I'm fairly new to backpacking, and was wondering the best way to attach a sleeping pad to the exterior of a pack. I only have a 40L pack, and I've seen people tie sleeping pads to the bottom of their packs to save space. I was wondering what the best way to do this is? I was thinking of using bungee cords, but I don't want something that isn't tied to my pack and I could lose. I didn't know if there was a "standard" way to do this or anything, and googling it didn't help.
Also, the pad I just bought is a new Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus, and the user guide with it was very adamant about making sure it doesn't come into contact with rocks or anything that could puncture it. Is tying it to the bottom of my pack a bad idea then, or is this just something I really shouldn't worry about?
I've always put inflatable pads inside my pack. Rocks are not the only threat: there's also sharp, pointy branches, sticker bushes, and the abrasion of putting the pack on the ground, where it will likely scoot around a bit. Is there anything else you could lash on the outside to make room? For example, you tent poles might lash to the side of the pack, a water filter could go in an outside pocket, etc
Using bungees, if they're the "normal" kind you can buy just about anywhere, also carry a threat. Those hooks on each end can also poke holes in things like pads. If you're going to lash the pad outside, I'd suggest two things: first, make sure it's in a good stuff sack, and second, use the nylon webbing straps with plastic buckles (or a couple lengths of cord secured with knots.)
Not knowing your other gear load, but assuming that it's consistent with the use of a Prolite pad (that is, reasonably light and not too bulky, but not bleeding-edge ultralight), it may be possible that the pack is bordering on being too small for your typical loads. My load is reasonably light and compact, and I find a 48 liter pack is just about perfect - roomy enough for a 4-day trip in the summer, or for the extra layers for a two-night winter trip.
Loc: San Diego CA
If you want to be sure and protect it, it needs to be inside the pack. Either that or put it inside a protective covering which will obviously add weight. Even inside your pack, you need to make sure nothing pointy is poking at the pad.
If you're using a cheap synthetic bag, tying to the outside won't be as fatal as having a down bag outside. It'll still work with tears in the shell.
I use a 40 liter pack and have a down quilt and a NeoAir - both will go inside the pack, every time, so I can drop my pack on the ground without fear. Since they pack smaller than a Thermarest and sleeping bag I have plenty of room for the rest of my gear.
In the days when external frame packs were popular and you saw folks hiking along with bedrolls on the bottom, that was a usual thing - foam pads and big synthetic bags don't suffer as much as the inflatable pads and mattresses and down bags with very light shell material will.
If you want to use the gear you have and it won't fit in, the cure is a larger pack - maybe a 50 or 60 liter. 40 is usually considered an extended day pack.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
I have a slightly larger stuffsack for my sleeping bag and put my Prolite in the bag with the sleeping bag. You need fully deflate the pad. If it does not fit inside the bag it came in, then it is not fully deflated. It is tricky at first, but you soon will get the hang of it. If you kneel on the pad, be sure it is sitting on a smooth surface! I usually pack my sleeping bag and pad while inside the tent. I fold the pad with valve open, then sit on it all until it is squished, then tighten the valve.
I don't agree with using bungee cords. They tend to cause eye injuries if they slip out of your hands when pulling them tight.
Personally, when I use the external frame pack, I tie the sleeping bag with gutted 550 cord. I use a trucker's hitch (Just a loop on the end) run the cord through it. Pull it tight and then use a slip knot.
Loc: California (southern)
If you were a true believer and tied your stuff sack on the bottom, you would never be seen in the company of infidels who lashed theirs on top. We would shake our fists and curse when we encountered those running dog revisionists on the trail....
As others have said, an inflatable pad goes inside. The next best place is right under the top flap. The 3rd best place is strapped to the very top, if your pack already has two straps up there.
As for strapping anything to the exterior, I have found webbing straps to be the most convenient. You can make your own, or buy a ready made set at most outdoor stores. Tying it with cordage works as well, but you will need to learn the truckers hitch. I have used bungee in the past. Sometimes it plain didn't work very well. Other times it was perfect. I also have gotten some good bruises by using bungee.
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.
I bought two different inflatable pads last year, one made by therm-a-rest, the other by MEC. Both deflated on me first night out!!! The MEC one was leaking all over the place, right through the fabric, therm-a-rest had a pinhole in it. This was car camping btw. I'm SO done with inflatables. Now I have one of these:
I tie foam sleeping pads vertically to the back of the pack so they don't get caught on brush. Just run some string - even shoelaces can work - through any anchor points that seen to work, wrap around the rolled up pad, and tie off with a square knot. A shoelace knot works, but the loops can get caught on brush.
Inflatable pads are small enough to go inside the pack.
Some packs use a sleeping pad as their frame, which automatically gives you a place to put it.
I use my Phnumatic Framing nail gun. One shot in lumbar and one in c7. Just kidding I am contemplating this myself. I have a new GG wide evosote pad for my hammock. But not room for it in pack. I am contemplating taking my prolight instead. I dont like allot tied outside my pack even on trails like the AT? I have to decide in a few days though. Lumbar and C7 or Prolight in pack and slide off it all the time?
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Back when I could still sleep on a Thermarest, I deflated it, folded it in thirds, let a tiny bit of air back in and put it in the pad pocket in the back of my pack (needed there since my pack itself has no padding). I still do this with my insulated air pads. (No need to put air back in if the back of your pack is padded.) You could do the same with a hydration bladder pocket. No stuff sack needed and the pad is fully protected.
I agree with the others that any inflatable pad belongs inside the pack for safety. I like W_D's idea of putting it inside the sleeping bag. A fully deflated Thermarest (I found that you really have to roll it up twice to get all the air out) shouldn't take up that much space.
I also agree that if you don't have room for everything inside your pack and its outside pockets, either your gear is too bulky or your pack is too small. First, read the articles on the home page of this site, left-hand column to see if you can eliminate a few items. If that doesn't work, then maybe a bigger pack? While I can go out for 10 days with a 43-liter pack, not everyone can get their gear that compact!
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
As it happens, this weekend for the first time I strapped my cheap foam pad to the outside of my exterior frame backpack. I used webbing straps and it stayed fine - just make sure nothing can bounce around. The pad got pretty beat up though, so next time I'll put it in a stuff sack.
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