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How To Choose The Right Sleeping Pad

Our Guide To Camping Comfort

If this is your first time buying a sleep system—or it’s been a hot minute since you purchased a sleeping pad—this guide will help you find the right fit for your next trip.

Which Type Of Sleeping Pad Is Best?

Your first decision is going to be which type of pad construction you want, which will determine the packability, convenience, and comfort of your sleeping pad. 

Foam, or closed cell, construction is your classic old-school design. These pads are made out of dense polyethylene or other synthetic materials. No inflation necessary! Simply unroll or unfold your pad, and voila—you’re ready for bed. They’re also fairly lightweight and low-cost. The cons? A low R-value (we’ll get to that in a minute) and large pack size. Most folks who choose this option attach it to the outside of their pack.

An air pad construction describes itself. This is an air mattress (on a smaller scale) that you will have to inflate at the campsite, either with your own lung power or with a pump. This style is lightweight, very packable, and can come insulated if you choose. They can be noisy, though, and crinkle if you move around while you sleep. They’re also more fragile—we recommend bringing a patch kit.

The last construction is called self-inflating. This construction is a combination of foam and air pad. Simply opening the valve inflates it, and you can add a few more puffs if you like a firmer pad. They’re a great balance of durability and comfort, but come with a bigger price tag.

Which Shape Sleeping Pad To Get?

Like sleeping bags, pads can come in both a traditional rectangular shape and a mummy shape. The mummy shapes shave a bit of weight and space in your pack. But if you want a larger, warmer space to sleep on, opt for the rectangle.

What Is A Sleeping Pad R Value?

Sleeping pads are more than just a cushion between you and hard or uneven surfaces. They also act as a thermal defense between you and the cold ground. Even if your sleeping bag is lined 360º with insulation, the fill you’re sleeping on collapses and will cease to insulate directly beneath you. That’s where sleeping pads—& their R-value—come in. An R-value measures the resistance of a given sleeping pad to heat transference from your body to the ground. The higher the R-value on a pad, the warmer you’ll stay in colder conditions. An R-2 pad insulates twice as much as an R-1 pad, while an R-4 pad insulates four times as much, and so on. Use the chart below as a helpful guide for the temperatures you expect on your trip.

That’s it—you’re ready to choose a sleeping pad. If you still need help picking the right one, or would like to know which ones are our favorites, reach out to a Gearhead. Until then, happy trails!