There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding what to bring when you venture out into the big, wide open.
When trying to figure out how to choose a backpacking sleeping pad, it’s important to ask yourself which traits matter the most for your needs, for the best comfort and affordability.
– Updated 2/9/2020
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Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing A Backpacking Sleeping Pad
Just like at home, you want to have a comfortable and peaceful night’s rest when camping or hiking. Be warned though – you might think that a thick sleeping pad is the way to go – but if it weighs a ton, you’ll be sorry after a day of hiking with that monster on your back. Reducing the weight you carry is usually a high priority.
Another important factor is the ability of the sleeping pad to keep you warm, but you should also consider the different seasons and the features most important to your personal needs. Keeping these things in mind, there are three basic types of sleeping pads.
Three Basic Types of Sleeping Pads
- The Self Inflating sleeping pad
- The Air sleeping pad
- The Closed Cell foam sleeping pad
1) Self-Inflating Pads
A great aspect of these pads is the dual elements of air and open-cell foam insulation. You open the valve and it inflates automatically. Look for the ones particularly designed for backpacking, with the ability to be folded lengthwise and then rolled up to fit your pack.
Positive: Compact, great insulation, strong, comfortable, adjustable.
Negative: Pricey, heavier than foam pads, can be punctured (but easy to repair.)
2) Air sleeping pads
Air sleeping pads, also referred to as air mattresses, are ideal for backpacking, they’re light with great insulation for warmth and sometimes need to be inflated by mouth – but it usually only takes up to 3 minutes and there are some that can be inflated by a hand pump, which are usually sold separately. When you’re ready to pack up, the auto-reverse valve deflates in a flash.
Thermarest sleeping pads are perhaps the most well-known. However, Sea to Summit makes an incredible line of sleeping pads as well. The Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Mattress, in particular, is easy to inflate/deflate, comfortable, and gives great insulation against the cold.
Positive: Lightweight, compact, comfortable, varying styles to suit the seasons, custom firmness.
Negative: Cost increases with level of weight and how compact they are, can puncture but easy to repair.
3) Closed-Cell Foam Pads
The thing about a thick foam sleeping pad is that it’s basic and contains small, closed air cells. Packing them is easy with a Z formation or roll up.
Positive: Cheap, lightweight, good insulation, durable, impervious to punctures, can be used as a sit pad.
Negative: Quite stiff and not as comfortable as the others, can be bulky.
Think about the size, weight, insulation and cushioning provided by the sleeping pad. If you’re able to, try them out in person – which includes lying down on them, rolling and packing them, carrying them and so on.
The following video was produced by Backpacking TV, where Eric Hanson explains how to choose the right sleeping pads and sleeping bags for your trip.
How to Choose A Sleeping Pad – Video
Look for products featuring other applications and uses, such as chair kits which provide a seat as well as a backrest. If you like hiking and camping in winter, consider packing two pads. An air pad and a lightweight foam pad as a base will provide excellent insulation against the cold.
The weight and shape of the sleeping pad can make a lot of difference. A tapered pad can save space in your pack – so can short, closed cell foam pads to form one sleeping pad. Always keep in mind your body type and weight when shopping for sleeping pads and go for a wider and/or longer pad if you need it.
Rails – called baffles – can help guard against rolling off the sleeping pad and some pads have a pillow baffle, if you need it. Textured fabrics can assist in preventing you sliding off the pads during sleep, which is great if you toss and turn a lot.
Along with your usual essentials – such as first aid kits and tools – you shouldn’t forget to pack a patch kit, in case you damage your pads, tent or other equipment. Before you set off on your outdoor adventure, test your patching skills so you’re not fumbling in the dark if an accident occurs.