Backpacking trips usually involve at least one night of outdoor camping. This is one of my favorite parts of backpacking, but you have to pack carefully so you have the right gear for a safe and comfortable night under the stars. Sometimes during packing, you might look at a sleeping pad and wonder if it’s really worth the space.
Sleeping pads are important pieces of equipment for any camping or backpacking trip. They provide an extra layer of protection and will help preserve your body heat. Sleeping pads are also lightweight and easy to compress, so there’s no reason to leave one behind.
I never sleep outside unless I have a good sleeping pad with me! Even though you may think it’s just an unnecessary accessory, these pads can offer more than you might think. Once you see all the benefits they can provide, and you might even want to pack 2 for your next backpacking trip!
Benefits of a Sleeping Pad
Cushions Rocky or Uneven Ground
The first benefit of a sleeping pad is probably the most obvious: they provide an extra layer of protection between you and the ground. Most tents only offer a thin layer of synthetic fabric between you and the rough ground below. It might not bother you at first, but just wait until you roll over and feel a rock under your neck.
Sleeping pads are usually small inflatable mattresses or pads made of soft foam. Both of these materials are good at morphing around rough edges. They will blunt the force of the hard ground and give you a more comfortable night’s sleep.
Keeps You Warmer
One of the biggest benefits of a sleeping pad is the warmth it provides! Most sleeping pads don’t produce heat by themselves, but they help you retain body heat as you sleep. Nothing saps warmth away like the cold ground of a hiking trail or campsite.
Sleeping pads provide a buffer between this cold surface and your warm body, which lets you stay much warmer. You’ll want a pad with a high R-value (which refers to how well it insulates). You’ll want an R-value of 1-3 for warm-weather camping, 3-5 for all-purpose use, and 5+ for winter trips.
If you use multiple pads, you can create a more comfortable sleep surface and improve heat retention even more. Lots of chilly campers have improved their trips by packing more than one sleeping pad.
Lightweight and Easy to Set Up
Another great thing about sleeping pads is that they won’t weigh you down on the trail. Lots of pads weigh 1 pound or less. If you roll them up, you can also attach them to the top or bottom of your backpack, with no loss of interior space.
Setup is also very easy. Foam pads are ready to go as soon as you unroll them. inflatable models might take a bit longer to set up, but you can still usually do it un less than 5 minutes. It’s a low effort, and high reward piece of gear!
Keeps Your Sleeping Bag Clean
Cleaning a sleeping bag can be a pain in the neck. Some products need to be hand-washed to prevent any clumping, and I definitely don’t want to wash a sleeping bag more than I have to. Tents also tend to get dirty, despite our best efforts. There’s just no way to avoid getting dirt, pine needles, and other natural debris inside the tent.
Once again, sleeping pads can help! They keep your sleeping bag elevated, and prevent it from rubbing against the tent base. It’s a nice protective layer that will keep your sleeping bag in good shape until it’s time to pack up again.
Provides Better Grip
Many times while camping, I have woken up to find myself halfway across the tent from where I started. Sleeping bags can sometimes be quite slippery, so it’s easy to slide from one end of the tent to another. This can get especially tricky if you’re sharing the space with other campers and end up tangled together.
A sleeping pad can help with this too! Depending on the material, it can grip the base of the tent more easily, and keep your sleeping bag. more firmly anchored. This isn’t a fool-proof method though, and you can still slip off the pad if you’re a restless sleeper. However, every little bit helps!
Sleeping Pad Alternatives
inflatable or foam sleeping pads are usually the best options for a backpacking trip. They’re designed for outdoor use and are quite lightweight. However, if you just can’t find your sleeping pad or are looking for other solutions, you can try a couple of alternatives.
Leaves are one of the best ways to insulate your tent for better sleep. When you set up your campsite, you can try to gather fallen leaves and create a layer below the tent. This layer can prevent heat loss and make a bit of a cushion on the rough ground. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing!
You can also try to use other items as sleeping pad substitutes. Yoga mats, extra blankets/sleeping bags, cots, and hammocks can all be. used as alternatives. However, many of these won’t provide the same level of comfort and might be heavier to transport.
If you’ve been convinced that sleeping pads are worth it, now you’re probably wondering where to get started on buying one! There are lots of great options available, both in stores and online. However, the two products below are some tried and true products that we can personally recommend.
ALPS Mountaineering Foam Camping Mat
This sleeping pad is made of dense, comfortable foam. It only weighs 0.5 pounds, which makes it a super lightweight option. A set of straps are also included, which make it easy to roll up and attach to your backpack.
The foam is also designed to be non-slip, so your mat should stay in the same place overnight with no slipping and sliding. This will help keep the sleeping bag in place as well. Foam pads are great because they mold to your body more easily, while still being warm and lightweight.
KOR Outdoors Camping Sleeping Pad
This KOR sleeping pad is an inflatable model. It comes with a built-in pillow as well, so you can get neck support without needing to pack a heavy, bulky pillow. You also don’t need a pump to inflate this pad, so that’s another piece of equipment that you can leave behind. It only takes a few big breaths to get this mat fully inflated and ready for bed.
It’s also made from durable materials and can collapse into a handheld container when it’s not in use. It weighs a total of 1.1 pounds and is extremely compact. This is a really great sleeping pad that provides a comfortable surface and a good amount of heat preservation. The R-value is 3, so it’s good for camping in moderate temperatures.
For more recommendations of tried and true equipment, check out our complete list of recommended backpacking gear.
Getting a good night’s sleep is so important during any backpacking trip. In order to create a comfortable sleep surface and preserve your body heat, you’ll want to bring a good sleeping pad. These might seem unnecessary, but I’ve learned that sleeping outdoors just isn’t the same without it! A good sleeping pad will last you for years and provide comfort, warmth, and protection. This is one piece of gear that’s definitely worth bringing.