7 Tips for Choosing the Best Sleeping Pad for Backpacking

Planning a trip to the backcountry? If so, you must make sure you pack the right gear. One of the most important items you must carry is a sleeping pad.

Great sleep is essential if you want to wake up refreshed. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life (and camping trip!). Unfortunately, a report by CDC says 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.

Whether in the house or the outdoors, you have to make enough time for sleep. Using the best sleeping pad guarantees you enough sleep. You will wake up energized to go further each new day.

When backpacking, you will face multiple challenges. Sleep is crucial in overcoming these challenges. It boosts your physical and mental well-being.

A report on Harvard Health Publishing highlights various risks of sleep debt. During a hike or mountain climbing, you don’t want sleep debt bothering you. For this reason, you have to invest in the best backpacking sleeping mat.

How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad

When planning your backpacking trip, sleeping might not look like a priority. However, The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends at least 7 hours of sleep for adults every night.

By sleeping well, you will also rejuvenate your body for optimal daytime performance. If you plan to go rock-climbing in some of the best locations in the country, your mind must stay sharp. Getting enough sleep on a comfortable mat is one way to boost your mental alertness.

You can enjoy your trip more if you sleep well every night. What’s more, getting enough sleep guarantees your safety as you are mentally sharp. This makes a sleeping mat a must-have item in your backpacking checklist.

With so many sleeping products on the market, finding the right pad is an overwhelming task.

The following tips should help you select the most comfortable sleeping pad:

Consider your Sleeping Needs

When shopping for a sleeping pad, you should first evaluate your sleeping needs. Creating a checklist of the things you want in a mat is a good to start. While there are great products on the market, not all suit your needs.

Start by considering your body weight and height. The best backpacking pad should easily support you throughout the night. Most products on the market come with specific size and weight capacity.

It is also important to consider where you want to use the pad. If you plan to build a camp, water is not a big problem. However, if you plan to sleep in the open, you should look for a water-resistant sleeping pad.

Different outdoor environments require different types of mats. A tough pad is necessary for rugged environments. Such tough materials protect you and ensure the pad lasts longer.

The type of backpacking trip also determines the best sleeping mat for you. For instance, a self-inflating sleeping pad or thick air pad works fine for car camping.

For winter camping, however, you need a well-insulated air pad or self-inflating pad. Considering these factors before shopping for a backpacking sleeping pad helps you find the right product.

Compare Different Sleeping Pads on the Market

Once you have a checklist of your sleeping requirements, it is time to look at different outdoor pads. More people today have taken up backpacking as an affordable way of seeing the world. Travel accessory companies have launched and are now cashing in on this.

There are more travel sleeping products on the market than ever before. Before hitting the stores, you have to explore the sleeping mats available. These include:

  • Air Pads

These are lightweight, comfortable, and compact sleeping products. These are the most popular with backpackers as they are easy to pack and carry. It is also possible to customize the firmness of the mattress.

  • Self-Inflating Pads

The construction of these pads consists of open-cell foam insulation and air. The pad’s valve fills the empty space automatically. They are easy to use, comfortable, and compact.

Self-inflating pads are tougher than air pads. This makes them ideal for rugged environments. You will also find them ideal for use by kids.

  • Closed-Cell Foam Pads

If you want a tough, durable yet comfortable sleeping surface, the closed-cell foam pad is right for you.

They are lightweight, inexpensive and offer good insulation. They are ideal for rugged surfaces as you don’t have to worry about punctures.

Ease of Use

Your backpack is important if you want to enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep. After a long day, all you want is to set your sleeping pad and relax. However, some sleeping products on the market are not easy to use.

Some require a hand pump to inflate and this is tricky when in the backcountry. A good sleeping pad should be easy to set up and pack after use.

When shopping for a sleeping product, take time to research its use. Look for video tutorials on using the pad. If it is a complicated process, look for an easier-to-use product.

Whether you go for an air pad or self-inflating mat, you should first confirm how to use it. The last thing you want is a malfunctioning inflating system on your air pad when camping.

Great Insulation

Whatever your backpacking destination, you need to consider the weather. Nights in most places are freezing cold and this poses a big health risk.

Even in summer, you should find a sleeping pad with the best insulation. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures. However, it can occur even at cool temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Your body loses a lot of heat to the ground at night. Travel experts recommend warm clothing and sleeping mats. Wool or synthetic insulation for clothing and sleeping pads keep your body warm even in wet conditions.

The best sleeping pad comes with a layer of insulation inside to keep you warm. To find the warmest mat on the market, look at its R-value. R-value is the measurement of a pad’s capacity to resist heat flow.

