What’s With The Blue Stuff? It’s Closed Cell Foam
Ever wondered why experienced hikers carry blue stuff on their packs? If not, maybe you do now? Welcome to the world of closed cell foam. There’s surely a technical-chemical-upholstery term for this stuff—you can buy it in foam stores by the board foot—but most outdoors folk think of it as the cheapest thing you can put under your sleeping bag and call it a mattress.
As a mattress, this one leaves a lot to be desired unless you’re 12, so out of it you don’t care (usually helped along with refreshments around the campfire), or the employee at Walmart convinced you not to believe your eyes when you could see perfectly well that there was no relationship between the blue roll and anything you could possibly sleep on.
There’s more marvelousness to closed cell foam…
Special properties: it’s cheap, light, won’t crack at low temperatures, insulates extremely well, cushions (sort of), and never DIES.
So what else can a blue pad do for you other than giving you a sleepless night? Most importantly, it can be a lifesaver in backcountry emergencies. That’s why hikers carry blue closed cell foam on their backpacks, even if it’s just a piece of a whole mattress. This is especially true in winter, when insulation from icy ground is imperative, while eating lunch, after a fall, a low blood sugar episode, anything where you have to stop in place and rest.
Ahhh, but this mattress keeps on giving. It serves as a great emergency sled if you get caught in a blizzard, a make-do splint if you break a leg, something to stand on to keep the draft down while birdwatching, something to kneel on while singing a Mozart aria at 9000′.
And yes, you can actually sleep on one of those blue things, too, especially in winter. In fact, it can make you comfy, since snow by nature has a way of offering a cushy bed. Wet, though: blue pad to the rescue.
Or, if you prefer your camping in a chilly mountain hut or Appalachian Trail shelter, but brought along a fantastic blow-up or Thermarest-ish 3″ summer mattress? Ahhh, icicle slumber for your body, back, legs, and gizzards from all that air. Blue pad to the rescue. Unroll it on top of your cushed-out expensive airy mattress. Throw your sleeping bag on top of the whole shebang, and snuggle on down, insulated from all that butt-frigid air. Zzzzzz….
Don’t like the blue stuff? No problem! It comes in grey! It comes thicker and cushier! It comes in an accordion shape so you can stow it easily on your pack! It comes in a heat reflective version!
It never DIES… True Story
Muddy Boots bought a piece of blue closed-cell foam in 1983. It began life as a $3 camping mattress. After five years, it was no longer conducive even to a partial night’s sleep while on the trail. Since then, it’s become the pad with 20 lives: archaeology, multi-function luxury item, computer protector, lightning diffuser, jam jar opener, wrist splint, stove insulator, book cushion, tailgate knee pad, kayak heel cushion, dog mattress, tent vestibule carpet, de-rattler for those annoying sounds in the vehicle. Still going strong 33 years later. Told ya, this stuff NEVER DIES.
Photo credits: Featured image…Sierra Club Hikers, Angeles National Forest, P1000141: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Linny Heng via Flickr. Singing a Mozart aria: CC BY 2.0 by Michael R. Perry via Flickr. Osprey Variant Pack with poo bag: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Mitch Barrie via Flickr. Sierra Club hikers eating lunch: CC BY 2.0 by Michael R Perry via Flickr.