Sleep like a baby: Find your perfect outdoor sleeping pad

January 02, 2020

Sleep like a baby: Find your perfect outdoor sleeping pad

How to choose the best sleeping pad

While it’s true that campers do not expect best treatment when they are roughing it out, it’s impossible to have a good night sleep on hard, cold ground. Sleeping pads make the difference between a great night in the outdoor, and just making it through the night. As such, they’re a handy item every time a portable sleep system is needed. Sleeping pads are a must have for all campers and outdoors lovers in general. 

Below is an in-depth discussion of the various types of outdoor sleeping pads, and how to choose the best sleeping pad to take on your next camping trip. 

But what is an outdoor sleeping pad

Outdoor sleeping pads, also called roll mats, sleeping mats or ground pads, are mats placed beneath a sleeping bag to provide warmth and extra support. The best camping pads are lightweight and potable, and they can be easily rolled and placed atop the hikers’ backpack for easy transportation. Some pads need to be inflated with air before use, while others only need to be rolled out for immediate use.

The primary use of sleeping pads is to caution the user from the had ground. However, they are also made to provide comfortable sleep.

Types of sleeping pads

Air Pads

Air pads are the latest model in sleeping pads. Most air pads are made from nylon or latex, and they must be inflated before use. Inflating the pads involve pumping air into them using the mouth, a hand inflator, foot inflator or battery powered pump. Although these pads provide excellent cushioning from the hard ground, a small puncture quickly deflates them. In addition, these pads have a big disadvantage in that they are bad insulators. However, modern air pads have been fitted with reflective materials and insulation to minimize heat loss. 

Air pads are incredibly comfortable and ultra-light, making them ideal in situations where a lot of trekking is involved. Some of the modern air pads are self-inflating and you can customize the firmness of the mattress by releasing air from the valve. 

Note that air pads tend to feel like they are leaking air as nights gets cold. Make sure to inflate them right before sleeping. If they feel uncomfortably firm, you can release some air to make them softer. 


Foam Pads

Open-cell Foam Pad

These pads are characterized by a high number of pockets connected to each other. The air circulates between the pockets but when you apply force on the pockets, some of the air is displaced and you feel well-cushioned. Open-cell foam pads are affordable and comfortable, but you shouldn’t use them in wet conditions; because the pad is “open,” air would be displaced by water leading to a bad camping experience.


Closed-cell Foam Pad

Closed-cell form pads are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells commonly rolled up or folded in a Z formation. They are denser than the open-cell foam pads, and they hold the body heat longer. Most closed cell-foam pads are made from water- resistant polyester, meaning they won’t soak even when camping in wet conditions. These pads are lightweight, something most veteran campers will advise you to take serious. 

The only disadvantage associated with closed-cell foam pads is that they don’t compress easily. They tend to be firm, and this make for a uncomfortable sleeping time especially if you are used to sleep on a soft bed.

Self-Inflatable Pad

This type of sleeping pad consist of an open-cell covered by a material that is inflatable and water-resistance. They are designed to offer benefit of both air and open-cell foam pads. If the valve is opened, the air will be drawn inside the pad inflating it. Before use, inspect the ground to remove sharp objects that can pierce the pad. 

Of the various model discussed above, inflatable sleeping pads are superior; they offer cushioned sleep time and they’re easy to transport. However, they are expensive. 


Choosing a Sleeping Pad

Choosing the sleeping pad for you mainly depends on the types of campers you are. In general, there are three types of campers: the experienced backpackers, the casual campers, and car campers.

Types of Activities

Casual Campers

This is a camper who plans to drive to the campsite. In this case, traditional air mattress or self-inflating pad can provide enough comfort and a good night sleep. 


Carrying lightweight gear is essential for backpackers travelling through the wilderness. Backpackers often face dangerous ledges and steep inclines. As such, the more lightweight their bags are, the better. A closed-cell sleeping pad is best for backpackers because their activities require mobility and extreme flexibility. However, if a backpacker can’t handle the extra weight of a closed-foam pad, he or she should consider a self-inflating pad.

Car campers

When you have unlimited size and weight, you should choose a thicker, larger sleeping pad for optimal sleeping experience. Generally, these pads are cheaper than their lightweight counterparts.

Minimalist backpacking: If you are in this category, a small packed and low weight luggage is the ultimate goal. As such, a self-inflating, ultra-light sleeping pad is your best bet. 

Note: It’s possible to get an insulated, full-length, ultra- light air pads that weigh a pound or less.

Thru-hiking: For these campers, low weight and durability are essential.  That being the case, closed-cell foam pads present the winning purchase. 

Most thru-hiking campers choose short (about ¾ in length) closed-cell foam pads to reduce the total weight of their backpack. They then lay their empty packs and extra clothes under their feet for extra insulation.

Winter camping: When camping during winter, you need superb insulation. It’s recommended to use at least two ordinary sleeping pads or self- inflating air pads and a closed-cell pad at the top. The closed-cell foam will add insulation and offer an additional layer of protection, even if the self-inflating pad punctures. 

Other Features

R Value

Understanding R value is vital to choose the best sleeping pad. A sleeping pad’s R value basically refers to its ability to resist flow of heat, otherwise known as its insulating capacity, and is usually rated between 1 and 9.5. The higher the R value the better will be the sleeping pad’s insulating capacity.

When looking at the R value of sleeping pads, you should first think about the climate you will be camping in. For instance, if you are planning on camping in winter, choose R value greater than 5. It is vice versa for summer months. Thicker pads generally offer higher R-values and the average summer camping pad should be around 3 or higher.


If your choice is minimalist backpacking, you need to go with an ultralight sleeping pad which are excellent for backpacking but are more expensive. Mummy or tapered shaped sleeping pads are lighter in general and packs smaller. Some closed-cell foam pads are also low in weight.

Length and Width

Before selecting a sleeping pad, you need to make sure that it is long and wide enough for you. One way to confirm this is to see whether the pad fits your shoulders and hips.

Long sleeping pads are usually between 72 and 78 inches in length. Longer sleeping pads are a must for cold weather camping because they keep your legs and feet insulated. Shorter pads are usually 48 inches in length and are perfect for those who are average in height.

When it comes to width, most sleeping pads are designed to be 20 inches wide. However, there are also models that are wider, in order to accommodate bigger individuals. Many people tend to choose wide pads simply for the ability and comfort to roll around while sleeping.

Before choosing a longer and wider pad, you need to take into consideration the size of your tent and the number of people who will be accompanying you in the tent.

Sleeping Location

The location where you will be sleeping is another important factor to consider when choosing a sleeping pad. If it’s going to be winter, you have or you expect the ground to be full of hard rocks, you will need a thicker sleeping pad. You can easily gain comfort from a thinner pad for soft grounds and summer months. 

Sleeping Pad Surfaces

If you’re a restless sleeper, look for a pad with a textured, dotted or brushed-fabric surface. This keeps your sleeping bag from sliding off during the night.

Sleeping Position

This highly depends on your physique. If you have the habit of sleeping on your back for most of the time than on your side, you would highly benefit from choosing a sleeping pad with a high R value, since at least 40% of your body will be in contact with the ground. To make the pad more comfortable for your sleeping position, you can adjust the inflation level as well.

In conclusion, when buying a sleeping pad, start by determining the intended use. Then, keep in mind that the weight of the pad matters and that price is just one of the consideration factor, not a deal breaker. Your goal should be to buy a sleeping pad that will keep you warm, and one that you can carry comfortably.