A high R-value means the pad offers adequate insulation from cold surfaces. Manufacturers use a standard rating scale from 1.0 (minimally insulated) up to 11.0 or more for the best insulated sleeping mats.

The average summer camping pad should have an R-Value of 3 or more. If you want the best insulation, go for a pad with an R-value of 4 or higher. Thicker pads boast higher R-values.

However, the higher insulation value doesn’t lead to overheating as it happens with a sleeping bag. When shopping for the best sleeping mat, make sure you look for a super warm product. You should never take risks with your health when sleeping in the outdoors.

Lightweight Construction

When hiking or rock climbing, you don’t want any item bogging you down. You can only enjoy the experience if your backpack and other accessories are light. When researching how to choose a sleeping pad, one thing every expert recommends is a lightweight product.

Your sleeping pad makes up for a large part of your backpacking weight. Of course, you want to enjoy your nights by carrying along a comfy pad. However, the size of the mat must not compromise your movements.

Professional backpackers want to go further every day and see more. To do this, they carry lightweight backpacks. It is one of the most crucial backpacking hacks.

You don’t have to haul a big mat for you to enjoy your sleep. There are ultra-lightweight sleeping products on the market that still guarantee comfort.

Closed-cell foams are the most popular lightweight pads if you want to enjoy your hiking trip. You can also find lightweight air pads and self-inflating pads on the market. These products have a perfect balance between weight and comfort.

To enjoy your plan to backpack with a partner, go for a lightweight two-person sleeping pad. This saves many ounces. You can carry the pad in turns.

Most brands have invested in the latest sleeping technology to make these lightweight products. Use of air cells, for instance, ensures the sleeping pads are lighter.

Self-inflating technology also eliminates the need for a hand pump. This makes it easy to carry your sleeping pad.

Size of the Sleeping Mat (Length, Width, and Thickness)

Size is an important factor when shopping for a backpacking sleeping solution. On the market, you will find regular pads (about 72 inches long) and long pads (78-inch) in length. Finding the right length is important to ensure your feet stay warm during the night.

A short mat is a health risk because your feet might end up freezing. The last thing you want is to start grappling with frostbite in the backcountry. The materials used in sleeping mats insulate your body and prevent heat loss.

If your legs are longer than the pad’s length, you will suffer through the night due to the cold. You will have a hard time the next day, keeping up with the rest of your group. To avoid such problems during your trip, go for a slightly longer sleeping pad.

Most brands offer their sleeping pads in a standard width of 20 inches. If you have a large body size, it is advisable to look for a wider pad. The same applies to people who roll around in their sleep.

Rolling over from your pad poses multiple risks. There are sharp objects which can injure you and harmful bugs. For this reason, you should go for a pad width that sufficiently handles your body.

Width is also an important consideration for a two-person sleeping pad. Make sure the product you buy can comfortably contain the two of you. If possible, take measurements of your mattress and determine the best width size for your two-person pad.

Seek Referrals and Read Reviews

Shopping today has become easier and more exciting. The internet has made things easier for backpackers looking for sleeping mats. For a start, you can now find the best products by looking for referrals and recommendations.

You don’t have to shop blindly anymore. There are review pages where backpacking experts evaluate the performance of the different gear. If you have no idea which sleeping pad to buy, these reviews and testimonials are a good place to start.

You will get an objective assessment of the latest products on the market. Their reviews also provide customer satisfaction ratings of each product. If there are any complaints, you should look for another brand.

Online referrals and recommendations also introduce you to the most innovative brands. There are some major travel accessory brands, but startups also have innovative products.

You will also learn about the latest technology in sleeping systems. If this is your first time backpacking, these reviews are an eye-opener. They offer invaluable insight on new products based on performance, cost, reliability, construction, eco-friendliness, among other things.

You can also ask family and friend for sleeping mats recommendations. If you know anyone in your life who loves the outdoors, you should ask for a referral for the best backcountry gear. This increases the chances of buying a quality sleeping product for your backpacking experience.

Final Thoughts

With more people embracing the outdoor lifestyle, more brands have added sleeping pads to their collections. This has increased the availability of these products but also made it harder for buyers to choose.

By considering these factors, you will find it easier to identify the best sleeping pad. Such a sleeping product should be durable, as well as easy to use, pack, and carry. The best sleeping mats should also suit your body height and weight and keep you warm throughout the night.

If this is your first backpacking experience, it is understandable that you want to learn a lot. They say information is power and in backpacking, it makes all the difference. You can learn a lot from our backpacking platform — including tips to buy travel gear, recommendations for best destinations, backpacking tips, and much more.

If you’re planning a trip in the backcountry, check out our other guides and checklists! Find backpacking tips, a snowboarding gear guide, travel gear shopping tips, and much more.

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