Closed cell foam sleeping pads are quite popular with ultralight backpackers who want to shave every ounce from their gear list and need gear that can’t fail. If you want to carry multi-purpose gear to save weight, you’re hard on gear, or want to save money, closed cell sleeping pads provide many advantages over inflatable and self-inflating pads.
Advantages of Foam Sleeping Pads
- Fail-proof, puncture proof
- Don’t absorb water
- Good R-value
- Quiet to sleep on
- Don’t have to be inflated or deflated
- Easily combined with other sleeping pads for more warmth (inflatable, self-inflating, underquilt)
- Easy to trim
Granted, foam pads aren’t for everyone. But they are simple and reliable to use. You don’t have to blow them up before use or struggle to deflate and pack them each morning. There’s nothing to break, they’re inexpensive, easy to modify and trim, and quite lightweight. You can stack them for cold weather use. You can even shape extra pieces of foam to support parts of your body, like a donut shape to support your hips, or a raised platform for your head, that you can stack on top of a foam pad for extra comfort.
Egg carton-shaped foam pad used to create a backpack frame in a frameless backpack (Granite Gear Virga 2)
Multi-Purpose Ultralight Backpacking Gear
One of the cornerstones of ultralight backpacking philosophy is the use of multi-purpose gear. If you can use one piece of gear multiple ways, you can reduce the number of items you carry, the size of your backpack, and the overall weight of your gear. If you take this route, it’s obviously prudent to use gear that can’t fail…like a foam sleeping pad. It can never leak or burst.
You can use a foam pad as a :
- Sleeping pad
- Second sleeping pad to augment inflatable/self-inflating/hammock underquilt in winter
- Sit pad
- Tent or hammock door mat
- Backpack frame (rolled or flat)
- Stove wind screen
- Pot cozy
- Foam padding in a (broken leg or arm) splint
Foam pads are easy to lash to the outside of backpacks (Granite gear Crown2)
Best Foam Sleeping Pads
The three most popular foam sleeping pads with ultralight backpackers are the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite, the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest, and Gossamer Gear’s Thinlight foam pads. The high quality ubiquitous blue foam pads of yesteryear are now quite difficult to find and buy, so these are your best options.
1. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Foam Sleeping Pad
2. Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic
3. Gossamer Gear Thinlight 1/8″ Hammock Foam Sleeping Pad
Tom and his trusty Z Lite
However you slice it, closed cell foam sleeping pads are a tremendous ultralight backpacking sleeping pad option. Lightweight, affordable, and easy to customize, they provide tremendous value for the money, which explains their continued popularity within the ultralight backpacking and long distance hiking community.
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