Lately I’ve had the chance to do some biking, and some camping; just not bike camping. For this post, I’ll talk about some new kit I’ve picked up in the last year to update the bedroom.
Since getting into bike camping several years ago I’ve been using Big Agnes pads. Of the two I have, both are inflatable models with insulation. They’re a fairly common design, being 2.5 inches thick with six longitudinal “tubes” and the standard twist valve in the corner for inflating. The Sand Mountain is a good summer pad with something like a R3 rating while the DualCore is intended for year-round camping with an R5 rating. The DualCore has a layer of foam on top of the pad that makes it rather bulky and heavy.
Both pads require some major “huffing and puffing” to get them inflated, and a few years ago I experimented with the Sand Mountain by painting some silicone stripes on it to prevent the bag from sliding around so much. That has worked out well.
But ever on the lookout for smaller and lighter gear, I was curious about the Thermarest NeoAir line. I know there were raves about the weight and compactness, but also complaints about the durability and noisiness of the older models. However it seems that the newer versions have all of that worked out, plus they started doing some interesting things with reflective insulation.
Low and behold, a NeoAir All Season Pad became available. It has a R4.9 rating, is much lighter and compact than the BA, and it came with a little battery-powered pump. After finally getting to use it this summer, I’m going to give it an unreserved thumbs up.
BA DualCore pad, BA Insulated pad, Thermarest NeoAir All Season pad, Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow
The pump is very small and works perfectly. I’ve timed it at two minutes to inflate the pad with the addition of three full breaths to top it off, but I discovered that I probably should have let some air out of the bag to make it a little softer for comfort. I like the fact that the “tubes” run across the pad, and I have no problems with noise when I shift around at night. I simply don’t notice it.
The World’s Smallest Blow Dryer
My most recent trip confirmed that the insulation is quite effective. We were laid out on a mountainside where the temps got into the low 50’s at night. Not overly cold, but quite a change from the daily highs in the 80’s. I was using my Montbell heavy bag which was a bit of overkill. Still, if I would let an arm or leg roll partially off of the pad, I could feel the cold coming up off of the ground while there was absolutely no sense of that on top of the pad.
You can see from the pics that it is far more compact than the BA pads. If there are any concerns, it has to be that the used NeoAir did not come with a patch kit (I’m thinking I’ll toss in a bike patch kit when I remember to do so), and I still need to dial in the right pressure because the last time I felt a little stiff the next morning.
Another piece of kit that I regard as a real game changer is a Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow. Now paying $40 for a blow up pillow is pretty over the top, but I view a good night’s sleep as essential and a good pillow as critical to that goal.
I’ve tried quite a bit of options up to this point, all less than satisfactory: various inflatables, some loose foam, some dense foam, bunched up clothing, etc… As a side sleeper, I need some thickness, and using inflatable pads and nylon weave bags, I need something that won’t go sliding off in the middle of the night.
The Aeros finally satisfies all of those requirements. It’s a nice size when inflated, but rolls up compact to the size of a baseball, which is one third the size of the Thermarest foam pillow I had at the beginning of the summer. It’s covered with a brushed fabric that doesn’t slip around, and it gives the sense of being well made and not prone to leaks. It still needs to be manually inflated, but it’s only a few breathes to do so. It looks to be a keeper.
Finally, I want to tout this little USB-powered lamp that I picked up for just a few dollars. I already carry a USB power bank for charging my phone, tablet, and whatever I might have along, so adding this little lamp along with the head mounted light creates some compact options for after dark. There was one night where the wife and I were sleeping in a larger tent, and this came in real handy for changing clothes after dark.
Just a short note about the Montbell bags… they have been working out pretty well although I haven’t used the heavy bag below 40. Given how the fill looks to be consistently spread, I think it will work out, but I want to find it’s limits this fall/winter. I’ll probably take along the fleece liner and some down clothing for a safety net. I also suspect the newer MB bags are a bit better made.