How to Choose Sleeping Pads

How to Choose Sleeping Pads

 

Sleeping pads play two very important roles for getting a solid night's sleep in the great outdoors: cushioning and insulation.  

Here’s how to choose a sleeping pad for camping or backpacking:

  • Types of sleeping pads: Learn about the three basic types of pads and how they perform — air, self-inflating, and closed-cell foam.
  • Intended use: Decide which activity your pad is for — backpacking, car camping, winter camping, etc.
  • Features: Decide which features are most important to you — weight, cushioning, size, insulation.

Try them in person : To make your final decision, try to visit your local REI and test a few different pads. 

 

Types of Sleeping Pads

Air Pads

Some models feature a built-in hand pump and some brands offer a lightweight bag-style external hand pump (usually sold separately).   

Some models feature a built-in hand pump and some brands offer a lightweight bag-style external hand pump (usually sold separately). 

 

Pros: Air pads are incredibly comfortable and lightweight and the most compact type of pad when packed. 

Cons: They can be punctured or ripped (this is most common when sharing a tent with dogs), but field repairs are not difficult. Air pads have a tendency to feel as if they are losing air if the outside temperature fluctuates, so try to blow them up right before you go to sleep. 

 

Self-Inflating Pads

Self-inflating pads offer a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air. This category has the options for the warmest, widest and (aside from closed-cell foam pads) the least expensive pads.   

Self-inflating pads offer a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air. This category has the options for the warmest, widest and (aside from closed-cell foam pads) the least expensive pads. 

 

Pros: They’re comfortable and compact, they offer excellent insulation, and you can adjust their firmness by adding or releasing air. 

Cons: They’re heavier and more expensive than simple foam pads, and not as compact as air pads. 

 

Closed-Cell Foam Pads

These basic backpacking pads are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells. They’re usually rolled up or folded in a Z formation.  

These basic backpacking pads are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells. They’re usually rolled up or folded in a Z formation.

 

Pros : They’re lightweight, inexpensive, durable and offer good insulation. These are the only pads that can be carried on the outside of your pack without fear of damage. 

Cons: They are less comfortable. They’re relatively stiff and firm, so they tend to be bulky.

 

Choosing the Best Sleeping Pad for You

When choosing a new sleeping pad, it’s helpful to keep the following considerations in mind:

Car camping:  Large inflatable air mattresses are another option if want to use regular sheets and blankets instead of a sleeping bag. 

Backpacking: Those who prefer good sleep comfort when backpacking (or touring by bike, canoe or kayak) can choose self-inflating or air pads, offering a variety of thicknesses, durability, insulation value and weight. 

Minimalist backpacking: Low weight and a small packed size override all other factors. 

Thru-hiking: Many thru-hikers pick a “short” or “3/4 length” foam pad to save weight (you can lay your empty pack or extra clothing under your feet for a bit of insulation if needed). 

Winter camping: REI recommends the use of two pads: an insulated, high-R-value air pad or self-inflating pad atop a closed-cell foam pad. 

 

Sleeping Pad Features

Insulation and R-Value

Most manufacturers give either an R-value or temperature range to help you gauge how much insulation the pad provides. Some women-specific pads put more insulation in the core and feet area where women lose heat fastest. Note that unlike with sleeping bags, choosing a higher warmth rating in a sleeping pad won’t lead to overheating. 

 

Sleeping Pad Weight

Ultralight pads are excellent for backpacking but are more expensive. 

 

Sleeping Pad Length

Regular (typically 72 inches long) and long (typically 78-inch) pads will insulate your legs and feet—a big plus on chilly fall and winter trips. 

 

Sleeping Pad Width

Nearly every pad offers a standard width of 20 inches. If you’re a large person or tend to roll around a lot, you may want a width of 25 or 30 inches (but consider the size of your tent to ensure you can fit two wider pads side by side). 

 

Sleeping Pad Construction

Some pads have larger side baffles, often called “rails,” to cradle you and help keep you from rolling off as you turn during sleep. 

 

Sleeping Pad Inflation

Some pads have both a high-volume inflation valve and a deflation valve, which can speed air flow in or out. 

 

Sleeping Pad Surfaces

If you're a restless sleeper, look for a pad with a textured or brushed-fabric surface. 

 

Additional Sleeping Pad Considerations

Sleep systems: Some sleeping bags have an integrated sleeve to hold a pad. 

Hand pumps: If you don’t like expending breath after a long day of hiking, look for a pad with an integrated hand pump or purchase a bag-style hand pump that rolls up small and weighs only a couple ounces (sold separately). 

Patch kits are a good idea for backpacking. 

 

Source: Sleeping Pads: How to Choose

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