Gear trek: the search for a light, packable and comfortable sleep pad.

I tend to take way too long researching major purchases. When looking for my truck last year, I spent well over a month and learned the scratches, tire wear and upholstery condition of just about every X Terra in the state. I knew salesmen by name and learned to recognize phone numbers on my cell. None of them had what I wanted. So I ended up in northern Virginia at a small, one-man dealership to find my Off Road package with under 20k miles.

So, is a sleep pad a major purchase? Well, financially, of course not. But from a gear standpoint, it sure is.

I returned a previous generation REI Trekker self-inflatable because it just didn’t pack well and was over two pounds, features I decided just don’t coalesce with a comfortable time in the backcountry. REI’s new version packs substantially smaller but is still over a pound. Big Agnes makes some really good inflatable pads but having owned one, I found it hard to get all the air out for re-packing. Nevertheless, I was tempted to go back to the Air Core but wanted to explore my options outside of those needing to be inflated manually. I just like camp to be set up quickly.

I gave Therm-A-Rest’s NeoAir a few seconds’ consideration, given the hype. However, that price should buy me more confidence in durability and not come with a guarantee to annoy the hell out of my tent-mate every time I shift in the night. (Seriously, go test this thing, it’s like laying on a potato chip bag.)

Now, I should include that I am by no means against the classics, like the Ridge Rest or Z-Lite. Those closed-cell pads are cheap, relatively comfortable, super-light and will never pop, tear or mechanically let you down. And I was heading straight down that path until I came across Exped’s SIM Light. The SIM (Self-Inflating Mat) had the weight, price and simplicity I was looking for.

Exped is known for some really posh air pads. They market several models that include built-in pumps and down-loaded baffles that still don’t even sniff a pound in weight. Pretty incredible. And freaking expensive, with some close to $200. When I poked around Exped’s site, I found a company that seriously knows what backcountry travelers need and doesn’t hide anything under overly airbrushed marketing or diluted mass-market outreach tactics. They’re not aiming at the once-a-year car camper.

What I liked most about Exped was how well they use video to introduce you to their products. The vids are not overly produced (you can even see a finger dart in and out of frame) and get up close and personal with the product. Without question, these guys are confident in what they sell.

The SIM Light is a great balance of traditional foam comfort and durability and, based on what I saw, deflates easily for a quick re-stuff when its time to get out of camp. It looks to pack a bit bigger than I hoped but still plenty small enough to be an interior pack item (almost everything should be). It’s green factor is middle of the road, as they re-use punched foam cores from the pad (making it lighter) in other products but I can’t imagine the process that bonds the exterior fabric to the foam uses materials that could double as a breakfast condiment.

You can’t buy directly from their site so I went straight to to find it for almost $10 less than And with free shipping. (Seriously, always double check that site, those guys rock.)

I’m expecting the pad in the next couple of days and will promptly give it a test run in a couple weeks out in the Smokies.

One thought on “Gear trek: the search for a light, packable and comfortable sleep pad.

  1. Pingback: Fat guys snoring can sound like bears — Hike Climb Surf Run

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