How to Choose Sleeping Pads

How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad for Camping and Backpacking

Selecting the perfect sleeping pad for your outdoor adventures can make a world of difference. It’s not just about comfort; it’s also about insulation to keep you warm throughout the night. Here's a comprehensive guide to help you make the right choice.

Types of Sleeping Pads

1. Air Pads

Air pads, available in a range of styles, are perfect for various activities, from lightweight backpacking to luxurious glamping. Many air pads now include insulation or reflective materials for added warmth.


  • Extremely comfortable and lightweight.
  • Compact when packed.
  • Customizable firmness.
  • Various designs for different uses.


  • Can be expensive, especially the lighter and more compact ones.
  • Susceptible to punctures.
  • Moisture from breath can degrade performance.

For more details on choosing the right air pad, check out this guide and explore our range here.

2. Self-Inflating Pads

These pads combine open-cell foam insulation with air. Simply open the valve, and the foam expands, drawing in air automatically.


  • Comfortable and reasonably compact.
  • Excellent insulation.
  • Adjustable firmness.


  • Heavier than simple foam pads.
  • Not as compact as air pads.
  • Can be punctured, but repairs are manageable.

3. Closed-Cell Foam Pads

Made from dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells, these pads are a reliable option for consistent insulation and durability.


  • Lightweight, inexpensive, and durable.
  • No worries about punctures.
  • Can be used under other pads for extra insulation.


  • Less comfortable.
  • Bulky and relatively stiff.

For a deeper dive into the pros and cons of each type of pad, watch this informative video.

Choosing the Best Sleeping Pad for You

Your intended use plays a crucial role in selecting the best sleeping pad. Here’s a quick comparison:

Activity | Type of Pad | Features/Benefits

  • Car Camping | Self-inflating or thick air pad | Excellent cushioning and wide R-value range.
  • Backpacking/Bikepacking/Kayak & Canoe Touring | Air pad or lightweight self-inflating pad | Lightweight, comfortable, packs small.
  • Minimalist Backpacking | Ultralight air pad | Super light, compact, wide R-value range.
  • Thru-Hiking | Closed-cell foam mat | Durable and lightweight.
  • Winter Camping | Well-insulated air pad or self-inflating pad | High R-value for extra warmth.

Understanding your sleep system is essential. Your sleeping pad and bag work together to keep you warm. For detailed recommendations on pairing sleeping pads and bags, refer to this comprehensive guide.

Sleeping Pad Warmth

Insulation and R-Value

A sleeping pad’s R-value indicates its ability to resist heat flow. Higher R-values mean better insulation. Pads range from under 2 (minimally insulated) to 5.5+ (very well insulated). Here are some key points:

  • Higher R-value = more warmth.
  • A pad with an R-value of 2.0 is twice as warm as one with an R-value of 1.0.
  • To increase insulation, you can stack pads and add their R-values together.

Features to Consider

Weight: Ultralight pads are great for backpacking but come at a higher cost. Closed-cell foam pads are also light but bulkier.

Length and Width: Ensure your shoulders and hips fit on the pad. Regular pads are typically 72 inches long, while long pads are 78 inches. Standard width is 20 inches, but wider pads are available.

Inflation: Some pads have high-volume valves for quick inflation and deflation. Separate inflation chambers can provide peace of mind in case of a puncture.

Surface Texture: Look for pads with a textured surface to prevent sliding during sleep.

Additional Considerations:

  • Pad Sleeves: Integrated sleeves in sleeping bags can hold your pad in place.
  • Hand Pumps: These can help avoid moisture buildup from breath.
  • Patch Kits: Essential for field repairs.


Choosing the right sleeping pad involves considering your specific needs and preferences. Whether you’re car camping, backpacking, or preparing for winter adventures, the right pad can significantly enhance your comfort and warmth. For more information, refer to this detailed guide and explore our selection of sleeping pads to find the perfect match for your next outdoor adventure.