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April 25, 2010 Comments (0) Gear & Equipment, Reviews

Thermarest Sleep System Review

IMG_1551cWhile getting ready for his trip down to North Carolina, Tim Stetzer acquired a Thermarest Sleep system to review.  After spending a few cool spring nights in the system, he’s ready to report how well the system worked and how comfortably he slept under the stars.

 

 


 

TrailPro mattress, Ventra Down Comforter, Fitted Sheet and Compressible Pillow

When I was in my teens I used to eagerly take to the woods with not much more than my cheap department store sleeping bag.  It’d either go straight on the ground, or right on the floor of the tent at most. Rocks, roots, lumps, all seemed just fine for a bed for the night–but not anymore!  In my twenties I had upgraded to a better bag for backpacking, but still was generally content with sleeping with it right on the ground.  I did at least scope out a better spot for it by this point and tried to avoid any obviously lumpy spots.  As I got closer to thirty than twenty, I started realizing that the hard cold ground kind of sucks, and finally added a sleeping pad to my gear list for trips.  I ended up using an old Thermarest accordion style Z-Lite pad that I got from a buddy of mine.  This pad provided yeoman service for years and was my backpacking mainstay.  As I get closer to forty than thirty now, I’ve found myself once again in a transition and wishing that the ground was a little softer, like it seemed to be in the good old days.  Must be global warming or something.  The rocks seem harder, the roots seem pokier and the ground just seems more like sleeping on asphalt.  Luckily, the folks at Thermarest have a pretty broad line to accommodate just about anybody heading into the woods, no matter what stage of their lives they’re in, and no matter what type of trips they take and terrain they tackle.  I recently had a chance to check out a sleep system from Thermarest and it’s likely to change the way I hit the woods in the future.

IMG_1537cIMG_1539aNow, when I say sleep system, that’s exactly what I mean.  While I started looking at just pads, I ended up trying a whole new set up upon the advise of the good folks at Thermarest.  Juggling time away from work and the family these days is pretty tough so the bulk of camping anymore tends to be either car or base camping, or short 1 to 2 night treks with moderate hiking to the camp locations.  So I don’t really need an ultra light setup for the bulk of these trips. With that in mind, we started with a mid weight pad.  One that should work for car camping, but still pack down small, and light enough for an overnight, or couple day trip. Thermarest’s Large TrailPro was the pad we ended up going with.  This 2 inch thick pad is 25 inches wide and 77 inches long and weighs in at 2 pounds 11 ounces.  I opted for the larger version being a touch shy of 6 feet in height, and unfortunately topping out over 200 pounds.   The standard TrailPro comes in a little smaller, and a little lighter, if you’re a bit more svelte than I am.  The TrailPro is one of Thermarest’s self inflating pads.  Just unscrew the nozzle and let the pad inflate, then screw the nozzle back down so the air doesn’t come out when you lay on it.  Although most of my buddies have been using pads of this type for years this was actually the first time I’ve used this style sleeping pad.

IMG_1564aThe next part of the sleep system is a fitted sheet.  Yep, you heard that right, a fitted sheet for a camping sleeping pad.  The concept seems odd at first but it works great in practice.  The fitted sheet is made of a soft brushed polyester and slides right over the TrailPro pad.  It has an elasticized hem and bottom straps that make it easy to slip on, and which fit most Thermarest pads snugly.  Basically it works just like a fitted sheet for your bed at home.  Now you might wonder why in the world you’d need a fitted sheet on a trail pad and that’s were the next piece of the puzzle comes in to play.  Rounding out this portion of the sleep system is the Ventra Down Comforter.  Again, this might seem odd from a camping and backpacking standpoint but it’s a very interesting take on backwoods sleeping.  The Ventra Comforter is something like half of a sleeping bag.  The large model is 60 by 82 inches and filled with goose down.  Its big, fluffy and very comfortable. It has a toe pocket for you to slide the base of your sleeping pad into, and a series of snaps along the sides to snap it to the fitted sheet so that it stays in pace while you sleep.  Are things starting to make sense now?

