Do you always use a camping pad when camping?

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Are Sleeping Pads Necessary

As can be seen, sleeping pads are virtually always required. Sleeping pads not only give a nice cushioned resting surface, but they also provide crucial protection from frigid ground temperatures. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the main types of sleeping pads, talk about sizing, and demystify all this R-Value business.

This is the iconic hiking roll you’ll see attached to your dad’s bag in that blurry 1970s photo. Technology hasn’t changed too much since then, but that’s because of another dad tip: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Inflatable sleeping mats are lightweight and packable, making them suitable for ultralight trekking and thru-hiking. While some of them can take a bit of effort to inflate, shaving ounces is important if you plan on hiking long distances over multiple days in the backcountry.


The open-cell foam in self-inflating pads swells when the valve is opened. All they need are a few more puffs from your lungs to kill them out. They’re more comfy and insulating than air pads and smaller than closed-cell foam cushions.


They are actually simply jumbo-sized inflatable pads, but they need to be classified separately. They can range anywhere from 4 to 20 or more inches thick, making them a super comfortable option for car camping, glamping, festivals, and RV’ing.


Length: Normal length pads are about 72 inches long, whereas long pads are around 78 inches long. A “short” or “3/4” length pad may be appropriate for those wishing to conserve weight without compromising crucial insulation. This will save you precious ounces and demonstrate to your fellow backpackers how serious you are about becoming ultralight.

Width: The usual width of most ordinary sized sleeping pads is 20 inches. Some models are offered in a wide version to give you a little extra room if you have broad shoulders or tend to wiggle around at night. If you want to share a single pad with your camping buddy, double wide alternatives are also available. If you’re sharing sleeping space with other campers, just make sure your pad will fit side by side with other pads in the floor area of your tent.

Storage: Inflatable mats fold up small enough to fit inside a bag and come with a stuff pouch for storage. On the other hand, foam pads tend to be much bulkier and may require you to attach them to the outside of your pack. Some backpack models will include pad straps on the bottom or attachment loops on the top lid to make this easier. If you’re going vehicle camping, none of this matters and you should have already moved on.

What the Heck is R-Value?


The R-Value of a sleeping pad is a measure of thermal resistance that, simply put, tells you how warm the pad should be throughout the night. The greater the R-value of a pad, the greater its resistance to heat flow and the warmer it will keep you. Summer camping needs an R-value of less than 2.0, but winter camping requires an R-value of 5.0 or greater. There are many elements that influence the real R-value while you’re on the route. If using an inflatable pad, keep in mind that if you should fill it with air at or near capacity to reach the manufacturer provided R-value. Moreover, side sleepers compress the pad with their hips, lowering the R-value significantly in those locations. Understand your body. There’s nothing wrong with being cautious if you’re a chilly sleeper.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Insulation: Insulation, or the absence thereof, may impact R-value in addition to pad thickness, inflation level, and sleeping posture. Insulated pads or mats will feature a layer of synthetic or goose down insulation for greater heat-trapping prowess and thus, a nice hefty boost to the R-value.

Mountaineering & Winter Camping: Sleeping in the winter or at high altitude will need some considerable ground insulation. Choose pads with high R-values. The air between you and the ground in an inflatable pad will only get you so far, so find a pad with a layer of synthetic or down insulation sandwiched in the middle. In the dead of winter, many will carry an additional foam pad to supplement the warmth of an inflatable pad.

Cots: Cots are ideal for folks who spend a significant amount of time outside and want a more permanent setting. They’re really comfy and keep you up above all the pebbles, snow, flies, and other challenges of life. Cots of today are lightweight and surprisingly packable, and many of them have plenty of room below for gear storage.

Hammock Pads: The hammocking obsession is still going strong. Many people wonder, “What sort of sleeping mat is ideal for a hammock?” Well, some hammock campers do like to use sleeping pads in their hammocks for the added comfort and insulation, so it’s a good question to ask. There are hammock-specific pads that are shaped to sit securely inside a hammock, and there are even adapter kits that can position traditional sleeping pads in a hammock more comfortably.

Side Sleepers: Sleeping habits and degrees of comfort vary from person to person, but many individuals wind up rolling about on their side all night. It’s rather frequent and usually causes a pressure point at the hips. For side sleepers, I suggest a sleeping pad with at least 3 inches of thickness to cushion the hips and relieve pain.

Yoga Mats: “Can’t I simply go camping and sleep on my yoga mat?” You certainly can. Yet, it will provide little to no cushioning and will give little insulation from the chilly ground. They’re also heavier and thicker than a sleeping pad for camping. So, if a yoga mat is all you have at your disposal and you’re not ready to invest in a basic camping pad, you’d better hope it’s really warm out and that you’re not a side sleeper.

Related Questions

  • Is it necessary to have a camping mat?

    What is the purpose of a sleeping mat? A sleeping mat is almost as important as a sleeping bag, since it is mainly this that separates you from the cold ground. As you lay in your sleeping bag, the insulation compresses, rendering it useless at keeping warm air since the majority of it is pushed out.

  • What is the most comfortable way to sleep when camping?

    A sleeping pad is the finest item to sleep on when camping. On general, inflated sleeping mats are more comfortable than closed-cell foam choices, although they are more expensive. If you’re going automobile camping, you may also consider a camping air mattress.

  • How important is the sleeping bag in the camping?

    Sleeping bags are necessary for being warm and comfy. A sleeping bag is an essential piece of camping equipment since it keeps you warm, comfy, and dry. Sleeping bags are intended to protect the user from the elements, such as chilly temperatures and moisture.

  • Can I camp without a sleeping pad?

    As can be seen, sleeping pads are virtually always required. Sleeping pads not only provide a cushioned sleeping surface to keep you comfortable, but they also provide critical insulation from cold ground temperatures.


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