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Windcatcher: The Quick-Inflating Sleeping Pad

If you have ever spent any time trying to inflate an air mattress, kiddie pool, giant beach ball or the like without a pump, you will appreciate the innovative design of the Windcatcher air pad by Ryan Frayne.

My friend, Ruby, alerted me to this product because she was highly skeptical that it could be as easy to inflate as the Windcatcher video portrays. Can design really make such a difference? Why, yes, it can.

Unlike a typical sleeping pad that is filled with air through a small inflation valve (and a lot of effort), the Windcatcher employs a huge sleeve. Why? To help you inflate it. When blowing into the sleeve, a principle called entrainment causes the stream of air coming from your mouth to bring along the relatively-static air around your mouth and inside the sleeve. As a result, the pad inflates quickly and easily with more air per breath than your lungs can produce on their own.

A bad can be quickly inflated by the principle of entrainment (Credit: University of Maryland)

A bag can be inflated quickly by the principle of entrainment: video (Credit: University of Maryland)

A discussion of the physics behind the way this air multiplication works is beyond the scope of this post. However, the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland has a demonstration video of entrainment in action. Ah, the magic of physics!

Another clever aspect of the sleeve is that its length provides some pumping action to assist in adding some final pressure to the pad. When the sleeve is rolled up to seal the opening, some air remains along its length and is forced into the pad. The sleeve again saves you from any additional respiratory effort.

The Windcatcher rolls up for portability (Credit: Oceanic Innovation)

The Windcatcher rolls up for portability (Credit: Oceanic Innovation)

So, is this the ultimate design for a sleeping pad, rendering all others obsolete? Not necessarily. As I explained to Ruby, it depends what you want to use it for. There are more factors involved than simply ease of inflation. For indoor or casual outdoor use, the Windcatcher’s ease of use is highly desirable and may be the overriding factor in choosing it.

However, if you are looking for a pad for more serious outdoor use, such as backpacking, two other major factors come into play: weight and insulation. The Windcatcher weighs approximately 1.5 pounds (24 ounces) and has an R-value of 1. For its weight, it provides very little insulation to shield you from the cold ground. By way of comparison, a self-inflating pad such as the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad weighs 33% less (16 vs. 24 ounces for size regular), yet provides more than double the warmth with an R-value of 2.2. As with most things in life, there are tradeoffs that you must weigh based on your needs.

The Windcatcher is getting off the ground as a Kickstarter project that has gone well beyond its goal amount (over $135,000 pledged of its $50,000 goal). If you miss it, Ryan says that the product will be sold online and you can request an alert when it is available.

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