Sleeping Pads: The Gear Doc's Guide

Recently, I posted a blog about choosing a sleeping bag. I thought it might be good to provide some information about sleeping pads. A sleeping pad is one of the items that will make a night's sleep more comfortable. In addition to keeping you comfortable while sleeping on a hard surface, the pad will also insulate your body from the cold ground. So it would be worth investing in a good one.

Sleeping Pad

When shopping for a sleeping pad, two considerations will have a bearing on your selection: portability and comfort. How you prioritize these two factors will impact which sleeping pad is right for you.

The are 4 Types of Sleeping Pads



  • Closed-cell foam pads are usually thin, lightweight and durable foam pads that give you adequate insulation but do not provide a lot of padding. This type of pad has been the choice of many backpackers for years.


foam sleeping pad

  • Open-cell foam pads are light weight and softer than closed-cell pads. They provide more padding and insulation. These pads tend to be bulkier to pack and can absorb moisture. Most find that this type of pad is good for car camping.

  • Inflatable pads are light weight and compact. They provide good cushion but inexpensive pads do not provide much insulation. If you plan on choosing this type of pad look for a pad that has added insulation. A good example is the Big Agnes insulated AirCore Pad.

  • Self-inflating pads have a valve that is opened to allow air to rush in and tightened for use. Open cell foam is the component that creates the cushion and auto-fill function. This remarkable foam is easily compressed for travel by opening the valve and rolling it tightly as the air escapes. Self -inflating pads come in variety of sizes and shapes that can meet the needs of backpackers to car campers.


Inflatable sleeping pad

If you choose an inflatable pad or a self-inflating pad I suggest that you invest in a repair kit in case you happen to get a leak.

A pad's surface is an important feature to consider. Sleeping bags can slip off of your pad if it has a slick surface. Look for a pad that has textured or non-slip type of surface.

Choosing the right sleeping pad for you is about compromise. You will have to make the decision about how much you want to give up in terms of comfort, to lighten your load, but there is no reason to compromise on quality. If you use a pad often, a few dollars invested in a high-grade pad will pay dividends for many years of nights under the stars.

Kevin, The Gear Doc
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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