CLOSED CELL FOAM PADS – PART 2

TrekkersCCF pads available in the US

The most popular ccf pads in the US seem to be Therm-a-Rest’s pads, which include their classic RidgeRest with the ribbed imprints, their foldable Z-Lite with egg-crate countering, and their newer aluminized “SOL” versions of both.  It is very common to see someone on the trail with the rectangular folded Z-Lite pad (or one of its cheaper knock-offs) strapped to the outside of their pack.

Many ultralight backpackers are fans of Gossamer Gear’s NightLight pad, which serves double-duty as a back pad to give structure to their very popular frameless packs.  It is also egg-crate shaped, but it is smooth and flat on the other side; the bumps are not hollow underneath like in the Z-Lite. They also sell a 1/8” ThinLight pad, that is commonly used paired with an inflatable pad or by itself by the most extreme super-ultralight hikers, and a 1/4” ThinLight pad marketed to hammock-users but perfectly fine for ground-sleeping as well.

Nunatak, a leader in high-end sleeping bags, once made an egg-crate Lunapad, similar to the NightLight, but they have since discontinued its production.  These pads are both descendants of the popular but long-gone Mt. Washington ccf pad.

Oware is another cottage company that, while less well known than Gossamer Gear, offers a 3/8” pad and a 1/2″ pad in several sizes that are often recommended on ultralight forums.

Exped, Therm-a-Rest’s main competitor in the mainstream US sleeping pad market (although Big Agnes, NEMO, and Sea-to-Summit have big presences as well), makes a few ccf pads that I rarely hear any talk about.  You can also get some generic foam pads and Z-lite knock-offs from REI, ALPS Mountaineering, Coleman, and various other random companies – I included any I found that had sufficient data for comparison.

The UK-based company Multimat is another company that not many people talk about or use their pads, partly because few of their pads are even available in the US.  However, they have a wider range of ccf pads than any other company and are using many different type of foam and foam technologies in their pads. In researching foams for this article, their staff were very helpful in educating me about the different types of foam they use in their low-end, medium-end, and high-end pads, and how those differences relate to warmth and durability. Unfortunately, I could only find 5 out of their 14 pad options available for sale in the US, through Emergency Outdoors, Mad City Outdoor, and a few Ebay and Amazon sellers.

 

Comparing CCF pads

I attempted to compile data on all the ccf pads available in the US market, and include inflatable and self-inflating pads for comparison.  For some pads, primarily the low-end generic ones I found on Amazon, I was not able to find sufficient data on weights and R value/temperature rating to include them in the data table.  Also, rather than include every inflatable and self-inflating pad available, which is not the focus of this article (see Section Hiker’s sleeping pad article for a more comprehensive list), I chose to exclude any pad with a total weight greater than 20 ounces (1.25 lbs). This threshold was chosen to still include the most popular inflatable pads used by ultralight backpackers, and honestly if you’re willing to carry a pad weighing more than 20 ounces, ccf pads are probably not the ideal choice for you and you should stop reading now.  My survey resulted in a total of 133 pads: 51 ccf pads, 67 inflatable air mattresses (insulated and uninsulated), and 15 self-inflating pads.

As pads vary in material, thickness, width, length, and shape, it is difficult to simply compare pads based on their reported R values, total weight, or price, to determine which ones are the best value.  In compiling the data on these pads, I chose several different composite measures to better compare pads on equal terms.

The first composite measure is the Fabric Weight – this is the pad’s total reported weight divided by its area (length x width), with the units in ounces per square yard.  While pads, particularly inflatable/self-inflation, can include other components such as valves and grommets that add to the weight but are not dependent on the pad’s size, this composite measure is a good way of comparing the weight of pads while keeping area constant, independent of whether they are regular length, torso length, extra wide, etc.  For pads that are not rectangular, length x width overestimates the area and thus underestimates the fabric weight.  For some of these pads, both shoulder width and foot width were provided, and I used as width the average of these two widths to calculate area.  For others, I used the fabric weight of the rectangular version of the same exact pad.  Notable exceptions were the popular Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pads, which don’t have rectangular versions and I could not calculate a more accurate estimate of area.  For these, I have left the fabric weight and subsequent composite measures as is, but I have noted in the comments that the area is overestimated, and thus fabric weight and other composite measures will seem better than they really are.

The second composite measure I used is the R value divided by the fabric weight (multiplied by 10 to make the numbers easier to discuss).  This provides a composite of the two factors backpackers care most about: minimizing fabric weight and maximizing insulation.  I will refer to this measure as Weighted R, and I feel this is the best single measure by which to rank pads – the higher the weighted R, the better the warmth to weigh ratio.  If we do some unit conversion, we discover that weighted R is simply the reciprocal of the product of a foam’s density and its thermal conductivity; a combination of low density and low thermal conductivity (which often go hand in hand) will produce the highest weighted R. When possible, I used the R value provided by the company (or converted tog values for the UK-based Multimat pads). For some pads, I estimated the R value based on the provided temperature rating, and in a few cases I estimated the R value based on the expected thermal conductivity for the type of foam used.

