The sleeping pad is one of the most essential camping gear items. A sleeping bag will not provide enough warmth without a proper sleeping pad. The sleeping bags are rated based on the assumption that you’re sleeping on a sleeping pad. That makes it clear that you are going to become uncomfortable without a sleeping pad.
How Important Is a Sleeping Pad?
A sleeping pad is critically important for camping. It provides comfort and warmth during the night. Particularly for winter camping, when you can expect snow, it would be extremely difficult to sleep on the cold ground without a sleeping pad. Even during summer camping, the ground can suck a lot of heat from your body. If you like being uncomfortable then you can get away without one.
The sleeping pad serves three important purposes:
- It provides consistent insulation from the cold hard ground throughout the night.
- Provides a cushioned surface for a good night’s sleep.
- Protect your sleeping bag from sharp objects on the ground such as roots, rocks, sticks and dirt.
What Is a Sleeping Pad?
A sleeping pad is one of the main parts of the sleep system for camping. It is a piece of foam or some kind of insulation that can be laid on the ground and you can sleep on it comfortably. It provides comfort and warmth for a good night’s rest.
There are three main types of sleeping pads.
When packed air pads take the size of a water bottle. You need to blow them up with a lightweight hand pump before using them. Adjust the firmness according to your comfort level by adding or removing air.
Air pads are lightweight typically under 1lb and compact. Air pads are more prone to punctures. You should have a repair kit to fix them on the field.
Side sleepers are going to face a hard time sleeping on the air pads.
Air pads do not provide enough insulation from the ground. The air in the air pads is the only insulation between the ground and your sleeping bag. Your body heat has to warm up this air to provide the insulation. While the surrounding cold air tries to make this air cold.
The surrounding cold air always wins this battle. The air inside the air pad remains cold during the night and hence does not provide enough warmth.
Therefore, air pads are a good fit for summer camping when the temperature is warmer. In addition, for intense backpacking and minimalist backpacking, air pads are highly recommended.
Closed-cell foam sleeping pads are the most popular sleeping pads and backpacker’s choice. You have probably seen rollup closed foam attached to the backpack of the backpackers.
They are compact, lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. Closed-cell foam sleeping pads are not as comfortable as self-inflating sleeping pads. Backpackers use closed-cell foam pads in all three seasons.
Unlike air-pads and self-inflating pads, closed-cell foam pads aren’t prone to punctures.
Closed-cell foam pads are highly suitable for hiking and backpacking.
Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
Self-inflating sleeping pads are a combination of the former two types. They have foam insulation and need to be blown up by your mouth.
They can also get punctured but are less prone to puncture as compared to the air pads.
Among all the types of sleeping pads, self-inflating pads are the most comfortable and they provide more warmth. That makes them the perfect fit for winter camping.
However, self-inflating sleeping pads are heavy and bulkier compared to the other two. For car camping where weight and size are not considerations, self-inflating sleeping pads are the perfect fit.
Side sleepers are going to feel comfortable sleeping on the self-inflating pads because of their enough cushioning.
How Does a Sleeping Pad Work?
The sleeping pad acts as an insulation layer between your body and the ground. It provides insulation by preventing heat transfer.
In addition to the warmth, it provides padding for having a good night’s rest.
Your sleeping pad should be long enough to function properly. A regular-sized is 6 feet long. While short sleeping pads are 4 feet long.
Sleeping Pad R-Value
The sleeping pad R-value is a measure of the resistance against the heat transfer between your body and the cold ground. The more the r-value the more insulation it provides. R-value represents the sleeping pad’s insulation property.
R-values are rated between R1 and R6. For summer camping a sleeping pad rated at R1 will do the work for you. On the other hand, for intense winter camping, you need one rated at R6.
If you want to have one pad for all-season camping then you should go with the one rated at R6. Higher r- value sleeping pads are more versatile.
There is no such thing as overheating in the sleeping pad. In the case of a sleeping bag, however, a winter-rated bag can feel warmer on a summer night. So you should get the R6 and use it in all seasons.
Do Sleeping Pads Keep You Warm?
Sleeping pads make a world of difference in keeping you warm. Sleeping pads prevent heat loss through conduction.
It is quite possible that you find wet ground when you reach the camping site or it can start to rain anytime. A sleeping pad will keep your bag dry from the ground.
If you get cold easily, don’t forget to bring a sleeping pad. You’ll regret not bringing one. For the sleeping pad to be most effective, pile up dead leaves and set your camp on it.
Do You Really Need One?
You need a sleeping pad for a comfortable camping trip. If you’re fine with being uncomfortable you can get away without one.
Proper sleep is critical to staying energized and alert. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night by getting stabbed by a root in the wilderness.
You don’t always find a soft surface to sleep on. Most of the time you will be camping in the mountains, forests, and woods. So you can expect uneven surfaces having lots of rocks, sticks, and roots.
Sleeping directly on these surfaces with only a sleeping bag would be extremely difficult. Particularly for elderly people who have bad backs. Also, the side sleepers find it hard to sleep on these grounds.
Not only that but it also protects your sleeping bag against sharp objects. If you sleep directly on the ground with only a sleeping bag it will get dirt and damage by those sharp objects.
A sleeping pad will prove its worth on a chilly night at the camping site. You will thank yourself for bringing a sleeping pad.