Letter to the Editor:
Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad: Packing Secret?
by Wes Kisting
Here, I describe a simple packing technique which is so familiar to me that I never thought to share it until a frustrated packer wrote me this plea for help (below). If your self-inflating sleeping pad stubbornly refuses to pack as small as when you first bought it, keep reading.
I use the [ThermaRest] Prolite 4 self inflating camp mattress that you recommend on your website. When I bought it, it was vaccuum packed to a very small size, but ever since I took it out of the original wrapper, I have not been able to pack it so small again. What is the secret?
Dear Frustrated Packer,
I completely understand your frustration. Many years ago, I worked in a sporting goods store where the customers would regularly pull ThermaRest pads out of the wrapper to see how the self-inflation feature worked. At the end of the night, it was part of my job to put them all back in the packaging again. At first, I thought it was an impossible task, and like you, I was convinced they must come vaccuum-sealed from the factory. As it turns out, a vaccuum-sealer is not required, but there is a secret to getting them to pack small. Once you hear it, you'll probably be surprised (as I was) that you didn't think of it earlier. I'll give you a hint: It's pretty much the same concept as squeezing that last extra bit of toothpaste out of the toothpaste roll.
The secret is this: You roll up the pad twice. On the first roll, roll the mattress up as tightly as you can, but do it quickly: Don't worry about squeezing out every last bit of air on the first pass (that's impossible, as you've discovered). While you roll, you can kneel on the roll intermittently to help deflate the pad faster. When you finish rolling the pad up, close the self-inflating air valve tightly. Next, with the valve still closed, spread out the mattress again. Because the air valve is closed, the mattress will stay deflated. Now roll up the pad a second time. You will find that it's much easier to roll much tighter on this second pass. As you roll, the air will be forced toward the valve end, but do not open the valve until you are almost completely finished rolling. When you get roughly 10 inches from the end, a pillow of air will be trapped against the closed valve. Open the air valve to release this trapped air as you finish rolling. End by kneeling on the roll to squeeze out any remaining air. Before you remove your knee, close the valve tightly again. The mattress should stay rolled, and should be very nearly as compact as when you bought it!
The procedure takes longer to describe than it does to perform. Once you try it, you will immediately see why rolling up your sleeping pad in two passes is much more effective. Using this method, I can pack up my pad in about 30 seconds. One additional tip: I fold my sleeping pad in half (lengthwise) before the second pass so that the resulting bundle fits easily into a 10-liter dry bag.
[Editor's Note: Frustrated Packers's comments have been shortened for conciseness.]
© 2006, Wesley Kisting