That’s something we all need at the best of times, but never more so than when you’re walking long distances over many days. Apart from the obvious need to feel refreshed in the morning and able to tackle another stretch of the path, there’s an important mental consideration too. Without enough sleep, your decision making process becomes impaired, your mood and general outlook deteriorate and at the end of the day we’re out there to enjoy ourselves, not put ourselves at risk, or subject ourselves to torture. With that in mind, I have had to think long and hard about my sleeping system.
My usual backpacking trip is two, or possibly three nights, so sleeping badly on these outings isn’t the end of the world. Combine that with the fact that most of my backpacking is done in areas like the Dales or Peak District, where I could easily walk to assistance if things went bad and it’s clear that my impending Cape Wrath Trail presents a whole new challenge.
I’ve had a nightmare time over the past few years with inflatable mattresses; in fact, I’ve not had a mattress yet that hasn’t burst within a couple of uses. I put this down, in part, to my weight, which at around 18st, is probably more than an inflated mattress can take and the increased air pressure eventually finds a weak spot in the material and causes a puncture. The manufacturers’ aim for their products to be as lightweight as possible, simply exacerbates this problem. The result usually leaves me sleeping on a mattress I need to re-inflate every hour or two, or worse still, a deflated mat between me and the ground. This isn’t something I’m prepared to risk for 8 or 9 nights on the CWT!
I know many people are happy to sleep on a piece of foam which can be rolled up in the morning and attached to the outside of their pack. I’m not quite prepared to go that far. I’m a side sleeper and as hard as I’ve tried to sleep on my back, it just doesn’t work for me. A thin foam roll mat just doesn’t provide enough comfort for me. It would, however, be better than nothing, or better than a deflated mat!
As such, I’ve decided to go for a hybrid approach to my sleeping arrangements. I’m going to use an air mattress, with a foam mat beneath it. That gives me plenty of comfort if both items are working, and a marginal level of comfort if (or when) the mat deflates.
I’ve vowed not to spend a fortune on a mattress again, so being cheap was a prime consideration and lightweight was just as important, if I’m carrying two mats they both need to be light. The air mattress I selected is the Multimat Superlite Air. I chose it based on a couple of good reviews from people I respect, it’s cheap (dirt cheap in fact) and I found one on eBay that professed to having a 10% thicker liner for added durability (an MOD specification apparently).
The mattress was £25 and even with the additional thickness it weighs just 360g. That’s slightly heavier than the POE and Hyalite mats I’ve been using recently, but almost half the price of the Hyalite I bought for @Hillplodder after I burst the mat he leant me after I’d burst my own the night before!
I already have a foam roll mat that I used last winter to supplement my mattress, for additional warmth. I found it difficult to manage though, it’s a bugger to roll out in the tent after it’s been rolled up tight all day and it’s not easy to get tight in the first place, plus it takes up a lot of room on my pack and securing it is almost a two-man job. It was cheap at least and fairly light, but I figured I could find something more manageable.
A few minutes Internet research produced what you see to the left, a Thermarest Z-Lite Sol, closed cell, foam mat. It’s easy to manage and very versatile, the z-folds mean it can be used in different configurations; full length, half length, etc.
It’s 180cm long, which is probably longer than I really need, but because it’s closed cell foam, I can cut off the bottom couple of folds if I really feel the need. It’s not arrived yet, but the published weight is 410g and it cost me £35, which seems a lot for a foam mat, but I’m happy to pay that for the ease of use and flexibility it offers.
The real cost of this hybrid system is of course weight. Combined, the two items come in at around 770g which is quite a lot. But on their own, neither is completely suitable and if I need comfort anywhere, it’s when I’m sleeping. Hopefully this will help in that goal. A couple of other equipment changes I have in the pipeline may offset some of the weight gain here.
I’ll test the system on the Affric-Kintail Way at the end of March; if it works, I’ll use it for the CWT in April and beyond.