sleeping pad inside sleeping bag

Sleeping Pad Inside Your Sleeping Bag: Hidden Secret or Big Mistake?

Table of Contents

You wake up in the middle of the night to the wisping wind cascading over your tent and rustling the nearby leaves. At first, you think it is a wild animal approaching, but after a couple of seconds, you realize it really was just the wind all along.

Pesky dream state always lingering over into reality for those first few seconds of being awake.

Once your heart rate calms down, you realize your sock must have fallen off during the night. Because your feet are freezing.

A quick glance reveals that, alas, your entire lower body slid off your inflatable sleeping pad and onto the tent floor. Only the third time that has happened this season…

A natural instinct may be to just place your inflatable pad inside your sleeping bag. Taking away even the possibility you could fall off of it. While at first, this may sound like an incredible idea, there are actually a few good reasons why you should avoid doing this.

tent in field

Should you put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag?

The short answer is no, you should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag.

I will dig further into why some people do and why you should not in a minute.

First, can a sleeping pad even fit inside a sleeping bag?

sleeping pads and bags

So most sleeping pads will fit inside a sleeping bag. The exceptions would be if you have a long or wide sleeping pad.

Additionally, a mummy-shaped pad would fit better within a mummy bag, and likewise for a standard-shaped set.

Why someone would want to put the sleeping pad on the inside?

There are a couple of main reasons why someone would want to put their sleep pad inside their sleeping bag.

First, their sleeping bag does not stay on top of their sleeping pad throughout the night.

If you toss and turn during the night then you may have woken up halfway of your sleeping pad once or twice. On top of being annoying and uncomfortable, you can lose a lot of body heat because of the cold ground. It is natural to think that putting your sleep pad inside your sleeping bag will solve the problem.

But, there are some better options than using your sleeping pad improperly.

sleeping well while camping

One option is to get a larger sleeping pad. Wider pads have 5-6″ of extra space for you to roll around throughout the night. At only an extra ounce or two of weight, the extra room is well worth it.

The second option is to get a sleeping pad or sleeping bag that has straps. These straps either wrap around the sleeping pad or clip on to ensure the two pieces of equipment stay together. This option is a bit more limiting because this is not a widespread feature at this point.

The other big reason people put their sleeping pad inside their sleeping bag is because it is more comfortable.

This one is a bit more subjective, but it is a reason I have heard for preferring the sleeping pad inside the sleeping bag.

Some people prefer the material of the sleeping pad to that of the sleeping bag. (even though I think these folks are a bit crazy. I prefer not to sleep directly on my mattress at home)

I for one love being engulfed by my sleeping bag and all its warmth and coziness!

Why you should not put sleeping pads inside your sleeping bag

The simple reason that you should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag is that you are sacrificing warmth.

The bottom of your sleeping bag becomes irrelevant if it is around the outside of your sleeping pad.

Normally, the sleeping pad serves as the barrier between you and the cold ground. While you cacoon yourself inside your sleeping bag. Getting 360 degrees of insulation.

cocooned in sleeping bag

When you put the underside of your sleeping bag against the ground (underneath the sleeping pad), it loses its purpose. It does not prevent the cool temperatures from the ground from getting through. The sleeping pad still does its job, but without the layer of the sleeping bag between you, more cool temperatures get to your body.

Also, with additional weight on top of it, the bottom of your sleeping bag will compress more. This will cause your bag to lose some loft and insulation over the long-term.

In addition to losing insulation from your sleeping bag, putting your sleeping pad inside your bag will create much less space. This is a dealbreaker if you are a side sleeper because you will lose the ability to sleep on your side or rotate your body easily. (think if your sheets and comforter were tightly tucked in on all sides at your bed at home)

Sleeping pad inside sleeping bag (2)

Ways to secure your sleeping bag to your pad

There are some sleeping bags that have straps designed to go around sleeping pads to prevent sliding off. My favorite being the quilts from Enlightened Equipment. They offer incredible versatility and can be customized to your exact needs. They include sleeping pad attachment straps that wrap around your sleeping pad to secure the two together.

You could also do a DIY version with any type of elastic band or strap. And even in a pinch you could tape, though I would not make a habit of this because it could damage your sleeping bag.

Don’t overlook getting a wider sleeping pad. A lot of sleeping pads create the sense that any movement will cause you to fall off because of their narrowness. Getting a wide sleeping pad will give you an extra ~6 inches which gives you a wider platform to sleep on. Doubles as a more comfortable experience and they make it much harder for you to slide off.

