Do I really need a sleeping pad?

1:56 p.m. on December 26, 2009 (EST)
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I am new here and just recently had my first backpacking trip of a couple of nights. I really enjoyed it and want to start going out more (mostly just 2-3 day weekend trips). I live in Denver, Colorado and most of my trips will be within a few hours of here. I am wondering if I need to take along a sleeping pad in the summer.

My thought was that if I get a bag that is designed for winer weather, than I could use it in the summer without draging along a pad.

Will this work or will I end up cold and miserable?

3:51 p.m. on December 26, 2009 (EST)
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In simple words, you are not going to die from not having a pad with you. It works in 2 ways - insulation from the ground and comfort. In summer time with warm bag you probably going to be alright also with no pad. Comfort is up to you. When you say winter bag, what do you mean? 20-15F bag?
I think that carrying a light an inexpensive pad is well worth it - the ridgerest work great and will last you for many years without adding much for the weight of your pack. It's just one of the small things that can make a big different on your night out and then also effecting the day after. And don't forget to pack to coffee to start the day with :)

3:52 p.m. on December 26, 2009 (EST)
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BTW - welcome to trailspace!

5:16 p.m. on December 26, 2009 (EST)
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Since your question was "will this work or will I end up cold and miserable". No you won't be cold, yes you will be miserable. You can get el cheapo closed cell pads that make a big difference. Ever sleep on rocks? maybe go out and lay on the shoulder of a road before trying it for a night.

Jim S

5:24 p.m. on December 26, 2009 (EST)
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Joel: when you start researching sleeping bags, the first thing you'll learn is they provide no insulation on the bottom. Warmth comes from the ability of a bag's loft (whether by down or synthetic fibers) to capture heat. Your body weight compresses the bag's loft, making it impossible for it to insulate on the bottom.

With no insulating pad, a bag designed for winter will have you sweating on top and shivering on the bottom. Imagine sleeping like that after you've been backpacking all day in the Rockies and have a couple days of travel ahead of you.

All mattresses, whether in your bedroom or in the woods, perform an insulating function. Your body can warm your mattress at home, but it can't warm hard ground.

The main appeal of a mattress for part-time backcountry travelers is you get a better night's sleep at a time when you're out of your element and will need all the rest you can get because you're not accustomed to hiking with a load at altitude. You don't have to get a fancy ThermaRest but you'll thank yourself for taking some kind of insulating pad along.

10:32 a.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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I personaly have never used one, and it doesnt seem to bother me. But many people do. Experament with a friends, see if it is worth the added weight.

11:50 a.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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Thank you all for the expertise. I was more concerned about the bulk than the weight, but it sounds like it's worth it. I guess my concern started because until I can invest in a new pack I have inherited my father-in-law's external frame Kelty that was top of the line circa 1978 when he was my age. Maybe I just need him to show me how to load it so everything fits.
I did have another random question. Does anyone know where exactly I can find out if a bear canister is necessary or required in the Buffalo Creek Wilderness area and in Pikes Peak NF through around segment six of the Colorado Trail? The trail guidebook I have doesn't mention it. but I don't want to assume that means it's not an issue...

Thanks again for the wisdom!

1:46 p.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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I have two Kelty tioga external frame packs, people keep giving them to me!

Anyway generally you put the rolled up pad on top and flip the packs top cover over it and fasten. The ends of the pad stick out either side of the top of the pack. Generally you sleeping bag in a strong water proof stuff sack is tied under the body of the pack, but this may not be a good idea in wet spaces.


1:47 p.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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I live in Grand Junction and to the best of my knowledge there is no place in the state that requires a bear canister. However, some places it may be a wise choice; the Aspen area comes to mind.

