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Buying Guide for Sleeping Pads



There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to prepare you for a day’s adventure or in some cases helps you recover from one. A good sleeping pad is a crucial element to this equation. What’s a sleeping pad? We’ll go into details about different types, shapes and sizes of them, but a sleeping pad is a pad that essentially lays and creates a cushion between your sleeping bag and your tent floor.It’s much smaller and thinner than an inflatable mattress, but folds to a much more compact size. Sleeping pads have two major purposes. The first, as stated before is to create cushion or added comfort between you and the ground. The second purpose is to provide insulation. Sleeping directly on the ground in your sleeping bag means you’re compressing the insulation from your bag underneath you. This means you will lose some of the warming elements of your bag. Sleeping on a sleeping pad makes up for this and provides varying degrees of added insulation between you and the ground. Simple enough right? As we take you through the different types and styles of sleeping pads, just keep in mind two important things: How important is comfort to you versus how important packability is. We’ll take you through the in’s and out’s to buying a sleeping pad so you’ll know exactly what’s right for you.



Types of Sleeping Pads


There are three main categories of sleeping pads each with their own levels of comfort, insulation and packability.


Foam Sleeping Pads: The simplest form of a sleeping pad is your standard foam pad. Foam pads are made of dense foam with closed air cells. Foam sleeping pads are generally the most inexpensive of all pads. They are incredibly durable as you don’t have to worry about getting a hole in them if they are snagged by a rock or sticks and they won’t absorb water. Naturally, just by being a bit thicker, they tend to be excellent insulators although the stiffer dense foam can be a bit less comfortable than some of the other options. The biggest disadvantage a foam sleeping pad however is the ability to pack them down. While you don’t have to take the time to squeeze the air out of them, they are much more bulky than their counterparts. Foam sleeping pads can be rolled or folded, but take up a bit more room. Due to this, even though they are lightweight they tend to be a better choice for the person camping out of their car or even a canoe where space savings is not an issue.


Air Sleeping Pads: As the name describes them, these sleeping pads are simply filled with air. They are manually inflated, generally by mouth, and use air to give a bit more comfort to the pad. They conform better to the body than a foam pad will, but are still relatively lightweight. Air pads come in both insulated and non-insulated options. Non insulated options provide very little insulation due to the free circulation of air inside the large air compartments so they are best suited to camping in warm temperatures. Insulated versions can be used year round. These pads sometimes integrate foam or an insulated fill to increase the warmth of the pad. Overall, air pads tend to pack down much better than foam pads, but not as well as most self-inflating pads. Using an air pad of course opens you up to the possibility of tears or holes, but repairs are not difficult. Prices on these pads vary but tend to fall between foam pads and self-inflating pads.


Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads: Using of a combination of open-cell foam and air, self-inflating pads range from ultra-light weight styles to thick and cozy pads for the car camper not concerned about weight. Function however is the same. To use, you simply open the pad’s valve, unroll it or lay it out, and the pad will suck in air like a vacuum until it is nearly full. Generally, if you lay a pad out a few hours before going to bed, it will only require a blow or two by mouth to complete the firmness. Self-inflating pads are generally made with a shell of waterproof, air tight nylon. They are comfortable and while often not as thick as their counterparts, the firmness of the pad is adjustable. They tend to be a bit heavier than foam and air pads but they are extremely compact when rolled up and compressed, often coming with a stuff sack. This and the fact that they provide excellent insulation make them extremely popular with backpackers. Thicker models are also made for car campers. Although made with incredibly durable materials, self-inflating pads do of course run the risk of tears and abrasions; however they too are very easy to repair. They also occasionally feature some form of a slide resistant pattern on the surface. This keeps your sleeping bag from sliding off the pad as you move around. Some sleeping bags or hammocks will even feature a pocket to accommodate pads for the same reason. Overall, self-inflating packs may tend to be the most expensive type of sleeping pad, but their combination of packability, insulation and versatility is unbeatable.


Sleeping Pad Size


Sleeping Pads generally come in short, regular and long sizes. “Regular” pads tend to fit the majority of customers at 72” in length. “Long” pads range from 75” to 78” long and are best for customers over 6 feet tall. “Short” pads or “¾” pads are usually 47” or 48” long. These are often used by backpackers concerned with cutting down on weight and size.


Womens Sleeping Pads


Womens pads are generally shorter than regular adult pads at about 66” long. They also provide a bit more insulation where women tend to get colder in the hips and feet.




Sleeping pads come in two shapes, rectangle and mummy to coincide with the shape of your sleeping bag. Rectangular sleeping pads are simply that, in the form of a rectangle, while mummy shaped pads will narrow from about the hips down, just like that of a mummy sleeping bag. While someone with a mummy sleeping bag can certainly use a rectangular sleeping pad, the additional space is unneeded and those looking to cut down on weight would be happy to shed it. Mummy shaped pads tend to be found in the self-inflating models as well as some air models, while rectangular pads tend to be found in air or foam models.




Here are a few additional terms or specs you might come across.


Packed Size: We try to provide customers with packed size so that you can determine just how packable your pad is. For some of the self-inflating pads and some of the air pads, packed size includes being packed into the included stuff sack. If a stuff sack is not included, packed size will be the initial packed size the pad arrives in. It may be hard without the use of a compression sack or stuff sack to compress the pad to this size. Foam pads will generally have a much larger packed size as they are simply rolled.


Dimensions: Dimensions are the length, width and thickness of the pad when rolled out. While length and width may not vary as much from brand to brand pay specific attention to thickness as this will vary.


Weight: The overall weight of the pad is an important spec for backpackers or even those that are kayak camping. Those using a canoe or camping out of their car will generally be less concerned with it.


R-Value: A pad’s R-Value measures its ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-Value, the more insulated the pad is, meaning the warmer you will be. R-Value’s range from 1.0 (which has little insulation) to 9.5 (which has a lot of insulation). Generally the thicker the pad the higher the R-value, but some lightweight, thinner pads can have higher R-Values due to the materials they are insulated with.


Overall, the sleeping pad you choose can play a large role in how energized you are to take on the day. For some space and weight is the largest concern, while for others comfort and insulation are important. There are pros and cons to each of the pads discussed above based on the different activities they can be used for. Figure out what’s the most important factors to you and then use our specs and compare feature to determine the right pad for you. Trust me, your back will thank you for it later!