Sleeping Bag Vs Sleeping Pad – Why Both Are Necessary for Camping


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Sleeping pads play two very essential roles in getting a good night’s sleep outdoors: cushioning and insulation. While it may seem like having a comfy surface to sleep on is a pad’s most beneficial function, it’s capacity to keep you warm throughout the night is always extra important.

Here’s how to pick a sleeping pad for camping or backpacking:

Try them in person: To make your ultimate decision, try to go to your nearby REI and take a look at a few different pads. Lie down in your standard sleeping position and move around as you typically would. Seeing pads in person also allows you to effortlessly examine weight and packed size.


Types of Sleeping Pads

Air Pads

Air pads come in a huge range of styles, from lightweight ones best for backpacking up to extra-thick ones that are superb for glamping. Most air pads now include insulation and/or reflective substances to amplify warmth. Many air pads feature alternative inflation methods so you can save your breath.

Pros: Air pads are rather comfy and lightweight and the most compact kind of pad when packed. You can personalize the firmness of the mattress with the aid of releasing or adding air from the valve(s). Designs and intended end-use fluctuate widely. Be certain that the one you pick out has an R-value appropriate for the conditions you expect.

Cons: Air pads have a tendency to be more costly the lighter and more compact they are. They can be punctured or ripped (this is most frequent when sharing a tent with dogs), however, field repairs are feasible if you carry a suitable patch kit.

Air pads have a tendency to feel as if they are losing air if the outdoor temperature fluctuates, so test and modify the firmness right before you go to sleep. Moisture from breath can get trapped inside, which can also ultimately lead to degraded overall performance or bacterial or mildew issues. Using a hand pump will help prevent moisture buildup, as will storing your pad unrolled with valve(s) open.

Some air pads make a loud crinkly sound when you move around, which can be disturbing to yourself or your tent mates. This is another excellent reason to take a look at pads out in a store.

Self-Inflating Pads

Self-inflating pads provide a mixture of open-cell foam insulation and air. Opening the valve(s) permits the foam to extend and brings in the air automatically. Some are specially designed for backpacking and can be folded lengthwise and then rolled up to fit inside your pack. Others are designed for car camping and are rolled up without folding. Self-inflating pads provide you a huge range of choices for warmth, size, and cost.

Pros: They’re comfortable and fairly compact, they provide superb insulation, and you can modify their firmness by adding or releasing air. They’re usually more long-lasting than air pads.

Cons: They’re heavier and extra pricey than simple foam pads, and not as compact as air pads. They can be punctured or ripped, even though field repairs are not difficult.

Closed-Cell Foam Pads

These simple backpacking pads are made of dense foam stuffed with tiny closed-air cells. They’re commonly rolled up or folded in a Z formation.

Pros: They’re lightweight, inexpensive, durable, and provide steady insulation in all conditions. You don’t need to fear punctures or leaks. They work excellently beneath different kinds of pads to enhance insulation and stop punctures. These are the only pads that can be carried on the outside of your pack without fear of damage. They can additionally double as sit-down pads in camp.

Cons: They are less comfortable. They’re quite stiff and firm and tend to be bulky.


Choosing the Best Sleeping Pad for You

Sleeping Pad Quick Comparison

ActivityType of padFeatures/Benefits
Car campingSelf-inflating pad or thick air padLots of cushioning, a large range of available R-values
kayak & canoe touring
Air pad or lightweight self-inflating padComfortable, light-weight, pack a small, large range of available R-values
Minimalist backpackingUltralight air padLightweight packs small, large range of available R-values
Thru-hikingClosed-cell foam padLightweight and durable
Winter CampingWell-insulated air pad or self-inflating padHigh R-value

When deciding on a new sleeping pad, the key element is the warmth of your general sleep system (discussed below). It’s also useful to think about your supposed end use:

Car camping: When you’re not restricted by dimension and weight, you can pick out a thicker, large mattress for sleeping comfort. Often these are much less costly than their lightweight counterparts. Self-inflating pads are often desirable alternatives for car camping.

(Large inflatable air mattresses are another choice if you choose to use normal sheets and blankets as an alternative to a sleeping bag. However, these mattresses are quite heavy and cumbersome and may also lack insulation, so take a look at product specs. A pump is required for suitable inflation.)

Backpacking: Those who prefer to sleep comfortably when backpacking (or traveling by bike, canoe, or kayak) would possibly pick self-inflating or air pads, which provide a variety of thicknesses, durability, insulation value, and weight. Optional chair kits let your self-inflating or air pad do double-duty as a relaxed seat, complete with a backrest. This can be a lightweight luxury for backpackers.

Minimalist backpacking: Low weight and a small packed dimension override all other factors. An ultralight air pad is in all likelihood going to be your best bet. Some insulated full-length air pads now weigh much less than a pound. Be certain to look at the packed sizes of your pad alternatives when in the shop and factor that into your decision.

Thru-hiking: Here, low weight is important, however sturdiness for the long haul is also key. Closed-cell foam pads are your great bet. Many thru-hikers select a “short” or “3/4 length” foam pad to save weight (you can lay your empty pack or more clothing underneath your feet for a bit of insulation if needed).