If you’re like me, you’re also concerned about cost.  It doesn’t matter so much once you have a pad, but it matters a lot before you have one.  The third composite measure I used is price per square yard divided by R value, what I will call Cost Effectiveness. While you would expect pads with more insulation to be more expensive, some pads are a better deal in terms of the raw warmth you get per dollar spent. This measure is especially helpful if you are considering layering two pads on top of each other to increase the total insulation, are buying a pad to cut down to the size you want, or want to compare the cost of a pad to the cost of different types of ccf that you can buy directly from foam suppliers (more on that in Part 3). For price, I used discounted prices from assorted online vendors when available; if not, I used the price on the company’s website.  While MSRP prices are less volatile and not dependent on the timing of discounts, I felt only using MSRP would unduly penalize the more expensive mainstream pads that are regularly available with deep discounts.

 

Top Ranked Pads

The google spreadsheet with the data on 51 ccf pads and an additional 82 inflatable pads for comparison can be found here .  You can sort it by any of the data columns that you wish to rank the pads.  I will discuss how the pads compare for my 3 composite measures.

Fabric Weight

When we consider fabric weight (the weight of the pad when area is kept constant), ccf pads easily outcompete inflatable pads.  Of the 133 pads, the top 27 pads with the lowest fabric weight were all ccf pads. While an inflatable pad may seem light when deflated and rolled up, for the area covered the fabric used in inflatable pads is simply much heavier than closed cell foam, in addition to the weight of air valves and any insulation.  Within ccf pads, thickness is the main factor determining which pad has the lowest fabric weight, with Gossamer Gear’s super-thin 1/8” Thinlight pad taking the #1 slot.  If all you care about is covering the area below you with a minimal amount of insulation and protection from water and dirt, then these are good options. Thin ccf pads are especially popular among hammock users where comfort is less an issue and where the thinner material molds better to the curvature of the hammock.  However, with proper site selection, some ground sleepers are still able to sleep comfortably on these super-thin pads.  They are also a great choice if you are looking for a ccf pad to supplement your comfortable inflatable pad.

Rank Company Name Thickness (in) Fabric Weight (oz/yd2)
1 Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad – 1/8″ 0.125 2.94
2 Exped Doublemat Evazote 0.2 3.85
3 Oware Foam 3/16″ 0.1875 4.48
4 Jacks R Better EVA Closed Cell Foam Pad 0.25 5.15
5 Exped Multimat 0.1 5.39
6 Multimat Camper 8 0.315 5.84
7 Multimat Superlite 9.5 XL 0.374 6.10
8 Multimat Superlite 8 0.315 6.11
9 Gossamer Gear Thinlight Hammock Pad – 1/4″ 0.25 6.25
10 Multimat Trekker Voyager 8 0.315 6.75

Warmth to Weight Ratio

When we look at weighted R value (R value x 10 divided by Fabric Weight), all the top ranked pads are the insulated inflatable pads.  The top 10 include the Exped Downmat HL, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm pads, Big Agnes Q-Core SL, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite pads, and Exped Synmat HL Winter pads.  These pads are all able to provide high R values with only a small increase in weight, achieving very high warmth to weight ratios.  Ccf pads by an large don’t provide high R values, with only 1 ccf pad even having an R value above 3 (the RidgeRest Solar) and its weighted R is below that of many other ccf pads.  To get a higher R value with ccf, either you need a thicker pad than what is available (and it would be quite difficult to roll) or you have to layer several pads. Many backpackers do layer a torso ccf pad over a thinner full-length ccf pad (like pairing the GG NightLight with the 1/8” Thinlight).  However, a thicker ccf pad or layering several ccf pads (which will obviously be heavier) are not going to improve the warmth to weight ratio.  Thus, when you need significant insulation for winter and cold shoulder-season trip, it appears that a quality insulated inflatable pad like those listed above is your best choice.

R values may not be the whole story, though.  Multimat uses a 3-level rating system for indicating which pads are summer, 3-season, or true winter pads.  It produces 8 level-4 pads rated for 3-season, with R values ranging from 1.11 to 1.77, while it produces 6 level-5 pads rated for winter, with R values ranging from 1.44-2.07.  Only 2 of the winter pads have R values exceed the R value of the highest rated 3-season pad.  Based on my discussion with Multimat, they take into consideration the quality of the foam in their rating, with a denser, less compressible foam with more consistent manufacturing considered more winter-worthy than a less dense, more easily compressed, and lower quality foam considered less winter-worthy even if both have similar measured R values in the lab. It appears that Multimat does a lot of field testing as well to back-up R values from the lab and they know which pads can hold up in winter.

