Sleeping Pads & Camp Mattresses

Looking to buy a sleeping pad or camp mattress as an accessory to the wife and I canoe camping/trekking. After investigating the science and technology behind these accessories, air mattresses seem to be a bad idea in terms of comfort and durability. Any suggestions from the paddling crowd about a good, durable sleeping pad or camp mattress given that as paddlers we’re not under the same weight or size restrictions that backpackers must contend with?

Light weight and comfort have converged. Big agnus and thermorest have awesome air mattresses that are shockingly comfortable and insulated.

Ryan L.

Paco Pads by JPW are bomber
…that’s Jack’s Plastic Welding; very popular among the river rafting crowd. They don’t roll up small like the ones mentioned in the previous post, but are REALLY comfortable – they come in vartious sizes re thickness, length, width. I would add the EXPED Synmat to the type mentioned in the previous post. I believe there is a “landing pad” (AIRE?NRS?) that is in the same general category as the paco.

Thermarest is my choice
Have been using these for 30+ years. Self inflating air mattress - since their introduction they now come in varied widths, lengths, and thicknesses.

I like a good nights sleep so unless I’m shouldering a load (backpack) I paddle/car camp with the wide and thick one. Have used it sleeping on the crushed stone tent pads you find at many park camp grounds and have never felt the ground. Tip - don’t pull it out and use around around a camp fire - one flying ember and your air mattress is gone. Not my story but one of my unthinking buddies.

I prefer Big Agnes Air Mattress
I have a thermarest and like it nearly as much, the BA is a little more comfortable and packs much smaller. Any of the inflatables can get leaks but you usually just have to reinflate once or twice a night till you find it. I’ve used my insulated BA in temps down into the twenties and was always comfortable I felt it was worth it on a Grand Canyon rim to rim where you sweat repeatedly for ever ounce.

Good Luck


Exped Synmat 7
Pretty sure it’s more comfortable than any Big Agnes or Thermarest. Top choices of backpackers in forums, in order of preference:

  1. Exped
  2. Big Agnes insulated air core
  3. Thermarest

    The Exped Synmat 7 is slightly heavy for backpacking but perfect for kayaking. Get the wider DLX so your arms don’t fall off the sides. Good down to about zero Fahrenheit as it’s insulated on one side.

If possible, avoid having to tight-roll
your foam/air pad every morning. The thicker and more comfortable the pad, the more tiresome it may be to roll tightly and get in the bag provided. If there’s room in the canoe, I just loose roll the pad and control it with a couple of bungees. Thermarest and REI, and most other such pads, will not soak up a lot of water and may not even need to be bagged.

paco pad website

I should have included the website in my earlier post. If you have never seen these pads, poke around the website for photos. They are made from the same material as rafts: waterproof, nearly indestructable, not cheap. A lot of rafters leave them inflated and sit on them while rowing, for years. As mentioned: potential downside is that they don’t roll small (and are not light) – whether that is an issue or not depends on individual circumstance.

The Big Agnes seems to still be
badly designed. Not that all fail but mine have twice. The valve housing abrades against the fabric and develops a wear hole in a place awkward to fix.

Finally I just got tired of sending them back.

I have been using an Exped Synmat 7 now for two years and find it far superior.

Not all paddlers think unlike backpackers. I cannot carry an Aerobed on portages.

Some folks swear by the Thermarest Neo Air but its some expensive(though seems to be coming down in price)

Best 2 nights sleep in a tent I have
ever had were this weekend,and I have been camping over 50 years.

Thermarest mattress on the bottom, a piece of memory foam on top of that, me on top of both. Heaven!

Ditto the Big Agnes…
Have had three Big Agnes pads fail on me due to delamination. One failed on night 4 of a 26 day expedition, I spent three weeks sleeping on the ground because of it. Not a fan of Big Agnes pads…

My Big Agnes Insulated Air Core seemed durable enough, but I noticed 3 problems. 1) It was very slippery on the tent floor and my sleeping bag. 2) It was too narrow. 3) It just didn’t have the comfort of the wider, thicker Exped Synmat 7 with its larger tubes.

airobed has a blow up pad 5’ thick ,
now my shoulders don’t hurt in the morning . comes in a tube that is also a pump to blow it up . My friends w/the big agnes carry pumps w/jury rigged valve fittings .

nighty night


but your shoulders must kill you on the
portages. No way am I carrying an Aerobed (and I have a queen and a twin). However they both make me seasick and the backpacking mats do not.

Love my Big Agnes Diversion pad

– Last Updated: Jun-01-11 12:19 PM EST –

I have had no problems with my Big Agnes Diversion pad, other than having to top off the inflation a bit every night, but I'm pretty heavy so it is to be expected. Maybe two breaths. It is 2 1/2 inches and extremely comfortable. You say the pad is slippery on the floor? It is supposed to go into a Big Agnes sleeping bag, so it does not even touch the tent floor. I generally lay a tarp on the tent floor, mainly for extra protection of the tent iteself and have never slid around at all. The valve on the pad sticks out of the sleeping bag and does not come into contact with any fabric. Not sure what it is rubbing on. Plus it rolls down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. That is a plus.

Thermarest NeoAir
I love my NeoAir. I have the wider long version and have been using it for 2 years.

Pros: very light, comfortable, insulated bottom

Cons: expensive, requires blowing up, shich can be a chore after a long day on the trail.