by the Product Review Staff | 2003-06-20 03:00:00-06
Despite advances in insulation technology and RF welding (the process by which self-inflating foam pads are manufactured), closed cell foam sleeping pads still remain the lightest way to go, in terms of both weight and their warmth:weight ratio. This review provides a summary of some of the better choices on the market.
You can't argue with the fact that Cascade Designs probably makes the best foam pads around. Their best feature lies in the qaulity of their foam - it absorbs nearly zero water weight, unlike most of the other pads on the market.
TRAIL'S BEST 2003 AWARD
The Ridge Rest earns our Trail's Best Award, but only by default. We would have liked to give the award to the Mt. Washington pad (see below) but it is no longer on the market and thus, nearly impossible to procure. In addition, the Mt. Washington absorbs significant moisture and thus should be used only in the hands of more skilled hikers that can keep their equipment dry.
However, the Ridge Rest does have the second highest warmth:weight ratio of any foam pad we've tried. The Ridge Rest is durable, resists compression, and is pretty comfortable. It weighs 9 oz in its 3/4-length configuration and 14 oz in full length. It absorbs less than 0.1% of its weight in water when submerged in a bathtub for 179 hours (don't ask), earning top honors among all pads in that test. But don't worry, we're not going to say something stupid like "This pad makes rocks feel like marshmallows" (actual quote from a national outdoor magazine). Rocks are rocks. This pad is no miracle worker. But it's dang good. And a Trail's Best winner for 2003.
Our Winter Pick is two standard Ridge Rests (best warmth to weight ratio) but if you're into simplicity, the Deluxe Ridge Rest will suit you fine sleeping on snow. Trimmed to torso size, it provides a very warm and comfy pad for mountain hiking in the other three seasons.
The Z-Rest underwent a major change last year to improve foam quality and comfort, but we have to say, we don't notice huge differences, especially in terms of durability. The pad still pooped out after a few weeks of sleeping on it, so it doesn't seem like the best investment if you like to play in foam futures...so, watch out for the marketing hype from the manufacturer - especially when considering the 2003 price tag for the pad - $30 in 3/4 length - ouch! But we suppose that $2 a day is worth the comfort for some (?). One huge bennie: the accordian-style folding and compact storage make it a cult favorite among ultralight backpackers - folded in increments of two panels it makes a great pack frame. Our biggest beef - not the price - but the warmth:weight ratio. This is one of the coldest pads we've ever slept on.
The Link Rest is the cheapest and simplest pad - no convoluted ridges and valleys - but the crazy puzzle edges make it better suited for an interlocking tent floor than a conventional ultralight soloists' foam pad. However, the generous size of the Linkster can be hacked at to create a warm, cheap, comfortable, non-absorbent, sleek, and very very light solution for those with a knack at shaping their own beds. Its extra width (the Ridge Rest Deluxe also comes in a wide width) is also probably nice for some of you fat guys. The downside: not much thickness here: 7/16 of an inch - which albeit is better than the 3/8" pads of old but still, that's not a lot of sixteenths between you and the rocks. However, despite the lower R-factor than the Z-Rest, we consistently found this to be a warmer pad.
When we were asked to review the Strata Rest, we almost couldn't contain our laughter - it was nearly uncontrollable. It was clear that somebody, somewhere, in CD's marketing department was working a few elements on the wrong side of titanium the day the pad shipment went out. However, review it we did, and we all came to the same conclusion: This is a KILLER snow-caving pad when you're close to the car. To CD's credit, they don't market it for lightweight backpacking.
Our favorite foamie for a long time was a Mt. Washington pad from Paramount Outfitters (and its self-branded distributor of the pads, High Country Outdoor Products). It was the undisputed KING of weight (5 oz or so if trimmed to a decent torso size) and warmth:weight ratio (3/4" thick in the thickest part of its egg-crate pattern). The biggest complaint with the pad is that the foam surface wasn't cured like the foams from CD, so it absorbed a fair bit of water - best not to get it wet if hiking in the rain and planning on sleeping in a down bag at night. We read one review on the Internet that rated this pad's safety as an "8" (out of 10). To the contrary, we'd have to say that if you're going to take this one in rainy climes, you better know what you're doing. When this pad gets wet, and you find yourself in a position where you need to conserve body heat, you could be in for a long night. Even having recognized that, it's still the pad some us of grab most often.
Its other nemesis? Bulk. With the pad roll strapped to the back of your pack, this baby could act as a sail in breezy air. Despite these limitations, it achieved a cult following from Net-savvy ultralighters and it is still an often sought after pad on the black market. You can still find a few out there...
"Closed Cell Foam Sleeping Pads," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00077.html, 2003-06-20 03:00:00-06.