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How to Pick a Great Sleeping Pad

Picking a great place to camp is only one part of the equation. You need quality gear to thrive in the wilderness. The right sleeping pad can help your body rest and wake up rejuvenated.

Many advanced types of pads continue to hit the market, but you don’t have to break the bank to find a quality option. Follow these tips before you go on your next trip.

3 things to think about before you buy your pad:

  1) Type of pad
  2) Your specific trip
  3) Features

Types of sleeping pads are listed from least expensive to most expensive. You should consider what time of year you plan to use your pad. The R-value of a sleeping pad ranges from 1-10. The higher the number, the more heat the pad will retain. For winter weather choose a pad with a high R-value. (1)

Types of Sleeping Pads

Closed-Cell Foam Pads
The least expensive version of a sleeping pad. These pads are usually designed to roll up or fold away for convenient travel. Made of dense foam and filled with air cells. (2) The basic pad for any backpacking trip.

Pros: Lightweight, durable, extremely weather resistant, no puncture problems ever

Cons: Uncomfortable, less protection from the ground, somewhat bulky

Self-Inflating Pads
The mid range option for those seeking quality on a budget. While more expensive than closed-cell foam pads, self-inflating pads are filled with outside air to meet desired firmness. Self-inflating pads come with a valve that lets you control how much air enters the pad in addition to partial foam construction. Sleeping pads in this class come wider, offer more insulation, and are a great value. Some roll up after being folded in order to fit into a backpack.

Pros: Adjustable firmness, retains air better than any other sleeping pad, made from tough fabric

Cons: Punctures can and do happen, heavier than foam pads and air pads

Air Pads
The most expensive option for a reason. These pads are lighter than self-inflating pads, compress to a smaller size than any other pad, and are easy to pack away for longer backpacking trips. You will have to inflate most models on your own. Some come with hand pumps. Some also come with additional insulation. For hikers who frequently hit the trail, this type of pad may be the best available option.

Pros: Extremely lightweight, compression makes it easy to pack and carry for longer backpacking trips, customizable firmness

Cons: More expensive, can be punctured, feel as though they lose air, can be loud

Choosing a sleeping pad for your trip

Sleeping pads are best chosen with your specific trip in mind. (duration, time of year, method of travel) With that said, here are a few different types of trips and pads that work best for those trips.

Car camping
The huge advantage here is that campers are not limited by size or weight! Because of this the type of pad you bring can be heavy or bulky without causing a huge issue. Larger self-inflating pads offer much more comfort than their smaller counterparts and are often less expensive as well.

Thru hikers often sacrifice comfort for durability and lighter weight. Because longer hikes demand sleeping pads that can perform in various conditions while taking a beating from the elements, a closed-cell sleeping pad is your best bet. They are also lighter than most other pads.

Here it really depends upon your preference and the length of your trip. For longer trips, ask yourself what you are willing to carry. If adding a little weight is no problem for you, air pads or self-inflating pads are the way to go. While they may be heavier, these pads are more comfortable and come in a variety of sizes and weights. Be sure to check the insulation value if you plan to hike in the winter.

Winter camping
The best option here is to use a closed-cell foam pad as a ground pad for extra insulation. You can then choose a self-inflating pad or an air pad to put on top of the ground pad for comfort. The closed-cell foam pad acts as a backup to the other pad in case of holes in the material as well.


Sleeping pads typically come in 3 different lengths: short (47 inches), regular (72 inches) , and long (78 inches). Thru-hikers will pick short pads for lighter weight. Consider your own height and type of trip before picking a good length. Almost every pad offers a width 20 inches. Larger pads may or may not offer a width of 25 inches.

Closed-cell foam pads tend to be some of the lightest pads on the market. However, certain expensive ultralight pads designed to compress tightly into a backpack can be lighter than foam pads.

Sleeping pads offer different types of surfaces ranging from smooth to textured. Textured surfaces may help restless sleepers stay atop their pad throughout the night.

Some pads have inflation and deflation valves making it much easier to set up your pad for a great night sleep. Others require no inflation at all. Generally speaking, pads that require inflation are more comfortable but less durable than closed-cell sleeping pads.

Getting great sleep outdoors is key to a successful trip. Sleep helps both your mind and body reset and recharge for new challenges.

[READ: How to Sleep Great in a Tent]
Hope you enjoyed these tips on how to pick a great sleeping pad. What do you use while camping to get a great night sleep?


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