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I use the Jack Wolfskin ExoLight I tent, which is (by its official specs) only 60 cm wide inside.

I'm looking to buy a colder-weather self-inflating sleeping pad to extend the season in the spring and autumn. I would really like to buy a slightly wider sleeping pad, since I sleep on my back and elbow room has been a problem. Regular pads, which I find a bit too narrow, are usually around 50–52 cm wide.

However, all "wide" models (for example from Exped or Therm-a-rest) seem to be around 65 cm wide. I expect the tub of the tent will stretch a little to the sides, but would that 5 cm excess be an actual problem? It's only 2.5 cm on each side, after all. And are there other problems you might see with the pad being too wide for the tent?

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If you only need the extra width for your elbows, try a sleeping pad with wings. This is a common practice in hammock camping, because the elbows tend to get chilly when pressed up against the hammock fabric. There are lots of hammock pads with built-in wings, but if you buy one of these be sure it's also good for sleeping on the ground. They often come with a second set of wings for your knees. If you don't need the knee wings, you can always remove them.

You can also supplement your current pad with a fabric sleeve that slips on over your sleeping pad, with pockets on the side for wings made of foam. This is very easy to DIY, but you can also purchase them.

Here are a couple of examples, both homemade and commercially made:
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Both examples above are from Just Jeff's Hammock Camping. That page also has a comparison of different options for weight, insulation, cost, etc. It might be helpful even though his focus is on hammock camping.


Just a note, if your elbows are actually pressing against the tent fabric while you sleep, you will most likely wake up with wet elbows. Possibly also a wet sleeping bag, depending on how dry the climate is, how humid your breath is, and how well ventilated your tent is. Tents work best when you don't actually touch the ceiling fabric.

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The best approach would be to measure it - pitch the tent at home and see how bit it is at ground level, with and without trying to stretch it. A mock sleeping mat made from cardboard packaging would allow you to consider the length as well, and whether you've got room for everything you want in the inner tent. But also try to measure the pad inflated before you buy it. It may come up narrow, or it may bulge in a way that causes a problem and isn't considered in the dimensions.

From the dimensions, you've got a total of 10cm between the flysheet and inner tent at nominal. You're expecting to use up half of that, which would seem to increase the chances of the layers touching. You've got the tent so you can consider how stable it would be in the circumstances you plan to use it.

Consider the pad you have at the moment. How wide is that? Do you put things beside it? If the current one is perfect except the insulation, one solution would be to cut a foam mat to the exact same width for use underneath. That may be heavier than a new pad, though not by much if you can get away with the extra foam only under your torso, or down to your knees. If you reckon it's time for an upgrade anyway, it's less of a good idea.

Personally I wouldn't want the entire width of my tent taken up with my sleeping mat. I'm tall so there's not much room at the ends and need to put things beside me - but on the mat they tend to move around and end up underneath me

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  • The OP may need the extra insulation only for their torso, in which case they could buy a half lenght pad and then trim the sides to fit the tent. This would cut down on the weight – ab2 Jan 12 at 20:46
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    @ab2 good point. I've done that myself – Chris H Jan 12 at 21:03
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Yes, there are definite problems when your sleeping gear is slightly too wide for the tent.

I speak of personal experience here. I have a single-person throw tent from Decathlone, which is rather small, and I once used it with a noname inflatable mattress (which is also higher than a light pad of the type you have, I must add). I don't know the exact measurements, but when placed in the tent, the mattress stretched it slightly - I don't remember if it was also on the long sides, or only on the short sides. It looked good, and was comfortable enough. At first, the only problem I had was that I obviously had no space to store luggage (which was not a big deal for me, since we had traveled with a car to the campsite).

And then it rained. The rain pearled off the tent dome as usual, but in the place where it was stretched by the mattress, it seeped in. It soaked the mattress and the sleeping bag on top of it, making for a very miserable experience sleeping. These weren't a few drops, it was really a lot of cold water being wicked exactly where I didn't want it.

So as a conclusion, make sure that, whatever you buy, you have enough space to clear the tent wall comfortably. If there are no inflatable pads available in the size you need, consider using a different technology, maybe something you can cut up to size. I personally dislike the type of pad you describe, and have discovered that there are a lot of alternatives if you look for them.

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Asking a question like that provokes different views, so here is mine.

As I see it, it is a little hard to predict what is going to happen. You might get wet. But then again: It might work. The tent construction is not bad for your idea. You have one very small vestibule and one bigger vestibule, both along the sides of the tent. This might give you the extra centimeters of space on the sides between fly sheet and inner tent that you need to prevent pressing the inner onto the fly sheet as you sleep. It probably also very much depends on how much you move around while sleeping.

I have done what you think about with a little different gear. I was camping in Scotland with a Hilleberg Allak with an inner width of 120 to 130 cm, also with one vestibule on each side. I squeezed an Exped SynMat HL Duo Winter LW with a maximum width of 130 cm into the tent. Before I thought it should fit, but the sleeping mat indeed pushed the inner quite a bit towards the fly sheet. We slept with three people (one was a very small person) in the tent and I was definitely sleeping in permanent contact with the inner tent wall. But 10 days of Scottish weather tested this sleeping concept and we had no problem whatsoever with humidity inside the tent because of the vestibules along the tent sides.

So it is not impossible. But it remains an experiment.

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