hMore often than not, a sleeping bag will be all you need to get a good night’s sleep after a long day on the trail. However, there are times when the comfort of the surrounding terrain leaves something to be desired and further reinforcement is needed. This can come in the form of a sleeping pad. There are several different types of sleeping pads available, so choosing the right one for your needs will be important. Keep reading for a breakdown of the types of sleeping pads you’ll see when you visit your local retailer.

Foam pads use thick, durable foam known as closed-cell foam, which is effective when you’re sleeping on cold, frozen or snow-covered ground, or surfaces that may puncture an inflatable pad. They’re light, inexpensive, durable, and excellent heat insulators. In fact, campers often use them along with with an open-cell foam pad during winter camping (the closed-cell pad directly contacts the ground.) The only real complaint with closed-cell foam pads is that they tend to be bulky and lacking in cushioning for some people.

Next you have air pads, in which air, not foam, provides the cushioning. Many tend to opt for air pads due to their cushioning and extremely small carry weight. With air pads you need to find a balance between weight and insulation. With more insulation comes more weight, and vice versa, so it’ll be up to you to decide which is more important. Most air pads require a few dozen lung blasts to fill, which is considered a small price to pay for lightweight potential.  

Finally, there are self-inflating foam pads, which are compressible and feature spongy foam housed within a waterproof shell that’s usually made of urethane-coated nylon. Typically, there’s a twist valve is located at one end and, when opened, the valve allows air to rush in to fill the vacuum, causing the foam to expand. You may need to blow into the valve a few times to get the pad's cushioning to a desired level. Backpackers typically choose pads that are 1" to 2" thick, while pads 3" and thicker are highly sought by car campers. There are even fitted sheets are available for some pads. The thinner models are lightweight and pack down fairly small, while the thicker camping pads offer extra comfort. The thicker pads can be too bulky for some, though, which is a factor to keep in mind.

Sleeping pads can mean the difference in a good night or a miserable night on the trail. Choosing the right one for your needs will go a long way towards keeping you warm and will prevent any unnecessary soreness or aches due to overnight discomfort or cold weather. The tips outlined above will help get you started on the right foot when considering a sleeping pad for your outdoor needs this autumn!