Are you looking for the best sleeping pad that’ll keep you comfy no matter where your adventures take you? If so, buckle up because we’re going to break down the two major contenders. Both mattress types offer great insulation, comfort, and portability for those hitting the trails for a night under the stars.
The right set-up for you will depend on several factors, including weight, size, and comfort level. Additionally, we will discuss the pros and cons of inflatable versus foam sleeping pads so you can decide which is right for you.
It doesn't matter if you're camping or just sleeping over with friends and family - having the right sleeping pad can make a huge difference. So read on as we explore what cushioning makes more sense for different occasions!
What is an Inflatable Sleeping Pad?
Inflatable sleeping pads provide a comfortable night's sleep. They are designed to be thick, plush, and supportive. The air inside helps to cushion your body against the hard ground, giving you a great night's sleep.
Inflatable sleeping pads are easy to inflate. Air can be pumped into most pad valves or blown into them with your breath. Blowing up an inflatable sleeping pad takes a few minutes so that you can be ready for bed in no time.
Their small size and lightweight design allow you to take them wherever you go. When deflated, they take up hardly any space inside your backpack - around the same size as a standard water bottle of about 32 oz.
Inflatable Sleeping Pad Pros
Feeling at Ease
Inflatable sleeping pads typically come with adjustable air valves. It allows you to add or release air until you find the perfect support for your body. Some inflatable sleeping pads have a built-in pillow for added neck and head support.
Inflatable Pads are Space-saving
You can use inflatable pads whether you're a lightweight backpacker or simply don't like strapping gear outside your bag. Not only will they fit inside your bag, but they also take up minimal space - about the size of a Nalgene water bottle!
When you want to shave ounces off your gear list, an inflatable sleeping pad can help you. On average, a lightweight inflatable pad weighs about 12-14 ounces (340-400 grams) – 2-4 ounces (56-114 grams) less than a foam sleeping pad of comparable size!
Set the Firmness as Desired
Take control of your sleep experience by adjusting the firmness of your inflatable sleeping pad. You'll never have to worry about dealing with a sleeping surface that's too hard or too soft again. Just adjust the amount of air and find your perfect level of comfort!
An inflatable pad is usually thicker than a foam pad to offer more cushioning and insulation. Inflatable pads measure about 2.5" thick on average. The extra thickness also helps to lift you a bit higher off the ground, providing even more comfort.
In terms of warmth, inflatable sleeping pads are often the way to go. Inflatable sleeping pads come in two varieties. The average inflatable pad has an R-value between 3 and 5, while the insulated version can be as high as 7. That's a huge difference!
Inflatable Sleeping Pad Cons
Punctures can Occur
It's not much fun to wake up in the middle of the night feeling cold and realizing your sleeping pad is deflated. Once you locate the hole in your pad, you'll need to prepare the patch for repair.
- Make sure to clean off the area around the puncture and let it dry completely.
- Then, apply the patch according to the instructions and wait for it to dry.
- You can now reinflate your pad and sleep comfortably again!
Inflatable sleeping pads are more expensive but provide much better comfort and insulation. Entry-level inflatable sleep pads start around $50, and the higher-end models will set you back around $100 or more.
Wet Foam Pads
If you're an overnight hiker, you know your foam sleeping pad is a must-have. But if it rains while you're out there. Closed-cell foam pads don't absorb water like a sponge! Give them a good shake, and then dry them off with a towel or clothing.
Setup and Takedown Take Longer
When setting up and packing down your sleeping pad, you know it can take some time. It takes more effort to inflate an inflatable sleeping pad. Lay your pad in your tent after taking it out of its stuff sack. It needs to be blown up next. It usually takes between 15-30 breaths.
It's Easy for Mold to Grow
Did you know leaving your pad inflated might only sometimes be the best idea? It creates a moist environment when fully inflated. Moisture can build up over time, causing mold spores and bacteria to grow, resulting in an unpleasant odor.
The outdoors can be enjoyed with an inflatable pad, but you must take precautions. Even if your pad is well-maintained and cared for, it can still fail you. You can get punctures easily, so camp on soft ground. If you get a puncture, you can repair it using the patch kit that usually comes with the pad.
What is Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad?
Getting comfortable sleep while camping is easy with self-inflating sleeping pads. They are made of foam that self-inflates when unrolled and the air valve is opened. It makes them an ideal option for campers looking to save time when setting up camp. The self-inflating pads are also much thicker than air mattresses, providing more cushioning and support for better sleep.