Winter camping: An insulated, high-R-value air pad works nicely for cold air temperatures. Camping on snow also requires extra insulation. Because R-value is additive, think about the usage of a closed-cell foam pad under an insulated, moderate, or high R-value air pad or self-inflating pad. The long-lasting closed-cell foam pad provides insulation and helps shield the inflatable pad from punctures or other damage. It additionally serves as a backup if the inflatable pad is damaged and can’t be repaired.


Sleeping Pad Warmth

Insulation and R-Value

A sleeping pad’s insulation is imperative to a warm night’s sleep because you lose body heat to the cold floor below you. To counteract this, pads use a range of materials and construction techniques to stop heat loss.

A sleeping pad’s R-value measures its potential to withstand heat flow through it (hence the “R”). The greater a pad’s R-value, the better it will insulate you from cold surfaces. Sleeping pad R-values vary from less than two (minimally insulated) to 5.5 or greater (very well insulated).

Manufacturers now have a uniform way to test sleeping pads for R-values, which means you can compare this key spec between any two pads, regardless of the brand, model, or kind of pad.

Key information about R-values in sleeping pads:

• Higher numbers imply greater insulation.
• The scale is straightforward: A pad with an R-value of two is twice as warm as a pad with an R-value of one.
• To calculate the complete insulation for stacked sleeping pads, simply add their R-values.


Your Sleep System

Your Sleeping Pad and Bag Work Together

It’s always been true that your real-world warmth and comfort can differ from the tested temperature scores primarily based on many variables, which include humidity, wind, kind of shelter, ground conditions, clothing, and personal preferences. The central consideration, though, is your sleep system. A sleep system consists of three simple components: 1) the sleeping bag, 2) the sleeping pad, and 3) the sleeper’s clothing.

If you use a less-insulated pad at colder temps, your sleeping bag may no longer live up to its temperature rating. It’s vital to be aware that a sleeping bag’s test ranking is primarily based on an individual who is wearing long undies and socks and is sleeping on an insulated pad with an R-value of about 5.5. (Keeping these variables constant throughout all examined bags is needed to get correct measurements.)

REI Co-op’s Magnusson Lab has carried out considerable testing to quantify general sleep system comfort. Sleeping bags and pads, with various thermal performances, were measured on my own and in unique combinations. The simple table beneath indicates recommended sleep system combinations primarily based on predicted nighttime low, the R-value of the sleeping pad, and the sleeping bag temperature rating.

Sleep Systems: What Sleeping Pad and Sleeping Bag Rating Should I Get?

Expected Nighttime Low50°F32°F20°F0°F
Pad: R-Value RangeUnder 22 – 3.94 – 5.45.5+
Bag: Temperature Rating30°F or lower20°F or lower15°F or lower0°F or lower

For the temperature rating of your bag, use its “lower limit” rating if you are a warm sleeper; use its “comfort” rating if you are a cold sleeper. To study more about sleeping bag ratings, as well as how to pick out one, read How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Backpacking.


Sleeping Pad Features

Sleeping Pad Weight

Ultralight pads are superb for backpacking but are more expensive. You can save weight by way of selecting a mummy or tapered form that reduces volume and packs smaller. Closed-cell foam pads in short lengths are also pretty low in weight. If you’re backpacking with a partner, a two-person lightweight sleeping pad can save ounces.

Sleeping Pad Length

At a minimum, your shoulders and hips want to fit on a pad. Regular (typically 72 inches long) and long (typically 78-inch) pads will insulate your legs and feet—a big plus on chilly fall and winter trips. A quick or 3/4-length pad (usually 47 or 48 inches) weighs less and packs smaller (you can put folded clothing or your pack below your legs and toes for some insulation).

Sleeping Pad Width

Nearly every pad provides a standard width of 20 inches. If you’re a large individual or have a tendency to roll around a lot, you may also favor a width of 25 or 30 inches (but think about the dimension of your tent to make sure you can fit two wider pads side by side). Often the “long” model of the pad defaults to being wider as well, although in some styles you can get a broad pad that is still “regular” length.
Some pads have large side baffles, frequently referred to as “rails,” to cradle you and help keep you from rolling off as you turn during sleep. These are in particular pleasant for children.

Sleeping Pad Inflation

Some pads have both a high-volume inflation valve and a deflation valve, which can speed airflow in or out. Some new pads have large “neck” openings that permit fast inflation with fewer breaths. Pads with separate inflation chambers or layers can provide you peace of mind; if one layer fails, the other will still provide you with some cushioning.

Sleeping Pad Surfaces

If you are a restless sleeper, look for a pad with a textured or brushed fabric surface. This helps hold you and your sleeping bag from sliding off during the night. It would possibly also be quieter.

Additional Sleeping Pad Considerations

Pad sleeves: Some sleeping bags have a built-in sleeve to hold a pad. This keeps you and your sleeping bag from sliding off in the night. Check the sleeve width before you purchase a pad.

Hand pumps: If you don’t like expending breath after a long day of hiking, look for a pad with a built-in hand pump or buy a bag-style hand pump that rolls up small and weighs solely a couple of ounces (sold separately).

Patch kits are an excellent idea for backpacking. Find out whether or not they come with the pad or are offered separately. Be sure to understand how to patch a puncture before you leave home, in case you have to repair one in the dark.

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