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A Quick Guide to Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads

February 16, 2021

inflate sleeping pad

Self-inflating sleeping pad such as our "3-inch Self Inflating Camping Mat" is indispensable when you’re camping or hiking for several days. These sleeping pads are practical, durable, and require little maintenance. They are also the most common outdoor sleeping pad because they provide more comfort and insulation than any other type of sleeping pad out there. Nowadays self-inflating sleeping pads come in various sizes and prices. But not every pad is the same. And there are several aspects that come together to make it perfect for outdoors. So, it becomes very difficult to find the best self inflating sleeping pad that matches your needs.

Related: 10 Great Holiday Gifts For Outdoor Lovers

In this article, you’ll find out all there is to know about self-inflating sleeping pads, their pros and cons, how they work, what things to consider when buying it, and how to properly use them. So, let’s dive into it.

1.      What are self-inflating sleeping pads?

A Quick Guide To Self Inflating Sleeping Pads

Self inflating sleeping pads have a layer of open-cell foam built inside an air-tight shell. Like a sponge in a plastic bag, the foam used inside these pads is extremely compressed. Because of the vacuum created by the compressed foam, when you open the pad’s valve, air is automatically sucked into the pad. This process continues until the foams have enough air – usually at 60% to 70% of the mats’ maximum firmness. Depending on your desired firmness, you can then add more air or push some air out of the pad. When in use, close the valve to stop the air inflation/deflation processes. Because it “self inflates”, this type of pads really saves campers’ energy after a long day of adventure.

In contrast to other types of sleeping pads, these pads have less chance to fail and require little maintenance. They are also comfortable and weigh less than a thick foam pad. Nowadays companies have created various cutting patterns for the foam, making these pads small, lightweight, and ultra-portable. In addition to providing insulation from the foam itself, the air inside the pads also serves as an insulation layer to keep you warm throughout the night. As a result, self-inflating sleeping pads are great for those who are seeking camping mats that are comfortable, easy-to-use, compact, and lightweight.

2.      Pros and Cons of a Self-inflating Sleeping Pad

A Quick Guide To Self Inflating Sleeping Pads


·         Easy to inflate.

·         Offers plenty of cushioning on hard-bumpy surfaces.

·         Packs down comparatively small.

·         Effortless setup (saves your breath and energy).

·         More comfortable than air pads.

·         Both air and foam provide insulation between you and the campground.

·         Fail-safe: the foam itself continues to provide insulation and cushion even if there is an air leak.


·         More expensive than a simple closed-cell foam sleeping pad.

·         Takes some time to pack up as there’s only one valve to let air out and foam wants to keep sucking air. 

·         Compression foam will eventually stop its air absorption capability after some time (usually years).

3.      How do self inflating sleeping pads work?

Self-inflating sleeping pads are filled with special kind of PU foam that has open cells. The natural state of the open-cell foam is to be expanded. But these open cells are compressed to extreme limits during their manufacturing process. Thus, when you open the valve of the pad, a small vacuum is created which then forces the outside air to enter in. It takes several minutes for the pad to inflate. Once inflated, you can then close the valve to keep the air inside the pad.

The open-cell foam can’t expand if the pad stays compressed. Make sure to fully unfold and unroll the pad before opening the air valve. If you don't get your desired firmness, add in or push out extra air to adjust firmness when you inflate sleeping pad.

4.      Things to consider when choosing a self-inflating sleeping pad

A Quick Guide To Self Inflating Sleeping Pads

–         Insulating factor (the “R-value”)

R-value is a measurement on how well a sleeping pad insulates you from the ground. The higher the number, the more suitable it is for colder weathers. Usually thicker pads have higher R-values. There are several things that can impact the R-values of a pad: it’s material, thickness, added insulation, etc. You can find self-inflating pads with R-value range from 1.0 to 11.0 or more. For winter camping, look for a pad with at least 6 R-value. For summer camping, a 2.5 R-value pad is generally sufficient.

