Gear Selection: Baby Sleep System 2

A while back I wrote about our initial plans for a baby sleep system for backpacking on the GDT.

After some initial tests we found that our original plan wasn’t going to work out and we needed to find something that worked for our baby Toothless.

I wrote about our success when we camped at Chilliwack Lake PP.

Subsequently we refined this in our hiking on the SCT.

I’ll use this post to dive into the options we evaluated on the way and the final options we selected.

Baseline

Our baseline for evaluation is our current sleep system for Natasha and I. This is the same as our 2018 GDT gear list. Obviously the sleep system for Toothless will add weight or bulk to this, but our goal is to minimize any increase in weight or volume.

The Options

Common Gear

For all sleep systems we planned on using an 1/8″ EVA foam pad as an additional pad below Toothless’s sleep system. This pad’s main purpose is to be used as a diaper changing pad on trail but has several other functions:

  • Change pad
  • Sit pad during feeding (both solids and milk)
  • Additional sleeping pad layer for Toothless to boost the R value by about 0.5
  • Protect the main sleeping pad from punctures (if inflatable) or tears
  • Add grip to Toothless’s sleeping pad to keep it from sliding in the tent (from sloped ground or Toothless moving around).

We planned on using this pad because it’s separate from Toothless’s main sleeping pad – so can get messy or wet without concern. This pad could stay on the outside of a pack where it is easy to access for diaper changes or as a sit pad. The EVA foam is pretty easy to clean off if needed after a diaper change or after eating dinner.

Individual Sleeping Pad

One option is to have a sleeping pad specifically for Toothless to sleep next to us.

Z-Lite

Initially we thought a cut down Z-Lite would be ideal. This is very light and could double as a pack framesheet for Natasha. We planned on only using 6 sections for Toothless. The arrangement would be to place the pad next to ours.

The R value is about 2 and the pad is about 30g per section. Unfortunately it is very bulky. The bulk is mitigated a bit when using as a framesheet.

The pad can normally double as a sit pad but when using it as a framesheet this is not feasible. We also already have the EVA foam pad for that purpose.

Another bonus is that we already had these from our younger days backpacking and so it cost us nothing.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
Z-Lite SOL6*30=180 2.0Bulky, but can double as a framesheet for backpack. If used as framesheet can reduce pack weight quite a bit.

Inflatable Sleeping Pad

There are a number of options for inflatable sleeping pads, but those are generally not recommended since if deflated they can create excess fabric that a baby can suffocate on.

Also, baby fingernails are SHARP so having an infant directly on an inflatable pad is at risk of punctures which are just not fun.

We never considered any inflatable pads with this configuration.

Individual Sleeping Pad Conclusion

When trying out just a Z-Lite, Toothless wouldn’t go to sleep. He did not seem to like to be out in the open sleeping next to us. Our morning wake up routine is basically us laying in bed together and this seems too similar. After testing it out, with very little sleep, we concluded that this did not work.

Co-sleep

We then looked at co-sleeping. This was basically the only option on trail or camping when he didn’t sleep on the Z-Lite. It’s not recommended to co-sleep due to risk of infant death, but in a pinch we had to do it carefully to get through the night during our first camping and backpacking trips with Toothless.

For co-sleeping there are some options to look at:

  • Sleeping pads
  • Quilts – including the option of Toothless not being under the quilt at all.
  • Toothless in his sleep clothes only (under a quilt) or in his sleeping bag (not under a quilt)

This is a high impact and high cost change with an impact to pack weight. A new sleeping pad and quilt can cost a lot.

We looked at a lot of sleeping pad options, but only a few actually qualified due to their size or mass. The Exped HL Synmat Duo pads are already some of the lightest pads for their size, so they are an obvious option for co-sleeping.

Exped Synmat HL Duo M (existing pad)

This was the most economical path since we already have one but just doesn’t work with co-sleeping as there isn’t enough room for us. We tried this when initially backpacking with Toothless and I was right on the edge of the sleeping pad. It was uncomfortable for all of us.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
Synmat HL Duo M8302.9This is our existing pad so would be cost neutral. It fits Natasha and I comfortably.

