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Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional items to improve my own backpacking kit, but I am also looking for gear of interest for anyone wanting to lighten their load.

A blog is also the ideal place to post some random philosophical thoughts about UL backpacking and why we do it. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. When I'm out hiking by myself, my mind wanders and some interesting thoughts rise to the surface. A blog is the perfect place to share and discuss ideas. I hope readers of this blog will add their wisdom to my comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers (Inflatable Sleeping Pads)



By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Introduction
Ultralight gear keeps getting better, and provides more creature comfort. Nowadays many UL backpackers choose a lightweight inflatable sleeping pad instead of a closed cell foam pad. Why? -- Because the weight is similar (except for the skimpiest CCF pads), they are less bulky to pack, and they are much more comfortable. Bottom line, a good night’s sleep is very important after a full day on the trail, so many hikers choose a comfortable sleeping pad for their luxury item.

For an ultralight inflatable sleeping pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite is state-of-the-art. But it’s not perfect. Although its very lightweight, comfortable, and provides some insulation, the NeoAirs are very expensive, a bit narrow when inflated, noisy, and have a noticeable “drop-off” at the foot end if you choose the shorter pad.

For awhile we had the Kooka Bay inflatable pads, which were both lightweight and inexpensive, but unfortunately Kooka Bay is now out of business. The new Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers fill that niche, and significantly improve on the design and quality.

Description
While simple air-only inflatable sleeping pads from other companies (except the NeoAir) are simply not light enough or durable enough, the new Gossamer Gear pads get it right with adequately durable materials, quality construction, sleeper-friendly design, and reasonable pricing.

The Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers currently come in four sizes; I tested three sizes: S, M, and XL.
The initial launch of the Air Beam Sleepers comes in four sizes, as summarized in the following table. Data are Gossamer Gear specifications.

Size
Width (inches)
Length (inches)
Thickness (inches)
Weight (ounces)
Cost (USD)
S
21 tapering to 14.5
36
2.5 tapering to 1.5
7.2
82
M
21 tapering to 14.5
48
2.5 tapering to 1.5
9.05
88
L
21 tapering to 14.5
56
2.5 tapering to 1.5
10.35
95
XL
28 tapering to 19
56
2.5 tapering to 1.5
13.8
99

Notable features evident from the table, and other observations:
  • The pad width is tapered to save weight. Also, the outer tubes are slightly larger in diameter to help a sleeper stay centered on the pad. Gossamer Gear describes this feature as follows: “Slightly higher side rails to let you know when you are on the edge.”
  • Pad thickness is also tapered to minimize the drop-off at the foot end. The foot end drop-off of other manufacturer’s pads makes it feel like your feet are hanging over a cliff. The design of the GG pads minimizes that issue.
  • A feature useful to some hikers is integrated tabs on the sides of the Sleepers for securing them to a quilt or foam pad.
  • The weights of the Gossamer Gear pads are comparable to the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir pads. (The pad dimensions differ so it’s hard to directly compare weights.)
  • The Gossamer Gear pads sell for about half the cost of the NeoAir pads.
  • So far, the Gossamer Gear pads are only available in shorter lengths. This is apparently due to the limited width (60 inches) of the bulk fabric. Although many UL backpackers will choose a shorter pad to save weight, many LW packpackers will insist on a full-length (72 inches long) pad, so Gossamer Gear needs to offer a full-length pad pronto, or lose a lot of sales.
 Testing
I tested the pads on several backpacking trips and a car camping trip where my wife and I slept on the Gossamer Gear pads in a floorless tent and a double-wall tent, in temperatures down to freezing.

Gossamer Gear size L pad in a floorless pyramid shelter; the nighttime low was 34F. I used a LW inflatable pillow at the head end and put my empty backpack under my feet.
We camped one night in a LW two person double wall tent out in the dunes at White Sands National Park, New Mexico; the morning low was a chilly 33F.
Our observations after testing the pads in several shelters and conditions:
  • The pads inflate quickly by mouth, faster than the NeoAir pads.
  • The top and bottom fabrics are a good balance of lightweight and durability; we did not have any punctures, but it is still wise to avoid camping on sharp objects.
  • The top and bottom fabrics have good slide resistance; we did not have any problems with sliding around on a plastic groundsheet or nylon tent floor.
  • Janet reported some issues with staying on the size M pad, although that was not an issue for me on the size XL pad; more on this below.
  • For colder weather camping on a shorter pad, we found it necessary to use a LW inflatable pillow (or other gear) to support our head, and lay our empty backpacks at the foot end to insulate our feet. This is a typical routine for using a shorter sleeping pad (48 inches long or less).
  • On colder nights, which were the case for most of our testing, we felt our bottomside getting cold at around 35F. The pads are uninsulated and require some supplementary insulation for camping in colder temperatures.
I found that a 1/8-inch thick Gossamer Gear NightLight foam pad on top of the inflatable pad is sufficient to stay warm on colder nights. The thin pad stays in place very well and actually molds to the contours of the inflatable pad. A thicker foam pad, e.g. the Gossamer Gear ¼-inch thick ThinLight is overkill for temperatures around freezing but is a good choice for sleeping temperatures below around 25F.
 The “higher side rails” feature, meaning larger diameter outside tubes, applies to only the size XL pad. After my wife and I had dissimilar experiences sleeping on the pads, we looked more closely at the tube diameter difference in the pads, and found something interesting. The size XL (wide) pad has distinctly wider outside tubes; laid flat, the outside tubes are 25 millimeters wider at the top and bottom of the pad, meaning the tubes will inflate to a larger diameter. However, the outside tube width in the S and M sizes we tested is the same as its neighbors at the head end of the pad and 6-7 millimeters wider at the foot end of the pad. So, for the size XL pad, the larger outside tubes definitely provide their intended higher side rail function, but the similar tube sizing in the other pad sizes does not provide any effective side rail function at all (only a slightly larger tube diameter at the foot end).