IMG_1565aBasically you lay down your mattress, add the fitted sheet and then put on the comforter.  Just like at home!  The Ventra comforter comes in either a bright "Limon" (read yellow-green) or an orangish-red "Chili" color and weighs 2 pounds 5 ounces for the large model.  Once again you’ll shave a bit of size and space with the smaller version.  Both it and the fitted sheet come with their own stuff sacks and the comforter comes with a larger, ventilated zipper case for storing it when compression isn’t an issue.  The case easily fits both the sheet and comforter and is probably a good option for car camping and such where you aren’t trying to make use of every square inch of space in your pack.  Finally, what bed would be complete without a pillow?  Thermarest also threw in one of their compressible pillows.  After all, if you’ve gone this far you may as well round out your bed in style.  I received a medium sized pillow in denim color.  It’s 14 inches by 18 inches in size, and filled with Polyurethane foam.  It folds in half and tucks into a pocket on one end to make it a bit more packable.

IMG_1546aNow, I have to admit that I probably would not have tried this system if it hadn’t been recommended to me by the folks at Thermarest.  It’s sort of outside the box set up and honestly I thought it seemed a little decadent to have a sheet and comforter in the woods.  Keep in mind, it wasn’t that long ago that I’d just take my bag out in the woods, throw it down and crawl in.  Now I was going to be carrying a mattress, a sheet and a comforter with me?  What next?  Fuzzy bunny slippers and a robe! It just didn’t seem very rugged and outdoorsy I guess.  But, being the intrepid journalist that I am, I took one for the team for our Woodsmonkey readers, and took the sleep system with me on a 5 day trip to North Carolina this spring.  This was the annual Practice What You Preach event held by occasional Woodsmonkey contributor Terrill Hoffman, and I’d be meeting up with a number of the Monkey staff there.  In fact I would be staying with Joe Flowers in the big 12 by 14 foot Woods CA Prospectors tent that he reviewed for Woodsmonkey last fall.  It’s a pretty luxurious tent to stay in so the fancy sleep system would be right at home in there.  Heck, we really could have easily had a few cots instead but I haven’t stooped to that level just yet.  Maybe in a couple more months!

Weather for the trip looked to be about optimal for the Thermarest sleep system.  The comforter was rated to about 40 degrees and we were looking at nights in the upper 30’s and low 40’s so I was right in the target range for the product.  Honestly, I was a little hesitant about that rating.  I know I’ve been in sleeping bags before right at their rated temperatures and while I didn’t die of hypothermia or anything, I can say I’ve had some miserably cold nights.  Generally I try and find a bag rated a fair bit colder than the temps I intend on being out in.  Not having a full bag, with nothing underneath me also was something of a concern.  Would the TrailPro pad and sheet be enough to insulate me from the cold ground?  I tossed a heavy wool surplus blanket in with my gear just in case.

IMG_1555aSetup of the sleep system was pretty easy.  I hadn’t worked with it before the trip but it only took a few minutes to pull everything out, inflate the mattress, slide on the sheet and connect the comforter to it.  A quick test run was pretty promising.  Being on the pad under the comforter was pretty roomy.  It was a big difference from the confines of a mummy bag.  I had plenty of room to move around, and the sheet and comforter were very comfortable.  I tend to be a side sleeper so in a mummy bag, I’m usually rolling with the bag.  Not so with the comforter.  It looked like I was going to have plenty of room to move around.  The next four nights confirmed these initial impressions.  While I was a little skeptical of the concept initially I was sold after the first night.  For me, it was much more comfortable having room to move and being able to roll over without taking the whole bag with me.  It’s hard to actually express how much different it was in fact.  It was much more akin to sleeping in a bed at home than being in a tent in the middle of the woods.  I really liked the freedom that this system provided.  My concerns about warmth proved unfounded as well.  The TrailPro does a very good job of insulating you from the cold ground and the comforter did indeed work in the low 40 degree nights just fine.  It wasn’t just bearable, but actually very comfortable.  I was toasty warm three of the four nights.  The one night were the temps dropped into the 30’s I did add the wool blanket to the mix, initially anticipating needing the extra layer.  As it turns out, I really didn’t and I ended up loosing it part way through the night and was still fine.  I think its pretty safe to say that the 40 degree rating on the Ventra comforter is at least accurate, and maybe even underestimates its capabilities somewhat.  I was impressed with how well the system handled the cold, even with just the pad and sheet underneath you.  The Compressible Pillow was a nice touch as well, and a welcome change from having a jacket rolled up and stuffed under my head.

