Large enough air mattress for lake crossing

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    Alpo Kuusisto
    BPL Member


    Been long time since I was here. Do you know if something like this exists:

    Backbacking air mattress that is large enough (about 80″ x 30″ x 7″ or 200cm x 75cm x 18cm) to be used for short crossings of calm lakes and rivers. Reasonable strength for reliability and reasonable weight for packing. something like 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) would please me. Even 4lbs if it was insulating.

    We have used air mattresses of various kinds for crossings in adventure races, but spare bed ones are heavy and still fragile, beach ones are really flimsy and trekking ones not buoyant enough to stay dry. Also two former ones are mostly cheap PVC waste. I would happily pay more for good TPU fabric.

    Main use would be a mattress for sleeping. Therefore it must fit inside a tent. Secondary use would be to enable dry crossings. Therefore it must be at least 6″ thick, which I think is not too much for tent use and probably nice for comfort. Somehow I think this would have larger audience than adventurous hikers. More comfort in the backcountry with reasonable weight.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    We have used the very old canvas/rubber ‘LiLos’ on rivers in the past, but they are HEAVY.

    These days we repack everything inside a large garbage bag inside the pack and use it as a buoyancy aid, and swim. Yeah, you get wet, but it doesn’t matter too much unless you re talking about snow-melt water. If you strip and put your clothing inside the bags so it is dry when you get to the far side – good idea.


    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    “Secondary use would be to enable dry crossings“ Doubt you’re going to stay dry.

    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    I’ve heard of guys using bigger pads (Big Agnes I think) to swim pools while canyon hiking in the southwest. I don’t think any of them are particularly durable.

    It might cost a bit more but I think a safer investment would be a very small packraft. A Alpaca Scout would do the trick. And it’s capable of handling legit rivers if you want more (be ready to get wet).


    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    80″ x 30″ x 6″ would seem like it would displace 517 pounds of water, but in fact will be a pretty wet ride – your shoulders and hips will depress the air mattress below the water surface, get wet, and get you wet.  And 80″ x 30″ x 6″ is a HUGE, heavy air mattress.

    A sleeping pad can be a life jacket (i.e. keep your head well above water).  An air mattress can NOT be a raft.

    Just get a raft.  Klymit’s LiteWater Dinghy is only 2.2 pounds and $120.  I’ve got two of them and used them on lakes and in pool sessions.  They are VASTLY more capable than any air mattress, ever.

    That and any 8-, 12-, 16-ounce sleeping pad will be far, far better at those two tasks then attempting to multi-purpose one item for both (said as an avid multiple-purposer).

    I wouldn’t use a sleeping pad as a raft.  I wouldn’t use a raft as a sleeping pad.  A pack raft does, however, make a decent camp chair.

    Anthony D


    I built a DIY Packraft Ultralight it’s only 815 grams. It is a full size boat definitely big enough to hold two people. Way bigger than an Alpacka Scout or Klymit Dinghy and lighter too. Between two of you that is 400 grams each for the boat plus your own sleeping pads. Of course you need a paddle too, hand paddles would be the lightest option.

    You can also buy the lightweight TPU coated nylon fabric and then build whatever floating mattress design you can dream up.

    Alpo Kuusisto
    BPL Member


    I’ll probably go Anthony’s way, though don’t know if I’ll be able to make something useful. Anyway experience has shown spare flock beds are good enough for me floatation-wise, just durability and weight are an issue. Usage is closest to mr. Caffin’s scenario: something you would swim over, just the water is uncomfortably (but not dangerously) cold. Like 60F water and 100 yard crossing.



    How ’bout a float tube:

    Simpler than a pack raft – just seal two big circles and you’ve got a tube.

    The chest waders are about the same – seal 3 edges to make a big rectangle open at one end, then seal a wide inseam up the middle and cut to make legs.

    Float your pack behind you on a leash.  Webbing and buckles will make a sling seat; ditto for suspenders to hold up the tube so you can keep your hands free on entry/exit.

    Wear creek shoes to protect your feet from punctures.  Your low center of mass in the water means it’s just about impossible to capsize.  And being mostly submerged means you need much less flotation, so a smaller, lighter tube that inflates quicker.  Since you enter/exit on your feet, not much worry for durability of the tube.

    I assume you don’t mind looking slightly ridiculous in the name of adventure :)

    BPL Member


    Locale: Puget Sound

    I may be misremembering this, didn’t HMG offer a lightweight packraft years back? I feel like I remember seeing one available. I think the Klymit LiteWater Dinghy fits the OP’s requirement fairly stoutly

    David K
    BPL Member


    I don’t know if Paco Pads are still around but they used to make custom sized sleeping pads for river rafting.  Waterproof, bombproof, and comfortable!  Heavy though.  I bet they could make you something

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