Ways to stay warmer at night

If you are thinking about putting your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag, you may be dealing with being cold during the night.

There are plenty of ways to keep warm while camping in a tent, even when winter camping or at high elevations.

The best place to start is with your sleep system.

Make sure that your sleeping bag is rated for about ~10-15 degrees colder than the temperature you are expecting. Even if you are able to max out your sleeping bags temperature rating, it is best to have a little bit of a buffer.

The key to getting the most out of your sleeping bag is to have a sleep pad with a high enough R-Value for the conditions you are camping in. This ensures that more of the cold air coming from the ground is reflected away from your body. A sleeping bag does not reflect outside air away from your body. Rather it helps retain the body heat that you are emitting.

FAQ

You should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag, even if it does fit.

You lose insulation from your sleeping bag and you have much less room inside your sleeping bag.

Conclusion

Putting your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag may sound like a genius-level move, but it isn’t. You lose warmth and compress your sleeping bag down by doing so.

If comfort is the reason you are thinking about it, try a different sleeping pad. (I.e., switch to an inflatable pad if you have been using foam pads)

If you are tired of sliding off your sleeping pad during the night, try getting a wider pad or a sleeping bag that has a sleeping pad attachment system.

It is foolish to sacrifice body heat or the longevity of your gear to fix an issue that has multiple better solutions. Your sleeping bag and you will feel better with a permanent solution that allows you to continue exploring the outdoors!

snowy camp
Foam vs inflatable sleeping pad

Foam vs Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Which is Better?

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Like many great rivalries, there exists the classic, old-school side and the cool, modern new-school.

In the world of sleeping pads, this rivalry is foam vs inflatable sleeping pads.

The classic foam pad that you unroll each night and strap to the top of your pack each morning. Versus the compact inflatable pad that you blow up each night and deflate each morning before rolling it up into your backpack.

Both are good options as a backpacking sleeping pad. But they each do different things well and have different drawbacks. Using the wrong one can ruin any trip, leaving you groggy and tired each day.

desert camping

Foam sleeping pads

The classic foam sleeping pad is instantly recognizable and is synonymous with camping and backpacking. Known for being lightweight, durable, and affordable, closed-cell foam pads are popular among backpackers. Just because they are popular, though, does that make them the right choice for you?

To start, what are closed-cell foam pads?

Closed-cell foam sleeping pads usually range between 0.5″ and 1.0″ thick, and provide backpackers with a lightweight, durable sleeping pad. These foam pads roll up or fold up and are commonly stored on the outside of a hiker’s backpack.

foam sleep pads

Most popular foam pads nowadays have a dimpled surface that creates pockets that can trap hot air leaving your body. This helps create a layer of warmer air between your body and the ground. Additionally, many pads have a metallic, thermal reflective material on one side. This material reflects warm air back toward your body and cold air back toward the ground.

Pros

  • Easy set-up

  • Affordable

  • Durable

One great thing about foam pads is their ease of setup. Simply unroll or unfold it and presto! you have your sleeping pad. Even after a long day of hiking, you can (probably) muster the 5 seconds of effort to lay out your sleeping pad.

Inflatable sleeping pads require dozens of deep breaths and exhales to blow up. (good luck when the air is already thin up in the mountains)

Another big upside to foam pads is their affordability. Inflatable pads usually range between $100-$300+! A closed-cell foam pad will cost you a fraction of that. You’d be hard-pressed to find one close to $100.

This makes it a bit more palatable if you lose or ruin one; a replacement isn’t going to cost an arm and leg.

One other great part about a foam pad is its durability. Unlike an inflatable pad, you won’t have to worry that every rock or root under your tent may mean the end of your cozy bed. These pads are made from dense foam, and it would take a lot to damage one badly enough that it couldn’t be used.

Foam pads are no longer the standard bearers of the sleeping pad world, so obviously there must be some drawbacks, right?

There are indeed.

Cons

  • Comfort

  • Low R-Value

  • Packability

The first major downside is comfort level. Think about rolling out a glorified yoga mat on your bedroom floor each night. Now imagine having a nice air mattress to sleep on instead. Not as appealing as a real mattress, sure, but compared to that yoga mat?

Some people are more immune to the lack of comfort a basic foam pad provides. Generally, I am not one of those people. I have used a foam sleeping pad (and very well may in the future as well), but the truth remains that they just are not as comfortable as an inflatable sleeping pad.

winter camping

The other big knock against closed-cell foam pads is their lack of R-Value. Most foam pads hover around the 2.0 mark, and that puts a limit on the conditions in which you can use them. They are relegated to warm-weather camping for most of us.

