Perhaps the most important part of your sleep system is your sleeping pad. Sleeping bags are crucial, yes, but they do very little in terms of padding or comfort against the ground. They will also fail to keep you warm without a sleeping pad.
Your sleeping pad is the most important item when it comes to falling asleep and staying asleep. Unfortunately, most of them suck, especially when you have great, extensive memories of your mattress back home.
While prepping for a recent backpacking trip to Grand Teton National Park, I decided to buy a second sleeping pad. After a few nights of doubling up, I am convinced it’s the way to go.
Why I decided to double up
I’ve had the Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout for a couple of years now, and it’s been… fine. Nothing great about it at all – it’s medium in terms of weight, thickness, r-value, and support. It was pretty cheap, though, especially compared to other Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads. At just under $100 for the long version, it was a purchase that really made itself.
Unfortunately, this one-inch-thick sleeping pad didn’t offer me much in terms of comfort. It might not be the sleeping pad’s fault entirely, though – I’m a side sleeper, and for most of my life I’ve weighed more than 275 pounds.
However, even sleeping on my back, and even after losing 95 pounds, I still can’t call my sleeping pad comfortable. So, when I started packing for a trip to Grand Teton National Park, I started thinking about how much I was dreading using that sleeping pad.
Then i had an idea – what if I just bought another one? But not, like, a $250 sleeping pad to replace my Trail Scout (I’ll do that eventually, but money is my enemy these days), but, rather, a dirt cheap closed-cell foam sleeping pad that I could put beneath my Trail Scout. Doubling up on sleeping pads was something I’d heard of before but had never really considered. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop – the potential benefits were way too numerous.
I looked for the least expensive “egg crate” accordion-style sleeping pad I could find – it cost me about $27 after taxes – and ordered it on Amazon. Pictured below, it truly was unimpressive – but that was kind of the point. It was just supposed to be a sleeping pad for my sleeping pad!
Two sleeping pads? What’s the big deal?
What can a second sleeping pad do that your first one can’t? A lot, it turns out. The moment my new sleeping pad was delivered, I tested it out.
First, I laid on just the Trail Scout sleeping pad in my backyard – first on my back, then on my side. I laid there for about a minute in each position, trying to really feel the pressure points, comfortable spots, and “dead zones” where i could feel myself touching the floor. For reference, these days I’m about 210 pounds, still heavier than average but a long way from my heaviest.
On my back, my butt was on the ground, while my legs sat in such a way that made my back hurt. On my side, my hips were on the ground and my shoulders were screaming for relief after about 20 seconds.
Then, I doubled up and repeated my steps – laying first on my back and then on my side. The differences were immediate and vast. No more touching the ground on my back or on my side, and i was far more comfortable in both positions. The egg crate pad supercharged the Trail Scout and instantly upgraded my sleep system.
After two nights using it in the wild, I can safely say it was the right move. I slept deeper, more comfortably, and longer – and I woke up with more energy to crush the next day’s worth of hiking miles.
4 reasons to get a second sleeping pad
1. You’re a side sleeper
Side sleepers have historically struggled on backpacking trips. It seems like everything is made for back sleepers, even though only X% of people sleep on their backs. I’ve been a side sleeper for as long as I’ve known what sleep was, and I doubt I’ll ever change.
If you’re a side sleeper, a second sleeping pad might be just what you’re looking for. The added padding or loft could allow you to sleep comfortably on your side, without terrible hip pain that lingers for hours or even days. The same goes for your shoulders – wouldn’t it be nice to wake up in a tent with two arms that will both move the same way they did before you went to sleep?
2. You move around a lot
If you’re a still sleeper, you don’t need another sleeping pad because life has already blessed you with a gift greater than money. I toss and turn while sleeping more than a sock in a dryer, and it’s always caused me problems on the trail. With just one, thin sleeping pad, I would do somersaults trying to find a spot that was comfortable enough to get 20 more minutes of sleep. Then, 20 minutes later, it would happen again.
If you know that experience all too well, a second sleeping pad might be the exact move you need to make before your next backcountry adventure.
3. You’re heavier than most people
This has been me my entire life. Regardless of how good of shape I was in (I’ve flip-flopped between great shape and horrible shape), I’ve always weighed more than most people. That means I’ve also typically found things less comfortable than most people do.
If you’re in that same boat, a second sleeping pad might be exactly what you need to keep pressure off of your hips, lower back, and knees while you sleep.
4. You know the value of a great night of sleep
Everybody knows what it feels like to wake up completely refreshed, with enough energy to conquer the day. Everybody also knows what it feels like to wake up feeling like they slept on a rock – which is exactly what it feels like to use a sleeping pad that isn’t optimal for your body. Doubling up might be the cost-effective solution you need!
Your second sleeping pad can be cheap. Mine sure was.
Good sleeping pads – ones with solid loft and r-values – don’t come cheap. My primary pad is one of the cheapest on the market that was still reliable, and it still cost me almost $100. High end sleeping pads, especially ultralight and four-season pads, can cost upwards of $250.
However, when you are looking for a secondary sleeping pad, just to add a little more comfort, the technical specs don’t matter at all. In fact, the second pad I bought doesn’t even have an R-value listed! That means it cannot do a damn thing to keep me warm. If it were my primary sleeping pad, that would make it a terrible purchase. But, since it’s just there to improve my sleep, it really doesn’t matter.
If you’re thinking that doubling up might be right for you, I’d encourage the same approach: go dirt cheap, and enjoy better sleep. Your current sleeping pad, when combined with the secondary one, will be more than enough to keep you warm, comfortable, and snoring.
It’s worth the added weight/space
My second sleeping pad was really easy to pack. All i had to do was tie it to the outside of my pack, and since it’s a closed-cell foam pad, it only weighs about 0.8 pounds. There was nothing to it at all – didn’t have to sacrifice any other comforts or luxuries to make room for it!
Backpackers know that every added item means more weight and bulkiness to deal with, but this addition to my gear arsenal felt like a no brainer, because it weighed less than a pound and could go on the outside of my pack
Cheap second sleeping pad, or expensive new sleeping pad?
You may be reading this and wondering, “Why would I want a second sleeping pad? Wouldn’t a better solution be to buy a brand new one that has the amount of loft or padding I need?”
The answer to that question is tricky. For many people, either solution will work, and the decision between a second pad and a brand new one will just come down to money. If you have a sleeping pad you don’t like, but you can’t afford a top-of-the-line upgrade, you can still improve your sleep with a second pad.
If, however, you’ve got the money for a top-notch upgrade, then it probably makes sense to just get a brand new pad and throw out/donate your current one. Pads like the NeoAir Topo Luxe are well worth the investment (my best friend recently upgraded to a NeoAir XLite and is head over heels), but only if you’ve got the budget.