Do You Really Need A Sleeping Pad For Camping? (We Find Out)

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Many people, especially new campers, often ignore the sleeping pad’s importance and substitute it with a sleeping bag. Though a sleeping pad may become optional during summers, it still poses many benefits in the warm season. But is it necessary? Why carry a sleeping pad if you already have a sleeping bag? Isn’t it extra bulk?

Sleeping pads are highly recommended for camping. They provide insulation from the frozen winter ground, cold earth of spring and fall, or just the bumpy earth below. Moreover, they enhance sleeping comfort making it easier to get a good night’s rest.

If you’re an enthusiastic camper looking forward to details on sleeping pads, keep reading this information-rich article until the end, we’ve got you covered!

Pros & Cons Of Sleeping Pads

Let’s discuss some pros and cons of sleeping pads, which help you learn their importance when camping. Several varieties of sleeping pads exist in the market, each with its advantages and disadvantages. We’ll consider the most common pros and cons in this section.


  1. Sleeping pads are thicker, offering vital support to your body’s curves. It permits better relaxation and comfort while resting.
  2. They’re light, therefore portable enough to be carried easily while traveling.
  3. Inflatable pads can be even more portable. You can carry a deflated pad in a backpack like your clothes, occupying not much more space than a pair of jeans.
  4. Side-sleepers or people with a back problem should strongly consider bringing a sleeping pad with them. That’s because sleeping on a rigid base can further deteriorate the problem.
  5. A foam pad never punctures. You can abuse, wrestle, or be harsh with your bedding without hampering its performance.
  6. Many folks believe that sleeping pads add to their camping budget. While we can’t deny the fact, you’ll be amazed to know that sleeping pads aren’t that expensive. You can procure a decent pad for as low as $10.
  7. A foam pad is more comfortable to set up. Unlike inflatable pads, you don’t have to spend time and waste energy inflating them.
  8. Sleeping pads, especially foam pads, are multi-purpose. You can fold it to make a chair against a tree or perhaps a boulder.
  9. In the absence of tables and chairs (which is relatively common while camping), sleeping pads become an excellent substitute for sitting and enjoying your camping meal. Moreover, they’re used as a cushion to sit and cook marshmallows near the fire pit. Just don’t get them too close to the fire!
  10. Sleeping pads become a platform and elevate you slightly above the ground. It will aid in protecting your body against unsanitary dirt and other dirty stuff on the ground.
  11. You can avoid getting your clothes dirty to some degree. It is a good advantage, especially for those who dislike getting dirty.
rolled up sleeping pads outside of a tent


  1. You will quickly realize when you accidentally punctured your inflatable sleeping pad. Fortunately, patch kits are available in the market to resolve this issue. Still, repairing a punctured pad will be frustrating if you are out in the bush at night.
  2. Inflating a pad can take forever. If you’re in a hurry, there’s no way you can set up your campsite quickly if you have to spend time inflating things.
  3. Deflating an inflatable sleeping pad can damage it over time. Moreover, they are neither reliable nor durable in the long run. They can’t offer top-notch insulation in cold weather. These sleeping pads often transfer a cold feeling if the ground below is cold, so they are only best in warmer months.
  4. If talking about foam sleeping pads, they aren’t as portable as inflatable pads. However, they are often exceptionally lightweight. You can’t adjust the density by adding or removing air from them like the inflatables. 
  5. Foam sleeping pads prove to be less comfortable over time. How? Foam pads get thinner from those parts that observe the most pressure. 

You’ll observe that these pads will get thinner from the center (since bodyweight usually is distributed in the center).

Types Of Sleeping Pads

Now let’s talk about various kinds of sleeping pads to choose from based on your requirements.

  1. Air Pads
grey and blue air pads

They’re the manually inflatable sleeping pads. You can adjust their density as desired. Filling more means increased density and vice versa. 

A much higher density poses a higher risk of damage because the sealed sides can rupture. In short, keep it pumped full but not overfilled.

Lots of colorful variants are available in the market. One significant advantage of choosing bright colors is that you can quickly identify your pad from far away, even in dim light.

One major issue with these pads is that you might accidentally damage them due to not clearing the ground properly of the debris before setting your tent or the pad on the ground. A sharp stick poking through will ruin your inflatable very fast. And if the hole is too big to patch, or you don’t have a patch, then you are out of luck.

  1. Self-Inflating Pads
blue self inflating sleeping pad with an orange background.

Unlike air pads, self-inflating pads don’t require manual inflation. They’re an intelligent combination of open-cell foam and air. To inflate them automatically, all you’ve to do is open the valve, and the self-inflating will take care of the rest.

These pads are foldable when inflated. It also means that you can modify it to make it a chair (like we discussed above). You can manually adjust their density by adding or removing air from them. 

Fortunately, these pads are more durable, meaning they’ll last much longer. The risk of getting punctured is significantly lower than actual inflatables. However, carrying them can be a hassle due to slightly more weight than air pads.