For info on national forests:

For info on national parks:

7:08 p.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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Actually Tom, not to pick nits, but your arguement [about the insulation under you having no effect] is one one of the flawed arguements of the quilt group. If a human were shaped like a brick and the ground were perfectly flat, then the entire area under you would be pressed flat. (The OM said he would use a winter bag in the summer, so there would be considerable insulating material even under him.) Even if the insulation in the bag [under you] were pressed completely flat, it would still be there and offer some insulation, however the last time I checked humans are sort of cylindrical in shape [ not brick shaped] so only the "ground contact points" would be pressed completely flat and the rest of the insulation under and around you would be working. Also the fact that a sleeping bag limits the air space around you makes it warmer than a quilt. Unless a quilt is wrapped around you, it will not be as warm as a sleeping bag.

You can try this experiment on a cold night. Laying naked in bed under the covers, allow the covers to go over the side of the bed, the area under the covers will be drafty and you will feel the coolness, then pull the blankets up onto the bed and tuck them up next to you and in a few minutes you will feel warmer.

Jim S

7:53 p.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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Jim: That's a good point, but I still think having those weight-bearing areas of the body pressed hard against the ground would be uncomfortably cold.

9:31 p.m. on December 27, 2009 (EST)
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One of the most uncomfortably cold nights I have ever spent was an over night in the Southwestern desert. I had left my pad at home. The day was warm, the sand hot. So I wiggled down in it to form hip, shoulder, foot and elbow depressions and went to sleep with the bag unzipped - it was too warm.

A few hours later I was suffering near hypothermia. The desert temperatures drop a degree a minute after the sun goes down and the sand had cooled and so had I. Spent the remainder of the night sitting upright upon everything else I had brought, wrapped up in my bag looking up at a fabulously brilliant, clear sky that continue to allow the rock I was sitting upon to get radiantly colder. Dang it got cold!

If anything else than warm summer nights in the east, you can bet your freezing bippy you should have one.

6:00 p.m. on December 30, 2009 (EST)
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Hey Joel,

My advise would be to take it along and see if you can do without it, but surely having a pad would be more comfortable.

7:31 p.m. on December 30, 2009 (EST)
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You can get pads that roll up pretty small and make a huge difference to your comfort and the quality of your sleep.

We just use 3/4 length Thermarest ProLite's and they work well. (we started with EVA foam pads and used em once, not fun!)

4:39 p.m. on January 10, 2010 (EST)
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It does make a difference to your comfort level. I take a military surplus pad ($18.00) and a foam pad ($5.00) and I sleep like a baby after a long hike.

7:52 p.m. on January 12, 2010 (EST)
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To me, the use of a pad is partly about warmth, though that's mostly in cooler weather. Primarily the pad helps make sleeping on the ground more comfortable. It's hard to imagine you'd be comfortable lying directly on the ground, unless you happen to find a bed of soft pine needles upon which to lay your sleeping bag (and then I suppose the purists would argue that you're damaging the forest floor by compacting the needles).

9:28 p.m. on January 12, 2010 (EST)
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I've camped in the coastal redwood forests in California where there's a foot of pine needles everywhere, you just thrown down your sleeping bag, BUT they have branches mixed with them so unless you have an old fashioned cotton batting thick flannel lined sleeping bag you still need a pad. I've slept on a pile of leaves and I swear by morning they were harder than sleeping on rocks. You don't start a campfire when camped on a foot of pine needles.

Jim S

10:09 p.m. on January 12, 2010 (EST)
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After decades of fighting forest fires for my living, I detest people who build fires on forest "duff" and I cannot see any GOOD reason not to carry a pad, the comfort level is FAR beyond the "bough beds" of fantasy woodslore.

11:42 p.m. on January 12, 2010 (EST)
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Yeah, both of these make sense. I always use a pad :).

11:09 p.m. on January 19, 2010 (EST)
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Yes, you do! The ground is cold and hard and unlike your bed at home to which your tired body is accustomed. Some light pads, e.g. Thermarest Pro-Lite, can be packed flat and used to fill a small amount of space in the pack bag, or rolled around a sleeping bag, or rolled as a so-called liner in a stuff sack and the sleeping bag can be stuffed in the center to fill the stuff bag volume. But, take a pad; on the following morning you will discover that this faithful, patient, elderly Scout Leader was really correct. At age 18 I could sleep on anything, anywhere. Not now!