I consulted with Gossamer Gear on the discrepancy and learned that, in the manufacturing process, they found it expedient to go with only one "die" to press the pads. The (expensive) die they use is the size of the XL pads; for the other pad sizes they omit the inside tubes, so the tubes are in fact all the same size. They hope to make standard size (72-inch long) pads in the next production run.

The size XL pad has distinctly larger outer tubes, which serve a "side rail" function, but the outer tubes on the other sizes we tested (S, M) are only slightly larger at the foot end, so no side rail function.
Another observation to note on the air-only inflatable pads is the feeling of floating while sleeping on them. Basically you feel like you are floating, like sleeping on a waterbed. Sleeping on an inflatable foam pad (like a traditional Therm-A-Rest) provides more support for your body, so you don’t feel like you are floating. All this is saying is that you need to get accustomed to sleeping on an airbed.

Evaluation
Overall we are very positive on the new Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers. They are well-designed, a good balance of lightweight and durability, incorporate some innovative sleeper-friendly features, and are reasonably priced.

Pros:
  • Pads are sleeper-friendly with their tapering width and thickness, plus oversized outside tubes (XL pad only).
  • Weight is comparable with the NeoAir pads.
  • Cost is about half that of the NeoAir pads.
  • Fabric is a great balance of lightweight and durability, slip-resistant, and a cheerful color.
  • They inflate quickly and are very comfortable to sleep on, much more comfortable than a closed cell foam pad.
 Cons:
  • No full-length (72-inch) sizes are currently available; which is a glaring deficiency in the sizes available.
  • Only the size XL pad clearly has larger outside tubes to provide a side rail effect, that feature is missing on the other pad sizes.
  • An air-only inflatable sleeping pad, i.e. an airbed, gives a floating feeling, while a foam core inflatable pad is more supportive (but heavier).
  • These uninsulated pads are cold to sleep on when temperatures drop below about 35F. (However, that is easily remedied by placing a Gossamer Gear ThinLight foam pad on top of the inflatable pad; the 1/8-inch thick 2.6 ounce ThinLight is sufficient.)

7 comments:

  1. Half the price of a Neoair is nice, but presumably manufactured in Asia? Worth taking into consideration for the pricing consideration.

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    Replies
    1. Asia? Gossamer Gear is based out of Austin, TX. Maybe you know something I don't?

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    2. Yes, I believe they are made in Asia, while NeoAir is made in Seattle area.

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  2. on one hand im obsessive about shaving grams, but on the other hand i never forego comfort if i can at all help it, particularly sleeping comfort. my base pack weight is just above 10 lbs and i could easily break that psychologically important barrier if i wasnt so insistent on getting a very good night's sleep. since i refuse to compromise with hip-bruising thin pads or bone-chilling lack of insulation, i carry 2 pads, a lightweight inflatable and a closed cell too, used together. not only can i side-sleep without bottoming out onto solid ground, or laying on a big soft ice pack, i also dont risk wetting up on pooled condensation in the eggshell pad, and slippage is minimized as well, for whatever reason. i have seen this become a trend that is growing lately and i can wholeheartedly vouch for it!

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  3. I'm the same, I just can't get a good night's sleep on only a closed-cell foam sleeping pad, so prefer an inflatable pad. But nowadays you can get an inflatable pad that weighs about the same as a closed-cell foam pad, and its a lot more comfortable. I find they are warm enough down to about 35F, below that they get a bit chilly on the bottomside, unless you add insulation of some kind.

    Another consideration with using an inflatable pad instead of CCF is you don't have the CCF pad to stiffen your frameless backpack to create a virtual frame.

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  4. Love the review. Gossamer Gear makes quality equipment. (Made right here in the U.S.A. in Austin Texas, by the way) I have a Mariposa and love it. I want to get a couple of these Air Beams. I tried your coupon code for a break on the price and it did not work. Any chance of fixing that? I could use the break.
    Thanks again for the great review.

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  5. Wonderful work you have done! I love your work spirit and you had posted too informative post.

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    ReplyDelete