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Couple Sleeping On Pad In Car

How To Choose Sleeping Pad Hacks: Everything You Need To Know

Sleeping pads aren’t as exciting as tents, grills, or even sleeping bags, but they are an essential part of your camping gear. So how to choose a sleeping pad?

Just like with other camping gear and outdoor gear, you need to match your items with your environment, preferences, and overall camping type. The same is true with sleeping pads. Choose the wrong one, and you may be in for a rough trip.

No, you can’t lug your bedroom mattress with you on your camping trip. Initially one might think that all sleeping pads are the same, and can be used for all types of camping, but that’s not the case.

We are here to help you choose the right sleeping pad for you.

sleeping bag and mat

What is a Sleeping Pad?

In terms of camping gear, a self inflating sleeping pad is anything intended to be used under your sleeping bag. It acts as a mattress, providing cushioning, stability, and usually heat retention or insulation as well. These pads are available in a wide variety of types, shapes, and textures, and each offers varying degrees of comfort and mobility.

Sleeping pads are designed to function as both a cushion and as support for your body and sleeping bag, resulting in ideal sleeping conditions when lying on the ground. You can read about how they work here. 

girl holding how to choose sleeping pads

How to Choose Sleeping Pad for Camping?

After you've looked up all of the different types of sleeping pads, compared prices, and R-value, you can't seem to figure out which one to choose? This is why we have a list of things that you need to assess before making your choice.

First, you need to know what types of sleeping pads there are and which type do you need.

After that, you need to know what types of characteristics does a self inflating sleeping pad have.

Last but not least, you need to think about how and why you're going to use your pad. Of course, it's going to be used for camping but there are different types of camping. These might include:

camping night in the desert

Now you need to be sure how you're going to use your sleeping pad. If you engage in backpacking, you definitely shouldn't get a memory foam mattress. This is because it's bulky and heavy, unusable in backpacking situations.

If you plan on glamping or canoe camping, make sure to purchase the fitting gear for this type of outdoor activity. You need to be honest and realistic in this case. Buying a camping mattress and never using it would be a big error.

Types Of Sleeping Pads

Although sleeping pads vary greatly depending on the actual product, they can usually be broken down into five distinct categories, each with its own characteristics, functions, and uses.

Air Pads

sleeping mat air pad

These sleeping pads need to be filled with air before being used. This can be done with your own breath, or by using a hand pump.

Air mats can be very comfortable, and they are rather simple to use, despite being the only type that requires some additional setup. These pads are very lightweight, and can often be stored in a small sack. An air pad is also easily adjustable, allowing users to choose their ideal level of firmness.

Some of the more common disadvantages of an air mattress involve being fragile in some conditions, and the tendency to be a bit loud when moving around on one.

Closed-cell Foam Pads

Woman rolling up a sleeping pad.

Foam pads are exactly as the name implies, made of foam. These pads offer varying degrees of cushioning and insulation, can be thick, thin, smooth, and textured, depending on the model.

While they may seem rather simple, a close cell foam pad is specifically engineered to offer added levels of heat retention in cold conditions, while others can be designed to deflect heat away in warmer climates.

A common characteristic is that foam pads are incredibly lightweight, and can easily be transported on the outside of a backpack.

Although foam pads are light and durable, they are still the least comfortable of the three main types. Some campers and backpackers still prefer them, however, and many often choose to layer a foam pad under another sleeping pad for added cushioning, warmth, and protection.

Self-Inflating Pads

rolling up sleeping pad

As you might expect, self inflating mats inflate on their own, without the need for any extra air. Simply open the valve, and the pad automatically inflates to full level.

rolling up sleeping pad

The combination of foam and air results in the most comfortable feel out of the three main pad types and offers the most stability as well. An self inflating pad is usually highly insulated, making them good for cooler climates, although they are perfectly fine for summer camping as well.

Self-inflating pads have high durability and can withstand most scrapes and pokes. Depending on the model, some pads can be connected with similar models, creating a larger sleeping surface.

The only real downside to self-inflating pads is their overall size and weight. They tend to be heavier than closed-cell foam and air pads. For the everyday camper, this isn’t really an issue, but backpackers may have a problem with trying to fit the pad in with the rest of their gear.

Open-Cell Sleeping Pads

Senior Man In Tent On Sleeping Pad

Just like the self-inflating sleeping pads, the open cell type of camping mat offers a high level of cushioning and insulation. They are bulkier and heavier, like any other self inflatable pad. Unlike their counterpart, they are manually inflating.