- Easy setup and deflation make this camping mat the ideal solution to a sleepless night.
- A few breaths are all it takes for this sleeping pad to inflate itself.
- These mats provide buffering even on hard surfaces so you can sleep well.
- You can deflate the pad as much as you like and rest outside for extra bounce.
- A trusted mat will keep you warm even on a cold winter night.
- Backpacks for car campingand other camping activities can be heavy, while others are light and portable.
- A sleeping pad may need to be deflated more than once, which can take up to 10 minutes.
- If you're a side sleeper, some materials on camping mats can be noisy.
- Camping pads can puncture if placed on cacti or sharp rocks.
What is a Foam Sleeping Pad? (Closed-cell Foam)
Foam sleeping pads are ideal for backpackers and hikers looking to save weight and space in their packs. They are lightweight, with the average pad weighing around 1 pound ( 450 grams). They are also quite bulky, measuring about 20” x 6” x 6” when packed. The best part about foam sleeping pads is their insulation – they are made from closed-cell foam (CCF), which has tiny air-filled cells that trap body heat, giving the pad an impressive r-value of 1.5-2.
Setting it up couldn't be easier — simply roll it out or unfold it and lay it down in your tent. Despite not being as comfortable as other options on the market, most models are around 0.75" thick.
Foam Sleeping Pad Pros
You can rest easy knowing that your foam pad won't let you down in the middle of the night. And since it's puncture-proof, you don't have to worry about finding a footprint and placing it under your tent. Save yourself the hassle and get a foam pad - you won't regret it!
is a budget-friendly option. For around $20, you can get a simple foam pad that will do the job just fine. You can spend up to $45 if you want something plush and comfortable. Even so, it's cheaper than inflatable pads, which start at around $50 and can easily reach $200.
Setup is Quicker and Easier
Using a foam pad also means you don't need special tools or pumps to set up. With a foam pad, you just unroll it, and you’re good to go. That means fewer steps and less hassle for you. You don't have to carry extra gear and can keep your load light.
Another advantage of foam pads is that they are more durable than inflatables. You can still use a foam pad in an emergency or as a backup. You won't have to sleep on the hard ground, even if it's not your primary pad.
Noiseless Foam Sleeping Pads
The foam helps you stay quiet, so if you're a light sleeper or need peace to get the best sleep possible, this is the perfect solution! Plus, you can rest comfortably, knowing that your movements won't disturb anyone else.
If you’re looking for a durable sleeping pad, foam is the way to go. It doesn't matter how often you use it; it just won’t wear out. You don't need to worry about mold or bacteria, either. On the other hand, an inflatable sleeping pad won’t last forever.
Foam Sleeping Pad Cons
Foam sleeping pads don't measure up to their inflatable counterparts regarding comfort. They lack thickness and cushioning, and it's almost impossible to adjust their firmness. You might feel pain in your hips, knees, and shoulders if you're a side sleeper or have back problems.
Foam sleep pads weigh more than inflatables. Inflatable sleep pads weigh only 12 ounces or 340 grams, while foam sleep pads weigh 14 or 400 grams. That extra 2 ounces can be significant as it increases over time. Heavy gear slows down hikers and can lead to fatigue, soreness, and injuries.
It can Get Wet
Even if you use a pack cover; your foam sleeping pad can get wet in the rain. If you don't dry your pad before bed, this water could transfer to your sleeping bag. Foam pads that are closed cells do not absorb water like sponges. If your pad is wet, you can dry it using towels or clothing.
It's not as Warm
Inflatable pads offer a higher level of insulation than foam pads, but they are still great options. The R-value of a foam pad is usually between 2 and 3, compared to an inflatable's higher R-value of around 3.5. That means you won't stay as warm in cold weather conditions with a foam pad.
Thinner Foam Pads
Regarding camping mattress pads, your thickness can make a big difference. Foam pads measure about .75”-1” thick, while inflatable pads are around 2”-3”. The thicker inflatable pad provides more cushioning and insulation between your body and the ground, making it more comfortable to sleep on.
No Firmness Adjustment
Foam sleeping pads are only ideal for some. One of the biggest disadvantages is that you're stuck with whatever firmness you choose – whether it's too soft or too hard, there's no way to adjust it.