Exped Synmat HL Duo LW

This is the larger size of the Exped mat that we have. This is quite roomy and large – takes up a significant portion of the triplex footprint.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
Synmat HL Duo LW11542.9New pad. Additional costs.

Existing Quilt (MYOG Ray Way)

Regardless of which sleeping pad is chosen, we need a quilt for at least Natasha and I.

We currently have a MYOG Ray Way quilt. This works great for the two of us but like our sleeping pad is too small if we need to include Toothless under the covers. This pad would work if we had Toothless co-sleeping in his own sleeping bag next to Natasha.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
MYOG Ray Way Quilt1404N/AExisting MYOG quilt. We split in half (top/bottom) and each carry half.

New Quilt (MYOG Ray Way)

Another option is to just make a larger Ray Way quilt that is larger and can fit Toothless.

We already have the plans and would have to buy material which can be pretty fast. There are supply chain issues and high demand for some gear this year so being able to get the quilt faster is a positive.

Making your own quilt is very economical. This would fit best in our budget if we needed to get a new quilt.

The challenge with this is actually finding the time to sew it with Toothless. It’s best to sew when he is napping so we only get a couple hours per day we could use for this, and often we need to do other things or rest ourselves. The time we have available is also used for other hiking prep so making the quilt would displace other tasks.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
Larger MYOG Ray Way Quilt1404+N/AWould be a new quilt. Size and mass TBC.

New Enlightened Equipment Quilt

This is a great option if we needed a new quilt and had the money. The cost is high, leadtime is longer than we would like, but it doesn’t involve us spending time making it.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
EE Revelation, XWide, Regular Length, Custom~760N/A4-6 weeks. ~$500 CAD.
Wide is probably OK, but X Wide ideal.
Down – Kyle would need to get over his allergy.

Kyle Sleeps Separately

We also considered the option of Natasha and Toothless taking the existing Exped pad and quilt, and Kyle sleeping in a new pad (possibly an XLite) and sleeping bag or quilt. We have some Mountain Hardware Ultralamina bags that we use for winter camping with our XLites that we could use. These are warm bags and would be a good basis if Kyle sleeps on his own rather than sharing body head with Natasha, especially since we already own them.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
XLite Women’s3345.4
Mountain Hardware Ultralamina 151224N/A
TOTAL1558N/AHeavy, but no cost.

The added pack weight for this is pretty high, but it uses existing equipment that we own.

Co-sleeping Conclusion

A new quilt (if MYOG and synthetic) and new pad would weigh more than 2500 g, but would replace our existing system that weighs about 2250g. So the additional mass isn’t much. Going with a down EE quilt would be an overall lighter system than we have today. However, this is costly and takes a lot of time which is limited before the GDT hike.

Going with the free solution of letting Kyle sleep on his own adds about 1550 g to our existing system. This is fast, free, but heavy.

Ultimately, we tested co-sleeping at home after we went backpacking and camping with Toothless (where we also tried co-sleeping with no success) and he just couldn’t get the hang of it even in our own bed. We even tried setting up a tent in the apartment to test our sleep system (at the time Z-Lite, but it quickly became co-sleeping) in a controlled environment. I’ve mentioned it before, but I believe this just too closely resembles our morning routine. He kept acting like it was morning time, playing, and climbing, and he genuinely seemed confused. He has been a very independent sleeper and co-sleeping just doesn’t seem to mesh with his sleep habits.

Travel Crib

PeaPod

PeaPods are a pop up travel crib for babies. These are often recommended online by other families. They are really the only option for backpacking – other options are either too heavy or too cheaply made.

The PeaPod comes with a soft, quilted pad that snaps to the bottom. This is not very warm and does not pack well so we looked at a number of options for pads below the PeaPod. It is important to locate your pad below the PeaPod, not within it.

We bought a PeaPod used for less than $50, and weighed it without the pad and the carry case and extra straps. (Spoiler Alert) once we were fairly certain we were going with this system we cut off unnecessary straps and hardware to save some weight and bulk.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
PeaPod~700N/AMass is after the pad and extra straps, etc is cut off.

For the inflatable pads we looked at both short (torso length) and cut down normal length pads.

Z-Lite

The Z-Lite would work below the PeaPod. We have tried this on our initial tests with the PeaPod and our trip to Chilliwack Lake. This works well but, again, is bulky. So carrying both the Z-Lite and PeaPod is a challenge.