5:01 a.m. on January 20, 2010 (EST)
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Do you need a pad? I would say, based on my own experiences, yes. I am so glad that I bought the pad that I did (Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4). Aside from the obvious reason of comfort, a pad will save you from a miserable night's sleep. The problem with sleeping on the ground in your sleeping bag is that the fill below you is compressed so much by your body that it doesn't really provide much insulation. The ground, which tends to be much colder than our bodies, literally sucks the heat from you. You can go to sleep boiling and wake up shivering. It's not a fun thing to do. On a trip to the Sangre de Cristo mountains recently my GF and I got caught in a freak snowstorm on a high exposed ridge (It had been 70 degrees all day and the temperature fell into the low 20's that night) and were forced to set up the tent on a slope. I opted to take the down hill side of the tent as I didn't want my 180 pound body crushing her tiny 100 pound frame. We both have Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4 sleeping pads and we laid them down and then got in our Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 down sleeping bags. We went to sleep and thankfully warmed up in the bags even though they are rated at 32 and the temperature dipped down to 23 overnight. I was fine as long as I was on my pad but the second she slid on top of me and I slid off my pad I woke up cold. If you're just going out for summer trips you can skip the pad. You'll probably end up miserable though. For winter or fall I would say you need one.

1:13 p.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
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I don't have as much experience as the rest of these guys but in my experience a sleeping pad helps me tremendously. My first time camping with my kids we used no pads. The ground was hard and we ended up pretty chilled even though we had sleeping bags rated at lower temps than we actually got to that evening. To help with this I got some self inflating pads. I think they are 1.5 inches thick or so. The second time we went out we slept better but I could still feel the ground and I got cold in 40 degree weather in a 20 degree REI sleeping bag. I did some more research and got a exped synmat 7 deluxe. I tried it at home and it actually felt warm. If you don't pump it up all the way it also supports all the dips and curves of your body without letting you hitthe ground in heavier places. I took this out on our 4th or 5th trip and I was amazed. I was perfectly comfortable and warm in my 20 degree bag even though that night got down to 36. I also did not feel any of the ground and for the first time actually got a good nights sleep outside. The pad made all the difference. Now the exped is pretty expensive but there are other manufacturers of inflatable pads. And for packability, the exped packs up to about a third of the space that the self inflaters take up. I won't use anything else from now on and want to get inflatable pads for my kids as well. Another benefit is that even if the ground is not level or bumpy, you lay perfectly flat. It's also less noisy that our self inflaters.

Have fun!

8:01 p.m. on January 30, 2010 (EST)
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Actually I would recommend an air mattress, unrepentant blasphemer that I am, a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core or similar to be specific because nothing inspires me to greet the new day with more enthusiasm than a good night's sleep. Sleeping on rocks, even little bitty ones, is not technically sleeping.

YMMV. I myself, being something of a student of bizarre behavior, am fairly certain that hundreds of thousands of rugged individualists have sallied forth into the wilderness with 3/4 length and shorter pads, stuffing an extra pair of skivies under the small of their backs to relieve the pain of their miserable, tortured rest period, in the interest of being politically correct and lightweight. Some of them, the self-proclaimed best of the best, the elite cadre of camping even exhort others to enjoy the many benefits of such misery. Utter nonsense. Too many folks have gone down that trail only to return and sell all their gear because it just was not fun to not sleep right on the ground and even less fun to drag their exhausted butts through the following day.

Which is why you see so much little-used, very good gear for sale cheap.

Lesson learned.

So, my recommendation to you, especially as you are new to this, is to get a decent sleep surface, one that will encourage your enthusiasm for re-creating yourself among the flora and the fauna, rather than one that becomes just one more reason to never get out there again, or worse, no sleep surface at all which would likely shorten your maximum trip length to 2 days and 1 night.

It is critically important that you wake refreshed, not all stoveup, for more reasons than just comfort. A well-rested hiker is way less likely to suffer injury. A well-rested hiker has provided the body ample time to repair hard-used muscles. A well-rested hiker brings a certain clarity of thought to the whole enterprise and is able to really enjoy the boonies to the fullest measure. So, give yourself a break, man. Don't skimp on sleep.

