All campers look forward to camping vacations with great expectations. Out there, you will definitely get tired after having all the fun you can take in one day, and having a lovely night’s sleep rejuvenates your body for the next day. Sleeping bags cannot give you the comfort you need on a rough ground on their own. In certain circumstances it is advisable to have a sleeping mat. These pads provide an additional layer of insulation that doubles your comfort, unlike when using a sleeping bag alone.
Consequently, you need to know a few things if you are to invest in a mat or pad that will enrich your camping experience.
- Types of camping pads
- Factors to Consider when choosing a camping mat
- Other considerations
- What do you think?
Types of camping pads
There are three major types of camping pads:
These are rugged in nature, very simple and the cheapest to acquire in the market. They are also light, but bulky which means you have to strap them to the outer part of your camping pack.
These are made of porous foam that is enclosed in a nylon pocket. You need to unroll them, and then open a valve to allow the foam to absorb air for it to get inflated. This saves on the time you spend making your bed. Such pads provide good insulation, and comfort.
These pads are also available as either bonded or nonbonded pads. The best camping pads are bonded pads have the outer material bonded to the inner foam. This prevents the foam from moving around, and keeps the trapped air in place for maximum insulation.
Non-bonded pads have a separate outer material and an inner foam. Consequently, the air trapped in the pad keeps moving away from you making the pad less efficient for insulation.
Your budget determines your choice between these two pads. Bonded camping pads cost more, while non-bonded pads are fairly cheaper. In terms of age, older people would prefer the bonded pads, while non-bonded pads go well with young campers.
Inflatable sleeping pads
These pads must be inflated manually using a pump, or blowing into a valve found at the end of the pad. They are made from well-insulated materials that are also heat reflective making them the best for winter camping. Moreover, such pads are weight friendly and easier to pack as compared to self-insulating pads. This makes them a good choice for backpacking, as well as canoe camping.
There is one more option – air mattresses. These are suitable for car-camping because they are heavy and bulky and you don’t want to carry them on your back when backpacking.
You need a pump to inflate them, and they offer you excellent comfort. On the other hand, air mattresses lack insulation making them unsuitable for cold weather.
As you can see, there are different types of sleeping mats. Actually, in certain circumstances, a sleeping mat can be made out of unthinkable materials like dry grass or even plastic bags (check out how students made sleeping mats out of plastic bags). Of course, since you ended up on this page, you are not looking for such a DIY sleeping mat. So let’s proceed…
Factors to Consider when choosing a camping mat
Camping mats provide an overriding function of insulating your body from cold weather. Insulation keeps your body warm for the entire night, which allows you to enjoy your sleep. Always choose a pad that has the ability to give you proper insulation when you go camping. You would ask how you would know whether a pad is good enough to provide you with the best insulation.
All you need is to refer to the R-value (a measure of thermal resistance) of the pad. This value ranges from 1.0 to 9.5. A 1.0 mark indicates minimal insulation. On the hand, a 9.5 mark tells you that the mat is well insulated. Alternatively, you can know the level of insulation by looking at the thickness of your pad. Thicker pads have better insulation, compared to thinner pads.
Your comfort is one of your main concerns when you sleep outdoors. Despite the fact that it can be difficult to get comfortable like your home bed, you do not have to compromise your comfort. You can choose from two types of sleeping pads, depending on your preference.
- Inflatable pads – are either self-inflating or manual. Such pads give you all the comfort you desire.
- Foam pads – these are stiff, making them less comfortable.
Size – length and width
A good camping pad should be able to fit your body. Standard mats are about 72 inches (~182 cm) with smaller ones being about 47 inches (~119 cm). You can also get longer mats of about 75 to 78 inches (~191 to 198 cm). Pads that fit your height ensure that your legs are kept insulated, giving you all the warmth you need.
Those that fit your width also give you space to roll in your sleep, thus promoting your comfort. Standard mats are about 20 inches (~50 cm) with larger ones as wide as 30 inches (~76 cm). Therefore, always choose camping pad that fits both your height and width, if you want a beautiful memorable camping experience.
