THERM-A-REST Z SEAT
BY STEVEN M KIDD
July 04, 2012
Steven M Kidd
5' 9" (1.75 m)
220 lb (99.80 kg)
Backpacking Background: I've been a backpacker on and off for over 25 years. I backpacked as a Boy Scout, and then again almost every month in my twenties, while packing an average weight of 50+ lbs (23+ kg). In the last several years I have become a hammock camping enthusiast. I generally go on one or two night outings that cover between 5 to 20 mi (8 - 32 km) distances. I try to keep the all-inclusive weight of my pack under 20 lb (9 kg) even in the winter.
|Image Courtesy of Cascade Designs|
Manufacturer: Cascade Designs Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2012
Manufacturer's Website: www.cascadedesigns.com
MSRP: US $14.95
Listed Weight: 2 oz (60 g)
Measured Weight: 1.9 oz (56 g)
*Listed Dimensions: 41 x 13 x 0.75 in (16 x 33 x 2 cm)
Measured Dimensions: 15.75 x 13 x 0.75 in (40 x 33 x 2 cm)
Fill Material: XL Polyethylene
Colors Available: Coyote; Limon & Silver SOL
*The manufacturer's website has the seat listed as 41 in and 16 cm wide. It appears to me they have erroneously transposed the measurement conversion listings.
The Therm-a-Rest Z Seat is a closed-cell foam sitting pad based on the similarly designed sleeping pad offered by Cascade Designs. The Limon/Silver version is offered in a proprietary aluminized surface they refer to as Sol. The company states doing so increases warmth by 20%. I own this version, but the company also produces a Coyote colored seat that does not use this surfacing technology. The Z Seat is part of the company's Fast & Light Series product series.
FIELD USE & IMPRESSIONS
Over the past four years I've completely revamped my backpacking gear. In 2008, I was still carrying a flashlight and a poncho that I'd used since entering Boy Scouting at age 11. My loaded pack weight at the onset of an outing averaged well over 50 lb (23 kg), but fortunately by late last fall I had put my pack on enough of a diet to average 17 lb (8 kg). I had finally trimmed enough weight and redundancy that it was time I could finally allow for some added luxury weight! Hence, I excitedly acquired the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat!
|56 grams (1.9 ounces)|
When I was researching camp seats I had reviewed several options. One of the most comfortable I'd used in recent years was a sleeping pad conversion chair that allowed for a seat and a back. I decided against this route for several reasons. The main reason was the weight penalty, but secondary points were that I rarely use a sleeping pad with my hammock and on the rare occasions that I do use one it is a very lightweight yet fragile product that is more susceptible to punctures. It was, however, the idea of the conversion chair that led me to the Z Seat. I have used products from Cascade Designs for years with nothing but positive experiences. After calculating the weight penalty and expected comfort I ordered it and waited for it to arrive.
I was searching for a seat that I could be used for multi-dimensional purposes. I felt this product could most importantly serve its main purpose as a camp seat. However, I also believed it could be used as a frame sheet in a lightweight pack and as additional insulation for the footbox area on the shoulder seasons when I hammock camped. I ordered the seat shortly after it came to market. I purchased it from an online vendor since I could not find it in a brick and mortar store. I only state this because although I was completely aware of the dimensions before I ordered the product, I suppose I subconsciously tricked myself into thinking it was larger than it actually is. To clarify, for many years I have been familiar with the Therm-a-Rest Z series sleep pads and I was envisioning a 20 in (51 cm) wide seat. When it arrived it was roughly the stated 16 in (41 cm) size I had seen in various publications. At first glance this was disappointing because I immediately considered it less than perfect to suit the footbox insulation purpose I'd also hoped to use in conjunction with hammocking. This affirmation takes nothing from the seat's performance in the field; it merely limited my initial multi-purpose considerations for using the seat. However, these concerns actually did subside after some field trials as I will explain further on in the review.
From the outset I realized the seat would adequately serve its key purpose. In recent years I've typically either sat on a log or directly on the ground when in camp. If the area is damp or cold this can be cause for an uncomfortable scenario, so I overcame that hurdle by wearing a pair of rain pants in camp. It allowed me to stay dry and gave me some wind protection, but it wasn't always the most comfortable choice. The Z Seat arrived either the day of or the day before I was heading out on a multi-day winter trip and shortly after a soaking rain. After a day of hiking my trail buddies and I reached a campsite that was saturated. After gathering some dry wood and setting up our site we started a warm fire. The seat was amazing! Now to be honest, it adds a little cushion and some minimal R-value to protect me against the cold...but I wasn't sitting on a wet log like I had most recently been doing.
