Labor Day weekend. Your last unofficial weekend of Summer. Your last chance to squeeze in one more outdoor weekend getaway and soak up the sounds, sights, and serenity of Summer. Ahhhhhh...
Well, that was my thinking last year, anyway. Here was the scenario:
Scott: "Hey, you want to hike the Superior Hiking Trail this weekend?"
Scott: "Ok, so, we'll head north this weekend. Cool."
That was a week or so before Labor Day weekend, and that was also where our planning ended. We didn't reserve a campsite, we didn't call any camps, we just loaded up the BMP wagon and pointed it north!
As we neared the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), we stayed away from the state parks on the north shore, which we knew would be packed, and headed to an off-the-beaten-path, fairly primitive campground in Finland State Forest. Scott thought we'd have no problem finding a camping site--he'd been here a few times before, and the place was always deserted. Not only were all the nicely groomed campsites taken, every not-so-nicely groomed campsite was taken, along with every inch of the Forest that could even remotely be considered a camping space.
Ok, so, no worries, on to the next option. Unfortunately, the next option turned out to be exactly the same. So did the next two options. Campers were shoe-horned in to every park, forest, and campground we could find. Hhhmmmm, Labor Day weekend is busy in the great outdoors...
Just when I was starting to have visions of us camping on the side of Highway 61, falling asleep to the sound of cars and trucks flying by us at 75 mph, we stumbled upon a mom and pop fishing resort with a small campground. They had one campsite remaining. It was the last campsite for 40 miles, according to the owner--it's Labor Day weekend, dontcha know?!?--so if we wanted to camp, we'd better take it!
So, there we were. Squashed in the middle of every other campsite, and up close and personal with the Andersons, the Johnsons, and seemingly, every other family in the state of Minnesota. Ah, the sounds of nature surrounded us. Along with screaming kids, motor boats, drunk parents, and raccoons scurrying around trying to find any scrap of food. Wait. Where was that Summer serenity?
Even with all our frustrations, I was really looking forward to our SHT hike the next day, and since it's a long and fairly arduous hike, we went to bed early. Here's where my Trail Tested experience comes into play.
Scott had brought the usual camping pads for us to sleep on. He's had these original, first generation Therm-a-rest pads since the late '80s and it shows. Each pad was discolored, grimy, and spotted with splotches of repair goop and the occasional piece of duct tape. Maybe it was because we previously slept in the woods and had extra padding in pine needles, but I never had an issue with those sleeping pads. However, that night, I almost threw them in the lake. I don't know if it was the tree roots we were forced to sleep on, the ground slope when we were laying down, the lack of ground cover/natural padding, or something else entirely, but I have never slept so poorly in my life. When Scott woke up in the morning, the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm never camping again." Perhaps a slight overreaction. Perhaps.
Nothing could be done to remedy the sleepless situation at the time, but as soon as we got home, Scott bought a Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream sleeping pad. He told me I'd love sleeping outdoors again. I scoffed. Then, I tried it. Holy cow.
The NeoAir Dream is a luxury bed in your tent. Here's how it works:
- It's a multiple layer, modular sleeping pad with a 3" thick inflatable NeoAir pad at its core. On top of that is a layer of open cell foam pad. The thickness of the sleeping pad prevents you from feeling the ground underneath you, so if you're sleeping on tree roots, you'll never know.
- Both the inflatable pad and the open cell foam pad are sandwiched in a tough cordura case with a micro fleece top. This micro fleece is soft and comfortable--not all plastic-y like a lot of sleeping pads--allowing you to sleep without a sleeping bag and just use a blanket if it's warm enough outside.
- The full package is rated with an R-Value of 6, which is quite respectable (the rating scale ranges from 1 - 9.5; the higher the rating, the better insulation the pad provides). Since your body can lose a lot of heat to the cold ground, having a pad with a decent R-value is a key factor in sleeping warmly outdoors.
- The NeoAir Dream takes about five minutes to blow up (you can attach the carrying bag to the air nozzle and use the bag to inflate it about 80%; then, it only takes a couple of minutes to blow in the rest of the air).
There are a couple of CONsiderations for the NeoAir Dream though:
- It's heavy and bulky. It weighs in at about five pounds. The NeoAir is definitely only for car camping or possibly canoe or sled trips where you aren't watching every ounce. Definitely not making an ultra-light gear list. However, this pad is really two pads in one. You can remove the inner core for a lighter and much more compact sleeping pad (check out the photos on the right). Most of the other super-thick, high R-Value pads are one unit with less flexibility.
- It's expensive! Almost kind of ridiculous how much the NeoAir costs...until you sleep on it. But even still, the cost is definitely something to consider. We car camp quite a bit, so we are getting our money's worth out of it, and Scott's philosophy is that if your gear allows you to comfortably camp where you'd otherwise get a hotel room, the gear has paid for itself (just in case you need help rationalizing the decision to buy one (or two) of these pads).
- You might have to share it. If you only have one NeoAir Dream, you're gonna have to flip for it with your camping partner because no one is giving this thing up willingly. Or you could buy two, but that brings up back up to #2 on the list here.
- You can pop it. Just like any other inflatable sleeping pad, it can be popped. No repair kit comes with it, so you're on your own if you damage it.
- It's not self-inflating like the regular Therm-a-rest pads. Again, it doesn't take much effort to inflate, but at the end of some backpacking and canoeing days, that extra effort to set up your bed feels like an eternity.
Overall, I can't tell you how much I love this thing! It made me agree to sleeping outdoors again, which is saying a lot after last year's Labor Day weekend. So, if you're looking for a new sleeping pad for camping, check out the NeoAir Dream. Or, you can check out ours the next time you're on a trip with BMP!
Do you have a sleeping pad you like to use? Email us or drop a comment below, and let us know about your preferred sleeping gear!