–         Weight

Weight is a major concern for backpackers or hiking-campers. Most self-inflating pads are around 24 oz (680 Grams) but there are pads with extra fine cuts that are under 16 ounces (453 Grams) to choose from.

–         Pad’s Thickness

Thickness is another key factor to look at when it comes to choosing a self-inflating pad. That’s because the thicker the self-inflating pad is, the more insulated and comfortable it will be. It is common for most self-inflating sleeping pads to have a thickness of around 1.5 inches / 4 cm. But many backpackers and campers prefer a thickness of 2.5 inches / 6.3 cm or more. This thickness provides a lot of comfort and insulation. A 3 inch self inflating sleeping pad will even be ideal for those who sleep on their sides. However, thicker pads usually mean that they are heavier and bulkier.

–         Length and Width

Before making the final decision, you should not forget to check the length and width of the sleeping pad. You can’t go camping or hiking with a sleeping pad that is either too big or too small. For most adults, 72 inches / 182 cm is the recommended length. And the standard width of a regular sleeping pad is about 20 inches / 50 cm.  The right sleeping pad should not let your feet hang off of the end. It’s always better to have a pad that is slightly longer than your height.

5.      How to use a self-inflating sleeping pad?

A Quick Guide To Self Inflating Sleeping Pads

When you get a new self-inflating pad, remove it from its storage sack, and open the valve. Let it self-inflate and keep the valve open for at least 24 hours. This will activate the compressed foams and make it easier for your future use.

To inflate the pad in field, follow the steps mentioned below:

Step1. Unpack your self-inflating sleeping pad.

Step 2. Unroll it flat on the ground.

Step 3. Open the valves to allow air-flow and let itself inflate.

Step 4. Wait for a couple of minutes.

Step 5. Close the valve once it is sufficiently filled up with air.

Note: You can always blow in or push out extra air to adjust firmness for your comfort.

Deflating your self-inflating sleeping pad:

·         Open the valve.

·         Start rolling up the self-inflating pad. Do it slowly so that all the air inside the pad gets out.

·         Close the valve once all the air inside it is squeezed out.

6.      How to store a self-inflating sleeping pad when not in use?

A Quick Guide To Self Inflating Sleeping Pads


When not in use, store your self inflating sleeping pad in a cool, dry place. Keep the pad unrolled and leave it in a dry room with its valve open. Make sure the pad is dry before storing it.

7.      How to clean and repair your self-inflating sleeping pad?


Wash your whole sleeping pad once every season. Bodily fluids can build up all over the sleeping pad if not cleaned regularly. This can badly affect the fabrics of your sleeping pad. Be sure to fully inflate the pad and close the valve before you start cleaning it. You can use alcohol wipes if your self-inflating sleeping pad has tree sap stains. You can also wash your sleeping pad with detergent or any mild washing-up liquid.


Sharp objects are enemy to all self inflating sleeping pads. If you ever find air leaks, consider the following steps to repair self inflating camping mats:

Step1. Find out where the air is leaking from. You can use soap water for this. Rub the soap water on the surface of the pad and look out for bubbles. Don’t forget to flip the sleeping pad and inspect the other side also.

Step 2. Get your repair kit. Clean and dry the damaged area. Then use an adhesive tape to patch the holes you’ve found.

Step 3. Make sure to let the pad dry and settle overnight before inflating or packing up the sleeping pad.

A Quick Guide To Self Inflating Sleeping Pads

Extra Tips

  • Always keep your self-inflating sleeping pad away from fire.
  • Do regular inspection for potential punctures.
  • Do not use high-pressure air pumps to inflate the sleeping pad.
  • Don’t expose your sleeping pad to direct sunlight for a long period of time.
  • Never use your sleeping pad as a flotation device.

Interested in learning about other types of sleeping pads? Then, check out our blog post about “How to choose the best sleeping pad?”. It goes in detail about 3 major types of sleeping pads and provides clear cut explanations on what to look for when buying a new sleeping pad.

Do you own a self-inflating camping mat? Are you considering buying one? Comment down below if you have any questions.

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