XLite Womens

We have women’s pads for our X-Lites. We still use these in the winter when sleeping in cabins or on more solo trips, but we use them infrequently. The women’s pads are wider at the hips.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
XLite Women’s3345.4

I would never put Toothless on an inflatable pad alone. But under the PeaPod, this was something we considered since the pad, if deflated, would not create a suffocation hazard.

We tested one below the PeaPod during a nap at home and the width and shape is about perfect for the PeaPod. There are no concerning gaps along the edges of the pad for Toothless to fall into (a small, thick, pad, if narrower than the PeaPod would result in a gap for an infant to fall into and get stuck, and potentially suffocate). A common issue with X-Lites is that they are crinkly and noisy – but with Toothless he’s so small that he barely makes any noise on the pad.

This is a test. We would cut the pad shorter.

With the EVA foam pad under it, there would be little concern for punctures.

Unfortunately, this size pad does not come in “short” size so we would need to cut it down ourselves. While this is a pretty common modification, this reduces the reliability of the pad. We would have no redundancy for Toothless’ sleeping system if this punctured or if the seam leaked.

Uberlite Short

The Uberlite is very light, doesn’t have a crinkly sound, and the short size is listed as about the right width/ length for fitting under the PeaPod.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
Uberlite Short1702.3Very bouncy. PeaPod bounces and falls over. Not safe.

We bought one from MEC and tested it at home.

The short pad tapers more than the Women’s X-lite pad, so this results in a gap around the sides of the pad. Toothless moved around in the PeaPod during his nap when testing and immediately flipped the PeaPod over. This immediately disqualified this pad so we returned it.

The length of the short pad is a little longer than the PeaPod so it sticks out a few inches, but this is not really a concern.

The Uberlight is VERY bouncy, like a balloon. It doesn’t crinkle but it does have a lot of bounce. Toothless when moving around was bouncing the pad and PeaPod around. Again, this also disqualified the pad immediately.

For an adult, or an older child, this looks like a great option. For an infant, with the PeaPod, this won’t work.

Prolite Short

The Prolite is a self inflating pad. It’s only 1 inch thick (unlike the Uberlite and X-Lite which are 2 inches thick). Both of these features make it much safer to use with an infant.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
ProLite Short3502.4Good floor coverage. No bounce. Packs down reasonably well.

We purchased the short pad, and it fits very well under the PeaPod. It has the same shape as the Uberlite short – with the same taper – but since it’s a thinner pad it doesn’t have any gaps for an infant to fall within. Also, since it’s thinner it fits closer to the edge of the PeaPod so has more cover.

The sleeping pad could be attached quite nicely by running an elastic shock cable through the loops on the bottom of the PeaPod.

PeaPod Conclusion

The PeaPod itself works very well for Toothless The sleeping pad needs to be replaced with something more technical. For this the ZLite works well, but is bulky. Using an inflatable pad like a cut down XLite or a ProLite short will work.

We chose to use the ProLite short because:

  • It is more reliable than a cut down XLite
  • It is thinner than the XLite or Uberlite so doesn’t leave a gap for an infant to fall into.
  • It is more compact than the Z-Lite
  • It is self inflating so is easy to set up, and will still provide insulation if punctured.
  • It is comfortable and not bouncy.

Unfortunately there are some trade offs with this decision:

  • The ProLite is the heaviest sleeping pad option for Toothless.
  • By not carrying the Z-Lite, Natasha loses a lightweight framesheet. She may need to use her actual framesheet which is heavier (but more compact) than the ZLite. Alternatively, Natasha has been looking at wearing another pack when carrying Toothless anyways so the framesheet may be integrated in the other pack anyways (or not exist at all).

Conclusion

We have opted to go with the PeaPod and the Prolite pad for our GDT thru hike with Toothless. Natasha and I will continue to use our existing sleep system. This decision is mostly based on what works for Toothless to sleep and is clearly not the lightest or most packable option. Thankfully this is a fairly low cost option compared to some of the others.

DescriptionMass (g)R ValueComments
ProLite Short + PeaPod + EVA Foam Pad~1100~3.0This Works

EVA pad already planned as a change and sit mat. Adds roughly 0.5 R value.

