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!

The usual state of my sleeping mats - deflated!
The usual state of my sleeping mats – deflated!

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).

Multimat Superlite Air
Multimat Superlite Air

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!

Thermarest Z-Lite Sol mat
Thermarest Z-Lite Sol mat

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.

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7 thoughts on “A Good Night’s Sleep”

  1. My sixth inflatable mattress has just given up the ghost. It was a replacement obtained under guarantee and I’m less than 12 and a half stone. Either the seams develop hundreds of tiny holes which can’t be patched or internal glue gives up and a huge air blister grows with a slight tearing sound. Sadly, I will need to buy another of these fragile items for winter camping. JohnBoy’s system sounds interesting.

    In summer, a torso shaped foam pad is fine, particularly if the small of the back is supported. The idea is to stop pressure points developing at the hip and shoulder by spreading the job of load bearing to the rest of the torso. This takes a lot of strain off the spine as well as lowering the pressure on soft tissues. I form the support out of spare clothes and store the foam as a cylinder reinforcing the walls of my rucksack.

    Once, after an overnight train, I scooped out holes for my hip and shoulder in the shingle on the beach at Ratagan. It must have been comfortable because the next thing I knew was an old man shaking me to find out if I was dead. He was quite angry when he discovered I was only sleeping.

    1. You had more luck than me with warranty returns then – I was told by Exped that punctures were a fact of life, which is why they provide a repair kit. Needless to say I won’t be buying one of them again. I love the story of the old man on the beach, I imagine he had visions of his name in the local paper finding a stranger washed up on the shore 🙂 Yes, it’s my shoulder mainly that takes the strain as a side sleeper. I’ve tried laying spare clothes beneath my mat in the past too.

  2. Stuart, I use a similar two-pad approach for winter backpacking. TheThermarest Z-Lite is terrific value. I’ve had some of my best sleeps winter camping with it. During the rest of the year I use a single inflatable pad — as I have become a bit obsessive counting grams. I too have had some bad luck with rips and holes but my current ThermaRest NeoAir Xlite pad hasn’t let me down in three years of (careful) use. Like rolling dice I admit — at some point the inflatable pad will let me down (literally) — as last happened with a Klymit Inertia X Frame on Exmoor…shortly after 12:00 AM on a Friday the 13th.:) Let’s hope it not on the CWT! Tim

    1. There’s no Friday the 13th on my CWT fortunately, but I’ve not needed one of them yet to precipitate a puncture 🙂 If I can prove the longevity of the air mattress with my weight on it, I may be able to ditch the z-lite in future, but until then it’s belt & braces for me

  3. I’ve used a very similar combo for many years now and it’s works superbly. I use the Multimat Air (or Karrimor’s cheap but identical equivalent), but double it up with a cheap Highlander Thermo mat (£6), which is a very thin foil backed sheet of foam. These only weigh 95g, packs down small, and you can really feel the difference the foil makes. Great the moment you set the tent up, you can spread it out and feel the warmth the moment you sit in it long before you get around to blowing up your mat. It’s never going to be super comfy on it’s own, but it will keep you warm enough and get you through the night if the air mat springs a leak. Whole combo…less than 450g! Used this on two TGO Challenges, Cape Wrath Trail and many others.

    1. John, good to know I’m on the right path here 🙂 Does the foil backing not generate condensation? Apparently, the Z-Lite Sol has some thermal properties – a partially reflective layer which you’re supposed to face down, which should help, but was worried it might be a condensation generator – cold air rising from the ground and hitting the warmed layer (more so with foil I would guess)?

      1. I use mine foil side up, reflects my heat back up to me, never had a problem with condensation. Another benefit of using two is if you have a small inner tent. Inflating your mat as soon as you camp takes up a lot of space unless you sit on it, which then creates point pressure on it. So I lay out the foil/foam mat whilst I’m cooking, and just inflate the air mat later in the evening.

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