Do You Need a Sleeping Pad for Camping?  (Yes, Here’s Why)

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Camping is undoubtedly a great outdoor activity for you to take part in with family and friends.

However, there are some necessary items when camping that will make your experience even better – a sleeping pad being one of them.

While it is not essential that you have a sleeping pad while camping, having one with you will certainly make you more comfortable and insulated from the elements. In emergency situations, sleeping pads can also come in handy as first aid equipment.

If you are thinking about going camping and are wondering about sleeping pads, this article is for you.

I will aim to provide you with a broad range of information about sleeping pads so that you can make an educated decision on what kind of equipment you want for your camping adventures. In this article, I will cover:

  • Why you need a sleeping pad for camping
  • Types of sleeping pads
  • Factors to consider when choosing a sleeping pad
  • Alternatives to a sleeping pad.

Let’s get into it!

Why Do You Need A Sleeping Pad For Camping?

Looking out from inside of car while camping with a dog sleeping at a person's feet.

As mentioned above, a sleeping pad is an essential piece of equipment when you go camping. It’s important to know why so that you can avoid certain unfavorable situations!

First of all, a sleeping pad keeps you more comfortable and simply facilitates a better night’s sleep by adding extra cushioning and support to potentially uneven ground. We all know the difference that a good night’s rest can make!

Hypothermia is one of the leading causes of first aid incidents in the outdoors. 

Being prepared for the conditions will reduce this risk, and a sleeping mat will keep you insulated from the ground – helping you to stay warm during the night.

When sleeping directly on the ground, heat transfer takes place. Warmth leaches into the ground, leaving you very cold and unable to warm up. 

A sleeping pad acts as a barrier between the ground and your body, reducing heat transfer to keep you warmer.

Sleeping pads also have a range of extra uses which can come in handy. If you have a durable mat, it can also be a great changing mat – the perfect seat to keep you dry while you swap socks!

Lastly, another alternative use of a sleeping pad is in outdoor first aid situations. A sleeping pad can be used to fan a patient with heat stroke or to wrap up and warm a hypothermic patient. 

It can also act as a splint, providing rigidity for a broken leg or arm. 

Hopefully, this section has provided some insight into why sleeping pads are absolutely necessary when camping outdoors, as well as their benefits and various uses!

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Sleeping Pad

 We’ve now established that a sleeping pad is a necessary item when camping, but as with any equipment, there are many different styles out there! 

When buying a sleeping pad, there are a few important factors to consider:

Type of trip

The first thing you want to think about is what sort of camping trip you will be doing. 

For example, multi-day hikers will have different sleeping pad needs than someone who is car camping at one spot for a few days. 

Size and shape

Size and shape is also an important factor to think about! Some mats are rectangular, shaped to fit certain body types, or even women-specific. 

You’ll also want to think about the size of the mat when it is packed down and whether this will affect how you transport it. 


Every sleeping pad will have an R rating, which measures the heat flow resistance capacity of the pad. 

If you are planning to do lots of winter camping or spending time in alpine environments, then a sleeping pad with a high R rating is essential it will allow you to retain more heat. 

However, if you are just camping in the midst of summer then you’ll be fine with a mat with a lower R rating. 


Different sleeping pads have different weights; some are super heavy, while others are ultralight!

Again, it’s important to think about the weight when you’re packing and whether having a heavy or light sleeping mat will fit your intended needs. 


The outdoors is a dynamic environment with many hazards. In terms of a sleeping pad, there is the risk that sharp or hard ground may damage the pad. 

Some sleeping pads are more durable than others, so this is something you’ll want to keep in mind especially if you take many camping trips throughout the year.

Inflation method

Some sleeping mats may need to be filled with air before use. There are both self-inflating mats and manually inflating mats, and each has positives and negatives which will be discussed later in this article. 


Budget is a big factor when it comes to buying a sleeping pad. 