  1. Foam Pads
foam sleeping pad

These sleeping pads are rollable, facilitating ease of carrying. They’re high-density sleeping pads, which last much longer than any inflating pads. There’s no risk of puncture. These pads vary in size (length, breadth, and thickness). Unfortunately, fewer color options are available, and the most preferred are black-colored.

Talking about comfort, they fail to deliver as much sleeping comfort as self-inflating pads in softness against the hard earth below. Still, it’d be wrong to underestimate the comfort level deliberately. 

Foam pads usually provide excellent insulation (best among all sleeping pads), and here’s the reason. Foam can trap all your body heat. Due to lack of ventilation in the sealed foam, the body heat stays on the above chambers or cells, whereas the cold air stays at the bottom.

While this phenomenon is helpful in cold weather, during hot weather, the effects may be unpleasant. Why? It’s because the body heat, if trapped with you for a long time (say overnight), will cause potential heat rash, or at the least, you’ll likely be sweaty and uncomfortable. It can get worse for people with sensitive skin. So, you’ll need a blanket or sleeping bag between you and the foam for circulation.

So, Do You Really Need A Sleeping Pad?

Still, wondering if a sleeping pad is essential? After reviewing the benefits and issues associated with them, you must have learned whether or not they’re essential. The benefits reveal their importance, while the issues with them are pretty tolerable. Hence we highly recommend carrying one.

Choosing The Right Sleeping Pad

Wondering which sleeping pad to choose? It’s alright to be confused at this stage; there’s a lot of options. Therefore, this section will talk about picking the correct sleeping pad based on your camping needs.

Camping ActivitySleeping Pad SuggestionReason(s)
Car campingSelf-inflating pad or thicker air padThey’ll fulfill your requirement of heavy cushioning (demanded by car camping)
Marine trip and or boatingInflatable sleeping padsThey’re lightweight, waterproof, and highly portable.
HikingFoam sleeping padsThe temperature drops at higher altitudes. Foam pads will keep you warm and relatively comfortable with a sleeping bag or blanket combination.
Camping in the woodsFoam pads and or self-inflating sleeping padsYou’ll get better insulation (much needed).Foam pads won’t puncture. Wild locations like forests have several entities that can puncture your pads, like rocks and sticks. Hence they’re highly recommended.

Sleeping Pad Vs. Sleeping Bag

one photo of sleeping bags in a tent and another photo of sleeping pads outside of a tent.

People get lured to a sleeping bag, while some prefer them over a sleeping pad. What’s the difference? Which is better and why? Let’s cover that quickly.

Sleeping pads are designed to insulate a human’s body (from below) while delivering exceptional sleeping comfort. They typically attempt to insulate the body, but many fail to keep a human body warm at extremely low temperatures. Pads also do nothing to warm your body from above, and they are more like a mattress than a blanket.

  1. Sleeping bags are a complete package and more blanket-like. The outer shell, usually like a windbreaker material, is stitched with a fluffy blanket. If the earth below isn’t too hard, you may be okay with only a sleeping bag. But if the ground is hard, you’ll need something like a sleeping pad as an accompanying piece of your sleeping gear.
  2. Due to poor insulation, most sleeping bags fail at extremely low temperatures. The sleeping bag base will fail to keep you warm from the ground below, and an insulating pad is essential in this circumstance. Similarly, a rated sleeping bag is necessary if it’s cold enough to pose a hazard.
  3. Some people suggest using both of them together. They’ll become a complement to each other. While the pad will provide excellent insulation, resting in the bag with the pad under it will be an excellent combination.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What’s the most comfortable sleeping pad?

According to outdoorgearlab, here are some of the most comfortable sleeping pads along with their estimated price (price subject to change).

  • Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm ($220)
  • Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite ($150)
  • Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated ($130)

How big should a camping pad be?

An average sleeping pad is considered to be 6 feet long. The breadth can vary, but the average width is estimated to be 20 inches. Sleeping pads are generally meant for a single person. You can find a pad for a couple, but that’ll be a bit of a wild goose chase as they aren’t typical for backpacking. However, you can find larger ones intended for car camping sort of situations.

Furthermore, based on your height, you can find a pad ranging from 48″ to 76,” or even 80” long. Queen-sized pads come in a 50” (width) variation.

What’s the R-value of a sleeping pad?

R-value often measures the warmth or the insulation of a sleeping pad. A higher R-value denotes higher insulation. Besides sleeping pads, the R-value is also a standard for measuring insulation of everything ranging from fiberglass to windows. If needed, there are ways to increase the R-value on extra cold nights or if you are camping in the winter. Check out the post on 4 ways to increase its R-value.

Ready For A Night’s Sleep In The Wild?

We’ve discussed various benefits and issues associated with sleeping pads. We’ve also learned that they’re essential and you should carry one for every camping trip. We also learned several varieties of pads, along with the pros and cons of each of them.

We advise you to go through the table to help you figure out the best pad as per your needs. You may still believe that it’s an added expense to your trip, but we suggest skipping carrying pads only when you’re 200% sure about it. While camping can be fun, the absence of a sleeping pad might prove to be frustrating. Good luck!


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