Sleeping On A Pool Toy: The Trouble I’ve Had Finding A High-Quality Sleeping Pad

I wrote about this quite extensively in my review of the Exped Downmat 7 sleeping pad, but when I arrived in South Africa I quickly discovered that my third Exped sleeping mat had a new and major defect in it. I slept on the pad for the first week of my bicycle tour across South Africa, but the defect was growing and I feared I would be able to survive the next month and a half of camping on this sleeping pad with a major bubble in the middle of it.


So when I arrived in Beaufort West, South Africa (the first ‘major’ city I had seen since leaving Cape Town), one of the few things on my agenda was to find a new sleeping pad. This, however, turned out to be more difficult than I imagined.

I had thought that with the Karoo National Park so close to the city and with several campgrounds nearby, there would be at least one or more camping stores in the city with a whole host of tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and more. But camping on the ground, it turns out, is not the way that most South Africans camp. Instead, most individuals either stay in guesthouses or the real rough ones will camp in RVs (which is not really camping). So there were no camping stores in Beaufort West.

I did, however, manage to find a small hunting/ATV/motorcycle store that had a small sleeping pad for sale for only 150 Rand (about $16 USD). I bought it and crossed my fingers that it would work.


The good thing about this particular sleeping pad was that it was almost the same size as the Exped sleeping mat. The nozzle used the blow the thing up was smaller and more like that of a pool toy, and I knew that this would make blowing the pad up and deflating it each day a small nightmare, but I crossed my fingers and hoped that it would get me through the rest of my trip.


Sadly, the sleeping mat did not last. It worked well for about a week, then it started to slowly lose air throughout the night. At first I would have to blow the mattress back up just once during the middle of the night. But after about two weeks of use, the mat would only hold air for about 30-40 minutes. I was able to find a small hole in the top of the mat at one point, and I did my best to patch the hole, but that did little to stop the pad from leaking.

Eventually, I replaced the blue pool toy mattress with a cheap foam mattress than cost even less (only 110 Rand) and it was this cheap blue foam that I used to sleep on for the rest of my time in South Africa. It was far from comfortable (it felt like sleeping on cardboard), but it did provide a small amount of protection from the hard ground and the cold nights.

There are two things I learned from this experience:

1. It makes a big difference when you have a quality sleeping pad. You sleep better at night and are better protected from the cold.

2. South Africa, for some strange reason, does not sell any kind of quality camping gear. None of the cities I cycled through had anything even close to a quality sleeping pad available.

I need to find a new sleeping pad for my travels now. Any recommendations?

3 thoughts on “Sleeping On A Pool Toy: The Trouble I’ve Had Finding A High-Quality Sleeping Pad

  1. andres mendez says:

    Have you ever tried with the Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads?
    I wan t to buy one of those, but i don’t know if they are really needed for a long long long bicycle touring or just are luxury items?

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      Yes, I used a Thermarest on some of my early bike tours. They work well and are fairly affordable, but most of them don’t pack down to a very small size, which makes them less than idea for a bicycle tour.

  2. Robert says:

    The NeoAir pads from Therm-a-Rest (Cascade Designs, actually) pack down very small, are lightweight, insulate well (R-factors close to Exped if you get the higher rated NeoAir models), and have proved durable in my experience. The original Neoair (a yellow pad) had some issues of slow air leakage at seams, but this seems to be resolved now. I use a NeoAir XLite and am very pleased after about 3 months of sleeping on it in various situations. As with any pad like this, you should remove sharp objects from the ground before laying the pad down. But I think with reasonable care, this would work well for you. And I find it the most comfortable lightweight pad I’ve ever slept on (I’m a side and stomach sleeper).

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