As with most things gear related, the process of finding the right sleep system when out camping or cycle touring usually takes a fair amount of trial and error. Taking recommendations from blogs, faceless forum contributors, or friends can help us narrow down our search, but we can still end up purchasing something that ends up not being quite what we want. And so that item gets sold on, passed on, or hidden away in the basement, we consider what worked and didn’t work about it and hopefully the replacement item gets us closer to our ideal. Complicating this is that we change as well. Our bodies change, or priorities change, the way in which we enjoy our hobbies changes, and so our needs change. All of these factors contribute to make finding the right gear a serious (and sometimes expensive) challenge. Nowhere is this more frustrating but also more necessary than when deciding on equipment to give you the best possible sleep in camp.
When I first got back into camping as an adult (after spending a lot of time camping with the Boy Scouts as a child), I bought the same mattress a friend in university had, a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite. I didn’t know anything about it, other than that my buddy used one and he said it was great. That was all I had to go on. After purchasing it and using it, I very quickly understood the limitations of this pad: mainly, it’s quite bulky when packed up, and it provides very little in the way of padding. This is probably fine when you’re a university student, but less suitable as you get older. There’s a lot to like about the pad though, in that it is light and very simple. It’s not going to leak out in the middle of the night on you. Therm-a-Rest now offers the Z Lite SOL, which is the same design but with a reflective surface to raise the R value of the pad. The bulkiness of the pad makes it less suitable for bike touring, and I needed a bit more support when sleeping, especially when we’re talking about multiple nights in a row. As a side sleeper, this pad just couldn’t do what I needed.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite
Simple, not much can go wrong with it
Can double as a pad for sitting around at camp
Can be used on bare ground
Bulky when packed
Very thin, not much cushioning
Buy it if you’re on a budget and don’t mind sleeping a bit rough.
Look elsewhere if you need a more supportive night’s sleep.