A backpacking air mattress is not an essential for your overnight backpacking trip—all you really need is that quality sleeping bag, properly rated for the weather—but it can certainly make a big difference in how you sleep; providing helpful insulation as well as cushioning. And since how you function during the day is directly related to how you’ve slept at night, a handy air mattress may be a very worthwhile investment; one of the few things worth carrying around on your back.
You’ve grown accustomed to buying equipment based on look and feel, but for your backpacking air mattress you need to pay less attention to the product appearance or picture listing and more to the specifications. Key specifications are:
• R factor: A number which tells you exactly how much insulation the mat provides; numbers range from 1 to 9.5; if you’re doing cold-weather backpacking, you’ll want a mat with a nice high number, but you don’t want to carry an elephant around either.
• Weight: How much the sleeping mat weighs. When you’ve got something on your back hour after hour, mile after mile, you want as light-weight an item as possible.
• Packed Size: How much room will the thing take in your backpack, when it’s all deflated and sealed up in it’s pouch? Since you’ve only got one pack and a long list of things to fit inside, this is an important one too.
• Dimensions: Will the mat fit you lengthwise, and offer enough width? For serious backpacking you don’t actually want an air mattress, which is a relatively large, bulky bed meant for car-camping ; the backpacking air mattress is more correctly termed a air pad or sleeping pad and is much smaller. Standard width is 20 inches, though there are wider models. Standard length is 72 inches; though you can find both long sleeping pads (75-78 inches) as well as ¾ or short sleeping pads (47-48 inches).
To illustrate what we’ve just been discussing above, let’s look at the Klymit Insulated Static V. It’s a good all-purpose backpacking air mattress: a quality sleeping mat loved by many backpackers, though it is neither the lightest nor the best insulated model available on the market.
First, check the R factor. This is listed as 4.4; pretty well perfect for most moderate-climate backpacking, spring, summer, autumn, or winter. It might not be ideal for your Siberian backpacking trip, however.
Next, we look at the packed weight. 25 ounces, or 595 grams; no feather, but not bad either.
Then comes packed size. This is given 8 by 4 inches, about the size of a standard Nalgene bottle; and the product description notes that a stuff sack is included, which means you should have no trouble compacting the sleeping pad to the manufacturer’s stated dimensions.
How much room will you have to sleep? That’s fourth on our list, and here we see the Klymit is reasonably generous: 23 inches in width, 72 inches in length, and 2.5 inches tall when inflated. Not a twin sized bed by any means, but it does tack several inches onto the basic sleeping pad standards for a tiny bit of extra comfort and night-time maneuverability.
Other things an experienced backpacker will notice about this product: there’ s a repair kit included, so a puncture can be fixed without any trips to the store. The V-structured cells look as though they’d be comfortable to sleep on, and inflation is supposed to be easy: 12 breaths will bring it from packed state to a ready-to-sleep-on bed. Deflating and folding it up is just as simple.