Saturday, 7 December 2013

What works for me: Mattresses




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Yep I love sleeping, especially after a long days walk. I can sleep in many situations even under the 24 hour sunshine in Lapland (a Buff is your friend). As I have grown older, sleeping has remained easy, but rising in the morning as "fresh as a daisy" maybe more of a challenge. So the combination of mat and insulation for warmth is critical.

I recall that as a hiking youngster I slept on the ground with perhaps a newspaper underneath, however, I soon transitioned to a bracken (and other natural materials) stuffed hessian bag (a palliasse) which was an improvement over sleeping on the latest headlines. But I was not satisfied, so I began to explore other options, including testing the venerable Lilo which could do double duty for floating down rivers, an art well practiced in New South Wales on the Shoalhaven.  I often wonder if liloing was the forerunner of pack rafting?





Early in the 1990’s the first self inflating air mattresses appeared in Australia, if my memory serves me correct they were sold under the label of Fairydown, this mattress was a revelation, albeit heavy, and used what looked like a car tyre valve for inflating and deflating. Soon I moved to a shorter and lighter mat, a Thermarest, which still lives in my collection, and still works. The mattress is 120 cm by 50 cm and weighs in at 500 gms, but packs larger than the newer Prolites.

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Later I was attracted to lighter and thicker mattresses and after a brief excursion into Torso pads,

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I decided to invest in a Thermarest Prolite, soon recognising that I prefer full length mattresses also realising that women's versions provided extra insulation for a little extra weight.

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However, in the past 4 years, I have moved onto (or back to air beds).

Firstly I tried the Exped UL mattresses with their longitudinal tubes, they were comfortable and effective as well as being lightweight and easily packable, but the more I used them the more I felt that they lacked support for a side sleeper, as well the gap between the hip and the ground was reduced thus limiting their insulating properties. (see BPL.Com article for a good discussion of the loss of insulation)

When the Klymit Static V appeared on the market I was impressed with its design, and once I began to use it and I soon felt that it was perhaps the most comfortable mattress I had tried, it is slightly wider than the Thermarests and whilst thinner it provided good support. The down side of the mattress is its lack of insulation, the mattress has an US r-value of 1.3 which means that some form of underlay needs to be considered, especially during the colder months, for example adding a full length foam mat such as a Laufbursche UL Mat will increase the r-value to approximately 3.5 with a combined weight of 680 gms, thus making it a heavy but comfortable proposition. Klymit have released an insulated version of the Klymit Static V (with an r-value of 4.4) but on my scales it weighed close enough to 800 gms which was beyond what I was prepared to carry.

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Looking for a lighter option than the Static V, I used the Klymit Inertia X wave in Lapland last summer which I combined with the Laufbursche mat, and this worked okay, but I have since sold the Xwave as it did not provide the support I needed.


Enter the Thermarest AllSeason, with an r-value (USA) of 4.9 or an SI r-value of 0.863, I immediately noticed the reflected heat provided by the baffles inside the mattress as well as the back support the mattress provided. Other benefits included its construction of 70D nylon which hopefully makes it more puncture resistant and its soft to touch upper surface. The mat weighs 556 gms, and is thus slightly heavier than the Static V, but provides much more warmth. I have used the mat for about 10 nights and have been pleased with its warmth and the support/comfort provided. The mattress width of 20” is perhaps smaller than I would like but I have never felt that I am about to "fall off".

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Colin Ibbotson recently published a review on the NeoAir Xlite, in which he also described his use of a cuben fibre bag to inflate the mattress. Well I love my pillow and after some investigation I found a way to use the Exped Pillow Pump, to inflate the Thermarest. The NeoAir AirTap Pump sold by Thermarest, for use with the included large plastic bag to inflate the Neo Air, can also be used to connect the Exped Pump pillow to  the mattress as shown. For those wondering, the tube does not fit the Klymit valve but I am sure it could be modified to fit.

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I have also seen mentioned the Vaude Norrsken Pump Pillow which may work with a Thermarest and other mattresses with similar valves.

Closed Cell Foam Mats (CCF), I have experimented over years with these mats and whilst I prefer not to sleep on them these days, I often take one for breaks and as “insurance” on most trips. My preferences is the Laufbursche mats, though I have also had success with the Multimats, especially the Supalite XS, with has a length of 118 cm and a weight of 100 gms.

However, my all time favourite CCF mat is the Original Thermarest Ridgerest with a length of just over 120 cm and a weight of 275 gms.

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Do I see myself moving back to CCF mats or Self inflating mats, no. At least not in the near future, though I have experimented with the Nemo Zor and consider it to be a better proposition than the Prolite’s. A review of the Zor at BPL.com can be found here.


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I would be interested in hearing others hikers perspectives on their choice of mats, and what tricks regarding inflating and repairing mattresses they have. Happy sleeping.