Comparison of Three Currently Available Ultralight EVA Closed Cell Foam Pads
This high level review will compare the very popular (and often unavailable) Gossamer Gear Thinlight pad to a couple of other avilable options, the Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Goodnight EVA and the Seek Outside Matty McMat Face. Spoiler alert, they are all essentially the same. Buy what you can find!
What is EVA Foam Anyway?
Mostly, EVA is being used as shorthand to describe a specific product called Evazote from a company called Zotefoams. If you look at their product descriptions you’ll see technical terms like “crosslinked ethylene copolymer foam”, “cross-linked polyethylene”, “crosslinked polyolefin”, “ethylene-vinyl acetate” and so on. We’re not going to delve that deep here because these are just various types of plastics. The magic occurs when they use a nitrogen expansion process that creates the bubbles in the plastic to form a foam. Combine EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) with azote, the french word for nitrogen and you have “EVAzote”. It’s just a plastic closed-cell foam.
Even if you aren’t familiar with this term, you are probably familiar with some common products that are made with both closed-cell and open-cell foams. Consider pool noodles, they are made using closed-cell foam. Look closely and you’ll see a foam that is made of a bunch of very tightly packed bubbles, or “cells”. The bubbles are filled with air and don’t readily pop and so the noodle floats and doesn’t even take on water when you squeeze it. Now consider a kitchen sponge. It’s also made of a type of foam, but if you look closely you’d see that all of the little bubbles are already popped and what’s left is just a lattice of material that was in between the bubbles.
Since Evazote is a closed-cell foam, we know that it isn’t going to absorb water like a sponge. Instead, it’s going to act more like a pool noodle. But what else makes it so special? Really, it comes down to the chemistry of the types of plastic they are using and the particular process they are using to expand the bubbles. The plastic can also be described as synthetic rubber because it is very elastic. And the bubbles can be made quite thin resulting in a lower density when compared to many other foams. These characteristics translate into a material that’s a little “sticky”, very durable, waterproof, and lightweight. And all of these reasons lend themselves to a great backpacking product.
- Because it’s soft and waterproof, you can fold it up and place it on the ground and use it as a sit-pad during breaks.
- Because it’s also a little sticky, it works well to keep your air mattress from sliding around on the tent floor.
- Because it’s durable, you can fold it up, roll it up, or stuff it and it will keep on performing.
- It can be folded and used inside your frameless packs to provide some structure and prevent the contents of your pack from poking your back.
- It can be a rain hat.
So, I mentioned that Evazote was lower in density than most other foams. Well that isn’t exactly true and so you should be really aware of this point if purchasing any Evazote other than the ones I will be comparing here. During the manufacturing process, they can actually control the final density of the foam. So they actually manufacture Evazote in a few different densities for different purposes. And higher density versions have become really popular in the crafting community, particularly for use in crafting cosplay gear. So you will come across rolls of Evazote at craft stores but this material is significantly heavier than the low density Evazotes found in the products discussed here.
Taking A Closer Look
Literally. Let’s take a close look at each of these products and then I’ll point out some differences. From the top you have the original Gossamer Gear Thinlight, followed by the MLD Goodnight EVA, and finally the Seek Outside Matty McMat Face:
The reference scale on the right of each image is a 1/32″ rule to give you a sense of the scale. As you can see, these nitrogen filled bubbles are small! They are small enough to be difficult to discern with the naked eye. Some even find it impossible to focus on the surface of the mats at all because of the way the bubbles reflect light and create a “sparking dust” effect. This is particularly pronounced when the EVA is black. And this is the first notable difference between the products. You will note the original GG Thinlight is slightly lighter than the others. It is indeed more of a grey where the others are black. I purchased my Thinlight several years ago and I understand the current releases are also black.
This color variation has caused confusion with some buyers, thinking that GG changed the material altogether. But as you can see in the close-up pictures, it’s the same, just a different color with different reflectance.
So Really, There’s No Difference?
Not really. These aren’t value-add products, they’re raw materials. The only difference really is the size they cut them to and the cost. Summarized in the table below, you will see that the Thinlight and the Goodnight EVA are about the same size. But the Matty McMat Face is more the twice the size of either. It’s double the width and quite a bit longer.
Comparison of Evazote Pads
|Brand||Product||Cost||Thickness||Width||Length||Weight||Oz/Sq.In||Oz/Sq.Ft||Density||Cost /Sq ft|
|Gossamer Gear||Thinlight||21||1/8"||19"||59 1/8"||2.5 oz.||0.0022||0.3205||30.8 kg/m3||$ 2.69|
|MLD||Goodnight EVA||20||1/8"||20"||60"||2.4 oz.||0.0020||0.2880||27.7 kg/m3||$ 2.4|
|Seek Outside||Matty McMat Face||42||1/8"||40"||81"||7.1 oz.||0.0022||0.3156||30.3 kg/m3||$ 1.87|
Now I’m sure some will reference the fact that the Goodnight EVA appears to be the lowest weight per square inch. And that is true for my calculations. But if you look at the specs, the sizes are generally described as nominal sizes and the weights listed as a range. Because this material is stretchy and I’ve folded and refolded these pads many times, I wasn’t able to reliably measure the dimensions of my pads. So, I have used the estimated sizes from the manufacture web sites, but my actual weights. This means, that while I used 19×59.125 as the dimensions for the Thinlight, my actual pad may be a little larger or a little smaller. And there is probably some slight variability in the manufacturing from one day to the next. So these numbers are close enough to be in the margin of error. Zotefoams describes Evazote as being available “in a range of densities from 30 kg/m3” and that lines up pretty close to my calculated densities, so I’m pretty certain these are all simply the same 30 kg/m3 product.
So What Do I Recommend
If you only need a single pad, go with either the Thinlight (top, previous pciture) or the Goodnight EVA (middle, previous picture). They are effectively the same size, effectively the same weight, effectively the same cost. Base your decision on availability. These things tend to sell out quickly so grab either one from whoever has inventory.
And if you need two pads, go for the Matty McMat Face (bottom, previous picture, folded in half) if it is available. You can easily cut this material and the way this particular pad is sized, you can cut 20″ off the end, then cut what remains down the length and you’ll end up with two 20×60 pads (equivalent to the Thinlight or Goodnight) as well as a 20×40 pad that is perfect for a sit pad. Cost-wise, it’s like getting two of the others with the sit pad thrown in for free!
Outdoor Vitals has recently announced that they will begin offering an Eva pad. At the time of this writing, they are accepting pre-orders with shipping in batches a month or two out. They list two sizes available and list the density at 2lb density (which is 2lb/cu.ft or about 32k/cu.m).
Fabric: Closed Cell EVA Foam (2 lb density)
Short: 1/8″ Thick x 20″x40″
Regular: 1/8″ Thick x 20″x60″
I have also found at least one wholesaler, foamorder.com, that offers for sale individual sheets as well as bulk discounted sheets. Each sheet is 40×80 so comparable to the Seek Outside pad. As mentioned above, this can be cut down into two “Regular” pads and one “Short” pad. Which is what OV appears to be doing. Pricing for wholesale is attractive, but shipping is exorbitant and so probably only a reasonable option for buying in bulk as you prepare to be the King (or Queen) of Eva.