Many recommend that winter backpackers take a sleeping pad with an R value of at least 4, ideally 5 or higher.  But the Multimat winter-rated pads have R values from 1.44 to 2.07.  I’ve read reports from some ultralight backpackers that they sleep warm in winter conditions with the egg-crate Gossamer Gear Nightlight/Nunatak Lunapad/Mt. Washington pads (all rated at an estimated R 2.27). Oware considers its 1/2” Plastazote pad with R 2.0 to be winter-suitable.  It may be that for R values significantly higher than 2, it is not suitable to make a direct comparison based on R values between ccf pads and insulated inflatable pads; or in other words, can an R 2.0 ccf pad be as warm as an R 4.0 inflatable pad? The answer likely ultimately lies in the fact that R values are based on measures of thermal resistance in the lab, for example detecting how long it takes a 1 degree difference in air temperature between the 2 sides of the insulation to reach equilibrium.  In the field, your body is compressing the pad, which changes the conditions, and your body and the pad are losing heat in other ways not directly measured by thermal resistance such as radiative heat loss and convective heat loss from wind. It may be that under these complex conditions, a ccf pad with a lower R value can feel just as warm as a higher rated inflatable pad.  I do not have any direct experience sleeping on snow with an R 2.0 ccf pad vs an R 4.0 inflatable pad to know if there is a significant difference, but I would be very interested to hear of others’ experiences.

Since this article is about ccf pads, let’s focus on the range of R values of the great majority of ccf pads. When we look only at the ccf and inflatable pads with R values of 3 or below, then we do see ccf pads topping the list for warmth to weight ratio, with the top 27 out of 88 pads being ccf.  The Exped Multimat is the highest ranked ccf pad, but Exped’s reported R value of 1.4 is just way too high for a 0.1” thick pad.  The Therm-a-Rest SOLite – Small version also has a reported weight that appears a little low, when compared to the Regular and Large versions.  Omitting these 2 pads, I have listed below the top 10 ccf pads for weighted R, combining pads that were the same except for size. We find that the top 2 ccf pads for warmth to weight ratio are Multimat’s Superlite 9.5 XL and Oware’s 1/2″ pads, both made out of Plastazote 1.4 pcf.  By having the lowest density of any of the available ccf pads as well as thermal conductivity values competitive with other high quality foams, these combine to produce high weighted R values.  The next 2 pads by Multimat use premium quality foam and lamination to increase insulation.  Unfortunately, none of Multimat pads making the top 10 list are currently available in the US.  Therm-a-Rest’s aluminizing on their SOLite pads apparently helps to reduce radiative body heat loss and increase their insulation.  However, even thick foam pads from ALPS make the top 10.

Rank Company Name Material Density (lb/ft3) Thickness (in) R value Weighted R value
1 Multimat Superlite 9.5 XL Plastazote 1.4 0.374 1.53 2.51
2 Oware Foam 1/2″ Thick Plastazote 1.4 0.5 2.00 2.47
3 Multimat Backpacker 9 IXPE-vertical/2-color laminate 1.8 0.3543 1.77 2.35
4 Multimat Trekker Voyager 8 IXPE-vertical/2-color laminate 1.8 0.315 1.56 2.31
5 Multimat Camper 8 XPE 1.5 0.315 1.34 2.29
6 ALPS Foam Mat 625 Polyethylene 1.5 0.625 2.50 2.23
7 Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest SOLite Polyethylene-Aluminized 1.7 0.625 2.80 2.22
8 Multimat Superlite 8 Plastazote 1.6 0.315 1.31 2.14
9 Multimat Trekker Thermal 10 XL XPE-Aluminized 1.6 0.3937 1.59 2.12
10 ALPS Foam Mat 750 Polyethylene 1.6 0.75 3.00 2.08

Cost Effectiveness

To compare cost effectiveness, I took the best online price I could find for each pad, converted the price per square yard to calibrate for differences in size, and divided the price by the R value (not weighted R).  We again see that ccf pads top the list for most cost effective. The most affordable inflatable pad (Therma-a-Rest Trail Scout – Medium) comes in at #22, with the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite (#32) and Big Agnes Air Core (#35) following farther down the list.  The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite Small, very popular among ultralighters, comes in at a whopping #121; even at the discount price of $100, its small coverage and moderate R value don’t provide good value for money (although comfort is another important factor).  In comparison, the Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest SOLite – Small is a similar size and weight with a slightly lower R value, but it is over 5x more cost effective than the NeoAir X-Lite.  For full-on winter pads with R value of 5 or higher, the most cost effective pad is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm – Large (#46), although the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite provides an R of 4.4, is 50% more cost effective, and less than half the price of the XTherm.

Below is the list of the top 15 pads.  For pads with multiple versions in different sizes, I left only the most cost effective size in the top 15 list below.  I also omitted the Multimat pads that are not available for sale in the US (Trekker Voyager 8, Backpacker 9, and Comfort 12 XXL – their prices are from Multimat’s site converted from GBP to USD). With this list of 15, the top 10 are all ccf pads, but the inflatable Trail Scout – Medium comes in at #11.  The top 14 are all from mainstream companies, with the last #15 from Oware (and it is the most expensive pad overall of the 15 at $50 for the 2-person pad). This is likely because the mainstream company pads were almost all found with at least 25% discounts from MSRP, while the cottage company pads are listed at their regular price.  Therm-a-Rest’s RidgeRest Classic, aluminized Solar, or aluminized SOLite are all great deals for pads (although it seems the extra 0.9 in R value from the Classic to Solar seems elevated to justify the increased price).  Even though Multimat’s Trekker 10 XL has a reported R of 1.49, Multimat considers it a level-4 3-season pad. At only $12 for a full length 22”x73” pad weighing 9 ounces, the Trekker 10 XL is definitely the lightest, most cost effective 3-season option, with the big caveat being only if you are able to sleep comfortably on little over 3/8” of foam.