Another of my backpacking buddies had also purchased the same seat and was quite happy with his acquisition. We were inaugurating not one, but two rookies to the trail on this outing and neither had even done much car camping. We wanted the experience to be fun enough that they consider coming again, so we had cut an old closed cell sleep mat into sections to give them something to sit on during the outing. In my opinion, the hard flat foam of the sleeping pad was certainly not as comfortable as the soft and forgiving egg crate like construction of the Z Seat. The pads they were using were, however, the width of which I'd originally envisioned my seat.
Since purchasing the seat at the beginning of the year I have used it as a seat on every outing I've been on, which averages once a month. There is only so much detail to add about a closed-cell foam camp seat. It adds comfort, warmth and it is lightweight. At times I've used it as a backrest against a log or tree instead of a seat. I recall doing so on a particularly cool and windy evening when I had a small fire. I wore my previously mentioned rain pants, sat on the ground and leaned against a large log. This kept me close to the warmth of the fire and blocked from the winds. My bottom remained dry from the pants, and my back was dry and comfortable using the seat as a backrest.
On most occasions I currently use a 46 L (2807 cu in) pack that does have a frame sheet. However, when the seat is folded in half it slides perfectly into the hydration sleeve. It fits in here without taking up to much internal volume and still allows for a filled 3 L (101 fl oz) hydration bladder to be deployed. I generally always start my outings packing the seat in this manner, but if the pad becomes too dirty I tend to fold it in an accordion manner and stow it in an outside pocket later in my treks. I simply prefer to keep as much debris out of my pack as possible. I have yet to purchase a frameless pack made with technical fabrics like cuben fiber, but I do foresee this being a perfect fit as a frame for a product like this. I tested it in a frameless Cambak rucksack and loaded it with about 15 lb (6.8 kg). It allowed for some rigidity, hence a frame, and cushioned my back from the interior contents. I only tried this on a day hike as a trial, but it worked well. In fact, when I stopped for a snack and a rest I forgot to use my new frame sheet as a seat!
Returning to my earlier consideration for using the seat as footbox insulation in hammock use, I began to consider modern sleeping pads. Many have a tapered (mummy) design to them, and hence are closer to the overall width of my seat at the foot. I own a pad of this style, so I laid the seat on top of the footed area and it was actually a little wider. The sleeping pad did taper out at a wider angle, but I decided I would give it a whirl in the field. Some of my hammocks have two layers, a design that allows use with a sleeping pad. I placed the pad between the two layers and hopped into the hammock. Granted I was also using a full-length under quilt to keep the remainder of my underside warm. That stated the pad remained in place throughout the night. It gave me adequate coverage although I would prefer it to be a little wider and longer.
I can't give a full review of the actual insulating properties as I was using the under quilt during the winter months, but with an R-value of 2.2 it is not an item I'd use for deep winter insulation. My plan was to test it in the spring and summer months. Unfortunately for the purposes of this review, our winter turned straight into sweltering summer weather that called for absolutely no bottom insulation needs. For the shoulder seasons I do see this working well with a hammock under quilt that is a 3/4-length product. The quilt would insulate the underside of my torso and upper legs and the Z Seat would protect my lower legs and feet. I won't speculate how well this could work as I have yet to try it with the rather warm temperatures we've had all summer, but after I have done so I'll consider appending this review in the fall. I can clarify that using the seat as a footbox pad in conjunction with a 3/4-length under quilt would shave nearly 5 oz (142 g) off a full-length under quilt setup. As I mentioned in the opening of this review, any weight savings excites me, so I will certainly attempt this in the fall.
Since I really didn't have to use the seat for insulating properties during my winter camping I was fortunate enough to find one more multi-purpose use for my seat! I laid the pad on the ground directly beneath my hammock. It instantly became a clean place to hop out and stand on when exiting my sleeping quarters! Have I mentioned that I love a multi-functional backcountry item? Since I won't be using the seat at my feet in cold weather hammocking I do see myself using it in this manner.
To date I've been quite impressed with the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat. It provides excellent coverage as a seat, and I've found at least three other ways I can use the product in the backcountry. The only suggestion I have is for it to be a little wider...and this request certainly is not necessary for it to be used as a functional seat. Many vendors make XL versions of sleeping pads; perhaps Cascade Designs would one day consider a wide version of their new seat. I'd hop in line to purchase it.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
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