I'm relatively new to this, and part of my approach is to recover the natural abilities that Western comforts have cost us: full body flexibility, the ability to squat comfortably flat footed, the ability to sleep on the ground in natural positions, etc. In the long run, recovering these natural comforts seems better than packing "lightweight" comforts along with us. Bare feet are Nature's warm-weather moccasins. Great grip, too. People all over the world sleep just fine without sleeping pads. Backpacking uses a lot of energy and most people don't sleep well. I'm convinced that that can be rectified without carrying a mattress of any kind.
Loc: Portland, OR
That sounds like an unusual and interesting approach. At age 60 (in a couple of weeks) I know my ways are pretty set and I won't be attempting any of the experiments you are making.
I do think that many of those people all over the world who sleep without sleeping pads often use substitutes, such as fleeces (the original ones from sheep) or rugs, blankets, grasses, corn cob mattresses, or other types of padding or insulation whenever they can. It's not just a matter of luxury. Sleeping directly on the ground can rob your body of warmth and be dangerous any time other than high summer. Shivering doesn't lead to a good night's sleep, but rather is the first step toward hypothermia.
Sadly, my experiments in becoming a breatharian resulted in chronic hunger.
HYOH is what I generally suggest, so long as one isn't putting oneself unnecessarily in harm's way. This or that uncomfortable night won't threaten our health and in the process, we learn a little of ourselves with each misadventure. And that's okay.
I didn't mean to come off quite as extreme as sleeping on the ground. I would be in a sleeping bag and almost certainly in a tent. And I did specify warm weather. In cold conditions you certainly need an insulating pad. Although,40 years and more ago, that consisted of my spare clothing.
In any cases my examples were meant simply as examples, not specific recommendations. My interest is in recovering some of the abilities that are natural to human beings but tend to be lost in Western culture. With the aim of increasing overall comfort, not decreasing it. I'm 64. It's taken me a little more than a year to become comfortable squatting flat footed. It's useful sometimes on wet ground. An unexpected benefit is that gently and gradually stretching the ligaments seems to have helped my knees. btw squatting on raised heels can injure the knees. The natural way is flat-footed.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
When I was younger and doing bodywork on cars I spent a lot of time squatting flat footed while welding, sanding, etc. My father, who could also do this, pointed out to me that most people cannot. I took advantage of that when hanging out with friends. Whenever physical challenges came up like arm wrestling, cartwheels, handstands, etc, I would offer the flat footed squat challenge.
I would demonstrate and make it look really easy because it was for me. Of course, everyone thought they could do it too, but almost all them fell over backwards as soon as they tried. After reading this I had to check, I can still do it.
In order to achieve your goal, you can't limit this to backpacking. You have to do it every day. The only way for you to be comfortable sleeping on the hard ground while backpacking is to do it at home all the time. The only way to be comfortable walking barefoot is to walk barefoot all the time. If you only do it a couple times a year, then it won't take too many times before you are back to your "old" ways.
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.
I recall reading an article a couple of years back in the NY Times about specifically what body positions tended to be used by cultures that slept on the ground without mattresses; as I recall different cultures seemed to have used the same general sorts of positions, which resulted in the spine aligning optimally during sleep. You might be able to find it on a search.
Geez BillyJaxin, I thought I was lightening things up by switching from my 3 pound clodhoppers (aka hiking boots) to a pair of trail runners. Guess you're the real deal here. I agree it's very to become comfy squatting, it helps me cook more comfortably. It's not fun dragging along a chair or sitting on the wet ground. Don't think I'll ever give up the sleeping pad. I catch chill too easily, Mama
For some of us, sleeping pads are a new invention. I was in Boy Scouts in the 60's and there were no pads. You made your ground flat, rock/stick free, and even made intentions for shoulders and hips if you were into luxury. Even now, I go minimal, if any pad at all for ground sleeping. I do mostly hammocks and a thin foam insulate is part of the system. Barefoot....love it, but like hiking in sandals, can leave you stranded far from help.....but I can squat flat footed!
Loc: Washington State, King County
When folks comment about needing minimal or even no ground padding at night, my first question is about their age. I find that younger hikers are often fine with just a 3/8" ccf pad, whereas most older hikers have some sort of inflatable, and these days typically a pretty thick one. Of course there are exceptions to this (very loose) rule of thumb.
Squatting: I too am strongly with you there. I consider it quite an important skill for "first-world" male backpackers to learn and get comfortable with(seriously).