Another issue with closed-cell pads is their packability. Inflatable pads can be rolled up into a small cylinder and stored almost anywhere in your backpack. Whereas, a foam pad is much bigger and can only be stored on the outside of your pack.

The storage aspect isn’t as big of a drawback as the first two. I love utilizing outside storage pockets and straps when it makes sense. If you normally store your bear canister on the outside of your pack, though, this is when it can become a much bigger issue.

Inflatable sleeping pads

Move over foam sleeping pad; enter the superior inflatable sleeping pad!

It is superior, right?

Well…..it depends on how you are using it, and who you ask.

To start, what is an inflatable sleeping pad?

Most inflatable sleeping pads are made from a fabric (nylon, polyester, etc.) that has been coated with polyurethane to provide waterproofing. They will have a valve to allow air in and out; they can be inflated either by exhaling deep breaths into the valve or by using a pump sack. Pumps sacks take all the hard (and dizzying) work out the inflation process. They simply attach to the valve and you open the sack to fill it with air before rolling it down into the sleeping pad.

There are various shapes, thicknesses, and widths, so you will be guaranteed to find one that fits your needs.

Pros

  • Comfort

  • Packability

  • Tons of options

If you are switching to an inflatable sleeping pad for the first time, one of the first things you will notice is the comfort. Simply, sleeping on 3 inches of air cushioning is just more comfortable than 1/2 an inch of foam. Inflatable pads also contour around objects underneath the tent better than foam. If you set up your tent over an unavoidable tree root, you will feel that more with a foam sleeping pad versus an inflatable pad.

Often overlooked, the packability of an inflatable pad compared to a foam one is night and day. The packed size of an inflatable pad is about the size of a standard Nalgene water bottle, easily stored inside your backpack. Whereas, a foam pad has to be stored on the outside of your pack, potentially throwing off your balance along the trail.

tensor vs nalgene

Unlike foam pads, inflatable sleeping pads come in a large variety of sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. There are long models, wide models, tapered/mummy-shaped models, and more! If you need a thick, warm, and wide sleeping pad, you can find plenty of options. Likewise if saving weight is your only goal. A foam pad can be cut down or trimmed to a different shape, but that takes extra work and cannot be undone.

Cons

  • Take time to inflate

  • Pricier than foam pads

  • Chance of popping

When you frame inflatable pads as the newer, superior type of sleeping pad it can be easy to think that there are no drawbacks. But this is not true.

With a foam sleeping pad, all you have to do is unroll/unfold it and you are good to go. Inflatable pads require time to inflate, either by mouth or pump sack. Either way, a few minutes at the end of a day of tough hiking can feel like an eternity when all you want to do is lie down and sleep.

Inflatable sleeping pads simply cost more than a basic foam sleeping pad. Sometimes as much as 3,4, or even 5+ times the price. If you are trying backpacking for the first time, it makes a lot of sense to start with a foam pad before investing in something more expensive.

One thing you only have to worry about with inflatable pads is the risk of them popping or ripping. The sound of air leaving your pad is always a sad sound. Usually, it is when you start deflating it in the morning and it is time to get out of the warm, cozy confines of your sleeping bag and tent. But, worse is when you hear that sound in the middle of the night, without you touching the valve.

Dual sleeping pad system

Is it crazy to use two sleeping pads?

Not at all. There are actually times when it is the best thing to do.

When using two pads makes sense

Using two pads, one foam and one inflatable, makes sense when cold weather camping.

You place a foam sleeping pad on the floor of your tent and then place an inflatable one on top of the foam. There is one clear benefit to doing this and that is WARMTH.

Since R-Values add up cumulatively, you will get the combined R-Value of the two pads. So during those trips into the high mountains or in the winter, you can actually stay warm at night.

FAQ

There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of pads. Inflatable pads provide more comfort and take up less space in your pack. While foam pads are quicker to set up and cost less than inflatable ones.

Yes. Using both types of sleeping pads is common during cold weather or winter camping.

Yes, inflatable sleeping pads are more comfortable than closed-cell foam pads. Imagine sleeping on an air mattress versus a yoga mat.

Conclusion

Both closed-cell foam sleeping pads and inflatable pads provide an upgrade from sleeping on the ground while you camp.

As for which is better? The answer is a bit subjective and depends on what you prioritize.

Are you the type of can sleep on any surface at any time and prioritize quick setup or affordability? A foam pad may make more sense for you.

