How to Choose Sleeping Pads

How to Choose Sleeping Pads

The sleeping pad is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your backpack.

You need to make sure that you choose a sleeping pad to keep you comfortable and warm throughout your trip.

Choosing the best sleeping pad for you is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

There are many different types of pads, with each type having its advantages and disadvantages.

It’s important to know what your needs are before making this purchase so you can find the right one for you.

In this article, we will give some tips on choosing sleeping pads for different outdoor activities. We will discuss what temperature ratings mean, types of insulation, and more!

How to Choose Sleeping Pads for Camping / Backpacking

How to Choose Sleeping Pads for Camping _ Backpacking

  • Know Your Adventure: The first question to ask yourself when deciding which type of sleeping pads you want is what activity they will be used for.
  • Types of Sleeping Pads: Most people can find three types of sleeping pads in stores. They are air, self-inflating, and foam. Most packs come with a stuff sack for the pad, but you may want to buy an extra one if it doesn’t come with yours as they store better and keep things from poking through.
  • Understand Sleeping Insulation: Some sleeping pads are designed in colder climates, while others work better for warmer weather. The warmth of the pad is typically measured by its R-value, which stands for “resistance.”
  • Sleeping Pads Features: Whether you’re camping in the backcountry or just looking to get a good night’s sleep at being your next weekend outing, there are some important features to consider when choosing a length sleeping pad. What size of insulation do you need? Will it fit in your pack? Are weight and packability an issue?

Know Your Adventure

Sleeping Pads For Backpacking
  • Sleeping Pads for Backpacking

If you like sleeping high off of the cold ground but don’t have any specific requirements about weight or size constraints, then an airbed is perfect for your needs.

Inflatable mattresses are lightweight and easy to carry in a backpack.

They’re not as durable or thick as something made for car camping, but they do the job well enough for occasional use on rough ground.

Sleeping Pads For Car Camping
  • Sleeping Pads for Car Camping

Car campers need to consider weight because of the logistics when traveling by vehicle.

The thicker the mattress, typically, the heavier it will be, and this impacts both price point and amount of space taken up in your vehicle (or whatever you’re carrying it in).

So if you want one that is reliable at least most of the time with minimal extra care like airing out after each trip, then consider spending more money on a higher-quality product from an established company so that it meets your needs.

Sleeping Pads for Minimalist Backpacking
  • Sleeping Pads for Minimalist Backpacking

Sleeping pads for minimalist backpacking are usually closed-cell foam.

They have low-temperature ratings and offer minimal insulation but are often the lightest option on this list (and they don’t take up much room).

This is a great type of pad to use if you’re trying to shave weight or space from your pack!

Sleeping Pads for Winter Camping
  • Sleeping Pads for Winter Camping

In contrast, winter camping sleeping pads come in either self-inflating or air mattresses with down filling that provide more warmth than their counterparts.

These two types will also compress better, preferable during long hikes when you want less bulk underfoot.

You should bring these along if it’s cold out, but remember that at the same time, there’s not as much padding, so you might want to bring a pad with higher insulation for more comfort.

Sleeping Pads Types

Inflatable sleeping pads
  • Inflatable sleeping pads (Air Pads)

Inflatable sleeping pads are great for camping and backpacking because they take up very little space in your pack.

They’re also lightweight, so you can easily attach them to the outside of your pack with a carabiner or compression straps.

However, inflatable sleeping pads have their drawbacks: they don’t provide much padding from the ground, may not be as durable as other options, and most importantly, must be blown up before use (a task that many find difficult).

When using this type of pad, it’s best to place something underneath it- such as extra clothes or a dry bag- to create insulation between yourself and the hard ground.

Closed-Cell Foam Pads
  • Closed-Cell Foam Pads

Closed-Cell Foam Pads offer more comfort and insulation than inflatable pads.

They also offer more padding, making them a good choice for those looking to protect themselves from the ground and provide comfort on longer trips.

However, this type of pad is much heavier (and bulkier) than an inflatable one- making it difficult to carry in your backpack or attach to the outside with carabiners or compression straps.

This means that you’ll need to be careful when packing if it’s going inside your pack because there will not be any additional space left over once the sleeping pad has been packed away.

