Most camping enthusiasts know that the key to having the best possible experience in the great outdoors comes down to choosing the right gear, and that includes all the little things that ensure your comfort at night.
A camping pad can either make or break the perfect escape into nature that you have been looking forward to for months. Good cushioning for your sleep is essential if you want to enjoy your trip, but if you have no clue where to start when it comes to deciding which camping mat would suit your particular needs, this list will help you determine the right sleeping pad for you.
According to this website (click for source), there are several questions to ask yourself when choosing a camping mat:
- Which mattress feature is more important for your trip? Weight, dimensions, or insulation?
- What kind of camping do you intend to use it for? Backpacking, car camping, or hiking?
- What type of sleeping mat seems like the best choice for you? Self-inflating, air-filled, or foam?
To start narrowing down your options, let’s take a look at the crucial features of any sleeping mat:
Length, width, and weight are what define the qualities of your mattress. The size of the mattress is particularly important for hiking where carrying all gear on your back is simply part of the experience, which can be made extremely difficult by the additional weight.
While browsing for camping pads you will often encounter the term R-Value with an assigned number either in the description or on the pad itself. But what does R-Value mean? Essentially it describes the product’s thermal resistance qualities, meaning the pad’s ability to resist heat transfer, hence the name in which the letter “R” stands for “resistance”. The higher the number of the R-Value, the warmer the mat. Though keep in mind that there is no industry standard for this system of evaluation, therefore different brands propose different value systems.
Time to ask yourself: what exactly are you looking for in a sleeping mat? In your opinion, does comfort outweigh the practical aspects? Which type of mattress would you consider to be an example of perfect weight-to-warmth ratio? First things first, let’s get acquainted with the kinds of sleeping pads available on the market.
Types of Camping Mats
Most of the time you will see camping mattresses of three main types: air mats, self-inflating mats, and foam mats. Again, it’s important to remember that all of those types of mats will serve you in different ways in relation to any given outdoor activity, so make your decision carefully.
Most air mats are relatively light in weight and therefore perfect for backpacking. They often come with additional insulation for extra warmth, most commonly using reflective materials. Air mats need to be inflated manually, either with your breath or with a hand pump that some models offer.
- Lightweight design
- Thick cushioning for a comfortable sleep
- Easy to pack
- Suited for backpacking
- High costs and maintenance depending on weight and size
- Vulnerable to sharp objects
- Tend to lose warmth due to air circulating freely inside
- Can be noisy and disrupt sleep
Self-inflating mats contain cell-foam with tiny chambers that fill with air once you open the valve. There are a variety of models available, for example, car camping options are simply rolled out while the ones for backpacking tend to be more compact and are meant to be folded and rolled up to fit neatly with your other gear. If you are looking for models with wide dimensions, great insulation, and affordable prices, self-inflating mats are for you.
- Easy to inflate and fold
- Warm and compact
- Suited for children
- Usually heavier than air mats and regular foam mats
- Can be punctured or ripped, though easy to repair
Possibly the most common type of camping pads, foam mats are a must-have item for any camping lover. Sometimes referred to as “cell-foam” for the tiny air cells inside the foam itself, these mats are meant to be rolled or folded for easy transportation.
- Light, durable, and often cheap
- Great for minimalist camping
- Hard to puncture or damage
- Can function as sitting mats for the campsite
- Easily strapped to the outside of your backpack
- Can be hard to pack due to stiffness and firmness of the material
- Get dirty easily and may require frequent cleaning
- Less comfortable for sleeping and need extra cushioning
An old classic, this type of inflatable mattress is rather heavy and bulky but perfect for high-quality sleep.
- Thick and comfortable
- Can fit in the back of some outdoor cars, so you can sleep with a roof over your head
- Require a pump and cannot be inflated otherwise
- Only suitable for car camping
- Tend to be less warm due to lack of insulation
If you are a fan of the full experience of living in nature and love to travel on foot and use a bike or kayak, then your best option would be a self-inflating mat or alternatively a cheaper air mat. Choose models that are durable, firm, with a high level of insulation, and preferably as light as possible.
Setting up your camp when you travel by car has many advantages. Notably, you can carry a lot of heavy and sizeable gear, so feel free to bring air mats that are thick and cushy. They can be large enough to fit both you and your camping partner and then some. Not having to deal with a size limit means you can buy cheaper heavier air mats since most lightweight models are rather pricey.
Those who love to camp in luxury can choose air beds which are large and heavy, so they are mostly suitable for warm and calm weather. For added comfort, you can fit out air beds with proper sheets and blankets.
Most hikers look for ways to minimize the weight of their gear, so your camping mat should be light but durable. Foam mats will work best for this type of camping as they offer shorter models, sometimes referred to as 3/4 length mats.
Low temperatures naturally mean that you will need the best insulation to protect you from the cold of the ground. Your best option is to actually combine several types of mats in layers: first, arrange a regular foam pad to be your bottom layer for extra insulation and damage protection, then cover it with either the self-inflating mat or air mat with a high R-value.
Some additional accessories may further improve your sleeping pad experience. These include hand pumps that you can buy separately (try to find lighter models if you intend it for backpacking) and patch kits in case you need to repair your mat while traveling. Learn to use hand pumps and patch kits at home in order to be more efficient at the camp.
Another great tip is to try out the mats in person instead of taking your chances with online stores. But if this option is impossible, pay close attention to details in the descriptions on a product’s website.
In the end, it all comes down to budget restraints and personal priorities, but once you determine which of the qualities is the most important for your trip, you will find that the whole process of picking a camping pad suddenly feels much smoother.