Still, in this and in all else, HYOH. Do your own thing. I'm just saying what I know to be true. Besides, you can always sell the mattress. You know, rather than all your gear entirely.


1:30 p.m. on February 1, 2010 (EST)
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Yes, Yes sleeping pads or air mattress do add insulation and comfort, a good nights sleep is very important in the back country. It is true that your bag will provide some insulation under you when compressed (very little at best) A few things I have done experimenting with "do I need a pad or not a few years ago. I took two pads a pro-lite 3 3.0 r-value and a 5.0 r-value.

I started the night with no pad and with-in an hour I was chilled, sleeping on my side. My hip and shoulder were the coldest where the insulation was compressed the most. I then moved to the pro-lite 3 and warmed up enough to fall back to sleep. As the temp dropped I was chilled again, I then moved on to the r-5 pad fell asleep and woke up the next morning warmer than when I moved on the r-5 with the atmospheric temp less than when I move on the -5?? This was done in January in Idaho = Cold.

I was using a: 30 degree, 800 fill bag. weight of the bag 1.5 lbs.

Pro-lite 3 by therm-a-rest weight 1.4 lbs r-value about 3.0

Pacific out door air mattress name ??? weight 1.4 lbs r-value 5.0

Another way to improve tent and sleeping temperatures is to get a All Weather Space Blanket, about 12 oz. Put your tent on it, trace your tent shape then cut it about 2" smaller than the outline. Put the shiny side up under your tent or in your tent, it will reflect the heat back into your tent. This has worked for about twenty years now, I recommend it for cold conditions.


5:33 p.m. on February 6, 2010 (EST)
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I used to just buy the one dollar pool toys from the dollar store they worked great for 2-3 night excursions.

8:01 p.m. on February 6, 2010 (EST)
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Yes! No! Maybe! Depends!

I guess that covered all bases. Under the "FWIW" heading I'll post this:

For years I camped, hiked, backpacked, and did all sorts of nice and naughty things outdoors, only to sleep each and every night either without padding below my bag at all, or lying atop extra clothes, jacket, pack, etc., in ways upon which I now look back in horror. Was it uncomfortable? Yes, and sometimes I even recognized it as such. But I was young, sturdy, and foolish, and so persisted in my ways.

Eventually, though, the fog lifted and the sun shone, and with it came the illumination that a pad might actually be worth the investment. Having decided such, I bought one, used it, and have never looked back. Now I don't consider packing for even an overnighter without it. Of course, now I'm older, and bear the accumulated burdens of years and miles, though wisdom still recedes beyond the horizon. So take all this for what it's worth. (Which must not be much if we're willing to give it away, or so my financial advisor tells me. But then, my financial advisor sleeps on the couch all day, chases rabbits for fun, and greets even strangers by smelling their hind ends, so, well, there you have it.)

The REAL QUESTION is this: Do you need a pillow?

Thanks for taking my call, and I'll take the answer off the air.

8:21 p.m. on February 8, 2010 (EST)
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Barring price and focusing on comfort in a lightweight package, I suggest going for this instead of a pad --


9:17 p.m. on February 8, 2010 (EST)
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Barring price and focusing on comfort in a lightweight package, I suggest going for this instead of a pad --


Welcome tinkrtoy,

From a design standpoint it looks like someone worked hard and maybe found a creative solution to a problem for some people. I have never saw a Luxury Lite, I'm just assuming it works for the sake of discussion. After watching the video I don't see how it is 4 1/2" thick as the ad stated, it may be 4 1/2" inches tall.

Cots of various types are popular with hunters, forestry workers, or anyone else staying in larger tents, I have one I use for hunting, but mine is much more substantial than the Luxury Lite.

I doubt though, that any of them are practical for backpacking just due to the weight & bulk, although the one you linked too did pack pretty small.