Self-inflating Pads
  • Self-inflating Pads

Self-inflating mats take up about half the physical volume of non-inflatable foam pads but still have just as much cushioning and insulation.

Like inflatable pads, they’re lightweight and easy to attach to the outside of your pack with carabiners or compression straps.

However, this type can be tricky because it doesn’t automatically puff up once unpacked- meaning that you’ll need to manually blow air into them for them to work properly (though many find this process quick and easy).

Self-inflating mats are also a good choice if you want something more comfortable than an inflatable pad but less bulky than a foam pad.

These types do come at a higher price point than either of their counterparts.

It’s important to consider what type is right for your needs and how much weight matters when choosing which one will suit your trip best.

Sleeping Pads Insulation and R-Value

Sleeping Pads Insulation and R-Value

R-values in sleeping pads are important to know because they impact how much insulation you get from your pad.

R-value is a rating that indicates how well insulation limits heat transfer.

It’s calculated by multiplying the thickness of an insulating material (in inches) times its resistance to conductive heat flow per inch, divided by the product of air temperature inside minus outside temperature.

The resulting number will provide you with a measure of thermal insulation in units called “hundredths.”

Anything over 0.75 becomes effective at limiting heat loss through conduction, which means it can be considered as good as any other sleeping pad for use in cold ground or snowfield environments.

For side sleepers who want maximum warmth when camping during the early fall or winter seasons, anything under about 20 is not effective at limiting heat loss through conduction.

  • The higher the R-value, the more heat it will trap and reflect at you. That’s why winter campers should choose a high R-value when possible! Materials with low R-values can lose up to 50% of heat.
  • The Lower the R-value or R-value of less than one will lose most heat to the ground, which is why you want an R-value of at least three for winter camping and five if base camping during summer months.

A low R-value also means a loss in insulation from your sleeping pad so that you’ll have colder spots on your pad.

Low R-value pads can also be uncomfortable because they are less bouncy than higher-quality options, which means you’ll get more pressure points when sleeping on low-density foam mats (think a camping mattress). This is especially true for stomach sleepers who need to use their arms and elbows as pillows.

Sleeping Pads Features

sleeping pad features

  • Sleeping Pad Weight

The weight of the sleeping pad you purchase should depend on your camping style. If you are backpacking, then a lightweight, compact sleeping bag is best, but if space and weight do not matter to you or if you are car camping, there are heavier options with more insulation for colder weather available as well.

  • Sleeping Pad Length

The length of the sleeping pad will depend on your height and what type of camping you are doing. Typically, pads range from about 20 – 72 inches in length (51 to 183cm).

If you carry a backpack, shorter lengths work better as they take up less space inside your bag, but longer lengths allow for more coverage while maintaining warmth.

  • Sleeping Pad Width

The width of the sleeping pad is also something to keep in mind.

You want a wide enough surface area for your body, but you don’t want one that takes up too much space if you’re backpacking.

However, wider pads are usually more comfortable because they provide added insulation and support for bigger bodies or larger campsites when car camping.

  • Sleeping Pad Inflation

All sleeping pads are inflated by either blowing them up with your lungs or using a pump. This is to help maintain warmth and support.

Some have an auto-inflation feature that uses air from the environment around you, like in caves, for instance. Still, these are typically heavier and more expensive than their counterparts if weight matters to you.

Self-inflating mats are less expensive and more durable, but they can be difficult to inflate for the first time, especially if you have never inflated a sleeping pad before.

For those who haven’t used these types of pads before, it is best to ask someone else with experience how to do so.

Blow-up versions are much easier and will automatically fill once the air has been pumped into them.

  • Sleeping Pad Surface

In recent years, sleeping pad surfaces have become more and more diverse.

Choosing the right surface is important for getting a good night’s sleep while backpacking or camping because it affects how comfortable you are and how warm you stay throughout the night.


With so many sleeping bag options to choose from, it can be hard to decide which one is right for you. The key points in this article will help guide your decision.

Remember that a good night’s sleep makes the next day more enjoyable and productive, so make sure you get the most out of every night by purchasing a high-quality sleeping pad today!

We hope we’ve been able to help you find some peace at last when trying to figure out how best to spend your nights tucked away under the stars (or inside an RV).

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