Rank Company Name Price Source R value Price ($) Cost Effectiveness (price per area/R)
1 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic – Regular Moosejaw 2.60 $15.00 $5.19
2 Multimat Trekker 10 XL Emergency Outdoors 1.49 $12.00 $6.48
3 Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Solar – Large Moosejaw 3.50 $40.00 $7.69
4 Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest SOLite – Small Amazon 2.80 $16.00 $7.71
5 ALPS Foam Mat Large 625 Amazon 2.50 $29.00 $7.81
6 Multimat Trekker Thermal 10 XL Emergency Outdoors 1.59 $16.00 $8.12
7 Therm-a-Rest Z Shield Moosejaw 1.50 $19.00 $9.50
8 Multimat Discovery 10 XL Mad City Outdoor 1.44 $17.50 $9.83
9 Therm-a-Rest Blue Foam Pad Therm-a-Rest 1.40 $20.00 $10.29
10 Therm-a-Rest Z-lite SOL – Regular Limon/Silver Moosejaw 2.60 $30.00 $10.38
11 Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout-Medium Moosejaw 3.40 $37.00 $10.68
12 Therm-a-Rest Z-lite – Regular Coyote Amazon 2.20 $28.00 $11.45
13 MEC ZoteFoams Blue Foam-Regular MEC (Canada) 1.40 $14.33 $12.06
14 Exped Multimat Moosejaw 1.40 $44.00 $13.14
15 Oware Foam 1/2″ Thick – Two Person Oware 2.00 $50.00 $13.50

Overall Best Pads

I have attempted to compare the pads in several different ways, so that you can evaluate them based on which composite measure is most important to you.  There are many other ways in which the pads could be ranked and I invite you to play around with the spreadsheet, re-sorting by different columns of your choice.  Lastly, I’ve combine each pad’s rank across the 3 composite measures, giving each measure equal rank, to crease the following list of the top 18 pads (excluding the Exped Multimat with its over-rated R value and the Multimat pads not available in the US).  I’m listing 18 because that’s how many I needed to include the top rated inflatable pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Women’s pad.  There are 17 closed cell foam pads that have an overall combined rating better than the best inflatable, and the NeoAir XLite Women’s is also more than double the price of any of the better ranked ccf pads.  The Oware 1/2” pads, Multimat’s Trekker 10 XL and Thermal 10 XL, Therm-a-Rest’s RidgeRest Classic and SOLite, and ALPS generic foam mats all top the list for combined fabric weight, warmth to weight ratio, and price for warmth. And apart from the extra wide 2-person Oware pad which is a great deal if you need 2 pads or want to double it up for a full 1” torso pad, the rest can be had for under $40.

Rank Company Name Thickness Width Length Weight R Price
1 Oware Foam 1/2″ Thick – Two Person 0.5 40 60 15 2 $50
2 Multimat Trekker 10 XL 0.39 22 73 9 1.5 $12
3 Oware Foam 1/2″ Thick – Torso 0.5 20 40 5 2 $20
3 Oware Foam 1/2″ Thick – One person 0.5 20 60 7.5 2 $30
5 Multimat Trekker Thermal 10 XL 0.39 22 73 9.3 1.6 $16
6 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite – Small 0.625 20 48 9 2.8 $16
7 ALPS Foam Mat XL 625 0.625 30 77 20 2.5 $35
8 ALPS Foam Mat Large 625 0.625 25 77 17 2.5 $29
9 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic – Small 0.625 20 48 9 2.6 $15
10 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite – Regular 0.625 20 72 14 2.8 $25
11 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic – Regular 0.625 20 72 14 2.6 $15
12 ALPS Foam Mat Regular 375 0.375 20 72 9 1.5 $20
13 Jacks R Better EVA Closed Cell Foam Pad 0.25 16 22 1.4 1 $5
14 ALPS Foam Mat Large 750 0.75 25 77 20 3 $36
15 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite – Large 0.625 25 77 19 2.8 $35
16 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic – Large 0.625 25 77 19 2.6 $22
17 Exped Doublemat Evazote 0.2 39 79 9.2 0.8 $52
17 Therm-a-Rest Z Shield 0.38 24 72 12 1.5 $19
18 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Womens 2.5 20 66 12 3.9 $120

You can access the full spreadsheet at any time here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16IRegq78tFZOVVGvgyzRyPbIoGeDQfpUWIfs9m2xQ_o

In Part 3, I will discuss different types of foam you can purchase from foam suppliers if you want to make your own pad with a custom size or thickness.

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CLOSED CELL FOAM SLEEPING PADS

Foam CoverInsulating yourself from the heat-sucking ground and providing comfort from your bones grinding into the hard ground or tent platform are critical to have a good night’s sleep when backpacking.  Sleeping pads come in 3 main types: closed cell foam (CCF) pads, inflatable pads (air mattresses), and self-inflating pads.

