When camping in backcountry, you want to sleep as comfortable as possible and stay warm and healthy. In the same time you don’t want to carry too much extras with you, because they add weight and bulk in your pack.

Choosing a Sleeping Pad

Some people feel more comfortable on specific type of sleeping pad, whereas other can’t sleep on anything much thinner than mattress. Sleeping pad manufacturers have made a big diversity of sleeping pads to reach customer requirements and we can guide you on choosing the right sleeping pad for you, but you are the one who have to make final choice. Only you know your sleeping needs and what is most comfortable for you. Here is some useful information to guide you right way.

Where to start

Sleeping pads have two main purposes – add cushioning and insulation and both of these performances are important for your good nights sleep. Sleeping pads comes in different styles, shapes and sizes, and all of them will perform different to each other. When choosing a sleeping pad, try out a few different types and sizes to find out which works best for you. Main questions to ask yourself before choosing one are:

  • Where I will use the mattress? Is it car camping by the lake, backpacking in the mountains in the snow, camping in the lowlands or something else?
  • What is the highest priority? Is it comfort, price, durability, inflating and deflating time or size and weight? More comfortable and larger pads often will weight more and be more bulky as well as some comfortable pads can take longer time and effort to inflate and deflate
  • What terrain I will use the pad for? Is it mainly soft soils or rocky grounds or winter outings? This will help you to decide how durable and thick your pad has to be
  • What size is best for me? If in night you tend to role around a lot you might consider getting a larger size sleeping pad or if size and weight for you is most important, then go for more compact size, but make sure that as minimum your shoulders and hips fits on it

Choosing a  sleeping pad by activity

Backpacking – If you prefer more comfort when camping on your backpacking trip, then choose pads with greater thickness and durability, it will increase your packs weight and size for exchange of extra comfort. A good manually inflated sleeping pad can be a very good option, since they can be compressed to save space, and the cushion of air makes for a very comfortable sleep. On the downside, you’ll have to be very careful to avoid it getting punctured

Minimalist backpacking and long-distance hiking is where you’ll want to look for the lightest possible pad which packs in a small size. Pads designed as ultralight may be your best option, but also basic foam pads will do

Winter camping requires more insulation. An inflatable air pad atop a foam pad is a good option, where foam pad adds insulation and offers protection to the inflatable pad

Car camping and boat camping – if sleeping system won’t be carried much around , a thick, large mattress for luxurious sleeping comfort would be your best choice where weight and size is not a problem

Types of Sleeping Pads

Air pads use air for cushioning with some models integrating insulation or reflective materials to increase warmth using body heat. Some models include an external stuff-sack pump or integrated hand pump to help inflate the pad, those which doesn’t, must be inflated manually

Foam Pads are basic backpacking pads that feature dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells

Self-Inflating Pads offer a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air. When you open the pad’s valve, air fills the vacuum automatically

Air Mattresses use air for comfort and are much thicker than foam pads. They are as close to a real bed as you can get and they’re often used in car-camping or boat-camping. They often have additional extras you won’t see on sleeping pads, like built-in pillows or multiple air chambers for custom adjustments. Usually they are sized to take regular sheets

 Type Advantages Disadvantages
Manually Inflated Lightweight
Manual inflation can be time consuming
Can be ripped or punctured
Not the best insulation
Closed-Cell Foam Lightweight
Good insulation
Won’t rip
Least comfortable
Self-Inflating Lightweight
Good insulation
Can be pricey
Can be ripped or punctured
Air Mattress Most comfortable Heavy and bulky
Not insulated
Can be ripped or punctured

Women’s sleeping pads

Women-specific sleeping pads tend to have extra insulation at the hips and feet and they’re generally smaller in dimensions


A sleeping pad’s insulation ability is measured using an R-value, which is the measurement of a materials thermal resistance. The higher the R-value, the warmer sleeping pad will be.

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