Rather, if you cannot imagine compromising any comfort, no matter the cost. Or if you need to maximize all of the space in your pack. An inflatable sleeping pad is likely the option for you.

No two hikers are the same, nor are any two hikes. Whichever sleeping pad you prefer, get out there and put it to good use!

mountain camp
Sleeping Pad R-Value

Sleeping pad R-value: Know how to stay warm

Sleeping Pad R-Value

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When I first got into backpacking and the outdoors, I first obsessed over tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags. I would spend hours researching and combing through the technical details and specs of different products.

So for my first backpacking trip, I had an awesome tent, a lightweight backpack, and a sleeping bag that was rated below the temperatures I was expecting at night.

Lo and behold, I remember waking up in the middle of the night cold and uncomfortable, having a hard time getting back to sleep. I tried putting my jacket on, and then every layer I had with me. Nothing seemed to take away that chill I was feeling, though.

Maybe this whole backpacking thing isn’t as fun as it looked on paper, I thought. In hindsight, I later realized that getting the cheapest sleeping pad I could find wasn’t the way to go.

Learning about R-values and how sleeping pads work with the rest of your sleep system allowed me to fully experience the joy of backpacking and being outside.

Zion National Park

What is R-value?

Imagine trying to compare the softness of bedsheets without thread counts. Every brand claiming that their sheets are the softest, but with no standard measure to compare that claim against. It would be impossible to objectively know how soft a set of sheets was before purchasing it.

R-value serves as the way to measure sleeping pads’ insulating abilities. (technically it is a measure of heat resistance and is used for other items like house insulation) If you were to lie down with nothing between you and the ground, your body heat would transfer to the cold ground. Sleeping pads (or anything with an R-value) help you retain some of your body heat.

heat lost without sleeping pad

This measurement has been standardized across the industry, and it makes it easy to compare across brands. Sleeping pads with higher R-values provide more insulation than those with lower.

Why is R-value important?

Without a sleeping pad, your body heat would be lost to the ground, making for a very cold (and uncomfortable) night. A sleeping pad provides a layer of protective cushioning and a thermal resistance barrier between you and the ground.

That layer of thermal resistance is crucial to staying warm throughout the night. Sleeping bags alone cannot keep you warm. In fact, they need an additional insulating layer to be comfortable at their temperature rating. (which is likely why you feel most sleeping bags are not as warm as the manufacturer says)

cold at night

Having a standard measurement system allows campers to confidently compare products across multiple brands.

Prior to 2020, there was no consistent R-value test across the outdoor industry. Some brands did in-house testing, while others simply provided temperature ratings. Nowadays, the guesswork is out of it because all major brands follow ASTM F3340-18. This standardized testing procedures across the industry and gave customers an easy way to compare products across different brands.

What R-value is right for me?

The answer depends on the conditions that you are using it in and if you have anything else you are using for insulation.

To start, taking a sleeping pad with an R-value of 1.5 for winter camping makes no sense. Even with a warm sleeping bag, you will still be cold.

adding r-values

My general rule of thumb is to have a 3.0-5.0 R-value for a three-season sleeping pad. With a properly rated sleeping bag, a pad in this range should be comfortable down to around 40 degrees. Depending on how many layers you wear and how low your sleeping bag is rated to, you may be good down to about freezing.

Below freezing (32 degrees) you will want a sleeping pad with an R-value above 5.0. That is in addition to some warm clothing layers and a quality sleeping bag. Another technique is to have a foam sleeping pad to place beneath your air pad.

Since the R-values of items add up cumulatively, you can generate a lot of insulation by using multiple sleep pads.

How is R-value measured?

It sounds complicated, but the way the R-value is measured is rather simple.

measuring r-value
  • The sleeping pad is placed between two metal plates with constant pressure. (one hot and one cold)

  • The hot plate is heated to simulate body heat, while the cold plate simulates the cold ground. (95 degrees Fahrenheit and 41 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively)

  • The pad’s R-value is determined by the amount of energy needed to maintain the temperature of the hot plate.

The more energy needed to maintain the warm temperature, the lower the R-value and vice versa.

R-values of common sleeping pads

Sleeping Pad Name

Weight

R-Value

Usage

14 oz.

2.0

Warm weather backpacking

OR

as supplemental pad in cold weather

1 lb. 1 oz.

4.5

Three-season backpacking

8.8 oz.

2.3

Ultralight backpacking

4 lb.

6.0

Cold weath camping

1 lb. 6 oz.

