Since almost a year ago when I started spending nights out in the woods in the cooler months, I realized the need for a layer of insulation between myself and the ground. In the summer, there is not really much need, since the temperatures often dictate that sleeping with much of anything covering you can be uncomfortable. When the nighttime temperatures dip much below 65 degrees Farenheit, there can be a noticeable loss of heat to the ground. I spent a couple of cold nights learning the need for insulation even when the temperatures stayed above 40 degrees Farenheit. After that, beds made from thick evergreen boughs have provided adequate insulation from the ground for my winter escapades. However, the problem with this method is that it requires a supply of boughs (which does not exist in all regions), the time and energy to cut and lay the boughs for a bed, and of course the impact, however small, that this imparts on the environment. Hence, my acquisition of the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest sleeping pad. Realizing all of these issues, I accumulated enough money to spend on some new gear, and I headed straight for the sleeping area of the local Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I found a Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest closed cell foam pad for a reasonable price, and picked it up. On Therm-a-Rest’s website, the model is referred to as “Our classic lightweight closed-cell pad.” Though this pad is nothing revolutionary, it is still a nice piece of kit. My model weighs in at 14 ounces, the advertised weight, and seems well made. I have the Regular model which measures 20 by 72 inches, which is a tad short for my 74 inch frame, but it hasn’t been a real issue. If I had realized the difference ahead of time, I might have held out until I could find the Large model, which measures 25 by 77 inches. That extra size comes at a price of 5 ounces which is not a lot considering the increase in surface area. All sizes of the RidgeRest are .625 inch thick with an R-Value of 2.6. I have used my new pad on a couple of overnighters since I bought it, and it has worked well for me. The first outing I took it on was a night spent in a survival shelter with extra boughs beneath me, so that wasn’t a true test of the pad. It did provide a nice amount of cushion, which I’m sure didn’t hurt!
The real test of the pad that weekend was durability. Because it packs rather largely, I tied it to the top of my frame pack. Walking into the site a little less than a mile “bushwack” style (without trails) meant that my pad was constantly snagged on small branches and brushed against logs and tree trunks. The pad suffered several small snag marks, but it has survived apparently not much worse for wear. The next outing that it went on was a night in a snow cave where it was placed directly on the thin snow that made the floor. In this case, I opened up my sleeping bag over me like a blanket and slept directly on the pad, which was quite comfortable. The pad proved very capable and I never once felt that I was losing heat to the ground.
Therm-a-Rest is most famous for their inflatable line of pads, but one thing in particular has kept me away from the inflatable pads. Though they can be more comfortable and more pack-able, due to their thicker chamber that can be totally collapsed, there can be issues with them insulating well. The main problem comes when small convection currents occur inside the air chamber, where the cold air in contact with the ground cycles with the warm air next to a person’s body. The warmth is conducted into the ground and the cold air is allowed to come into contact with whomever is lying upon the pad. This makes an air-filled pad excellent for when comfort is a higher priority than insulation. There are some pads that counter this by filling with an open-cell foam, but the problem still exists to some extent. A closed-cell pad, such as the RidgeRest, greatly reduces this effect because the air trapped in the cells of the pad cannot move very far, and cannot carry much warmth away from a person’s body.
There is also the issue of durability. Though I take care of my gear, I do not baby it. I wanted to be able to throw my pad down and fall asleep after a long day, without too much concern with punctures and abrasions. The closed-cell pads are excellent for this, because they are a solid layer of foam that at worst will be sliced or punctured, and can still continue to work at almost maximum efficiency even with abrasions or cuts.
The Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest is a good sleeping pad that is plenty wide enough for me to be comfortable, and I imagine someone quite larger than me would also find it quite comfortable. There is plenty of room to roll over, as well as to spread out a little bit, without the danger of falling off. Though the larger size would have been ideal, the Regular is still a huge step up from sleeping on the ground, and a hundred times more convenient than making a bough bed each night, especially after a long day of trekking, hunting, or bushcrafting. They are what I would consider a tad on the pricey side, but it is easy to forget the price after spending a warm night on one in the woods. I can easily see this pad outlasting me, as long as I don’t make an effort to break it.