Many backpackers choose to sleep on a CCF pad because they have had bad experiences with punctures in the past using inflatable pads, while some simply are able to sleep comfortably enough on a CCF pad and choose it for its low weight and cost. And many backpackers use a combination of both: some put the CCF pad below their inflatable to provide protection from punctures, while others put the CCF on top to get the most insulative benefit (discussion of that is beyond the scope of this article, but trust me that all things being equal you will sleep warmer with the CCF pad placed between you and the inflatable than between the inflatable and the ground).

Comparison of the pros and cons of using CCF vs inflatable pads

Closed Cell Foam Pads Inflatable Pads
  • Resistant to puncture
  • Lightweight (in general)
  • Warmer than an uninsulated air pad
  • Low cost
  • More comfortable
  • Take up little volume when deflated and folded
  • Many types of insulation technologies
  • Bulky
  • Less comfortable
  • Need straps to secure rolled up (unless foldable-style)
  • Confusing variety of different foam types used
  • Can be punctured
  • Hard to find and repair punctures in the field
  • Higher cost (especially for insulated)
  • Need to be inflated (adds up after many nights)
  • Need to be deflated (pushing all the air out every night adds up even more)

What is closed cell foam?

Closed cell foam refers to how the air pockets in the foam are not interconnected, resulting in a foam that is generally denser, waterproof, more insulative, more resistant to damage, and fairly stiff and uncompressible. Open cell foam has air pockets that are interconnected, resulting in a spongier foam that is generally less dense, less insulative, will absorb water or allow it to pass right through, and is usually relatively easy to damage.  Open cell foam usually compresses more and is more comfortable to sit on; it is used in mattress and seat padding and inside some inflatable and self-inflating pads.  In the past, some “foam” sleeping pads used open cell foam encased in waterproof fabric, but as closed cell foam technology has improved and diversified, different types of CCF have become the clear choice for foam sleeping pads.

Almost all CCF sleeping pads sold today use low density polyethylene (LDPE) because of its flexibility, low weight, durability, and moderate softness.  Polyurethane foam (PU) is still very occasionally used; it is heavier (more dense) but does usually provide more insulation per inch of thickness.  Many sleeping pads in the past (as well as exercise and yoga mats still today) were made of polyvinyl chloride/nitrile rubber (PVC/NBR or Ensolite); these pads deteriorated under extended UV exposure and are no longer used.  Note you will sometimes see a CCF sleeping pad’s material listed as polyolefin foam – this is not very descriptive as polyolefin can refer to polyethylene or any of a wide range of other plastics; in these cases, I would assume the pad is made of LDPE.

Polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another type of closed cell foam we are all familiar with.  Commonly used in packaging as well as house insulation, it provides more insulation per weight than polyethylene, but because it is rigid and breaks easily, it is not suitable for backpacking except perhaps as a small sit pad.

Types of Polyethylene Foam

There are two main types of LDPE foam used in pads: extruded and cross-linked, with cross-linked being further subdivided whether it is chemically cross-linked or physically cross-linked. Extruded polyethylene (abbreviated as PE, PEF, or LDPE) is produced by blending molten polyethylene polymer with a gas under high pressure.  The hot liquid-gas mixture is then extruded onto a conveyer at atmospheric pressure where the gas quickly expands to form bubbles and the polymer cools into a solid, trapping the gas in interstitial cells. A common additive to LDPE is vinyl-acetate, referred to as EVA foam (ethylene-vinyl-acetate), which makes the foam softer, more rubbery feeling, and more UV resistant.

Chemically cross-linked polyethylene (abbreviated as PEX, XPE, or XLPE) involves adding chemicals that create bonding in the liquid polymer before initiation of the foaming process, resulting is smaller cell size and a smoother surface to the foam. Physically cross-linked polyethylene (IXPE) usually uses some type of irradiation to produce even smaller and more consistent cell sizes, resulting in a very fine-textured foam.  The direction of the conveyer where the foam expands can also be orientated vertically instead of the traditional horizontal orientation, which affects how the cells form in the foam.  There are endless varieties of proprietary blends and processes for making different types of cross-linked polyethylene.  Two of the most popular proprietary foams used in pads are Evazote and Plastazote produced by ZoteFoams. Additionally, some foams are produced by laminating the same or different types of foam together; these will appear as having layers of the same or different colors when viewed in cross-section.  Some pads are also laminated with a thin layer of aluminum to reflect body height.

