Guest Authors: Nathan Slater & Sanesh Iyer from @alittlepaddle
Getting a good night’s sleep is an essential part of, well, life. You want to be dry, warm, and comfortable, in order to rest and recover after a long day of paddling. Especially after more than 100 days of paddling. Your sleeping pad plays a critical role, as it keeps you warm and comfortable.
In the lead up to our 140 day kayak expedition from Victoria BC to Yakutat AK, Nathan and I debated a lot of things. The contents of our first aid kit. The tarps we’d bring. Our food choices. One thing we did not debate, however, was the sleeping pads we wanted to bring.
Nathan and I have been the proud owners of Therm-A-Rest Sleeping Pads for years. My first sleeping pad as a kid was a foam Z-Lite pad, and I’ve had a NeoAir X-Therm since 2018. Nathan has had his first NeoAir X-Therm since 2016. Nathan’s spent hundreds of nights sleeping on his, and I’ve spent dozens on mine. On beaches in Haida Gwaii, on rocky bluffs in Northern Quebec, in snow caves in the Adirondacks, with 80lb Huskies who like to “make the bed,” and more. We’ve put these pads through the ringer. We trust them.
Given the length of this trip, we thought it would be prudent to begin with new sleeping pads. We both have Mummy Shaped, Regular length, NeoAir X-Therm NXTs. I’ve used the regular rectangular pad, as well as the larger MAX pad before, but this was my first time using a mummy sleeping pad. I didn’t find my arms or legs falling off the sleeping pad any more than a rectangular pad in a tent, and I actually prefer the way the mummy pad sits in my hammock. At 5′ 10″, the regular length is perfect for me. Nathan felt like at 6′, he’d prefer the long version of the pad.
Unsurprisingly, the X-Therm kept us warm for the duration of the trip. It is, after all, the warmest sleeping pad made by Therm-A-Rest and rated for winter expeditions. We could have saved modest amounts of weight and volume (maybe 50mL & 50g) by going for a lighter-but-suitable mat. There are ultralight options, but we wouldn’t consider those for a long distance expedition where comfort and durability are a big part of risk management. Something to remember, is that the cold ground sucks a lot of heat and there’s not much you can do to prevent heat loss through the ground, other than your sleeping pad. Most wearable and sleeping bag insulation works with loft that gets crushed as soon as you lie on it. And a sleeping pad won’t cause you to overheat in the same way a too-warm sleeping bag will, so there’s no real downsides.
Warmer sleeping pads also tend to be thicker, offering more comfort on uneven ground and additional rigidity for lying flat in a hammock. I like to sleep in every possible position, on my back, on my side, on my stomach. Having a sleeping pad which can be firmly inflated and is thick enough to allow me to wiggle in the night is important to me, and the X-Therm gives me that ability.
The new Winglock valve is a big upgrade. I like that it allows you to inflate it without accidentally squeezing out air. Infact, you can inflate it while lying on it. The included pump sack also makes inflating the sleeping pad very easy, and a much less breathless endeavour than inflating it with breath directly. I still occasionally inflate by breath, just because the pump sack is a little tricky to use in a cramped space when I’m tired and ready for bed.
To complement our Therm-A-Rest sleeping pads, we also brought along a couple Therm-A-Rest Trekker Chairs. These are folding frames that allow you to convert your sleeping pad into a chair with a back rest. They are supremely comfortable and great for sitting back and relaxing at camp with a good book and a cup of coffee. We also found the Trekker Chairs well-loved by the older adventurers on our trip. We met a number of retirees who either swore by their Trekker Chair, or swore to buy one after borrowing ours. These pack down to about the size and shape of tent poles, so they’re easy to strap outside a pack or slide into the nose of a kayak. They are so small, in fact, I managed to lose mine inside my kayak. Twice. Given their effective weightlessness, if you plan on relaxing while at camp, these make a great addition to a pack list.
The Therm-A-Rest X-Therms worked admirably well, with more than a 100 days of use and still going strong. We brought them with high expectations from the last generation of X-Therms, and they managed to impress us with an improved valve as well as comparable durability & comfort. With their compact size, low weight, high comfort, proven durability, & warmth, we’ll continue to bring these well used mats on our future trips – whether weekend missions or months long expeditions – for the foreseeable future without thinking twice. Given that I’m a geek who spends hours pondering tarp rope choice, that’s the highest praise I can offer a piece of gear.