Every time I’ve shown someone the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad, the reaction I receive is exactly the same. They say, “So, you actually sleep on that? That doesn’t look comfortable at all. Wait, you bring two sleeping pads? Why not just bring a heavier sleeping pad instead of 2 lighter ones?” Their confusion is understandable when viewing a lightweight foam pad simply as a sleeping pad. The Thinlight, however, is much more than that.
Truth is: the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Insulation Pad is an absolute gem, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear I’ve ever used. One aspect I love about ultralight backpacking is finding multiple uses for a single item, and the Thinlight is this perplexing mix of both simplicity and versatility that is ultralight not only in weight, but also in price.
As an avid backpacker and landscape photographer here are 8 use cases that I find work great for a lightweight foam pad …
Want an ultralight insurance policy for your inflatable sleeping pad?
The Thinlight pad protects my inflatable pad from possible punctures originating from things like sharp rocks or surfaced roots. I’ve been using a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite since it came out (an inflatable pad known for a very ultralight payload, but is also prone to punctures), and I’ve never had a leak in the years I’ve used it. I attribute this entirely to the extra protection the Thinlight pad provides. If for some reason, a puncture were to develop — one I couldn’t fix on the fly in the field — I’d at least have the minimal amount of cushion and insulation from the ground provided by the Thinlight.
Can’t find a level spot to sleep for the night?
The Thinlight pad can act as a grip between your tent and inflatable pad to prevent your sleeping system from sliding around in your shelter. This use case, alone, is worth the weight, in my opinion. Gone are the days of waking up in the corner of my tent.
No chair? No problem.
The Thinlight Pad is made of closed-cell foam that will not soak up water, and can be used in multiple conditions, elevations, and biomes. Don’t get me wrong: I have an ultralight chair that I do bring on trips (no shame in taking luxury items), but there are some locations that simply do not work well with ultralight chair legs (like sand or snow). The closed cell foam design of the Thinlight pad is perfect for use on wet surfaces (wet logs, sandy beaches, or snow banks) without soaking up water into your gear, or into your clothes.
DIY gear modifications?
After I accidentally stuck trekking poles through my UL foam pad while it was stored in my gear closet, I discovered the Thinlight pad makes an excellent material for ultralight projects or gear modifications, without adding unnecessary grams and ounces to your pack weight. As a photographer I’ve used it for separating my camera and lens inside of my Hyperlite Versa (which also helps protect my gear from potential impact damage). You could also make insulated sleeves for titanium pots, or extra cushioning for shoulder straps. Honestly, it’s been a great DIY material to work with for ultralight cushioning purposes.
Do you carry an ultralight backpack without a frame or with a minimal frame?
The Thinlight pad can also be used as extra back support for your pack. I simply fold my pad to the same dimensions as the inside back panel of my pack and place it inside. Alternatively you could pick up the folded version of the pad for an easy fit every time (both are solid options in my opinion).
Shade from the hot summer sun?
During the beginning of summer I jumped at the opportunity to visit the Alpine Lakes Wilderness when the snow had melted just enough to reach one of my favorite spots. There wasn’t a single soul on the trail, and that was due to a billion mosquitos. To prevent being eaten alive, I had to retreat to my tent for a few hours, and sitting in the direct sunlight became a bit unbearable. Turns out the Thinlight pad can be used as effective shade protection inside of your tent! With a little strategic placing (and assistance from some cord and my backpack) it provided an ample and luxuriously comfortable amount of shade away from UV rays and, ultimately, mosquitos.
Protection from snow?
This last weekend I went for another overnight trip into the Alpine Lake Wilderness, this time in snow. I found that the Thinlight pad was a perfect in-between spot to stage gear outside of my tent. Everything stayed dry while I organized my camera gear, took my tent down, and loaded up my backpack.
For life’s unexpected twists and turns …
Once I was driving through a remote stretch of desert on a very rocky road in my camper van and my tire blew out. The nearest town (a single building) was luckily a few miles down the road, and the wait time for delivery of new tires was more than 5 hours. I ended up using the Thinlight pad as a pad to sit in the shade, read a book, and stretch. Having an ultralight pad on hand to use, even in moments when not backpacking, has proven itself to be valuable. I now try to keep one Thinlight pad in my camper van before heading out on adventures.
With several use cases at a minimal weight: the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Pad has been one of my favorite pieces of gear I’ve ever owned, and I take it on every single adventure I go on. For me, it doesn’t matter the season, whether I’m in the desert or in the mountains, nor how many miles I need to travel, the Thinlight Pad is absolutely worth its weight.
Happy trails, nerds!
Kads Baker is professional photographer, consultant, muppet, and avid backpacker residing in the Pacific Northwest. When not watching ample amounts of MST3k or Twin Peaks you may find him wandering the great American wilderness in search of vast landscapes to photograph or alpine lakes to swim in. Check out more of his work here: