Having a comfortable place to sleep is as important as keeping yourself warm.
There are several aspects to consider when choosing the appropriate sleeping pad for your next camping trip. These include the types of sleeping pads, what are you intending to use them for, how warm they can keep you, the other design features of a sleeping pad, as well as your sleep schedule. Get more camping advice at The Expert Camper.
Sleeping pads come in several different forms. The three basic types are air, closed-cell foam, as well as self-inflating sleeping pads.
Firstly, air pads themselves have quite a wide range. The ones that are more lightweight are suitable for a quick backpacking trip whereas the thick ones are good for glamping. They also come with reflective materials and/or insulation that helps to keep you warm. They are also easy to transport as they do not take up as much space as other sleeping pads and the softness of the sleep pads can be adjusted accordingly by the amount of air you choose to put into the sleeping pad. However, such sleeping pads tend to err on the more expensive side.
They are also prone to damage, especially when you are camping out in the open, even though patch kits make it possible to repair punctures on the go. Moreover, they can also tend to feel deflated when the surrounding temperature fluctuates. Manually inflating the sleeping pad can also encourage bacteria growth on the inside due to moisture from your breath.
Next are closed-cell foam pads. These are the basic, default backpacking pads that are made with small closed air cells consisting of dense foam. Such sleeping pads are normally folded in the letter ‘Z’ or rolled up. They are relatively inexpensive and sturdy and provide good enough insulation, all while being rather lightweight.
They are also not as prone to damage such as punctures and thus you can pack them outside your backpack without fear. However, these foam pads can be less comfortable than the other types of sleeping pads as some can find them a bit too firm and stiff, and they do not pack down very tightly.
Lastly, another kind of sleeping pads is self-inflating pads. The valve allows air to come in automatically and expand the foam, and they combine both air and open-cell foam insulation. Some of these are made specifically for backpacking and can be rolled up and packed down very compactly, while others are made for camping in your car that can be rolled up nicely.
Self-inflating pads alone give you a wide range of options in terms of size, warmth and cost. Hence, it is useful as they are more durable than air pads, and provide comparable, if not even more comfort, warmth and firmness, and pack down neatly as well. However, they can weigh more than simple air or foam pads and can be expensive as well. Relative to air pads, they are also less compact and are also prone to damages as well.
How to Choose
Depending on the nature of your camping trip, the type of sleeping pads you need might differ. For camping in your car, you can opt for something with more cushioning for better comfort at night. Thus, self-inflating pads can be a good choice and are often more inexpensive than more lightweight ones. Another alternative is to go for thick air pads that you could pair with regular sheets and blankets.
Backpacking trips can require you to pack light and thus self-inflating or air pads might be most appropriate. They are durable, light and easy to carry around and provide a good amount of comfort. Additionally, some of these sleeping pads can also double as a sitting cushion. However, if you are going for a more minimalist route, packing an ultralight air pad will be the best option. These are extremely lightweight and take up less space when packed.
For hiking trips, it is important to not carry so much gear with you as it can get too heavy, and thus it is important that your sleeping pads are light yet sturdy enough to last harsher outdoor conditions. For this purpose, bringing along a closed-cell foam pad would be ideal. You could even opt for a shorter length foam pad to save on space and weight, and use extra clothing for added insulation if necessary.
In colder winter climates, having a sleeping pad with good insulation and providing you with warmth is important. Hence, it is important to choose one with a high R-value and one such example is a closed-cell foam pad placed beneath an insulated air or self-inflating pad. The closed-cell foam pads provide additional insulation and at the same time prevents the inflatable pads from being damaged.
Typically, a sleep system consists of the sleeping bag, pad and what you wear to sleep. Keeping in mind that sleeping bags are tested on a person in long underwear and socks, with a pad of an R-value of about 5.5. Thus, the rule of thumb is to use the “comfort” rating if you are a cold sleeper and vice versa.
Sleeping Pad Considerations
An important consideration is the amount of insulation and the R-value of the sleeping pad. The R-value measures the sleeping pad’s capacity to resist heat flow and the higher the value, the better the insulation. These numbers are straightforward in the sense that a sleeping pad with an R-value of 1.0 is half as warm as one with an R-value of 1.0, and the summation of R-values give the total insulation.
Other things to take into account are a sleeping pad’s weight, length, width, inflation and surfaces. Ensuring that you choose one that best suits your needs in terms of comfort level as well as budget.
There are other considerations that could make or break a sleeping pad and some of them include the availability of pad sleeves that help to keep the sleeping pad in place during the night or hand pumps that can make inflating a large inflatable sleeping pad much more convenient. Another one is whether the sleeping pads come with patch kits that can help to fix a punctured pad wherever you are.