How to Choose A Sleeping Pad for Backpacking

When it comes to a sleeping pad for backpacking, there are a lot of options!

In the video below, we’ll go over the different types of sleeping pads, the pros and cons of each, what an r-value is, and other things to consider when choosing a backpacking sleeping pad!

By the end of this post, you’ll be prepared to choose the perfect sleeping pad for backpacking.

A sleeping pad has two functions - to provide cushion from the ground and to provide insulation.

Since backpacking sleeping pads can be expensive, it’s important to make an informed decision.

Click below to watch this video on how to choose a sleeping pad:

There are 3 types of sleeping pads - air pads, foam pads, and self-inflating pads.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

Note: The links below may contain affiliate links.

Air Pads

As the name implies, the air pads fill with air. They’re a really popular choice for backpacking because they’re lightweight, comfortable and compact.

It usually just takes a couple minutes to blow them up and some brands have a lightweight external hand-pump that’s sold separately to make it even easier. Nowadays, air pads contain insulation or reflective material to increase warmth.

Some of the downsides to air pads are that they can get punctured or ripped. It’s very easy to patch that out in the field, but you do need to know how to do it prior to your trip.

Another con to air pads is that they’re expensive. With most backpacking gear, the lighter and more compact something is, the more expensive it gets.

I use an air pad for all my backpacking trips. I’ll link to the specific one I use below because I love it. It’s lightweight, compact, and comfortable!


Foam Pads

Another type of sleeping pad is a foam pad. These pads are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells.

They’re usually rolled up or folded like an accordion (Z-shape).

These are lightweight, durable, and much cheaper than the air pads. You don’t need to worry about punctures or rips, and you don’t need to blow them up.

The cons are that they’re bulky, and you’ll most likely have to carry it on the outside of your pack. They also tend to be less comfortable.

Self-Inflating Pads

Self-inflating pads are a combination of air and foam pads. You just open the valve and air fills the pad automatically. You also have the option to blow it up further (which I always found to be necessary).

They’re comfortable and offer really good insulation. They’re also a little more durable than air pads, however, they’re still susceptible to punctures and a repair kit should be carried.

The cons of self-inflating pads are that they’re heavier than air pads and more expensive than foam pads.

The R-value explained:

As I mentioned above, one of the main functions of a sleeping pad is to provide insulation, because in the night, you’ll lose body heat to the ground.

Sleeping pads come with an R-value that measures the sleeping pads capacity to resist heat flow.

The higher the R-value, the better the pad will insulate you from the ground and the warmer you’ll be.

Most companies will list an R-value or a temperature range on their product page.

Since women tend to sleep colder, some companies even make women-specific pads that have a little more insulation.

The R-value range you can expect to see for most backpacking sleeping pads is about 1-6. For me, anything with a rating of 3-4 is a good mid-level sleeping pad that works well in the range of temperatures that I encounter in the Spring, Summer and Fall.

Keep in mind, I tend to be a colder than average sleeper, and other things like your sleeping bag, tent, and clothing will make a difference on your warmth at night too!

So the main questions to ask yourself are:

When and where will I be using this sleeping pad?

What features do I value most? Warmth? Weight? Durability? Size? Comfort? Price?

For example, I use my sleeping pad for 3 seasons of backpacking - Spring, Summer and Fall. The temperatures I encounter vary greatly. I’m also a cold sleeper, so the things that are most important for me are insulation and weight. I want something that’s going to be insulating enough, but also lightweight because I’m backpacking!

Here are some other examples:

Do you value low price? Then a foam pad is probably the way to go.

Do you value comfort? Then an air pad or self-inflating pad is probably the best.

Do you want it to be lightweight and compact? Then an air pad is your best option.

Do you value warmth? Then focus your search on a sleeping pad with a higher r-value.

Other features to consider:

The last thing I want to mention is sleeping pad sizing.

Most sleeping pads come in a few different lengths and widths, so the best thing to do is try a few out. It’s nice that there are so many options!

For example, I’m a little taller than the average female, so the women's specific pads are usually too short for me.

So that’s it for how to choose a sleeping pad for backpacking!

I hope you feel a little more confident when making a purchase. If you have any additional questions, just ask me in the comments below.

see you out there ✌️



How to Choose A Backpacking Sleeping Pad (Ultimate Guide)
The COMPLETE GUIDE to Backpacking Sleeping Pads | Amanda Outside
The ULTIMATE Guide to Backpacking Sleeping Pads | Amanda Outside