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Camping with back problems

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OK, I need y'alls help;

I had a ruptured disc in my L5 back in July that required surgery. The pain was

so bad, my entire right leg went numb. But, here I am, on my last week of

disability, and I find myself planning a camping trip for a group of Scouts, to

Pisgah National Forest.


Does anyone have a suggestion as to what kind of sleeping pad I should be

looking at? I have an air mattress that my two boys use, but even on my good

days, that thing is a beast to sleep on. I need something firm, but I don't want

to feel the gravel from the campsite digging into my back. I was thinking of one

of Thermarest Base camp, but I know diddly about these things. Please give me

suggestions so this trip (scheduled for the end of October) will be enjoyable,

as well as Oxycod free!!


Thanks in advance,


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Camping or backpacking?


Kinda makes a difference as to whether or not you have to carry something extra to keep the back healthy.


When I'm on the ground I use 2 closed cell pads plus a RidgeRest. Then I also have an extra sleeping bag over that. But I also spend more time than usual finding a nice place and clearing it of all rocks and sticks.


The boys usually cut me some slack for this because I'm getting up there in years and every time I go out it becomes more and more difficult.


I have a small cot that I use that will fit in a military duffle and that keeps me 4" off the ground. That helps.


When I'm in long-term/car camping, I have a standard military cot I use.


I've never used an inflatable mattress since I was a kid. They always leaked and I got tired of relying on the unreliable.



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I'm using an Exped Synmat 7

I call it my Sleep number bed away from home - it can be made to be an level of firmness you desire.

I have used it on days when I needed a hammock type feel to where I might as well have found a rock and just not used it - but of course I did use it.


If you've got the money and are a four season camper I believe the Downmat is an excellent choice.


But I am very happy with my Synmat 7. I'm on my second one; I had a valve problem after 3 years on the first one - took it back to my retailer who sent it back to Exped - they held it for 20 days and sent back the New model (with a slightly different valving system) at no cost.


I use it even when a cot is available on top of the cot.

It has been very durable in relation to absorbing any ground damage - I do try to clear any thorns but only to the degree I would normally clear to put a tent down - and in many cases that means picking up a couple of sticks and leaving all of the rest of the ground cover undisturbed.(This message has been edited by Gunny2862)

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I've had a similar procedure. I've experimented with several different combinations of cot, foam, air mattresses. The best combination for me is a closed cell foam pad, about 3/4" thick, topped with a medium thickness thermarest works best for me. I am a side sleeper, and I find that a small pillow between my knees helps quite a bit.


You're still not that far out from surgery, so I would still be careful as far as how much weight you carry.


Best wishes.

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The Thermarest Basecamp is a fine choice - it's self-inflatable to a point (It will get to a basic equalized pressure then stop inflating - for some people, when it gets to that pressure, which I would say is equivalent to a soft mattress, that level is fine). I prefer to inflate the mattress further - I like mine pretty firm so I inflate it as much as I can - never feel gravel, stocks, rocks, acorns. If I put it over a big root, I'll feel that - but that shouldn't be surprising. The nice thing is you can "adjust" it to the firmness you want - you can't do that with the Ridge Rest or other non-inflatable pads. Let the pad inflate to it's equalized pressure first before inflating further - why do the pads work for it if you don't have too - save your lung capacity for getting the pad to the firmness level you want it at. I suggest you go to a store and try them out first before you buy - a good store will let you inflate the pad and lay on it to see if it will work for you. A really good store will already have some pads inflated.


Thermarest has a product called the Dream Time system - it combines an inflatable mattress with a memory foam pad and both fit into a microfiber cover (which holds the pads together so they don't slip off the other - common when sleeping on two pads piled on top of each other). It's pricey but given your recent surgery, it may be worth investing in. The nice thing about it is you can use either of the pads separately as well.


For those of us that already have pads, Thermarest offers the memory foam pad and cover separately so that we can upgrade our pads (I'm considering just such a purchase).


I mentioned that the pads are pricey - depending on the width (regular, large or XL), you'll pay from $70 to $100 for the pad. For the Dream Time system, the choice is large and XL - expect to pay $190 to $200 for that.


I don't mean to sound like an advertisement for the Thermarest pads, but I've been very impressed with them since the 80's. My first pad was left in Canada by an old college roommate - only had it 2 years. But I replaced it right away (1986) and still occasionally use it today. It's almost 25 years old and still works well. I've not even had to change the valve on it. I've got two other Thermarest pads - a 3/4 length backpacking self-inflating pad that not only rolls up, but folds in half lengthwise that's served me well for 15 years, and an XL pad that I've been using and being spoiled by since 2005.

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If you have a SAM'S CLUB around.....


For about $90 ( yeah, I know, kinda high) you can buy a 4 inch thick latex memory foam bed pad. One side is egg crate, the other is smooth.


We bought it for my sons bed. It is awesome and it's the treal deal latex memory foam.


You can lay this thing on a pile of broken bricks and sleep like a baby!


Again, the price is steep, but we aren't talking about a minor muscle ache either!


Money worth spent if you want to sleep at night!

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I haven't used it for camping. It stays on my son's bed. But when we bought it, it was folded up to about the size of a normal suitcase:




Probably weighs in at around 10 to 15 pounds.


But I have thrown it on the floor as is and slept on it. Felt like I was on a full size /full thickness bed.


Like I said, if you have bad back issues, you could throw this on a pile of bricks and sleep very comfortably.

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Big Agnes. Google her. She'll take care of you. 3" of total comfort.

Personally proven on 2 NTiers treks, 1 Philmont trek, multiple Okpik courses, multiple Colorado 14nr climbs. 200+ nights camping on the ground. She just plain works.

Oh, and one of those NTiers treks, I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery. She comforted me.

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S5 L5, 25 years ago. Opted for chemo neurolysis, after consulting with four surgeons, each touting their own, different technique, each saying the others were (in essence) quacks.

After, I worked at strengthening my back with walking, swimming, yoga and PT. A year after the surgery, I could admit to feeling "normal" again.

Counsel: Do what you feel comfortable, but for the first 3 or 4 months, DO NOT carry a full backpack. Swing axe, carry stuff in your arms/hands, DO YOUR EXERCISES, but go slow and build up gradually. Be sensitive to what your back tells you. Listen to your doctor's and PTist's counsel, but remember that YOU are the one that has to do the healing.

I would walk for longer and longer stretches, and LAY DOWN at the end, exhausted, but get up and walk some more, feeling stronger each week. Don't be embarrassed when folks look at you strange for being prone on the trail, it's your back...

Hike with your boys, but try not to carry on your back. One thermarest on level, rockfree ground should suffice.

How bout a BikeHike? Bicycling can be good therapy.

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