IMG_1550aNow, was the whole set up peaches and roses?  Almost.  The only issue I had was with the TrailPro itself.  While it did a good job of insulating against the cold, I think I was expecting a bit more from it in the padding department.  I noticed on the first night that when I slept on my side, my hip and shoulder would still contact the ground through the pad.  I found myself waking up semi frequently to shift positions and get comfortable again.  Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’m no skinny, granola munching, hiking machine.  I suspect if you’re not carrying the aftermath of a few too many pizza’s and six packs like I am, that this may not be as much of an issue for you.  It also didn’t seem bad at all if you’re a back sleeper.  The ground we were on wasn’t the softest stuff either.  When I tried the pad out later on the grass at home there seemed to be a big difference, so choose your sleeping location wisely!  Also, I can honestly say that while I think I was anticipating a bit more cushioning than I got from the TrailPro, it was definitely a big step up from my old accordion foam pad. 

IMG_1544aAnother plus in my book was the size of the TrailPro.  I really liked the option of the Large mattress.  The 77 by 25 inch size was plenty big enough for me, and I never found myself half off of the mattress during the night.  I think for base camp use and car camping, I may well look into one of the thicker 3 or 3 1/2 inch Thermarest pads, like the Luxury Map or DreamTime models, but for trips where you may be strapping your gear to your back and hiking in for a couple of days, the TrailPro is probably still a good compromise. Speaking of strapping gear to your back, I tried out the sleep system with my old standby EMS pack that I’ve been using forever.  The down Ventra comforter packed down small and the fitted sheet is very compact as well when its in its stuff sack.  The TrailPro rolls up and attached to the outside of my pack in a package fairly comparable to my old Z-Lite pad.  The pillow was really the bulkiest item, but even that went in without too much problem.  I should still have enough room for my Marmot one person tent, a change of clothes, a rain jacket and food for a weekend trip too.  I don’t think this is a set up for a week or two on the Appalachian Trail, but it should work out fine for shorter trips.  Obviously its not going to be an issue at all for car camping trips.

IMG_1572aOverall, I was really pleased with the sleep system from Thermarest.  I loved the sheet and comforter set up.  As skeptical as I was about the general idea and how it would work in the field, using it for a week really made me a believer.  It was much more comfortable than being in a mummy bag and offered plenty of warmth for most 3 season trips.  The pillow is a nice bonus if you have the space, although it would probably be the one item I would drop if space was tight.  If I can fit it though, I’m bringing it.  The TrailPro pad works as advertised.  I may have had a little unrealistic expectations of it, but I think when you look at its intended use it works out just fine.  It isn’t a battery operated inflatable air bed, but that isn’t its intended role.  It offers good protection from the ground and is a decent step up from your basic foam ground pads.  The Large TrailPro runs for about $99.95, the fitted sheet $24.95 and the large Ventra comforter is $229.95.  The medium sized Compressible Pillow goes for about $22.95.  So you’re looking at about $380 for a Large set up, and a bit less for the regular size.  That isn’t inexpensive, but you’re getting a unique and high quality sleep system for the price.  Thermarest has put a lot of thought into this set up and it really does show through in the comfort you receive out on the field.

If you’re tired of the restricted confines of your mummy bag, and would like to sleep in the woods more like you do at home, then definitely give a long hard look to the Ventra Comforter and the rest of the system that goes with it.  You certainly don’t have to go with the set up I used either.  You can mix and match sleeping pads and pillows to suit your needs, and even go to the lighter weight Tech Blanket if you don’t need the warmth of the Ventra.  Part of the beauty of the system is that you can tailor each individual piece to what you need.

Visit: www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest

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