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Ask Kristin: Can I Swap a Pool Float for a Sleeping Pad?

Can a pool float replace a pad for budget-conscious hikers? Our gear editor responds.

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Q: I’m on a budget. Why shouldn’t I substitute a $10 pool float for a sleeping pad that costs $100 or more?

A: That might just work if you only go camping once a year, in warm weather, on gentle terrain. But there are plenty of reasons you’d be better off spending more on a sleeping pad made for backpackers. Pool toys are inferior because: They’re far less durable. They take forever to blow up. They’re loud and squeaky and bouncy when you roll around on them. The have no insulation, so you’ll feel the cold air below in temps below the 40s. They’re bulky.

But that doesn’t mean you need to spend $100. Okay with less cushion? Try a non- inflatable, closed-cell foam mattress like the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite (starting at $20; thermarest.com). Or “splurge” on the self- inflating Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout ($40).

Ask your own gear questions at backpacker.com/askkristin.