My goodness, that thing weighs more than my lightest shelter. You couldn't use it inside a backpacking tent without damaging the floor, and if you use it under a tarp during the winter the cold wind could blow under you chilling you from below couldn't it? That is the same thing that causes bridges to freeze before roads, and would mean you would still have to bring a pad for insulation.

Have you tried one?

11:49 p.m. on February 8, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks for the welcome. Glad to be here as I have already found a wealth of info on this site - great resources here for sure.

As for the cot, I actually do own one. A little splurge while passing on my Thermarest to my son for cub scout camping. I will tell you that I have never slept better in the woods. I usually have back problems in the morning after sleeping on the pad, but none what-so-ever with the cot. It is a little heavier, but less bulky and you can't really strap it to the outside of the pack. Being about a third the size of a pad roll though makes it manageable (I am not one for stuff hanging off my pack anyway).

As for the weight, well, we all have to decide what creature comforts we want in the woods. I am by no means on either end of the spectrum in the way of weight counting (not super heavy nor super light), just comfortably in the middle.

To answer your statement about using it in a tent, it fits fine in my Eureka Mountain Pass 2XTE and there is no damage (or signs of wear) to the tent floor so far. I do plan on backpacking with it, sans pad, and being off the ground without the pad hasn't made me cold yet (I use a Campmor 20 degree down bag). I haven't used the cot under the tent as they suggest you might and I don't think I will as it doesn't seem to be an issue for me in the tent.

3:05 p.m. on February 9, 2010 (EST)
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I always use a pad. They range from a thema-a-rest to a cheap pad from Wal-mart. I do own a cot(Slumberjack XL) but the wife confiscated it and uses it in my big tent(yeah she is spoiled.) Anyways... I always use some type of pad. As mentioned above it makes sleeping on rocks, roots, etc. alot better and it does add a bit of insulation IMO from the cold ground in the winter.

6:10 p.m. on February 9, 2010 (EST)
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As trouthunter indicates, cots are cold to sleep on in anything other than summer weather (at which time, hammocks are better anyway). You need at least a "blue foam" pad to provide a modicum of insulation for sleeping temperatures below 35-40F, and a lot more than that when you are below 15-20F, even in a sub-zero sleeping bag.

7:53 p.m. on February 9, 2010 (EST)
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I concur. I would probably fall back to my Thermarest if I was going out in the colder temps. So far the coldest I have used the cot is back in October when we had that cold snap weekend in Northern Ohio, 2nd weekend I think, where it got down in the 30s and flurried. Not expecting to get out on the trails until April with my current schedule, but I might get some cold weather stuff in later this year. I do sleep better on the cot and it is light enough for me to hike with on the warmer outings.

4:01 a.m. on February 10, 2010 (EST)
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dont know if you do but i dont leave home with out big agnes or thurma rest.once had a newbie get up in da middle of da nite and pack up and leave.just a pile of gear and food he didnt take with him.we think he didnt have a sleeping pad and it did get down to 2 below.hehehe i tink he got a bit on da cold side.

10:09 p.m. on April 1, 2010 (EDT)
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As a follow up, thank you all, I ended up bringing the pad and trying it both ways on 2 nights and have decided I am a fool to not have the pad considering its minimal weight. Also, the better I slept the more I enjoyed myself the next day!

9:12 p.m. on April 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Good to hear!

1:00 a.m. on April 10, 2010 (EDT)
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Joel, glad to see that you took all this sage and correct advise. Your back will thank you.

8:56 a.m. on April 10, 2010 (EDT)
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With no insulating pad, a bag designed for winter will have you sweating on top and shivering on the bottom. Imagine sleeping like that after you've been backpacking all day in the Rockies and have a couple days of travel ahead of you.

I was once on an Outward Bound type course where we had to spend a night alone in the high desert in SE Utah in September with only a bivy sack. I built a big fire and worked up a big bed of coals, spread them out in a trench, buried them under dirt and slept on top of that. Then I had the REVERSE problem -- absolutely roasting on the the bottom, freezing on top. Not much of a night's sleep...

1:03 a.m. on May 11, 2010 (EDT)
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be prepared to spend extra time preparing the tent site.

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