Camping Sleeping Pads [Top 3]: Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

A great way campers sleep comfortably while backcountry camping is by using high quality sleeping pads.

But, not all camping sleeping pads are made the same. The amount of support, insulation rating, and weight can influence whether one sleeping pad is better than another.

So, let’s breakdown all the important aspects of sleeping pads so that you can find the best sleeping pad for all your camping needs!

Dog in a tent

Types of Camping Sleeping Pads

Although there are plenty of options to choose from these days, camping sleeping pads can all be classified into three types: Air, Foam, and Self-Inflating.

Each type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

So, to make things easy to understand, below is a simplified comparison table of the three types of camping sleeping pads and how they stack up against each other.

Air Foam Self-Inflating
Comfort Rating
Insulating Capacity
Packed Size

Air Sleeping Pads

Air sleeping pads can be very light-weight, compact, and adjustable. However, their primary drawbacks high cost and low durability.

Sharp objects such as rocks, gear (crampons), or dog nails can lead to a punctured air sleeping pad. Depending on the size of the puncture, air pads will loose air over-time, resulting in a loss of support. Thankfully punctures can be repaired fairly easily.

Another less known aspect of air sleeping pads is their dependency on air temperature. Once blown up, any drop in temperature will result in a decrease in air pressure in the pad and therefore a reduction in support. Campers will need to add more air to increase the pressure / firmness.

Finally, most backpacking air sleeping pads rely on the user blowing air through a nozzle. Moisture from the breath can slowly build up inside of the pad which may lead to mold grown and material degradation in extreme cases.

Therm-a-rest pro-lite plus sleeping pad

Foam Sleeping Pads

Foam sleeping pads are popular are because they are light-weight, durable and relatively inexpensive. They are also very quick to deploy, as well as fold-up into an accordion shape when packed.

For campers looking for a rugged, yet capable sleeping pad great for many types of camping, a foam sleeping pad will suffice.

My first sleeping pad was a rolled up foam pad. It ended up lasting close to 10 years before I decided to upgrade my camping equipment.

Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads

Self-inflating sleeping pads combine the qualities of air and foam pads into a versatile yet highly functional option.

As the name suggests, the sleeping pad self inflates when the valve is opened and can be made more or less firm by adding or removing air. These sleeping pads offer enhanced comfort compared to foam, however they are bulkier and heavier than air pads.

Personally, my wife and I both carry and use self-inflating sleeping pads for all our camping adventures. They’re perfect for both backcountry hiking and canoe trips or car camping trips.

3 Important Aspects to Consider When Selecting a Sleeping Pad

There are 3 key aspects you should consider when selecting the best sleeping pad to suit your needs – (1) Insulation rating, (2) size & weight, and (3) non-slip material.

sleeping bag sleeping pad

1. Insulation R-Value

A sleeping pad is designed to keep you up off the ground. This provides your body the support it needs to sleep comfortably. In addition, a sleeping pad also insulates you from the ground.

This can be especially important while camping during cooler months. Your body can loose a lot of heat through the ground. So it makes sense to sleeping on a pad that can resist heat loss.

The insulating performance of a sleeping pad is measured in its “R-value”. The greater the R-value, the greater the insulating capacity. R-values range from 1 to 5 and above.

2. Size & Weight

When selecting the right sleeping pad for your body, it’s important that you know your shoulder width and height. You can then match up these dimensions with available sleeping pads.

However, to save a little bit of weight for warm weather camping, you can choose a sleeping pad with a slightly shorter length than your body. Your feet don’t necessarily need to be supported or insulated.

Camping sleeping pads also come in a variety of shapes. Mummy-shaped pads provide maximum support for your upper body, then gradually taper to your legs.

And, depending on its size and type, sleeping pad weights can vary greatly. Typically, single person air sleeping pads are the lightest, followed by foam, and finally self-inflating.

3. Non-Slip Fabric

Some camping sleeping pads are designed with a textured outer fabric or non-slip coating. This helps keep the pad from moving around on a slippery tent floor.

Also, if you’re sleeping on a less than flat surface, a non-slip sleeping bag bottom won’t eventually slide downhill.

Personally, I tend to roll around a lot at night. However, my sleeping bag stays securely in place because the bottom includes a non-slip coating!

3 of the Best Camping Sleeping Pads

There are lots of camping sleeping pads on the market these days which can make it very confusing to find the right one to suit all of your needs.

To keep the decision-making process simple, I highly recommend these three sleeping pads for most camping adventures.

Personally, I own Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads. They’re easily the best quality sleeping pads money can buy. And they’re built of high-quality materials and designed to ensure maximum performance and low weight!

Sleeping tent inside sleeping bag sleeping pad keep warm tent

Best Air Sleeping Pad

Therm-a-rest NeoAir Ultralight camping sleeping pads

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is the gold-standard when it comes to light-weight yet comfortable air sleeping pads.

With an R-value of 4.2, campers can sleep comfortably in most cooler environments. And, since it weighs just 8 ounces, it’s the perfect choice for backpackers and backcountry campers looking for ultra-light options.

As a bonus, the NeoAir Xlite includes a stuff sack, pump sack, and repair kit! It’s the perfect companion for any extreme adventure.

Best Foam Sleeping Pad

Therm-a-rest Z lite foam camping sleeping pads

Therm-a-Rest Z Lite

For those looking for a basic, cost-effective sleeping pad, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite foam sleeping pad is your best bet.

The foam shape and thickness ensures a comfortable sleep, yet compact design that’s extra durable. It weighs 14 ounces and has an insulating R-value of 1.7.

The Z Lite is a great option for beginner campers and individuals who are budget-conscious!

Best Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

Therm-a-rest prolite plus camping sleeping pads

Therm-a-Rest Pro-lite Plus

The Therm-a-Rest Pro-lite Plus is a fantastic self-inflating sleeping pad. It’s build to maximize comfort while maintaining a low pack weight.

The Pro-lite Plus sleeping pad has an R-value of 3.2 which is great for three-season camping. At 16 ounces, it’s still light enough for backpackers.

My wife and I both carry the Pro-lite Plus for all of our adventures. To us, it’s the perfect camping sleeping pad. Even our dog Shilo loves it!


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