Review: Sleeping Pads for Motorcycle Camping
When you’re traveling by motorcycle, a good night’s sleep is surprisingly important. You need to be rested so you can be alert and in top-form when you’re riding a motorcycle all day long. And good sleep also lets your body recover from all the aches and pains of a hard day of riding. So if you’re camping on a motorcycle trip, what’s the best sleeping pad? This is a pretty subjective question, but here are our experiences with a couple of sleeping pads:
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sleeping Pad Review
When we went on our Boston to Ushuaia trip, we took two Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pads with us. Our reasoning for this was that we didn’t trust an inflatable sleeping pad to not get holes in it, and neither of us wanted to be trying to figure out where a hole was located and be patching holes in the middle of the night. We feared that an inflatable sleeping pad would leave us lying on the cold, hard ground, so we liked that this sleeping pad was closed-cell foam. It seemed pretty indestructible. No worries about holes. Just unroll it and lie down.
First challenge: these things do NOT pack small. The packed size on it is 20″ x 5.5″ x 5″. To give you a little perspective, that’s almost as large as the REI Quarter Dome T3 Tent that we took with us on that trip. And we were each carrying one.
This obviously isn’t going to fit in a pannier. My solution was to unfold it into two halves, and each half was roughly 2.5″-3″ tall. So it was around 20″ x 10″ x 2.5″. I then stuck it in a dry sack with the tent and my lightweight, compact motorcycle cover. It lived across the back of my seat. In this picture, it’s in the orange roll you see on the back of the bike, under the sleeping bag:
Kay put his on the bottom of his yellow Wolfman Dry Duffle across the back of his seat in a similar fashion; unfolded in half, with other stuff piled on top of it.
So the packing size (or inability to pack small) really counts against this sleeping mat.
How is it, comfort-wise?
Well, imagine the level of comfort you think you’d get from lying on a three-quarter inch thick foam pad on the ground.
Yeah. Not much.
That was pretty much our conclusion. It was slightly better than lying on the ground, but only slightly. It didn’t provide much insulation, and we were forever rolling off them without realizing it because you can barely feel it under a sleeping bag.
In terms of durability: no, we didn’t have to worry about it developing a hole. But they also weren’t “able to withstand years of use and abuse” like the description claims. The closed foam cells were getting mushed flat by the end of the trip, and the pads had warped and bent from being stuffed into a dry sack on a motorcycle.
When we left Buenos Aires and shipped our stuff home after the four-month trip, these Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pads went in the trash.
I can’t recommend them.
Exped SynMat UL 7 Air Pad Review
Yes, when we came home from the Boston to Ushuaia trip, we took the plunge and got inflatable sleeping pads. And this time, we went really fancy, splashed out a lot of money and got the ultra-teeny, ultra-light Exped SynMat UL. What can I say about how small it packs? It’s shocking. Really, truly shocking. The description says it “packs down to the size of a half-liter water bottle.” And it does. We can fit these tiny sleeping pads in our panniers. Our PANNIERS, people! No more carrying a sleeping pad that’s roughly the size of a tent! I really can’t rave enough about how small these pack. If you’re trying to go minimal or are concerned about packing space, this is an utterly invaluable investment.
So now how do they sleep?
Well. I am happy to tell you that is an area where these pads are far and away better than the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite pads. Because they’re inflatable, you can put as much or as little air as you want into these pads. Like a firm sleeping experience? Fill it up. Want it a little softer? Don’t put as much air in. This is particularly valuable for me as a side sleeper. The really firm pads (and the foam mat which was essentially a thin layer over the ground) cause me issues as a side sleeper. I’ll wake up early in the morning with hip pain from sleeping on the ground. But with this mat, I can customize the amount of air in it and sleep perfectly comfortably, even on my side.
Case in point: we went camping last weekend with these sleeping pads. I filled mine up extra-firm, because when I’m sitting on them I tend to bottom out because I’m heavy. But when I’m lying down, my weight is distributed more evenly across the surface of the mattress, so it doesn’t need to be as full and it still takes my weight just fine. So I woke up in the middle of the night with hip pain, and couldn’t get comfortable because the mattress was so firm. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, I reached up, opened the deflate valve (yes, in the dark – these mats are really simple and as long as you can remember which side is which, easy to open valves by feel) and closed it again right away. I had let out just enough air to get down to a comfortably soft level. I slept like a baby for the rest of the night, and on Saturday night, I had zero pain and no need to adjust the air in the mattress because I had it set perfectly.
So yes. I get a better night’s sleep on these pads. And that makes them worth more money, to me. It’s important to be alert and well-rested when you’re riding, and this pad gives me that.
Combine that with how tiny it packs? These pads are truly a win. I can’t recommend them highly enough. This is an excellent sleeping pad for motorcycle camping. It packs down smaller than any of the other pads, and it’s comfortable to sleep on. It’s a mild hassle to inflate, as a regular pump won’t fit this opening, but Exped has made the Schnozzel Pumpbag to help folks who don’t want to waste their hot air blowing this up.
So what about holes in the inflatable pad, you ask? After all – wasn’t the fear of that what caused us to get the Therm-a-Rest foam pad in the first place?
Well, here’s the deal: in Argentina, we finally met up with Naomi and Alberto, who were doing a similar trip from Canada to Argentina. And they had a whole bunch of inflatable stuff – air mattress, pillows, the whole nine yards. And they camped a lot more than we had. Their verdict? Alberto had FAR more problems with his Airhawk seat cover than they had with inflatable sleeping pads or pillows. (In fact, I can’t remember if they had any problems at all with the mattresses, but if they did, they were completely minor.)
After getting home from the trip, we did a lot more research about inflatable sleeping pads. Most people don’t have problems with them. If you do have a problem, Exped includes a patch kit with the air mattress. Our patch kits live in our sleeping pad stuff sacks. Problem solved. With intermittent use for the past year, we’ve had zero problems with these air mattresses. And after the unpleasant sleeping experiences with the Z-lite, combined with the tiny pack size versus the ginormous Therm-a-Rest, we decided that risking punctures was the lesser of two evils, and a risk we were willing to take.
So my verdict: if you’re looking for the best sleeping pad for motorcycle camping, the Exped SynMat UL 7 Air Pad is the way to go. Yes, it costs over three times more than the foam Therm-a-Rest pad. And you can get a less fancy pad cheaper than this one. But it packs tiny and weighs practically nothing, which is critically important when you’re packing for a motorcycle trip.