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Light Sleepers (Gear)

In bygone days, I scoffed at the notion of using a sleeping pad. In the pursuit of traveling light, I stuffed my clothes into a plastic Glad Bag and slept on the wad. Somewhere around the age of 25, I de-evolved from a crash-anywhere guy into an amazingly light sleeper. That’s when my attitudes about sleeping pads took a turn. Suddenly, after a full day of climbing, hiking, or ski touring, a good night’s rest seemed worth the weight penalty of a sleeping pad. Goodbye Glad Bag, hello Therm-a-Rest pads.

Over the years, many of the newer models of the self-inflating, foam-filled Therm-a-Rest pads have blimped out like many Americans--they’ve grown ever wider, heavier, and cushier. Despite these trends, Cascade Designs, the inventor and maker of Therm-a-Rest pads, has not abandoned the minimalist who looks for comfort in light packages.

The newer ProLite 3 series of self-inflating pads, use a Swiss-cheese strategy to remove diamond-shaped checkers and 30 percent of the foam constituting the guts of the pad. While much of the internal foam (and a good chunk of weight) has been pared away, there’s still enough foam to keep the trapped air from circulating wildly and sucking away your body heat like a department-store air mattress. Nonetheless, the ProLite 3 pads are not as insulating as the company’s heavier pads and are best suited to three-season temperatures.

The fabrics which sandwich the pad’s foam core are composed of 1.7-ounce, rip-stop polyester on top and a textured, grip-dot nylon on the bottom. The bottom does a good job of grabbing slick tent floors so you’re not squirming after a squirting pad all night. These fabrics are tough enough to come with a lifetime warranty yet not so tough as to withstand wanton abuse. Cramming tent stakes or crampons against the pad while it’s stuffed in your backpack is verboten.

The ProLite 3S lightens the load over the standard ProLite 3 pad by cutting even more corners or, rather, by cutting length. The 3S (S is for short) is the ¾-length version made to cushion your shoulders, hips, and knees. Your feet are cushioned at night by resting them on your empty pack. Yes, the regular-length pad is easier, but it’s also 7 ounces heavier. Furthermore, eliminating bulk is a big issue for lightweight travel. By shedding bulk you can trade load-monster packs weighing five-plus pounds for lower-volume ultralight packs weighing less than two pounds. In this regard, the ProLite 3S is a big volume saver;  when folded in half longitudinally and rolled, it’s the size of a one-liter Nalgene water bottle.

Of course the biggest concern of all is whether the pad is comfortable enough to afford a good night's sleep. Looking at this inch-thick puppy beside the company's 2.5-inch-thick LuxuryCamp pad, you'll have your doubts. In the field, however, I've found the ProLite 3S smooths out the lumps in the ground just fine and lets me sleep well. And unlike the LuxuryCamp pad, I don't need an SUV to haul the Prolite 3S around.  

(ProLite 3S Sleeping Pad)

Weight: 13.3 ounces
Sleeping size: 20” by  48”
Rolled size: 11” by 3.4”
Thickness when inflated: 1”
R-value: 2.3
Materials: Polyester top, urethane
     foam middle, nylon bottom
Retail price: $70