The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Therm-a-Rest Toughskin: Rugged in the Dire and Amorous
Posted on: November 2, 2007
MSRP: $119.95 (for a Regular; $99.95 for a Small)
There may be other inflatable sleeping pads out there, but you know you've got a corner on the market when your brand name becomes the vernacular for your niche. For years, however, I avoided Therm-a-Rests, preferring the closed-cell pads that, while they might not offer quite the same insulation and comfort as an inflatable pad, had the distinct advantage of low-tech: you could be pretty sure they'd never fail in the field, regardless of how many times you flopped your crampon-laden pack down on them at inopportune moments.
That changed a couple of years ago when I got my hands on a lightweight Therm-a-Rest ProLite model. I had my doubts about its comfortability; I always felt, deep in the halls of sleep, as if I were poised precariously on the Therm-a-Rest surface, ready to slide off in a particularly vivid REM moment. But the more time I spent on the ProLite, the less I wanted to go back to my closed-cell pads. The ProLite was comfortable, light and packed well, and it kept me insulated from the rocks and irregularities of my sleeping surfaces better than anything I had used before.
As I had worried, though, the pad sprung a leak, and I found myself reverting to my old pads. But the trusty, fail-proof system simply was not as comfortable as my punctured ProLite. So when the Therm-a-Rest Toughskin arrived in the post, I brought it out with me for a week's test in the backcountry.
I tried the Toughskin beneath an evergreen for a week, and against that soft surface (and with a creek gurgling a few feet away), it had me sleeping a deeper sleep than I've ever experienced at home. But any pad will work if you're sleeping on a moss or grass bed. The true test is a rocky, irregular surface. My body's problem areas when sleeping on the ground are my hips, and a bad pad can leave me tossing from my front to my back in a restless effort to avoid the fetal position and exposure to the pain of direct contact with the ground below. The Toughskin works well here, too, keeping my hips pain-free by dint of its copious air volume.
But is it really "rugged and puncture-resistant" as its makers claim? There was one way to tell: a vigorous lovemaking session atop glacier-hewn granite. Just as a regular mattress at home will last the spinster or the forty-year-old virgin much longer than the gigolo or the wanton nymphomaniac, so too, I figured, would an air mattress deteriorate under protracted situations of amour. But this test of tests proved within the mattress' capabilities.
The Toughskin weighs in at two pounds, eight ounces for the regular size—far more than a weight-conscious climber wants to bring on a longer climb. For that reason, this is not a pad for serious multi-day routes. It's also not a pad for dirtbags: at a suggested retail price of $119.95, it will set the frugal climber back two-weeks worth of food. But if you've got the cash, and you're looking for a good pad to bring car camping or cragging beneath the stars, look no farther: the Toughskin's your pad. Four stars.
Pros: Rugged; comfortable; manufacturer claims it's "puncture-resistant."
Cons: Heavy; expensive.