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Sleeping Pads

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Sleeping Pads

Understandably, a lot of us focus on cushioning in a sleeping pad. In the outdoors, though, a pad's ability to help you sleep warm is perhaps even more important.

Pad Types

Air pads: These inflatable mattresses with insulation inside pack small and weigh little relative to their size. Relying solely on air inflation is good and bad: It allows you to fine-tune firmness but also leads to the pad softening when temps drop. Punctures are also a minor concern, as is a rustling noise when you move on around on some air pads.

Self-inflating foam pads: These have open-cell foam insulation that provides warmth and padding; a few breaths of airlet you finalize inflation and pad firmness. Relative to their size, they are heavier and bulkier than air pads.

Patch kit: An essential accessory to pack for both air pads and self-inflating foam pads.

Closed-cell foam pads: The original backpacking pad is still revered by ultra thrifty hikers who prize ultralight, ultradurable gear. The tradeoff? You get minimal warmth and cushioning.

Backpacking and Camping Considerations

If you're carrying the pad on your back, then reducing weight and packed size is important.That's why many backpackers choose air pads. Self-inflating foam pads offer comparable warmth and comfort, though, and offer more affordable options for budget-minded backpackers.

For camping, comfort counts most, so the type of pad, its weight and packed size are less important.You're free to choose a pad that's as thick and roomy as you want—as long as the inflated pad fits inside your tent (and the price fits within your budget).

Pad R-Values

R-value measures a pad's resistance to heat flowing through it (hence the "R"). A higher R-value indicates a warmer pad.

Sleep System: Your Sleeping Pad and Bag Work Together

Many variables affect warmth, including factors like humidity, tent design and what you wear. Your sleeping pad's R-value and your sleeping bag's temperature rating, though, are the two biggest determinants of how warm you will be.

Below are rough guidelines that correlate sleeping pad R-values, nighttime low temperatures and sleeping bag temperature ratings:

Pad R-value below 2.0: Warm weather (50°F low); pair with a 30°F bag

Pad R-value 2.0 to 3.9: Cool weather (32°F low); pair with a 20°F bag

Pad R-value 4.0 to 5.4: Cold weather (20°F low); pair with a 15°F bag

Pad R-value above 5.4: Extreme cold weather (0°F low); pair with a 0°F bag

Individual metabolisms vary, so you might need to get a warmer or cooler pad/bag combo. When in doubt, go warmer. For more details about temperature ratings, sleep systems and selecting a bag, read How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Backpacking and How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Camping.