By: Travis Mewhirter
Sleep doesn’t come easy in the woods. Not that many things come easy out in the wilderness, but that’s also kind of the point of backpacking and camping, isn’t it? To leave behind all the niceties and comforts of home and return to the gritty, natural, satisfying way of life out in the wild, where the only thing we really require is – well, not much, really. A little food, water, and some good company, if you choose to have it. But sleep is one of the tougher aspects of camping.
The first time I camped, we set up our tent on a down-slope of a damp, sandy hill, with no sleeping pad but plenty of rocks. It wasn’t incredibly pleasant, and around 5 in the morning I finally gave up and began collecting wood to make the fire and started boiling water for some oatmeal. Sleeping pads, since then, have become something of a fascination for me. I’ve tried a few, and this weekend, out in Big Pine, California, with my in-laws, I experimented with TETON’s Universal Camp Pad.
It was the first sleeping pad I’ve used that wasn’t inflatable – an enormous plus I didn’t expect. Typically, the inflate/deflate portion of the late evening and early morning, respectively, is more of a burden than you’d think. I’m 6-foot-5, so hunching over while inflating and deflating and rolling up an inflatable sleep pad into a tight enough log to fit into a tiny bag is quite the ordeal in our little tent. The Universal Camp Pad erased all of that. You simply unhook it from your pack, roll it out and…that’s it.It was the easiest, most convenient pre- and post-sleep process I’ve ever done while camping. Another surprise came when I rolled it out for the first time – and it just kept on rolling.
As I mentioned, I’m 6-foot-5, so finding a sleeping pad that fits all of me, but isn’t too big for the tent, is an almost-impossible challenge. Most of the inflatable ones I’ve used are too small, so something is hanging off, be it my head or my feet. It isn’t a huge issue, but it was quite the delight to have everything on one pad with the Universal Camp Pad. It fit all 6-foot-5 of me with no issue, and if you’re concerned that it would be too big for you or your tent, it’s no concern at all.
Whatever extra padding you have you can simply roll up and use as a pillow, which is what my brother-in-law opted to do when he tried it out. It was a perfect, tightly-rolled, all-in-one sleep package -- pillow included. It almost goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that it’s far more comfortable than any inflatable pad, and any that I’ve tried that are not inflatable, too. It’s thick, like a small mattress, but not too bulky that it’s a pain to travel with (it is heavy enough that long backpacking trips may be difficult). It doesn’t squish around when you roll in your sleep; it simply behaves like a mattress, adjusting to your body.
I’d recommend it mostly for smaller hikes. It does have decent weight and size to it, so taking it on a 20-mile loop, as we did, isn’t the most space- or size-efficient decision, but we managed just fine.In terms of comfort, it’s unrivaled by anything I’ve slept on in the woods, and it’s easily the fastest to set up and pack again. Not much comes easy in the wilderness, but with the Universal Camp Pad, sleep certainly does.
About the Author:
Travis Mewhirter is an award-winning journalist, author of four books, podcast host, and professional beach volleyball player. Raised in Hampstead, Maryland, he moved to California when he was 25, and has since made a career of being outside -- either on the beach or in the mountains, writing wherever he goes. When he's not playing beach volleyball, you can find him in the mountains, camping with his wife, Delaney.