The main types of CCF used for pads:

Foam Type Abbr. Characteristics
Low-density polyethylene foam PE, PEF, LDPE Low-moderate durability, large cell size and difficult to roll, standard material used in foam swim tubes
Chemically cross-linked polyethylene XPE, XLPE, PEX Smaller cell size, higher durability
Physically cross-linked polyethylene (horizontal foaming) IXPE Small uniform cell size, high durability
Physically cross-linked polyethylene (vertical foaming) IXPE Similar to horizontal foaming, possibly lower thermal conductivity
Laminated cross-linked foam Layers, improved durability, often more difficult to roll
Ethylene-vinyl acetate (PEF) EVA Softer rubbery feel, standard material used in floor mats
Evazote Type of IXPE with EVA
Plastazote Type of IXPE, less durable, available in low densities
Volara Type of XPE with small uniform cell size
Minicel Type of XPE with very small uniform cell size, soft smooth surface

 

Examples of different types of polyethylene foam, with the density indicated in pounds per cubic foot (pcf):

 

Comparing types of closed cell foam

As each type of foam can be produced across a variety of densities, it is very difficult to make generalized comparisons between the different foam types.  Most foams used for CCF pads have a density of 1.5-2.5 lbs/ft3.  As density increases, tear resistance increases but the force needed to compress the foam 25% or 50% increases, so there is a trade-off between durability and comfort. Denser CCF is too hard to sleep on and difficult to roll, while less dense foam is softer but less tear resistant.  Very low density CCF (<1.5 lbs/ft3) is sometimes used as sheets in packaging.  While these very low density foams could still be used for sleeping pads, this requires using a thicker, bulkier pad to avoid bottoming out or shredding your pad to pieces.  However, as we will see later, the lower density foams have the highest warmth to weight ratio.

In addition to weight, the other primary characteristic backpackers care about is insulation.  In the US, pads are normally rated by R value, a measure of thermal resistance.  R value is related to a material’s thermal conductivity – this is a measure of how fast heat passes through the material and has the units Btu*in/ft2*h*F.  R value is calculated by taking the material’s thickness in inches and dividing its thermal conductivity, with the units ft2*h*F/Btu. While R value will increase with thickness, thermal conductivity should be constant for a given material.  Materials with low thermal conductivity are good insulators, with things like argon gas or perlite under vacuum having extremely low conductivity (thermal energy passes very slowly through space with few atoms).   Sometimes the R value for 1 inch of material is given, which will remain constant for a given material, being simply the inverse of its thermal conductivity.  Outside the US, R values may be given in metric units (k/W).  In the UK, pads are often rated by tog value: 1 tog is equal to 0.57 R value (US).

For a given type of foam, thermal conductivity generally increases with greater foam density. However, as each type of foam can be produced across a range of densities and ccf pads rarely indicate what density of foam was used, it is very difficult to compare the thermal conductivity of different pads.  Density can be estimated based on the pad’s size and weight, but as pad manufacturing can add weight, this is only an approximation. Different technologies can further reduce thermal conductivity for a given density.  Here is my best attempt at ranking the types of foam from highest conductivity to lowest conductivity as:

non-cross-linked > chemically cross-linked > physically cross-linked (horizontal) > physically cross-linked (vertical)

Laminating foams together and aluminizing the foam can further reduce conductivity.  Some pads are formed in an egg crate shape; this should not affect the conductivity of the foam, but may allow insulation in your sleeping bag, quilt, or jacket to loft underneath you and further reduce conductivity.

Next in Part 2, I will survey the many ccf sleeping pads available in the US market and present compiled data comparing them.

Klymit Sleeping Pad Review

As an owner of 3 different Klymit pads, I thought it would be useful to do a comparison video.  I see a lot of recommendations for the Klymit Static V in my Facebook backpacking groups.  While it has nowhere near the insulation of the very popular NeoAir XLite pads which seem to be easily the #1 choice for ultralighters, for around half the price you can get a Klymit pad that weighs about the same (or even less with the Inertia X Lite) and will be sufficient for summer trips.

To give some background on my purchasing experience, I first bought 1 and then quickly 2 more of the original Static V, which my family and I have used on many trips and just sleeping at home on the floor for sleep-overs and such.  In my pursuit to go lighter, I bought the Inertia X Lite on sale last year to try it out.  On my first real trip, I actually pulled the bulb valve apart (you can see me inadvertently do this on the Inertia X Wave in the video).  I was able to superglue it back together in the field at night, without gluing my fingers together too badly, and slept on it for 2 more nights with only minimal leakage over the course of each night.  When I got home and reported the issue to Klymit and offer to return the damaged pad for a replacement, Klymit responded right away that they’d send me a replacement with no charge and that they didn’t need the original one back.  Thanking them for the great customer support, I asked if I could instead get a new larger Inertia X Wave and just pay the $5 difference in price at the time, which Klymit responded saying they’d be happy to send the Inertia X Wave instead at no additional charge.  I was able to better repair my old X Lite, so now I actually have 2 pads for the price of 1.  Great customer service from Klymit!

About the valve issue, this appears to be an inherent problem with the bulb valves on their pads that use it.  The valve is made of 2 pieces. The first piece is glued to the pad fabric and has a C-shaped casing with a hole in it.  The second piece is a cylinder with a release button, which has a small nozzle that inserts into the hole in the first piece’s casing, and then another nozzle on the other end that you insert into a bulb to finish pumping up the pad.  The factory gluing of these 2 pieces together does not appear to be sufficient, as my pulling the bulb off the valve has easily separated the 2 pieces in both pads.  Using super glue, I have been able to reglue the valves together in both pads such that they do not leak, at least at the valves.