3.8

Three-season backpacking

1 lb. 14 oz. 

7.1

Cold weather backpacking

2 lb. 11 oz.

7.8

Cold weather camping

2 lb. 4 oz.

4.8

Three-season camping

1 lb. 5 oz.

2.9

Lightweight backpacking

12 oz.

2.2

Warm weather backpacking

OR

as supplemental pad in cold weather

1 lb. 1 oz.

2.5

Lightweight backpacking

1 lb. 7 oz.

1.8

Warm weather backpacking

1 lb. 9 oz.

1.5

Warm weather backpacking

1 lb. 3 oz.

8.5

Cold weather backpacking

10 oz.

1.9

Warm weather backpacking

OR

as supplemental pad in cold weather

1 lb. 6 oz.

3.2

Three-season backpacking

2 lb. 2 oz.

4.1

Three-season camping

1 lb. 10 oz.

3.7

Three- season backpacking

1 lb. 3 oz.

4.2

Lightweight backpacking

1 lb. 14 oz.

4.5

Three-season backpacking

FAQ

A sleeping pad R-value between 3.0 and 5.0 will satisfy most three-season camping trips. If you plan to do some cold-weather camping, look for something greater than 5.0.

Yes, there are a couple of easy ways to do this.

  • Layer up your clothing

  • Utilize two sleeping pads (I.e., one closed-cell foam pad and one inflatable pad)

R-values add up, so using a foam pad with an R-value of 2.0 with an inflatable pad with a rating of 3.0 equals a total of 5.0.

No. If anything, your sleeping pad will have an impact on the effectiveness of your sleeping bag. The temperature rating of your sleeping bag requires an adequate sleeping pad R-value to reach its full potential.

Yes. Most brands now follow a standard testing procedure. This allows you to easily compare ratings across multiple brands.

Conclusion

It is easy to fall into the thinking that all sleeping pads are basically the same, they make sleeping more comfortable, right?

Yes, they do indeed make sleeping more comfortable when you are camping. But having a poor sleep pad can have even the most eager backpacker looking for the quickest way off of the trail. (I can attest to that)

My first backpacking trip was derailed because I thought I knew more than I did and thought I was fully prepared. (I was not fully prepared)

Don’t let that be you, and make sure that you are getting the most out of and actually enjoying your outdoor adventures!

sequoia trees
do you need a sleeping pad for camping?

Do you need a sleeping pad for camping?

Table of Contents

You’ve just finished telling some hilarious stories around the campfire or along the water’s edge, and it is time to hit the sack.

Crawling into your tent after dark is difficult enough, but imagine once you get settled in you feel nothing but rocks and cold ground beneath your sleeping bag.

Every camper’s dream, right?

(If you agree, consider therapy because those conditions are downright terrible)

But that is the reality of camping without a sleeping pad. No comfort. No insulation from the cold air emanating from the earth on a dark night.

Sleeping pads help make sure you stay comfortable and warm during your camping trip by allowing your sleeping bag to work to its fullest temperature rating potential.

tent camping at night

Is a sleeping pad needed for camping?

Yes, having a sleeping pad is crucial to sleeping well while camping. Not only does it provide a comfortable surface to sleep on, but sleeping pads also serve as an insulating barrier between your body and the cold ground.

Without one, the cold, hard ground will suck the heat away from your body. This heat loss will keep you uncomfortably shivering throughout the night. A sleeping pad also prevents you from feeling every rock and root in the ground while you try to sleep.

The one instance where you could get away without a sleeping pad is if you are car camping and using a cot. Assuming it isn’t below freezing, you could do well without a sleeping pad.

Types of sleeping pads

Inflatable pads

The most common type of sleeping pad you will see is an inflatable pad. These sleeping pads are manually inflated and deflated through a valve. This is either done by blowing into the valve or using a pump bag/inflation sack.

inflatable sleeping pad

One great thing about inflatable pads is that you can customize the softness to your liking. If you blow more air into it, the firmer it gets and vice versa. Having the ability to tailor the amount of air in the pad is a huge plus when backpacking and staying on different terrain each night.

Another plus with inflatable sleep pads is their packability. Most pack down to roughly the size of a standard Nalgene water bottle, meaning it can easily fit into your backpack.

Closed-cell foam pads

If simple is your style, a closed-cell foam pad is right up your alley.

Think old-school backpacking with canvas bags and leather boots. The technology has advanced but the simple, yet effective foam pad remains. Many modern models have a shiny, reflective side designed specifically to maximize insulation.

closed-cell foam sleeping pad

Along with the simple design and easy setup, foam pads deliver a durable product at a cost-effective price.

