Picking out the perfect sleeping pad for your needs in the backcountry can be over whelming, especially when there are so many variations ranging from different designs to the R value. The R-value is based on a scale from 1-9.5 and it’s measured to resist the heat flow (hence “R”). This is what helps insulate your body from the ground when the temperature drops. Hopefully, this can help you decide on what suits you. Having tested 3 different types, I figured out what works best for me. This isn’t about which one is better, just the pro’s and con’s I found.
First I’ll start with my personal favorite, the air mattress. You can adjust the firmness of your pad to best suit your sleeping needs, whether you’re a side, back or stomach sleeper. It can pack up small inside your pack to reduce the chance of any punctures and the size doesn’t compare to the bulkiness of a closed cell foam pad. The air pads typically will have a greater R value over the self-inflating and foam pads. These pads are usually thicker creating more of a bed like feel to them. Although there are some down sides to air pads too. What draws many people away from them is the price. These pads, if taken care of properly, can last years and is worth the investment. They can be a hassle to blow up at camp especially after hiking many miles. Normally air pads take about 20-40 breaths to fully inflate, which can leave you light headed. They are prone to leak, punctures, and malfunctions in the valve. I have a Thermarest Trekker air pad and couldn’t be happier with it. I have yet to experience any leaks or malfunctions, but just in case anything does happen, a patch kit is included with air pads.
Next is the self-inflating pad. This style is close to a no hassle set up. All you have to do when you get to camp is roll it out, open the valve and let the surrounding air do the work for you. You may have to add a few breaths to get the firmness you like but that’s it. They also accommodate well for the side, back and stomach sleepers. These pads aren’t as expensive as air pads but they can come close. My biggest dislikes about these are they weren’t thick enough for me. Every time I slept on my side, I could feel the ground which drew me away. Also, they don’t pack down small, unlike the air pads. They are also prone to punctures, leaks and valve malfunctions.
Last sleeping pad is the closed cell foam. Thermarest makes the Z lite sol pad that has an egg carton design that supposed to retain your body heat. Thermarest created this pad to fold up like an accordion, which makes it great for putting it on the outside your pack but not so much for the inside. Closed cell is bulkier pads but is almost indestructible. There is no air needed for these, just unfold or roll out the pad and you are done. The biggest down side to these is they aren’t that thick to lay on. They are the thinnest pad to sleep on but are also very light. You can sit on the pads at camp so you no longer have to deal with hard rocks, tree logs or the unforgiving ground. Thru hikers seem to gravitate towards the foam pads because of the multiple functions it offers despite the lack of thickness.
Hopefully, this can help you decide on your next sleep system for the next adventure. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact us.