How to Choose a Sleeping Pad

couple seating on sleeping mat

Spending some time in the great outdoors can is an amazing experience. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced outdoor explorer already, you need to make sure you are carrying the essential gear with you. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pack a lot of equipment to survive the great outdoors, and some of the most important items you’ll need are survival gear, boots, lighting solutions and sleeping pads. 

For some reason, a camping sleeping mat is an item that is often overlooked by outdoor enthusiasts who are trying to save some space in their packs. But those who take their outdoor adventures seriously, know the answer to the following question.

Is a Sleeping Pad Necessary for Camping?

A sleeping pad plays two important roles for getting a solid night’s sleep when camping – insulation and cushioning. Having a comfortable surface to sleep on is very useful, but the ability to keep you warm throughout the night is more important. Simply put, a sleeping pad is necessary to keep you comfy and provide critical insulation from cold ground temperatures. If you’ve ever slept outdoors without an insulation pad, then you know why it’s so important to always carry one with you.

Tips on How to Choose Your Sleeping Pad

packed camping sleeping mat

If you have a comfortable sleeping bag you might think that you don’t need a sleeping pad, but the truth is that this camping accessory offers a lot of benefits, so you may want to think twice about it. There are many different styles, sizes and colours available, so you can choose a camping sleeping mat that meets your needs and can make your outdoor adventures more enjoyable. In the end, nothing is more important than getting a good night’s sleep.

Different Types of Sleeping Pads

types of camping sleeping mats

Closed Cell Foam Pads

These are lightweight and durable options that offer insulation in various conditions. They make it easy to use around camp and create a great protective layer. Closed-cell foam pads are basic backpacking pads made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells. They can be rolled up or folded in a Z formation.

Inflatable Pads

These are lightweight and packable, therefore, a great choice for ultralight backpacking and camping. Inflatable pads pack down small enough to fit inside your bag but keep in mind that you will have to inflate or pump them. 

Self-Inflating Pads

These are filled with open-cell foam that expands when the valve is open. They are comfortable and more insulating than other types of sleeping pads, as well as more compact.

Consider the R-Value (Warmth)

Sleeping at a high altitude requires some serious insulation from the cold ground, so make sure to look for pads with high R-values. The R-value of a sleeping mat is its ability to resist heat loss to the ground. The higher the R-value, the higher the resistance to heat flow and the warmer the mat will keep you. When you sleep in your tent, you lose body heat to the cold ground beneath you. A sleeping pad’s insulation is crucial for a warm night’s sleep and manufacturers use a variety of materials and construction techniques to prevent heat loss. R-values of sleeping pads range from less than 2, which are minimally insulated to 5.5, which are very well insulated.

Consider Your Sleep System

Being comfortable at a particular temperature depends on many variables and one of them is the temperature rating of your sleeping bag. For that reason, your sleeping bag and pad need to work together. However, there is one more component of your sleep system you should consider – the sleeper’s clothing. 

Sleeping Pad Length

Always make sure your shoulders and hips fit on the pad. Regular and long pads can insulate your legs and feet, which is a great advantage on winter trips. A short pad, on the other hand, weighs less and packs more conveniently.

Sleeping Pad Width

If you have broad shoulders or you roll around a lot in your sleep, it may be a good idea to look for a wider pad to give you a little extra room. Usually, long sleeping pads are wider as well, but before making a choice, consider the size of your tent, especially if you need to fit two wider pads next to each other.

Sleeping Pad Surface

Sleeping pads with textured or brushed fabric surfaces are a great choice for restless sleepers. If you are one of them, you’ll be happy to know that your sleeping pad’s surface can keep you and your sleeping bag from sliding off during the night. Another option is a sleeping bag with an integrated sleeve to hold a pad.

Additional Tips and Advice

close-up of tent and man watching the sunset

Your sleeping bag and pad can keep you warm throughout the night, so you can wake up fresh and prepared for the new day, however, some other ways can also help you stay warm in your tent and ensure a cosy and comfortable camping experience.

To begin with, make sure to always dress in layers and as you move through the activities of your outdoor adventure, you can work up your body heat and manage it by adding and subtracting layers. It can help you prevent sweating and stay warm. Don’t wait until you feel cold to layer up, but grab an extra layer when the temperature starts to drop off.

Also, some campers put a hot water bottle in their core region. It can help you heat the blood that goes through your body and warm you up. And last, but not least, remember to always vent your tent. This way you will reduce dampness and condensation and keep the inside of your tent dry.