Which brings me to the other issue, that of durability of the bottom fabric.  I have never sprung any leaks on any of the Static V’s after many, many nights of use.  Whereas I have had to patch 1 hole in the Inertia X Lite and 2 holes in the Inertia X Wave, and there appears to still  be a small leak somewhere in the Inertia X Wave that I need to hunt down.  Every time I have used them outside, they were placed on top of 1.1 oz silpoly, never just against bare ground.  Thus, I’m not impressed with their durability and I would recommend using at least a 1/8″ closed cell foam pad underneath them at all times.  I’m debating actually gluing my Inertia X Lite to a foam pad to ensure that it is always protected and make set-up and storage easier.

I discuss in the video how the 2 torso pads (as well as the full-length Inertia X Frame and Ozone) are designed more for sleeping bag users than quilt users, so that your bottom insulation can loft in the gaps and keep you warm.  However, I have found that wearing my down sweater under my quilt can also take advantage of the loft pockets.  But I still want to have a barrier between the ground and my sweater, which is partly why I want to use a thin ccf pad underneath the torso pad.

I hope you enjoy the video and I appreciate any and all feedback.

Katadyn BeFree water filter review

Here is a video review of the Katadyn BeFree filter that I’ve been using for the past year and which I highly recommend as the best choice for ultralight backpackers that like to strap their water to their shoulder strap.  I compare it to the very popular Sawyer Mini that I used to use for several years.  The second video shows how much easier it is to fill the BeFree bag compared to the Sawyer bag.

How much did I spend on my gear?

I don’t find much use in articles about how to buy a full set of ultralight gear for $X.  The goal of presenting budget gear lists is not to instruct readers to buy a list of prescribed items like a recipe, but rather to inspire them about what types of gear they need or don’t need and what cheaper options may be out there than the often top-of-the-line gear presented.  To complement my gear video, I’ve gone through my current gear list, estimated how much I spent on each item, and given some brief comments about why it’s there.  I’ve excluded from the total $ spent those items that I use normally when I’m not backpacking and would have needed to buy any way.  So the grand total I’ve spent is $647. The small items do add up, but this amount was spent over the span of about 4 years as I learned the skills to be more ultralight.  As always, I appreciate any questions, comments, suggestions, criticisms.  Thanks for reading.

Item Comments Cost
Fleece cap You don’t need to buy anything special – just use your winter hat.   I already owned a pretty light one that I use all winter. $0
Terramar Thermawool CS 4.0 long-sleeve shirt Love this baselayer.  I bought it for backpacking at TJ Max on sale for under $20, but I wear it regularly except in summer, so I’m not counting it. $0
Down Sweater You don’t need to buy a premium jacket like a Ghost Whisperer, LUL Puffy, or Nano Puff.  I got mine at Primark for $35, it weights just a couple oz more than than the lightest sleeved down jacket, and I wear it as my normal jacket all winter, so I’m not counting it. $0
Salomon XT Wings gloves I bought these special for backpacking.  My hands undoubtedly get wet on the trail, and my normal winter liner gloves soak up water, so for summer use I wanted something primarily that would block wind and rain and wouldn’t absorb water. $30
Synthetic long underwear This is more personal taste – find a pair that are comfortable, don’t spend a lot. I wear thermals every day in winter, so I already had a few to choose from for backpacking. $0
Socks I usually hike in the summer without socks.  When I do wear them, I use simple synthetic office socks – cheap (~$10 for 3 pairs), don’t get holes, dry really fast.  I have some hiking socks – too thick – and I’ve tried $15 thin smartwool socks from REI – don’t last. $0
Sleeping Quilt I sewed my own summer quilt with materials from Ripstop by the Roll using 1 layer of 2.5 oz Apex. The most similar quilt available would be the 50 deg Revelation Apex (only 2.1 oz Apex) at $165 or the 48 deg Spirit Quilt (not sure on the insulation thickness used) at $215. $70
Gatewood Cape I have always used ponchos for hiking but found them a bit of a pain to pitch as shelter, so switching to the greater coverage both in cape-mode and tent-mode has been amazing.  I bought it used for $110; new $135 $110
MSR mini groundhog stakes Titanium stakes are light, but these are a bit more secure in sand and no concern if I have to pound them down. $17
Klymit Inertia X Wave Nice and wide, no official R value but sufficient to 40 deg for me. I got it on sale for $40; new $75 $40
Klymit Motion 35L Pretty good pack – front-loaders are so nice compared to roll-tops. Never understood the point of a roll-top if the fabric isn’t waterproof. Air beam is used as part of my sleep system.  Although 35L is really more volume than I need, and I’d prefer more pockets up front.  I got it on sale for $45; new $70 $45
SOL Emergency Bivy Testing this out as both a dry bag for my quilt/clothing and back-up emergency bivy if weather gets really bad. $12
Evernew Water Bottle I use the 900mL version for extra water on dry stretches.  It stays empty on some trips. $13
Katadyn BeFree I love the soft flask and the ease of use of this filter. $40
Mini Bic Lighter Emergency use – I don’t cook $2
Sea to Summit Head Net $10
Swiss Army Classic A razor blade in sleeve would be lighter, but I actually use the scissors and tweezers a lot more than the knife. $17
Mini compass I have a nicer Suunto compass, but as I never use it, I now just take a little one I found free in a first aid kit. $0
Metal can – free Why buy a titanium mug, when you can just reuse a plain aluminum can that weight nearly the same?  And if the bottom gets covered in carbon, just recycle it and get a new one.  I don’t cook, so this is used as a container for my emergeny stuff and I can use it to make tea on a wood fire if I really need to. $0
Petzl e-light Love this light – so small and the pull-cable is much more comfortable than standard head straps. $24
BD Revolt I removed the head strap and connect this to my waist belt when I night hike.  Rechargeable is really nice, since when I do use it, it’s on for many hours full power. Got it on sale for $30. $30
Soap leaves I prefer these over a squirt tube of soap. $5
First aid and Repair kits Basically free, odds and ends from the house,I did spend $10 for nylon patch tape which has come in use. $10
OP Sacks I just bought the cheaper versions, rather than the official LOKSAK ones.  Who knows if they really work? $7
ZPacks Cuben wallet I was inspired from backpacking to get this, but it’s my normal wallet, so I’m not counting the $10 $0
Lethmik Sport cap $15 but again I use this everyday. $0
Synthetic t-shirt Use whatever you have. I like ones designed for cycling with thinner mesh on the upper back. $0
Running shorts Use whatever you have. I wear ones with a liner and no pockets, and don’t wear underwear. $0
EMS Windshirt This is a great piece of kit – I don’t think EMS makes it anymore, but as far as I can tell it’s as good and only an ounce more than ones that cost over $100 like Houdini. $50
Sierra Designs Microlight Pants 2 A great cheap set of wind pants – I prefer stretch bottom cuffs, rather than zippers. $35
Shoes I wear my Trail Glove 3’s every day, so I’m not counting the $110 they cost me.  The one item on here that needs to be replaced every 2 years or so. $0
Poles Personal taste – for your first set, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than about $50 to make sure you like using them.  I splurged on my 2nd set and got Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles on sale for $80.  I love how they fold small and set up much easier than my old turn-locking ones. $80
TOTAL $647

