How to Choose a Sleeping Pad: The Ultimate Guide

A good night’s rest is one of the best ways to make your outdoor adventure not only more fun and energized, but relaxing and restorative. Waking up sore or on a deflated pad in the middle of the night? Not what we’re looking for. I’m going to walk you through this essential part of your camping experience —sleep! Like mattresses in general, these items are so personal, that’s why we recommend selling pads that weren’t a great fit for you here with Rerouted, because your “gear fail” may be the perfect fit for someone else! Here are the main kinds of sleeping set-ups, along with their pros, cons, and how to care for them.


Let’s Cover a Few Basics First to Get Our Terminology Down:

-R VALUE: the ability of the pad to insulate you from the cold ground and keep your body heat in.

-CAR CAMPING vs. BACKPACKING: the difference between camping next to your car, and carrying all your gear on your back to your destination. Also referred to as “frontcountry” and “backcountry.”


Inflatable Lightweight Blow Up Air Pads:

Under the air-pad umbrella, there are many options to consider to get your ideal setup. This style of sleeping pad is most popular due to its comfort, relative light weight, and multi-functionality. Made of thin, synthetic materials, air pads resemble your traditional air mattress but in miniature. When looking into purchasing an air pad, it’s worth considering what kind of camping you’ll do most often as they vary widely in weight, R-value, and price. If you go this route, we highly recommend you invest in a small repair kit for your pad or some specialized gear tape so you can do an emergency patch while you’re out camping.

Ultra Light Air Pads:

The lightest weight pads are great for backpacking, but they are often the most expensive option, and the least durable. These ultra light air pads will tear easily when in contact with a dog’s toe nail, a sharp rock, or even if it rubs against your other gear incorrectly, and then you can be in the situation of a popped pad. The lightest weight pads also often have a low R-value, as they don’t add any extra bulk or weight with insulation. If you are careful, prioritize both comfort, weight, and tend to camp most during the summer, one of these light weight pads may be the best choice for you.

3/4-Season, high R-Value air pads:

Air pads with insulation will have a higher R-value, tend to be more durable, but also add bulk to your pad. If you camp throughout the seasons, or get cold easily, it’s likely worth it for you to add a bit more weight to get that added warmth.

Self Inflating air pads:

If you’re doing a thru-hike, or hike late into the evening, a self inflating pad can be a blessing. Inflating your pad with your breath night after night is exhausting, especially if you’re at altitude. Thermarest is most famous for this type of pad. You unscrew the valve, it inflates itself over a few minutes, and you only have to top it up with a few breaths at the end to get the desired fullness. This convenience does come at a cost, both as they tend to be more expensive and heavier than ultra lite pads, though they usually offer a strong r-value.


Egg Crate, Foam, “Closed Cell” Pads:

Easily the most durable, lightweight and easy to care for are foam pads. If you’re someone who can sleep through a flight during turbulence, cares about long term durability and value, or prioritizes ultra-light packing above all, this is the pad for you. Light, inexpensive, and easy to strap to your pack or shove in the car, foam pads have nothing to pop, and you’d have to try pretty hard to wreck one. Old school designs are simple slabs of foam, but the newer ones feature “closed cell” designs that allow for a lighter weight and good ground insulation. No weight is wasted on blow-up valves, and you don’t need to worry about a stray cactus thorn ruining your night’s sleep. If you’re in the minimalist or budget group, this is the pad for you!

Many people use foam pads in addition to their air pad for additional ground insulation, comfort, and to protect their air mattress from rocks and other sharp objects they could be camped on. Caring for your egg crate is simple: wipe down when it’s dirty, store somewhere out of direct sunlight.


Car Camping Air Mattresses and Cots:

Full Size Air Mattress:

If you tend to do a lot of car camping, we recommend you get a full sized air mattress. While incredibly bulky, and requiring a hand or foot pump (nothing you’d want to haul into the backcountry!) there is nothing out there more comfortable. Here at Rerouted we’re all about everyone getting outside more often and easier, and this is the best way to be comfortable in the front country. If you’re camping with your family, or first time car campers, taking a full size air mattress can make the whole experience less daunting, as it doesn’t feel like you’re sleeping on the ground. A mattress like this can help lower the barrier to entry if you’re helping someone new get into camping, or someone who experiences back issues.

Cots:

Did someone say glamping?! No shame here! Cots are comfortable and perfect for your long term campouts, your grandma, you name it! Cots of course require larger tents to set up in, and may seem like a bygone of the wild west, but a cot is a great choice to encourage in older family members or anyone who isn’t looking to sacrifice much comfort. Go on and glamp a little!


We hope this helped you pick out your next camping setup, and that you find what you’re looking for here on Rerouted.com

1 comment

Leen

The amount of times I’ve wrecked blow up pads is crazy! But I do love the comfort. Great article :)

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