8” thick where the RidgeRest is 5/8” for as low as $20.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an R-value given on other brands either (the efficiency rating of insulation).

I also like the RidgeRest because it is one of the smallest foam closed-cell pads available.  Although this model comes in three lengths (as shown below), I always recommend the smallest size no matter how big you are.

The reasons are twofold:

1) the pad rolls up smaller at 6.5″ around so it takes up less space and,

2) you only need enough pad to cushion 2/3rds of your body.  In other words, you don’t need padding all the way to your feet…even in the winter, you’re curled up anyway.

If that isn’t enough reason to make this the best choice for the money, the newest RidgeRest version has an aluminized surface that reflects body heat for warmer sleeping.  Thermarest.com advertises the RidgeRest SOlite as having “a 10% boost in warmth with even more durability from surface wear and tear”.  In fact, this latest model was awarded the American Alpine Institute’s Guides’ Choice in 2011 after extensive field testing.  The guides found it to be the “perfect three-season pad for backpackers who might sleep on snow but not in super cold conditions.”

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