April 01, 2021 5 min read

Words & photos: Kara Thoele

Yes you can take your super comfy HEST sleep system on your raft trips, you just need the right dry bag and you’ll sleep better than you ever have after a long day on the river.

Move over paco pad! There is a new “King of comfort” in the glamping-on-the-river game, the HEST Sleep System! Look at the difference! Softer memory foam with the support of the air base. No competition. My husband was jealous of my bed throughout the whole trip.

He tossed and turned every night and even had that discomfort of his skin sticking to the PVC. Meanwhile the only thing that bothered me in the middle of the night was the fact that I may have had a few too many margaritas or the wild life doing their thing.

I have been struggling with camping for quite some time. I had a bad accident years ago that makes it hard for me to get a good night's sleep while camping because most camping pads don't provide the right combination of padding and support. My husband and I got into rafting because it’s pretty glampy. I thought I was going to finally be able to sleep comfortably because I would be able to haul a thick PVC and foam pad. I was pretty crushed when even the “princess pad” didn’t do the job. I wanted to enjoy the outdoors but I couldn’t if I woke up every morning feeling wrecked from sleeping on a pad.

I found the HEST sleep system when I was doing my last desperate search for a sleep system that would allow me to enjoy the outdoors. I took the HEST on a 3 day 2 night “lifestyle” raft trip. We have a good selection of dry bags so I was able to break the system up into what needed to stay dry and what could survive getting splashed on. Surprisingly the part that should stay dry, the foam mattress, rolled down pretty tight and easily fit in our dry bags with the rest of our sheets, blankets and pillows. (Like I said “glampy”)

While we were loading up it felt a little over the top but that quickly faded when I realized how much stuff we regularly pack when going on raft trips. The HEST fit right in with the rest of the gear. We even had our SUP boards along with and were able to leave a pump behind because the HEST uses the same pump.

We like to set up as soon as we get to camp so that the fun can start. We were concerned that it would take awhile to get everything in place and miss out on the camp games. The HEST sets up in no time.

We all love the shenanigans that happen once you set up camp. Everyone knows the exploits of people floating on their paco pads. Don’t think you’ll miss out just because your sleep is superior. Remember the base has a lot in common with a SUP board. Just unzip the foam mattress and you can float in style alongside everyone else.

Ready to take your HEST on your next raft trip and spread jealousy like peanut butter? The mattress portion of the HEST does need to be kept dry just like a lot of your other belongings. You need a quality dry bag to protect your HEST and then you will be enjoying great nights of sleep along the river in no time.

Things to consider when choosing a dry bag:

  • How do you raft? Are you rigged to flip, hitting big wave wave trains and getting splashed all day? Or are you lifestyle rafting where the biggest chance of getting wet is someone spilling a drink? Do you have those creatures that constantly enter and exit the raft and carry water with them every time (2 or 4 legs)?
  • How do you roll the Sleep System? Are you a person that gets the system tightly rolled as small as it can go every time or is it a different size every time. The last thing you want is to not be able to get your system back in the dry bag as you are breaking down camp. I personally looked for a bag that allowed me flexibility in how the system was rolled.
  • Do you want to fit anything else in the bag or just want the dry bag dedicated to the HEST?

I found two bags that I could easily pack my HEST into, no wrestling required, even if I didn’t get the tightest roll:

The Budget Friendly Choice:
The Bomb Proof Bag:
Jax Plastic Guitar Bag
Watershed Mississippi

This bag is great, the Sleep System easily slides into it with plenty of room to spare. You will have plenty of room to pack your pillow and compressed sleeping bag. This is a roll top bag that clips down on the sides. It is important to make sure you get at least two good rolls and the sides are taunt to make your stuff stays protected from water.

The con to this bag is that you will need to pack extra items in this bag to make sure the roll is taunt enough to not allow water to get into the bag.

The Sleep System also fits easily into this bag with room for one maybe two compression sacks. This is a zip top bag that you then roll over at least once making sure the zipper is covered and then has clips that go across the top and sides. This bag is made to be fully submerged in water for several hours even days and keep your stuff dry.

The con-- it is expensive.

Considering that we typically run bigger water and the dream is to win that elusive Grand Canyon Permit, I went with the Watershed bag.

I loved this bag. It was easy to back the system in every morning and I did not find myself having to roll the Sleep System multiple times to get it to fit into the bag.  It also had enough room to fit the pump and two compression bags.  Also because of the design of the bag I was never worried about the system getting wet no matter what kind of water we found ourselves in.  

Yes the system takes up raft space but let's be honest rafting is car camping and you have more space than you think.  I promise it is totally worth the space to sleep on this every night.