You do not need to worry about punctures ruining a good night’s sleep like with an inflatable version. There are few sounds worse than waking up to your inflatable sleep pad deflating because you forgot to clear out all of the sticks underneath your tent.

You can also become the proud owner of a closed-cell foam pad for 2-3 times lower cost than another type of sleeping pad.

Self-inflating pads

Self-inflating pads use open-cell foam that fills with air and expands when the valve is opened. You may need to add a couple lung fulls of air to it, depending on your firmness preference, but most of the work is done for you.

self-inflating pad

Self-inflating sleeping pads are for the camper who prioritizes convenience above all else. You can finish setting up camp or change into some comfortable camp clothes while your sleep pad inflates. (though it only takes seconds for it to inflate)

Not all is glitter and gold with this style of sleeping pad. They are a bit bulky and weigh more than any of the other options, making them inconvenient to take backpacking.

Different sizes of sleeping pads

Length (avg)

Width (avg)

Short

48"

20"

Regular

72"

20"

Regular Wide

72"

25"

Long

77"

25"

Short

Short sleeping pads (sometimes seen as small or three-quarter pads) are most commonly used by ultralight backpackers as a way to save a few ounces. Generally, you have your torso and core on the pad, with your feet on the ground or propped up on your pack or a cloths-filled stuff sack.

On average, short sleeping pads run 48″-50″ long and 20″ wide.

A bit awkward at first, but you do not lose body heat as much through your legs, making it a viable technique if you are backpacking in warm conditions.

For traditional car camping, there is no worry about saving a few ounces, so if you are using a short pad then, you may want to reconsider some life choices…

Standard

Good old-fashioned standard length. You’ll never go wrong with the ole’ reliable.

Running 72″ long and 20″ wide, this length pad accommodates the majority of campers and backpackers.

This is my go-to for backpacking because weight can be shaved elsewhere if 4-5 ounces extra is a dealbreaker. (I enjoy the comfort of being able to fit my entire body on the sleeping pad)

picture of sleeping pad in mountains

Long

For the taller, larger campers. A little bit longer and a bit wider than the standard length.

Coming in (on average) at 77″ long and 25″ wide, you get a bit more space to sleep comfortably (hopefully not toss and turn) on.

I like this size for car camping trips where weight and size are not big deals. I would recommend only using it for backpacking if you really need the extra length/width. Many backpacking tents are not much longer than 76″, meaning the sleeping pad would be crammed inside.

Wide

Some sleeping pad models will come in regular length, but a wider width.

These come in around 72″ long and 25″ wide.

This is a size that would work for backpacking if you want a little bit more room to sprawl out without needing to worry about running out of room lengthwise. Being able to curl up in your sleeping bag and spread out a bit is super nice on cool nights.

R-Value

What in the heck is an R-value?

The R-value is the measure of the thermal resistance of a material. The higher the number, the better at insulating it is. As it pertains to sleeping pads, this means a higher number is better at keeping you warm at night.

R-value range

For three-season camping, the range you are looking for is between 3.0-5.0. Sleeping pads in this range help you retain enough heat to stay warm in your sleeping bag without being too warm.

Winter camping requires an R-value above 5.0, ideally closer to 7.0-8+. This usually requires having a thicker air pad.

Anything less than a 3.0 R-value is really only adequate for warm-weather camping. (unless you want to haul around multiple sleeping bags and clothing layers)

FAQ

Yes, assuming you want to be able to sleep comfortably. A sleeping pad provides comfort and insulation from the cold ground.

The R-value tells you how well the sleeping pad insulates you from the cool ground you are sleeping on. A higher R-value indicates that the pad will insulate you better from the cold.

Any type of air pad just needs to be inflated, while a foam pad just has to be folded out. Simply place your sleeping bag on top of the sleeping pad and fall asleep peacefully.

Conclusion

A sleeping pad is part of the “Big Four” of backpacking gear. (tent, pack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad)

It is the most overlooked of the four. (likely because sleeping bags and tents take all the glamor) Inflatable air pads just are not “sexy” when compared to something like an ultralight tent.

Make no mistake though, sleeping pads are just as important as the rest of your gear. You can have a sleeping bag rated for 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but without an adequate sleeping pad, kiss your chances of a restful night goodbye.

Don’t let the cold, hard ground stand in the way of you and a great outdoor adventure!

boardwalk hike