Your sleeping pad should fit your shoulders and hips. If you do not roll a lot in your sleep, the standard pad of 20 inches (~50 cm) would be good.
Portability – weight and packability
The ability to pack your camping pads efficiently helps to keep you organized, and saves on your space. Before you buy a camping mat, you need to understand where it will be used. Are you going to co car-camping with your family or you are going to go backpacking for the whole month. The size and weight matters.
For backpackers the way to go is to choose a light inflatable sleeping pad. When packed, they usually are around 8-10 inches (~20-25 cm) in length and 4-5 inches (~10-12 cm) wide and weigh around 18 ounces (~500 g).
Self inflatable camping sleeping pads are usually around the same size and their weight is pretty much the same.
Sleeping pads that have extra accessories can be quite helpful in a number of ways. Some of the items can minimize your load. A built-in pillow, for example, reduces the number of items that you have to pack. Pads with multiple air chambers also allow you to customize your sleep as you can fill some chambers up, while leaving others out. Cot straps and roll-up straps helps to keep your bag compressed, thus maximizing space. Stuff sacks also ensure that carrying your pad is not a problem.
You do not want to invest in a sleeping pad that you will throw away after a month. Good shoppers turn to customer reviews for brands that have been used without durability problems. Closed cell pads are very durable, just like the inflatable pads. Textile technology has made it possible for inflatable pads to withstand the rough outdoor conditions. Tearing and delaminating is no longer a threat for inflatable pads, which gives you value for your money.
Keeping your pad in good shape also requires some effort on your part. Here are things you should do:
- Always have a repair kit whenever you go camping. Fix punctures as soon as they appear to avoid greater damage.
- Use a ground cloth to shield your pad from the hard ground, thus, prolong the life of your pad.
- Cleaning your sleeping pad can also prolong the life of your sleeping pad. Use a slightly moistened cloth or sponge for best results.
- Store your pad unrolled. The storage area should also be dry, to keep the sleeping pad free of humidity. For self-inflating pads, store them fully inflated, hang up, and with open valves.
- Some campers also tend to add more air to their self-inflating mats by blowing into them. You should keep away from such habit as it introduces moisture to the inside of your mat, which encourages the growth of mold.
- Mould destroys your sleeping pad making it obsolete. Therefore, take good care of your bag and it shall serve you best.
If you are going to carry your luggage on your back, it would be wise to compromise on some comfort, thus gain an advantage of weight. This could mean choosing a pad with less thickness, which offers less insulation.
On the other hand, self-insulating pads are quite compact making them good for you. You cannot go wrong with a kit that has a backpacking air pad. This shall serve a double purpose as it also provides you with a comfortable seat that has a backrest.
Your car gives you the luxury of using the thickest and largest sleeping pad, thus promoting your comfort.
If you are set to walk for hours, your back needs to be very light. Choosing a light pad or the can be good, although you would have to forego some comfort. The sleeping mat should also be easy to pack, as you need your luggage intact for proper hiking.
Winter requires you to keep warm. An inflatable pad works best in such conditions. The R-value of the pad should also exceed 5 for reasonable insulation.
Women need more insulation as compared to men. Therefore, they ought to choose sleeping pads with additional insulation around the hips and feet. Women are also shorter, which makes shorter pads that fit their length better. Men, on the other hand tend to be taller, thus comfortable with longer pads.
Surface of the sleeping pad
Sleeping bags mostly slip on the smooth surface of a sleeping pad. This can force you to move on to the ground, which makes you cold. Using pads with textured surfaces works best for restless sleepers as they prevent slipping. Flocked top surfaces are an innovation that gives you perfect protection from slips.
There, you can use these tips to help you choose the right sleeping mats for your needs. Remember, there are many of them in the market and since every brand claims to be the best, you ought to look at a few reviews before buying so that you do not purchase one blindly.
What do you think?
Drop a comment below to let us and other people know what you think about this article. Do you have any valuable tips about camping sleeping mats? Have you had a good/bad experience with some particular type or model of a sleeping mat? Let us know…