This also only cost us ~$50 for the PeaPod and ~$115 for the ProLite.
Z-Lite only next to our sleep system. EVA pad below it.1702.5This does not work
Toothless will not sleep.

Very bulky, but the lightest safe option.

This is also no cost to us.
Co-sleep with larger sleeping pad and larger MYOG Ray Way quilt.250 g

(2500g but removes 2250 g by replacing our existing sleep system)
2.9This does not work.
Toothless will not co-sleep.

Does not include EVA pad since that is small and doesn’t cover the entire area of the larger sleeping pad.

This is roughly $400 for the mattress, and maybe $100 for materials. A premade quilt will cost around $500.
Natasha and Toothless on existing sleep system. Kyle separately on existing single pad and mummy bag.15582.9 for Toothless & Natasha
5.4 for Kyle
This does not work. Toothless will not cosleep.

This adds significant bulk and weight.

6 thoughts on “Gear Selection: Baby Sleep System 2

  1. Jeanne says:

    Hi! I’ve avidly read through your blog as we’re planning for our first camping/backpacking/canoe-camping trips with our October 2021 baby. Among other things, it’s been fantastic to get so much knowledge from people with similar views on sleep safety, since we’re not really willing to co-sleep and want to make sure we have a decently lightweight system that will allow us to camp comfortably starting from the shoulder season (we’re hoping for a first trip in late may). Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

    I have a few lingering questions I’d love to get your thoughts on if you’re so inclined.
    (1) I know the peapod is only recommended for use for 1+ year old kids since there were suffocation incidents with younger ones. My understanding is that those incidents mostly involved the included mattress, which is not an issue with a system like yours. Have you seen more info on the matter? This is super subjective, but did you feel like switching the mattress made a big difference in sleep safety?
    (2) We are also in Canada and hoping not to spend a bajillion dollars in baby backpacking gear. Did you find a local source for the Little Mo sleeping bag? If not, after your experience with it, are you still happy with your purchase? We’re having a hard time convincing ourselves to pay $200 USD, plus taxes, plus potential duties for the 20 degrees bag.

    Thanks in advance! I hope lots of great adventures await you this summer.

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    • natasha says:

      1) When I looked into it, it seemed the incidents were partially because the original included mattress was a thicker air mattress and partially misuse with the mattress being placed inside. (If you watch their recall video, https://youtu.be/CJ3hyas-IPQ, you can see the replacement looks to be a self-inflating mattress quite similar to the Neoair Prolite we used on our trip.) Also all stats I’ve seen point towards risks dropping substantially after babies are 6 months or so. The Prolite is also nearly identical the the mattresses used in travel cribs like (like the Phil n Ted travel crib), and even if it deflates, it is still quite firm and seemed like a safe sleep surface to us.
      2) We bought the Little Mo directly from their website – I’ve never come across a Canadian source that sells them. We were really happy with the Little Mo after our modification to open up the cuffs so baby has access to his thumbs (I think the new version is open/has fold over cuffs). We did manage to get it during a sale and lucked out and didn’t get dinged with customs. We never had to worry about him staying warm overnight and he was nice and toasty even on the nights we camped in the snow. It’s also really nice it zips from the top, so we were able to leave the button unzipped on warmer nights and have his legs out. I do see used ones on FB marketplace occasionally. If you live near the border, getting one shipped to a package holding place might be cheaper now that crossing the border is an option.

      I hope you have enjoyable trips! Don’t give up if the first couple are tough – it took us a few trips to sort out the kinks in our systems 😅

      Please feel free to reach out if you have any other questions – you can email me at: natasha dot philibertpalmer at gmail dot com

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      • Jeanne says:

        Thank you so much for the detailed response! I think we’ll jump the gun and copy your setup – although we’ll try it with a z-lite first since we have one at home and baby has successfully napped on it in the past. I can’t wait to try it out! We brought baby in the canoe for the first time this weekend and he napped the whole way, so we’re optimistic – although I’m sure things will change every month.

        Like

      • natasha says:

        Z-lite is also a great option! Only reason we didn’t go with one is because they take up so much space. Much less of a concern with canoeing! 😅

        Like

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