Inflatable Vs. Foam Sleeping Pad Comparison Table
Camping can be an uncomfortable experience if you don't have a comfortable sleeping surface. To help you decide which type of sleeping pad is best for you, we’ve put together a comparison table to highlight the differences between the two types.
Foam Sleeping Pad
Inflatable Sleeping Pad
How to Find the Best Choice for You?
1. Ultralight Backpacking
An ultralight inflatable pad is the best choice for lightweight backpacking. These pads weigh only 8 ounces (or 226 grams), making them ideal for minimalist hikers. When hiking with a 3/4-length pad, hikers usually place their feet on their packs for insulation.
Inflatable pads are typically lighter and bulkier, but foam pads last longer and are more durable. Unlike inflatable pads, they are much more durable and don't need to be inflated or deflated. Those who hike frequently need a reliable and durable backpack.
3. Hammock Camping
A sleeping pad is essential to keep you warm and comfortable when the temperature drops. Foam pads are a great option; they’re lightweight and can flex to fit the curve of your hammock. Inflatable pads are another great choice; they’re lightweight and easy to pack and carry.
4. Car Camping
If you're car camping, your main priority is comfort. You may need a thick self-inflating sleeping pad for a good night's sleep. They are lightweight, easy to transport and set up, and don't require a pump like an air mattress. Alternatively, you can use a bulky but inexpensive pad if you're on a budget.
5. Cold Weather or Winter Camping
Make sure you look for one with an R-value of at least 5. Many sleeping pads designed for winter camping come with a layer of down to increase insulation. For extreme conditions, stack an inflatable sleeping pad on top of a foam pad. You can add both pads' R-values to get the combined R-value.
6. Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking
Comfort is always a priority, but weight and packed size are also important considerations. A foam pad is the best choice for long bike tours or those in developing countries due to its long-lasting durability. You may choose an inflatable pad for a shorter trip or in a developed country.
Our Top 5 Picks for Comfortable Camping
The market is flooded with quality sleeping pads. Here are some of the most popular options:
1. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol: Ultralight Foam Pad for Backpacking
Therm-a-Rest's lightweight, affordable, and durable option is perfect if you want to sleep on the ground instead of in a bed. For extra insulation, durability, and protection from the ground, the foam is softer on top and denser on the bottom. In addition, it only weighs 14 ounces and measures 72 x 20 inches folded. A manufacturer's limited lifetime warranty covers you if anything goes wrong.
2. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite: Ultralight for Camping and Travel
In search of a lightweight and comfortable camping sleeping pad? Look no further than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite! With an R-value of 4.2, this standard for ultralight backpacking provides plenty of warmth and comfort. With its WingLock valve, you can inflate and deflate quickly, and the Triangular Core Matrix reduces convective heat loss. Pump sack, stuff sack, and repair kit make transport and storage easy.
3. Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad: All-Season Camping Mat
The Klymit Static V Camping Sleeping Pad is perfect for sleeping outside all year round. Its lightweight design and Klymalite insulation keep you warm when it's cold. With an inflated size of 72 by 23 by 2.5 inches and body-mapping technology, this sleeping pad provides support and comfort for side, stomach, and back sleepers. When deflated, the Static V compacts to 5 by 8 inches so you can take it anywhere.
4. AKSOUL Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad: Lightweight & Durable
After fully inflated, the self-inflating Sleeping Pad mattress measures 78.7 inches long by 26 inches wide by 4.7 inches high. Its thick 4-inch design provides excellent back support and protection against cold and damp weather. With the integrated foot pump, you can inflate the sleeping pad in just 1-2 minutes - so you can get some restful shuteye quickly. The sleeping pad has different R-values on both sides to prevent heat loss to the floor (green side: 2-3, gray side: 3-4).
5. Kingcamp Deluxe Series Sleeping Pad: Portable & Waterproof
The Kingcamp Deluxe Series Sleeping Pad is perfect for camping with the family or overnight guests. The oversize camping mat bed dimension is 74×38.9×8.6in, making it comfortable for all ages. The built-in high-quality foam pump quickly inflates or deflates the airbed to the desired firmness, and a durable oxford stuff bag is included for easy storage and transport. You can also use a pump to inflate the airbed.
In the end, it comes down to personal preference. An inflatable sleeping pad is the best choice if you're looking for something lightweight and extremely compressible. However, a foam sleeping pad is a way to go if you're looking for something more durable and won't require any maintenance over time. Both sleeping pads have pros and cons, but the most important factor is getting the best sleep possible.