My sleeping pad is a good example of a piece of gear that was switched out multiple times during my hike. Due to a fire mishap with my alcohol stove, I burned up my Neo Air (9oz) mid-way through Colorado. I hiked for a week with a flat sleeping pad before getting to Salida, CO where I purchased the lightest sleeping pad they had, the non-inflatable Ridgerest (14oz). There’s nothing quite like sleeping on air when in the backcountry, and while using the Ridgerest was more comfortable than rocks, I wanted to try another inflatable pad. I asked around and heard good things about the Gossamer Gear AirBeam (11.7oz), so in Leadore, ID received the new mattress.
Neo Air: I had been using this sleeping pad for years on various hiking and packrafting trips. In addition to being the lightest option out of the three pads I used, I loved how small the pad packed down, and the short mattress doesn’t require 10 minutes to blow up, unlike the Neo Air long mattress I also use at home. Because it was a short mattress I would put my pack under my feet to keep them off the ground and even though I camped near quite a few prickly and poky things in New Mexico, never got a hole. Even if I had, I was carrying small square bike patches which I found work well for fixing small holes in the mattress. I was super comfortable sleeping on this pad, and found it to be warm and well insulated from the ground no matter what the temperature. I camped on snow the first few nights in the San Juans, and the cold snow condensed the air in the pad during the night, causing me to wake up a few times to re-inflate, but overall this was an excellent option for a thru-hike and was worth spending an extra minute to make sure I wasn’t sleeping on anything pokey.
Ridgerest: I picked up the Ridgerest, and right off the bat loved being able to pull it out on breaks (I had it strapped to the outside of my pack) to sit on instead of my piece of tyvek which I normally used. Because it is a closed cell foam, it didn’t pack down at all, and could only really attach to the outside of the pack. In my opinion sleeping on one of these pads is only slightly better than sleeping right on the ground. It does insulate you a bit, and provides a smidgen of cushion, but it was a hard adjustment after sleeping on air the two months before my stove accident. If you are afraid of popping your mattress, and enjoy cushioned breaks, this might be the pad for you.
Air Beam: I never measured the cushion of the Neo Air as compared to the Air Beam, but I seemed to float off the ground at least as much as with the Neo Air, perhaps even more. The long baffles seemed to inflate faster than the Neo Air, and the fabric used for this mattress also seemed a bit stouter. Because the baffles were deep on the pad, I would get sand and debris in between the folds, causing a hole that appeared at the end of the hike, but it was easily patchable with some tenacious tape. This pad was wider than the Neo Air…which was nice as I am a restless sleeper who can toss and turn during the night, and it was also short, so like with the Neo Air I would place my pack at my feet to insulate them from the ground. I noticed an incredible difference in the quality of my sleep after switching from the Ridgerest, and rarely had to blow the pad up during the night. Another great option for thru-hiking!