Wait, why do I need a sleeping pad at all?
Sleeping pads have two main functions. The most important one is that they keep you from getting too cold. In some cases, depending on the time of year, the weather and how isolated you are this can be deadly serious.
Hypothermia, (the condition in which the body’s inner temperature cools so much it can’t function properly) can occur at temperatures as warm as sixty degrees Fahrenheit. A sleeping pad provides insulation, so your body heat doesn’t escape into the ground. It will also serve to help keep you dry which is another factor in preventing chills.
The second purpose that a sleeping pad serves is to increase your comfort level, which should increase your quality of sleep. The good night sleep you get will, hopefully, raise your level of energy and enthusiasm for your day time activities and make the whole camping experience more enjoyable.
How Do I Know Choose a Sleeping Pad for Camping?
What type of camping will you be doing?
The type of camping you do and the time of year that you do it will be a prime influence on what type of sleeping pad you choose. If you are taking your car to a camp site and then setting up a tent in the middle of the summer you may not have to worry too much about how warm the pad will keep you.
On the other hand, if you are starting a long trail hike in the early spring when night time temperatures may still drop below freezing you will want a pad that provides as much insulation protection as possible.
What types of sleeping pads are available?
1. Foam Sleeping Pads
These are the most basic type available. They insulate heat, are lightweight and very affordable. These are constructed with dense foam. Those looking for something that is light to carry and easy to use will find this a great choice. You roll it up when carrying and roll in out when it is time to sleep.
However, due to its dense foam construction is it also firm so it doesn’t roll up as well as some of the others. This leaves you with a bigger piece of equipment to carry. Of the types of sleeping pads listed here this is also less comfortable because it does not offer as much cushion.
2. Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads
These come with an innovative design that lets it inflate on its own. This saves you from having to bring a pump along like you would need with some air mattresses. The technology features a valve that’s integrated into the sleeping pad. When opened it will fill the pad up with air on its own without the need for a pump.
These are far more comfortable than foam pads and can be packed down to much smaller sizes when deflated. They do however cost more than foam pads and can be punctured.
3. Inflatable Sleeping Pads
Extremely comfortable and built with good heat insulation these offer the most comfort and thickness. The thicker layer lets you stay further from the ground and provide more cushion for a softer sleep. Unlike the self-inflatable version though, you will have to inflate this manually.
These pack up into small packages but are heavier, cost more and also come with the risk of being punctured, which will make it lose its air.
Our Top 5 Selection
How do I tell what pad is right for me?
Your choice of a camping pad will depend primarily on the two mentioned above: will it keep you warm and dry Will you sleep comfortably. Here are some ways to answer those questions before you make a purchase, and some other important factors to consider as well.
1) Consider the R factor. The R factor number measures an item’s resistance to heat loss. The higher the number the better. This number tells you how much much insulation the pad will provide.
2) Consider your comfort. The best way to do this is to give the pads a test run. Ask permission to actually lie on them. The secret to a successful test run is to remember to consider whether they are long enough and wide enough; not simply whether they provide enough padding.
3) Consider durability. How likely is it the pad will suffer damage? If a repair kit is included is it accessible and will it be easy to use?
4) Consider how compatible the pad will be with the rest of your gear. This will be less of a factor on a weekend trip, where you may have a whole truck bed or car trunk to pack things in. If you are going on a three month back country hike where you will need to justify every ounce of weight added and every inch of space used it becomes primary.
Rest Well and Keep Warm
The things listed above will help you sift through sleeping pad reviews and choose one that suits your budget, outdoor requirements and carry load capacity. With these pads, often comfort and insulation are the compromise of cost and weight so weighing the different factors will be needed in decision making. It adds to the comfort and warmth of your sleeping bag. Whichever it is, sleeping pads are something you should always consider when going cold weather camping or one where the night temperatures can suddenly drop.