This means, when setting the pad up, one needs to manually add or inflate air into it. This adds some extra steps into the setup process but offers great cushioning and insulation.

Memory Foam Pads

Woman rolling memory foam sleeping pad

Last but not least comes the bulkiest and heaviest version of the camping pad. The memory foam pad is just what it says it is: A pad made of a thinner layer of memory foam, perfect for the RV or van camper out there. What it lacks in size, it offers through maximum insulation and comfort.

So if you are planning on choosing this comfortable style of the pad, make sure you don't plan on carrying it too far away from the car.

Notable Characteristics of Camping Pads

While sleeping pads do vary depending on the type and particular model, there are some characteristics that you can use to better determine the right one for you.

  • Weight

Sleeping pads are lightweight by default, but some more than others. Ultralight backpacking pads are often thin, and can weigh as little as ½ a pound. Camping sleeping pads that are much thicker and insulating, can weigh around 4-5 lbs. It’s best to keep things under 4 lbs if possible.

  • Length and Width

You’re obviously going to want to choose a backpacking sleeping pad that can accommodate your body type and size. Backpacking sleeping pads will usually have a smaller size that tapers down towards the legs to save weight and packing room.

R-Value infographic KAMUI
  • R-Value
R-value infographic

A common rating listed on sleeping pads, R-value refers to the pad’s abilities to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the pad is at insulating. A value of 5 is considered to be in the middle, while 3 is better for hotter climates. R-values over 7 are suitable for very cold camping.

Some sleeping pads opt for a smoother surface texture, while others may incorporate grooves and other features that help with slipping and positioning. It’s also common to see sleeping pads that have built-in “rails” on the side to keep you from rolling off, while others may have a built-in pillow area. Some can be easily made into double camping pads for two persons, just by connecting them to each other.

connected KAMUI sleeping pads

How to Choose Sleeping Pad Type for You

Now that you know about all of the different types and characteristics of camping sleeping pads, and how to choose your sleeping pad, listed below are the most ideal mats to use for certain types of camping. By taking into consideration the characteristics, we will tell you which pad is our favorite in the category. 

girl woman in thent camping pointing on map

Backpacking, Trekking, and Thru-hiking

When backpacking, you have to carry a large amount of gear on your back, which means that everything needs to be as compact and light as possible. While foam pads are almost always the lighter option, many of them are difficult to break down to a smaller size.

Air pads are often only a bit heavier, so this makes them the best option for both ordinary backpacking and ultralight backpacking.

There are some self-inflating pads that are made for backpacking, but these are usually quite expensive, and difficult to find, making air mats the most popular choice.

  • Verdict: Air pads
sunset with tent sleeping pad and bag

Winter Camping

Winter camping is dependent upon gear that is designed for cold temperatures, both during the day and at night. Getting proper sleep in a safe manner is of the utmost importance, making your sleeping gear setup crucial.

Self-inflating pads are going to be your best option, as they have a better amount of insulation and more cushioning.

  • Verdict: Self-inflating sleeping pads

Summer camping

camping on beach

Unlike winter camping, during the summer one can relax and bring a more versatile sleep set up to camp. When choosing between air pads, self inflating, closed and open cell foam pads, and memory pads, one would have to think: Which one would be the best?

Air pads offer cushioning but make noise when used, open-cell mats are on the more uncomfortable side and a memory foam mattress would be on the hotter side. So we believe the perfect choice is a self-inflating camping sleeping pad with minimal setup and optimal comfort.

  • Verdict: Self-inflating sleeping pads

Car Camping

Car camping or popularly, tent camping, refers to what’s likely the most popular type of camping in existence. Just like we say in our Car camping article, you drive directly to the campsite, where you can then unload and setup, or take a short walk to your camping area. This allows much more camping gear to be brought along.

Because of this, self-inflating sleeping pads are the best choice. These pads are usually a little bulkier and heavier than other pads when stored, but since you are unloading right by your campsite, this isn’t an issue. They can often be made into a double sleeping pad, making them an ideal choice for couples and families as well.

  • Verdict: Self-inflating sleeping pads

RV or Van camping

van camping in the mountains

Unlike car camping, with this type of camping, you really do sleep inside of your vehicle. With that being said, one needs to know that you need a sleeping platform, for the best sleeping setup. On top of that. a great addition would be a memory foam mattress that offers maximum comfort and doesn't need to be moved around all the time. 

