A Short Guide to Sleeping Pad R- Values and the Best Tips on Using Them

We are here to help you learn about sleeping pad R-values, what they are, what they mean, and how big of a role they play when buying a pad for yourself. 

For your next camping trip, you’ll need a sleeping pad that will provide cushioning and insulation from the wet and cold ground. A camping mat plays a tremendous role in your sleeping and tent setup, so give it the attention it deserves.

camping sunrise

What are Sleeping Pad R- Values?

If you have ever shopped for a sleeping pad you would have noticed that the sleeping pad R-values vary from pad to pad and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Though there are many specifications and features that you can find in sleeping pads, the R-value will determine its thermal resistance and insulation.

Thermal resistance plays a major role in a sleeping pad as it means how well it resists the cold ground temperature. As you lose your body heat to the ground, you will need more resistance to colder conditions and less resistance to warmer ones.

The R-values simply state how well a sleeping pad resists this heat flow. The score is between 1.0, which is minimal insulation for warmer weather, up to 7.0, or even higher for those conditions that are cold.

KAMUI with bag

R-Value Testing

Besides, the problem while shopping for a sleeping pad may be because of companies that test sleeping pads’ R-value themselves. Before 2020 there was no standardized testing. Consequently, even the R-values of sleeping pads differ depending on the company. 

As a result of different testing methods, the R-value of the same sleeping pad may vary depending on the producer.

However, to resolve the issue, ATSM International 2020 made R-value testing and a scale standardized for everyone(ASTM F3340 – 18). Now the companies that provide sleeping pads have to meet the standard requirements of testing their products according to the standards. As a result, you can be more confident about choosing the correct sleeping pad.

R-value measurement machine

The testing process of the R-value of the sleeping pad usually happens with the help of special equipment. To test the correct R-value, you need to place the sleeping pad into the equipment and place it between two metal plates. The temperature happens to be low enough so that one side of the plate, equipped with a sensor, can detect how does sleeping pad perform. In other words, the sensor can detect; how good is the insulation of the sleeping pad by analyzing how much heat goes through it. If the sensor detects low heat flow, then that means that insulation is high, and thus, the R-value of the sleeping pad would be high as well.

What if my Sleeping Pad R- Values are not shown?

In the absence of an R rating on your sleeping pad, you can usually find a general recommendation about the temperature it is suitable. Otherwise, you will want to shop for a thicker sleeping pad if you are camping in cold weather and a lighter one that is better suited to hotter weather.

For example, in the first picture below, you can see a sleeping pad, which is a 1 to 3 R-value rated sleeping pad. Thus, it is thin and has low insulation properties:

Sitting on Pad

Whereas in the next picture, you can see the sleeping pad with an R-value of 5 or above as it has insulation and is thick enough for cold ground:

Sleeping Pad Kamui

Which Sleeping Pad R-Values Do You Need?

Shopping for a sleeping pad and, even more specifically, looking at sleeping pad R-values can take a bit of effort as you will need to determine a few things about your camping style first. Some campers might like to invest in more than one sleeping pad so that they are always prepared for the weather and conditions for any type of trip. Here are some things to consider when choosing the right R-value sleeping pad:

Intended Use

camping sunrise

Sleeping pads come in different styles to suit their use. Some popular uses for sleeping pads include sports like hiking, camping, snow campingcar camping, and backpacking, all with their own unique needs and features.

For instance. hiking and camping in the mountain area or the forest may require different types of sleeping pads. You will need a lightweight sleeping pad for mountain hiking or camping, especially while backpacking. However, if you use any kind of camping vehicle, you will have space you can easily use the heavier and more comfortable sleeping pads.

Although you can choose one ultimate sleeping pad for all of your outdoor experiences, the sleeping pad suitable for forest ground may cause difficulties staying in the rocky/mountain area. Besides, staying in a portable vehicle or using only your backpack to carry the sleeping pad may put you in a position to choose between a lightweight or a more comfortable but bulky gear. That is why it is important to choose your sleeping pad properly.

Weather

Knowing what temperature and weather conditions to expect on a camping trip will lead you towards the correct R-value. For colder climates, it is better to go with a higher R-value, and warmer weather will require minimal insulation, and so a lower R-value is ideal. Remember, unlike a sleeping bag, having a sleeping pad with extra insulation will not cause you to overheat.