There is some trade-off with the price of a pad; expensive pads often have extra qualities that could be beneficial or considered luxurious, whereas cheaper mats may not. 

Again, it is important to think about your intended use for the pad and whether investing in a more expensive one could pay off in the long run.

Types Of Sleeping Pads

Types Of Sleeping Pads

Next, we’ll take a look at different types of sleeping pads and their respective pros and cons. 

Having already looked at the individual factors to think about when buying a pad, keep them in mind as they will come into play below!

Closed-cell foam pads

Closed-cell foam pads are basic camping pads.  They are made of thick foam filled with small sealed air bubbles.


  • Lightweight
  • Cheap
  • Durable
  • Cannot puncture or leak
  • Can be used in conjunction with another pad to reduce puncture risk and increase insulation.


  • Not super comfortable
  • Stiff, so bulky when rolled up
  • Big, takes up quite a lot of room. 

Closed-cell foam pads are good for beginner hikers as they are light, cheap, and durable. 

The Featherstone Outdoor El Cordion closed-cell foam pad has all of these qualities and more and can be found here.

Air pads

Air pads are sleeping pads constructed predominantly of inflated air. They have to be manually inflated by blowing but some models have a special inflator sack that speeds up this process. 


  • Lightweight
  • Comfy
  • Can compress and pack down to small sizes
  • Can inflate to your own preferred density.


  • Expensive 
  • Takes a while to inflate/deflate
  • Not very durable, high risk of popping the pad on a sharp stick, etc.
  • Some models can be noisy due to the materials used
  • Can deflate slightly overnight with air pressure and temperature changes.

Air pads are perfect for hikers who want an upgrade from their basic closed-cell foam pad. A great model is the Sea to Summit Comfort Light air pad, with a multiple-function reverse valve for easy inflation and deflation.

Self-inflating pads

Self-inflating mats are the middle model between foam pads and air pads. As the name implies, you simply open a valve and it fills up with air!


  • Cheaper than an air pad
  • Durable
  • Comfy
  • Can fold when inflated, so can be made into a chair
  • Can manually change the density.


  • Takes a while to set up/pack down
  • Heavier 
  • Bigger when packed down, takes up more space than other types.

The Clostnature Self-Inflating Camping Pad is lightweight, comfortable, and provides excellent insulation – everything you could ever want in a camping mat!


An insulated pad is simply a sleeping pad with extra insulation. This can come in the form of different materials or additional layers. 


  • Very high R rating
  • Very warm 
  • Good for winter and cold conditions.


  • Most expensive 
  • Slightly more weight to the pad.

One of the best insulated sleeping mats currently available is the Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated sleeping mat. It has a lightweight design that’s easy to inflate and deflate and provides great warmth for those chilly winter nights.


Sleeping pads labeled as ultralight have a very small weight to them and are ideal for thru-hiking and big expedition trips.


  • Very lightweight
  • Packs down very small
  • Easy to carry.


  • Most expensive
  • A lot more fragile than other models.

Sea to Summit also offers a very high-quality ultralight pad called the Ether Light XT, which is a 4-inch thick pade with a 3.2 R rating. It can be inflated in a few quick breaths and the design mimics that of a spring mattress!

Alternatives To Sleeping Pads

We have talked a lot about sleeping pads, but they certainly aren’t your only option when camping!

Other pieces of equipment can be used instead, as detailed below:

  • Hammocks are a big sheet tied between two points. They are elevated above the ground and act as a little cocoon for sleeping.
  • Camping cots are portable bed frames that can be set up with a camping cot mattress. They are also elevated off the ground but are harder to transport due to their size and weight. Camping cots are great for trips when you are staying in one location for a long period of time!
  • Air Mattresses are a big version of an air pad, but need to be inflated with a proper pump. They are also great when camping at one location but not viable for tramping due to their size and weight.
  • Sleeping bag liners are another way to stay warm while camping and are basically an extra layer inside a sleeping bag. They are often made of fleece, which adds warmth.

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