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Guide To Sleeping Pads

When trying to figure out the perfect sleep system for your next trip, a good place to start is with your sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are one of the most important decisions that you’ll make for your next camp trip, not only do they provide a cushy base to sleep on, but they also keep you insulated from the cold ground for increased warmth all night. But with a variety of styles, weights, and sizes to choose from there’s a lot to consider before making your final decision.


Air Pads

Comfortable, lightweight, and extra easy to pack, air pads are the perfect addition to your next backpacking trip. The main downside to air pads is that they need to be inflated and they aren’t as durable as other sleeping pad options. Air pads offer about 2 – 3 inches of cushioning once inflated and usually feature some sort of baffled construction for extra warmth. Though you can use your own breath to inflate these pads in around 3 minutes, you can also buy an external hand pump to make inflating a bit easier. These pads are ideal for a wide range of adventures, but aren’t the most durable, so be sure to bring a repair kit along in case there’s a puncture or tear in the fabric.

Closed-Cell Foam Pads

Durable enough to carry on the outside of your pack, with a lightweight design, and an inexpensive price point, closed-cell foam pads are a versatile addition to any camping adventure. These pads are made out of dense foam that’s filled with tiny closed air cells that help to protect you from the cold ground. While closed-cell foam doesn’t make for the most comfortable or warm pad, it does make for an incredibly burly one and it usually weighs in at less than a pound.

Self-Inflating Pads

Get the best of both worlds with self-inflating sleeping pads. Self-inflating pads have a mixed construction of open-cell foam and air to give you a warm, comfortable pad that’s also easy to pack. Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, self-inflating pads are where it’s at. Self-inflating pads are made out of a stronger material than air pads and you can adjust the firmness by adding or releasing air for customizable comfort and support.

Women's Specific

Women tend to be shorter than men so the first thing you’ll notice about a women’s specific sleeping pad is the length. Being able to cut down on the pads length means that it’s less bulky and easier to carry. Smaller people also have a harder time staying as warm as their larger counter parts, so women’s specific sleeping pads usually have increased insulation at the hips and feet. Not a woman? No worries! Just ignore the women’s specific tag and hit the trail, the shorter length and increased insulation are an awesome benefit for all of us below the 6 foot mark.


Car Camping

When it comes to car camping, the world is your oyster. Seriously, with car camping it’s all about what you personally prefer. You can even bring along a large inflatable air mattress instead of a sleeping pad if that’s what your heart desires.


When it comes to backpacking it’s all about keeping things as lightweight and easy to carry as possible. If you want to keep your overall weight low, a closed-cell foam pad is probably going to be your lightest option, but if you want a little bit more comfort, there are air pads and self-inflating pads that are incredibly lightweight as well. Many sleeping pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad weigh less than a pound, making it ideal for your next trekking adventure.

Winter Camping

For winter camping it’s not a bad idea to go with an air pad or self-inflating pad and a closed-cell foam pad. By placing an air or self-inflating pad with a high R-value on top of a closed-cell foam pad you have more insulation between you and the ground. Having a foam pad on the bottom also keeps your other air or self-inflating pad protected from punctures and tears for better durability.


R-Value refers to the thermal resistance of a material and the R-Value measurement is a great way to see the insulating capacity of your sleeping pad. R-Values range from 1 – 9, with 1 being a less insulated summer pad, and 9 being an insulated extreme winter pad. If you plan on camping in warmer weather, a summer pad with an R-Value of 2 – 3 is ideal, but if you plan on some winter camping, you’ll want a pad with an R-Value of at least 4 (5 or more if it’s going to be below freezing).

Length & Width

Your sleeping pad is what is keeping you protected from the cold ground, so it’s important that you get the right size for you. Bare minimum your shoulders and hips need to fit on the pad. If your pad is a shorter length you can stash your pack or extra clothes under your feet to keep them off the ground, but if the weather is cold, having a pad that fits your legs and feet can greatly increase your warmth. Regular sleeping pads are usually 72 inches in length, with long pads being around 78 inches.

Most sleeping pads have a width of around 20 inches, but if you’re on the bigger side or just like having some extra room to move, you can look into sleeping pads with 25 or 30 inch widths. Many long sized sleeping pads will also be wider, but not all, so it’s always good to check.


Hand Pump

If you’re going car camping or don’t mind the extra weight bringing a hand pump with you can make a world of difference when setting up camp. It’s relatively easy to inflate your sleeping pad the old fashioned way, with breath and hard work, but a hand pump only weighs a couple more ounces and makes things just that much easier.

Patch Kit

Unless you’re going with a closed cell foam pad there’s a decent chance that someday you’re air or self inflating pad is going to tear. The nylon outer fabric of your sleeping pad is tough, but there’s always a random rock or tree branch that can unexpectedly ruin your day. Companies like Gear Aid sell patch kits that are incredibly easy to use and come with everything you need.

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