The weather always differs depending on factors like the location of outdoor activity or the season. While planning your trip and choosing a sleeping pad, you always have to consider what season it is and where you are planning to have your trip.

Besides, while choosing your sleeping pad, you also have to consider the fact that the air temperature is usually warmer than the ground temperature. Thus, the air temperature of the area may seem warm to you, but the ground will be cold. Thus, you may have a risk of losing your body temperature.

KAMUI deflated sleeping pad

Features

There are plenty of additional features one might look for in a sleeping pad that can add value, warmth, or comfort to them. Depending on what you find most important, you might choose one that offers a lightweight feel, extra insulation, or a larger size to suit.

The market nowadays has a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor equipment, especially when it comes to sleeping pads. For example, sleeping pad features may include an attached pillow, various materials more suitable for insulation and/or sensitive skin, and eco-friendly sleeping pads with materials less harmful to nature. Moreover, some sleeping pads allow you to attach them all together, which can be comfortable for families or couples.

Type

There are three main types of sleeping pads, which are air sleeping pads, self-inflating sleeping pads, and closed-cell foam pads. The R-value of sleeping pads usually depends on the type of pads and thickness.

Closed Cell Foam Pad
Closed Cell
  Foam   
Air Pad mattresses
Manual inflated
  Pad   
Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads
Self Inflated
  Pad   
Air Matress
Inflate Air
Mattress
R-Value: 2  R-Value: 3.3  R-Value: 5.7  R-Value: 5+

A quality sleeping pad can add so much value to your camping experience and give you a rest that is just as good as your bed at home. Take some time to figure out your camping style so you can choose one sleeping pad that will last you for years to come.

Sleeping Pad R- Values: A Must-Know

camping in winter

successful camping trip is all about having the right gear to travel with and knowing how to pack for your surroundings. No matter what you get up to when camping, knowing that you will have a comfortable and warm sleep each night means you will be ready to enjoy your time the next day.

Sleeping pads are a worthwhile addition to your camping gear and are just as important as the sleeping bag itself. However, just like shopping for your sleeping bag, you need to put in a lot of thought and consideration to find the right R-value and other features that will make your rest more comfortable.

Insulation and comfort are important for rest, especially when you are in the great outdoors with minimal shelter. Spend some time finding the highest sleeping pad R-values and best pads to suit your needs, and you will never regret the purchase once you see how much good it can do.

FAQ

What makes a sleeping pad insulated?

The foam inside a sleeping pad and the air trapped inside the core are insulators intended to prevent heat loss due to the cold ground surface or temperature. If your camping pad doesn’t insulate you against a cold surface, consider adding a layer of closed cell foam pad beneath it. What else can you put under your sleeping mat to add insulation? Check here for more ideas.

Is sleeping pad R-value important?

An R-value in sleeping pads is a standardized gauge of a material’s capacity to resist heat loss. Ground temperatures tend to be colder at night; thus, you need a thicker camping mat with a high R-value. For winter camping, choose sleeping pads with an R-value of 5 and above to ensure you’ll stay warm sleeping in sub-zero temperatures.

How warm is a sleeping pad?

The degree of warmth a sleeping pad has will depend on its R-value rating. An R-value rating of 1 or 2 means the pads have low insulation and are less warm, and they’re suited for summer camping, while a rating of 5 and above translates to high insulation, and they are perfect for cold temperatures in fall or winter.

Does stacking sleeping pads increase R-value?

You may increase your sleeping pad’s R by stacking them up. The KAMUI self-inflating sleeping pad has built-in side buttons to securely stack two camping mats when you need to double your pad’s R-value when temperatures are freezing. Without the side buttons, your pads will slip off from the other, which could cause discomfort while you’re asleep. If you aim for a wider sleeping surface, snap multiple pads together through their side buttons.

Why do backpackers use foam sleeping pads?

Many backpackers use foam sleeping pads because they’re affordable, lightweight, not easily punctured, and you don’t need to blow them up. But if you need more comfort and warmth and are on a short distance hiking, a self-inflating sleeping pad is what you need.

Resources:

Wikipedia
Instructables
Outdoor Gear Exchange

KAMUI Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

  • Connectable with multiple sleeping pads
  • 4-season sleeping pad
  • Provides great back support
  • Comes with a storage bag
KAMUI Self-inflating Sleeping Pad Green with Blue variation