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Inflatable vs Self Inflating Sleeping Pads: How to Find the Right Choice for You

Are you looking for the most comfortable way to experience an overnight in the great outdoors? If you want to join the 40 million people who partake in camping activities in the United States each year, you’re going to need a good camping mattress. The question in front of you now is: inflatable vs self inflating sleeping pads?

If you’re not sure whether an inflatable or self-inflating sleeping pad is for you, we’re here to help you with that decision. Read through our article to find out which features and uses each of these sleeping pad types has.

inflatable vs self inflating sleeping pads

Inflatable vs Self Inflating Sleeping Pads: What is the Difference?

  • Inflatable: An inflatable sleeping pad requires the user to do a majority of the work. After opening the valve, the user must inflate the sleeping pad using manual breaths. These sleeping pads look like self-inflating sleeping pads but don't have a self-inflating valve.
  • Self-inflating: A self-inflating sleeping pad consists of open-cell foam and an air chamber. Once the pad is unfolded and the valve is opened, it will start to inflate on its own. You can use a few manual breaths to create the perfect sleeping platform for a good night’s rest. 


inflatable pad

Inflatable Pad

KAMUI sleeping pad

Self- Inflating Pad

FEATURES

R-Value

✅

Cushion

✅

Adjustability

✅

Ease of use

✅

Packability

✅

Durability

✅

Price

✅

✅

BEST USES

Backpacking

✅

Car Camping

✅

Hammocking

✅

Family Camping

✅

Inflatable vs Self Inflating Sleeping Pads: Features

Here are the features of each of these pads that we graded on usability:

R-Value

Winner: self-inflating sleeping pad

R-value measures an air pad’s capacity to resist heat loss to the ground. R-value is a measure of thermal resistance. A camping mattress’s R-value falls within the range of 1.0 – 7.0. The higher the number, the more thermally resistant the sleeping pad is and the better it will retain the warmth of your body throughout the night. 

The thickness and material of the camping mattress play an important role in the R-value rating. The self-inflating sleeping pad wins. It includes both a layer of foam and air for R-values in the 2.0 - 6.0 range. In sub-freezing temperatures, you would need a sleeping pad with an R-value of 5.0 or higher. 

Cushion

Winner: self-inflating sleeping pad

Self-inflating sleeping pads are the most comfortable portable camping mattress you can sleep on. They include a layer of foam and air, their cushion is simply unmatched. Some campers even stack their self-inflating sleeping pads for additional comfort. This is perfect for those of us who are side sleepers. 

KAMUI foam pad
KAMUI foam pad


Adjustability

Winner: inflatable sleeping pad

The core of an inflatable sleeping pad is air. This makes it 100%  adjustable. If you want a firm camping mattress, you fill it until it is full. If you’re looking for something a little softer, you can adjust accordingly. Being able to have full control over the thickness of your sleeping pad is a helpful feature. 

Your inflatable sleeping pad doesn't have foam in it, it’s easier to use in positions other than flat. If you’re hammocking, sleeping in the back of a vehicle, or utilizing a chair converting kit, an inflatable sleeping pad is best for your needs. 

Ease of Use

Winner: self-inflating sleeping pad

Using a self-inflating sleeping pad is foolproof. As long as it is stored properly and well maintained, your self-inflating sleeping pad will do a majority of the setup work for you. When you arrive at your destination, unfold your sleeping pad and open the valve. The open-cell foam will automatically start to expand, pulling air into the pad. After 10-15 minutes you can choose to add a few manual breaths, close the valve, and head right to sleep.

It takes a bit more effort to fold your sleeping pad back up when you’re done using it. After opening the valve you’ll need to apply pressure to the pad starting on the side furthest from the valve. When that section has expelled all of its air, you’ll fold again and repeat until there is no air left in the sleeping pad. Close the valve, put it in its stuff sack, and you’re on your way!

KAMUI sleeping pad in tent
KAMUI sleeping pad in tent

Packability

Winner: inflatable sleeping pad

In the inflatable vs self inflating sleeping pads match, the inflatable sleeping pad is incredibly lightweight and can fold and roll up to be as compact as a water bottle. This makes it easy to pack into your vehicle, a suitcase, or even your backpack. An inflatable sleeping pad’s packability makes it the perfect camping mattress. 

Durability

Winner: self-inflating sleeping pad

If you’re rough on your camping gear you’re going to want to choose a self-inflating sleeping pad. There is always the possibility that your sleeping pad gets punctured while you’re enjoying the outdoors.

A self-inflating sleeping pad will still provide insulation and cushion when punctured. The open-cell foam inside will do the trick until you can watch the tear.

KAMUI sleeping pad packing
KAMUI sleeping pad packing

Price

Winner: it’s a tie! 

When you consider it's the item keeping you most comfortable throughout the night, the self-inflating sleeping pad and inflatable sleeping pad are fairly inexpensive. They are very similar in price as well.

There is a range of more affordable to a higher-end when considering a camping mattress. If you’re looking for specific features such as ultra-light or a double sleeper, the price will increase for both styles of sleeping pads. 

Inflatable vs Self Inflating Sleeping Pads: Best Uses

Backpacking

Winner: inflatable sleeping pad

Backpacking includes a combination of hiking and camping. You put everything you’ll need for a night, or more, in your backpack and hike it to your camping location. This requires you to carefully choose your gear so that it fits into your pack and isn’t too heavy. Inflatable sleeping pads are best for this activity. They’re the lightest and most packable option making them the best choice for backpacking. 

people backpacking

Car Camping

Winner: self-inflating sleeping pad

When you’re car camping, you’re setting up camp only a few feet from the car. This makes it easier to pack all the necessities and more. When time isn't an issue, the inflatable sleeping pad is your best choice! 

car camping

Hammocking

Winner: inflatable sleeping pad

If you’re planning on using a camping mattress in your hammock, you’re going to want to use an inflatable one. A self-inflating sleeping pad is very adjustable, making it the best for hammocking. You want your sleeping pad to be able to bend and shape to the inside of your hammock. Being able to adjust the amount of air inside of your sleeping pad allows you to do that!

Many companies create sleeping pads specifically designed for hammocking. They're shaped to fit inside the hammock while providing insulation where a regularly shaped sleeping pad might lack. They're perfect for the regular hammock camper.

hammocking in forest

Family Camping

Winner: self-inflating sleeping pad

When talking about inflatable vs self inflating sleeping pads, the self-inflating sleeping pads are best for family camping. Find a self-inflating sleeping pad that has buttons so you can attach multiple camping mattresses together. This is a great way to create a large sleeping area for small children or a couple to enjoy for the night.   

Self-inflating camping mattresses are more durable. You won't have to worry about young children or pets puncturing the sleeping pad and leaving it useless. Self-inflating sleeping pads can hold up to the perils of family camping.

family caping on KAMUI sleeping pad
family caping on KAMUI sleeping pad

Conclusion

After our research, we can conclude that: A self-inflating sleeping pad is your best buy. Comparing inflatable vs. self-inflating sleeping pads and deciding on pros and cons is tough. They’re both a great asset to any gear closet.

We at KAMUI also manufacture a family camping sleeping pad: The KAMUI sleeping pad. It features buttons that will allow you to attach it to other sleeping pads and has an R-value of 5.7. That was all on our inflatable vs self inflating sleeping pads article, we hope our comparison and recommendation helped you in choosing the right buy for you.

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