Gear List

This is a video of my current gear list for mainly summer 2-4 day trips in the White Mountains, NH.  Night temps rarely get below 40 deg F, but there are surprise cold spells down to 30 at elevation.  This is a budget gear list – the only individual items that cost more than $50 were the Gatewood Cape, poles (which I still got a really good deal on), shoes, and materials for my quilt (and eyeglasses of course).

A lot of my base weight is in my pack – I got the Klymit pack for a great price ($44) and really like it.  I feel the extra pack weight pays for itself in carrying the weight a lot better than a 5 oz SUL pack would.  My pad is pretty plush too – my hips/tailbone hurt sleeping on CCF pads and the 6 oz Klymit Inertia X Frame torso pad was too skimpy for my tossing and turning – again, I got a great deal on the Wave, much cheaper than a NeoAir X Lite.

I’m a big poncho fan, so I enjoy hiking in the Gatewood Cape, and it provides great coverage as a shelter; I just use my windshirt as back-up rain protection when in shelter mode.  My quilt has a waterproof ground sheet sewn to it, so it serves as my bivy sack with the pad laying inside and wearing my headnet; the lack of a bug-free tent space is a major drawback but one I don’t mind since I usually hike into the night and basically just pass out immediately once I set up camp.

I have 5 layers for upper torso (t shirt, long-sleeve shirt, wind shirt, puffy, poncho) and 3 layers for lower torso (shorts, long johns, wind pants), so there’s a lot of flexibility for varying weather conditions in the unpredictable White Mountains.  Some weight could be saved here at the cost of flexibility. I don’t cook, but I bring an aluminum can and lid (just a can of beans opened with a side can opener) just in case I really want to make tea – it serves as a convenient way to store all my small stuff that I rarely need to access.  The second video goes through what’s in the can.

The detailed list and weights are stored in LighterPack, a great site I recommend for creating your gear list: https://lighterpack.com/r/4miide

 

Introductions

What’s the point of a blog?  I’ve been pretty active backpacking for about 15 years and really got into ultralight backpacking in the past 5 year.  I’ll talk the ear off any of my family and friends interested in hearing about everything I’ve learned or some crazy idea I have to lighten my pack, and I’ve enjoyed posting in forums and Facebook.  It makes sense to finally create an online presence to place all my thoughts, although it does feel presumptuous to think people I don’t know would really care.

My aim as an over-arching goal will be to help backpackers with ideas about how to lighten up their pack and get into an ultralight mind-set.  I plan to review the equipment I use and highlight other cool gear, but since I am very frugal, I will try to avoid suggesting expensive ultralight equipment.  My golden rule of ultralight backpacking is that best way to lighten up your pack is to replace a heavy piece of gear with the cheapest and lightest item possible…. nothing.  The second best is reusing some item you were going to throw away or making gear yourself. And often there is only marginal gain to purchasing the hot ultralight item everyone is recommending, when you can spend a lot less on an item from a big store for a slight cost in weight.

In addition to gear reviews, I plan to post tips and tricks I have used to go ultralight, random thoughts and possibilities I have about how to better enjoy backpacking with less stuff, and reports of my backpacking trips.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you for visiting my site and hope that you find something useful.  Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.