  • Verdict: Memory foam pads

Glamping

glamping white tent

A very popular type of camping in recent years is glamorous camping or glamping. If you want to set foot in a real fairytale with luxurious tents and sleeping pads alike, you might want to consider glamping. Comfort is the way to go when it comes to glamping, and most glampers love to use their cushioning memory foam mattresses when out on adventures. 

  • Verdict: Memory foam pads


If our verdicts still don't do the trick, and you can't figure out what type of inflatable sleeping pad to purchase, we will also tell you what type of pad is compatible with which type of camping. We hope this helps in determining which one and how to choose the best type of sleeping pad for yourself. 

Type of camping

Compatible types of camping pads

Car camping

Air pads, self-inflating, open-cell foam pads, memory foam pads

Backpacking, and other tour-type camps

Air pads, self-inflating, open-cell foam pads, closed-cell foam pads

Winter camping

Air pads, self-inflating pads, open-cell foam pads

Summer camping

Air pads, self-inflating pads, open-cell foam pads, closed cell foam pads, memory foam pads

RV or Van camping

Memory foam pads

Glamping

Memory foam pads

Survivalist

Air pads, self-inflating pads, open-cell foam pads, closed-cell foam pads

Type of camping

Compatible types of camping pads

Car camping

Air pads

 self-inflating pads

 open-cell foam pads

memory foam pads

Backpacking and other tour-type camps

Air pads

self-inflating pads

open-cell foam pads

 closed-cell foam pads

Winter camping

Air pads

 self-inflating pads

 open-cell foam pads

Summer camping

Air pads

self-inflating pads

open-cell foam pads

 closed cell foam pads

 memory foam pads

RV or Van camping

Memory foam pads

Glamping

Memory foam pads

Survivalist

Air pads

 self-inflating pads

open-cell foam pads

closed-cell foam pads

Our Choice: The KAMUI Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

KAMUI self inflating sleeping pad

We here at KAMUI offer an amazing family-style sleeping pad with multiple purposes. you can use it from car camping, survivalist, tent camping, backpacking, side sleeping to even winter camping because of the high R-Value of 5.7. Here are some of the reasons you might want to consider getting our mat of choice;

  • Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Measure: 75.6 x 25.6 x 2 inches
  • Available colors: blue and green
  • Designed for family camping
  • R-Value 5.7 makes it a four-season pad
  • Comes with a stuff sack
  • Self-inflating valve
  • Connectable with other pads
  • R-Value 5.7 makes it a four-season pad
  • Comes with a stuff sack
  • Self-inflating valve
  • Connectable with other pads

FAQ: How to Choose Sleeping Pad

Q: What size sleeping mat should I buy?

A: It depends on your body type and size, if you are tall consider getting a large or long size that goes above 6 feet. Regular sized mats are designed to be up to 6 feet and small or short sizes below.

Q: Is a sleeping pad necessary?

A: Yes, sleeping pads are necessary to elevate you from the ground and offer insulation and comfort for a good night's sleep.

Q: Are sleeping mats comfortable?

A: Yes, all camping mats are made to be comfortable, no matter the type. Some sleeping pads like closed-cell pads are less comfortable than others, unlike the memory foam sleeping pad for instance, which values comfort above all.

Q: What is the best thing to sleep on when camping?

A: The best thing you can choose is a sleeping mattress designed for camping. it is made for colder climates, offers enough cushioning for your back, and will get you through the night and ready for new adventures tomorrow.

Q: Are self inflating mats comfortable?

A: Yes, all camping gear mats are comfortable like firm beds. Then again, some more than others. The thickness of the pad depends on the insulation and comfort it offers. This means a thick pad offers more heat and insulation from the ground, but at the same time is bulkier and weighs more. This is why you need to know how to choose your sleeping pad, based on your needs. 

couple with socks camping in tent

Conclusion

By now you should see that camping sleeping pads are quite different from each other, and each has its own uses that are more inclined to certain conditions and camping types. By choosing the correct sleeping pad, you can ensure that your camping experience is as comfortable as possible, each and every time.

Be sure to consider the type of camping you engage in most before purchasing, and always check the sizing to make sure it’s a proper fit. We hope that after reading this article, you won't have to wonder how to choose the best sleeping pad for camping, ever again. Happy camping!

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