When Philip and I went car camping for the first time last December, I realized that I was a back sleeper and could not get a good night’s sleep on a standard 19 inch wide pad. My arms were not supported, putting a painful strain on my back and shoulders. I tried crossing my arms over my chest like an Egyptian mummy, but they felt uncomfortable that way and they slid off. If anyone can tell me how a back sleeper can get a night’s rest on a narrow pad, I’d love to know.
I bought a wider thicker pad, the REI Camp Bed 3.5 Self-Inflating Pad. I chose it based on a combination of reviews attesting to its comfort, and frugality. In the realm of “luxury” pads, it is relatively cheap, especially since I was able to get it on clearance. It is 25″ wide by 72″ long and at 3.5″ thick seemed perfectly comfortable when I tried it out at home. I was eagerly anticipating using it. It is heavy at 5 pounds and bulky (6.25″ by 26″) even when tightly rolled, but this did not seem like it would be an issue for car camping.
My first opportunity to use the REI Camp Bed for an extended period of nightly sleeping required taking an airplane. Unfortunately, once I had rolled and tied this pad and placed it into my 30″ rolling duffel, there was little room for anything else! This could not be. (Philip and I usually travel carry-on only and no way was I taking a second checked bag.) Philip offered to lend me his Therm-a-Rest All Season Sleeping Pad and although it was narrow it was much thicker than the one I had used last December. I figured I would manage. Besides it fit neatly into a small corner of my luggage.
I used it for one night and got less than two hours of sleep. Not only was it narrow, but it crinkled as inflatable pads do, so that whenever I did fall asleep, I would get woken up at the sound caused by any slight movement I might make. (Yes, I am a very light sleeper.) This excursion was not a car camping vacation, but an extended visit to care for an elderly relative. I knew I would need my sleep. The next morning we went pad shopping.
This time I chose the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream Sleeping Pad. I got the large size which is 25 inches wide by 77 inches long. It weighs 4 pounds 2 ounces and has a packed size of 16″ by 10″. It comes with a stuff sack which doubles as a pump sack for the pad. There is an extra large version which is a full 30 inches wide, but seemed way too decadent, even for car camping.
After a month of sleep-filled happy nights, sleeping on the floor of our sick relative’s living room, I can truly say that the NeoAir Dream is a dream to sleep on. It is both soft and supportive and allowed me to sleep comfortably on my back. To my surprise I could also sleep on my side since the pad was giving enough that my underneath arm did not fall asleep from pressure.
The NeoAir Dream pad is actually a pad system consisting of two pads and a washable cover. On the bottom is a Therm-a-Rest inflatable pad very much like the Therm-a-Rest All Season and you can inflate it to be more or less firm as you choose. On top is an inch of plain squishy white foam. This provides the dreamy softness which makes this pad so special. And the foam along with the cover muffle the crinkly sound of the inflatable pad.
The cover holds these two components together. It has a polyester flannel top and polyester canvas sides and bottom. There is a zipper which runs in an L-shape the full length of one of the long and short sides so that the cover can easily be removed for washing and replaced. In addition, there are sewn on compression and tying straps so that the pad system can easily be rolled into a relatively compact cylinder for travel. The inflatable pad can also be removed and used on its own.
The NeoAir Dream is so comfortable that by the end of the month I was joking about using it on top of our futon at home. It certainly will be used as an extra guest bed and adds to my anticipation of future car camping. Oh, and when it was time to take the plane home the Dream fit nicely into my rolling duffel suitcase.
- R-value: 6.0
- Weight: 4 pounds 2 ounces
- Thickness: 4 inches
- Width: 25 inches
- Length: 77 inches
- Top Fabric: Fleece, Light Weight Poly
- Bottom Fabric: 300d Polyester
- Core: Nylon + PU Foam
Disclosure: Captain Mouse purchased this sleeping pad with her own money.
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