CCF 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.
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|
|4||Jacks R Better||EVA Closed Cell Foam Pad||0.25||5.15|
|7||Multimat||Superlite 9.5 XL||0.374||6.10|
|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|
|6||ALPS||Foam Mat 625||Polyethylene||1.5||0.625||2.50||2.23|
|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|
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|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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:
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.