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ensolite foam

i thought i knew a fair amout about gear, but this one escapes me

what exactly is ensolite foam, and why is it better thank self inflating?

I'm not exactly sure what ensolite is, but I know it when I see it!

I find it's a better insulator against the cold, and it doesn't get punctured and go flat, and it's quite light, so it's better in that regard. But it's not as comfortable as a blow-up. Trade offs.

Ensolite is a brand name of closed cell foam very durable, water proof, and also used in backpack padding. This is the Blue pads you see everywhere.

Here is a Technical Data Sheet I found for Ensolite, I think this is the exact same material used in the pads, but I'm not positive:

Ridgerest pads made by Thermarest are made of EVA (Ethylene vinyl acetate) closed cell foam.

As trout said, Ensolite is a particular brand of closed cell foam. However, the generic "blue foam" is not Ensolite, although it is a closed cell foam, and generally different chemically from Ensolite. But many oldtimers refer to any closed cell foam as "ensolite", because that was the first widely available closed cell foam for sleeping pads.

Ensolite, Cascade Designs' Ridgerest and Z-rest, the generic "blue foam" (which is not always blue in color - I have one that is green), and some other trademarked closed cell foams have two advantages over self-inflatables (both the ones filled with open cell foam and the ones filled with down or Primaloft).

First is that inflatables can easily be punctured and so will go flat, losing virtually all their insulating capability (even the one introduced last year that is "puncture resistant", but is actually a closed cell sheet glued to an open cell sheet inside the airtight shell - sort of like a "run-flat tire", where the puncture lets air out of the open cell side but still provides a modicum of insulation). Closed cell cannot be punctured, so provides the same insulation (R-value and U-value for you techies) regardless.

Second is that closed cell pads of the same area are considerably lighter (8 ounces for a 20x80 inch sheet vs 32 ounces for an inflatable of the same insulating capability, or R-value). My comparison is a Walmart $5 blue foam pad vs my Thermarest "Standard".

Another consideration is the huge price difference. Generic closed cell has gone up a fair amount in price, and is more like $10 these days, but a reasonable quality full-length inflatable can get over $100 (Campmor's latest catalog has a "cosmetic defect" 3/4 length Thermarest. 23 ounces, for $29.97, but they have the regular TrailPro at 32 ounces and $80 and the ProLite 20x72x1 inch thick 16 ounce at $100 - 1 inch is thin for winter camping. ThermaRest's Ridgerest is 14 ounces in the same size as the TrailPro and $25 - ThermaRest is a division of Cascade Designs).

BUT .... closed cell foam, whether it is the generic "blue foam" or the waffly Ridgerest or ZRest, is not as cushy as an inflatable. So if you want a nice soft bed, closed cell is not for you. In fact, you will need to go with the "comfort" style of inflatable (heavier, more expensive). Closed cell is also much bulkier than a deflated inflatable, hence often has to be tied to the outside of your pack (which can be a real pain).

In any case, stay away from "air matresses" and "air beds" for camping. The air chambers in them are large, which means lots of air circulation, which rapidly convects the heat away from you - which means in winter you will be miserably cold, even with a -40 degree sleeping bag. I stand corrected. I had though the blue and green (I have both) pads were the same chemical make up as Ensolite.

I take it they are not EVA either? EVA feels completely different, more rubbery.

You are also right that closed cell foam is bulkier and usually does get tied to the outside of my pack.

My first pad was ensolite. Then I bought one of the - new! - blue pads which are lighter but more slippery and not so cushy (relatively, for sure). The ensolite eventually grew wrinkly and unresilient, not unlike its owner. The blue padding will seemingly outlast the pyramids, though it has by now - thirty years later - been cut up and distributed to various uses: part of it cushions my stringtrimmer strap, for example. I use a Ridgerest these days: that which inflates will in time deflate, I figure, except perhaps for prices and waistlines.

In any case, stay away from "air matresses" and "air beds" for camping. The air chambers in them are large, which means lots of air circulation, which rapidly convects the heat away from you - which means in winter you will be miserably cold, even with a -40 degree sleeping bag.

Unless they are down-filled, like the Exped DownMats. These have superior insulating qualities to the Thermarest-style pads, IMO, and more comfortable besides. Heavier by a few ounces (my DownMat is not that much more than my full-length Thermarest), and a puncture would be a complete fail, whereas at least a Thermarest has the open-celled foam inside.

But the kind of air mattresses Bill is talking about -- he is absolutely right.

I used a ensolite pad for 27 years before I got a thermarest pad a few years ago, but I have had so many problems with punctures that I have gone back to the good old ensolite pad that sustained me all those other years.

In the beginning I used mine for winter camping sleeping on top of the snow underneath my tents floor and its always conformed to my sleeping positions.

I dont know what its made of but it sure works for me.

June 22, 2021
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