Sleeping Pads for Camping — Not Just for Bad Backs and Gripers!

Shivering, packed in a sleeping bag with full garb, two pairs of socks and a sweater wrapped around my feet. The temperature reached -11 Celsius. I was in Algonquin park for a long weekend camping trip. Nothing I did would seem to keep me warm over the night, but I may have benefitted from a light piece of gear that I always over-looked as a hapless comfort item — made for those that did not find the forest floor particularly comfortable.

I have a new appreciation for sleeping mats, with that experience, and having searched out every possible way to stay warm.

Not just a buffer between you and hard, uneven floor, the sleeping mat does something your sleeping bag simply can not — insulate you from the ground. When you compress a bag by lying in it, it has nearly nothing blocking the cold. This then seeps into you.

Had I a respect for the humble sleeping mat, my early April trip to Algonquin might have been better rested, and more enjoyable. Don’t make my mistake, especially for cold-weather camping.

Maybe you dare not tread the colder climates, a sleeping mat can still keep you warm at night. Hypothermia is even possible in summer, according to Backpacker Magazine, so make sure you’re prepared when the unexpected happens.

Following are some details to help you choose a sleeping mat.

The Lightweight Lung-Powered Inflatable

If you’re a warm-weather camper but still sleep cold, one of these first two options may be your ticket to cozy comfort. First is the very light, ultra compact you-inflate-it version, like this one.

I purchased that budget friendly Trekology inflatable sleeping pad and was surprised by its low pack size and light weight. It inflates in under ten breaths and keeps all of me off the ground. This model has a pocketed design that seems to help distribute my heavier spots and keep them off the ground. They will likely help to restrict air flow as well.

This is my recommendation for anyone who wants to avoid the bulk of the next two options and doesn’t need much for insulation.

The reason I consider this a warmer-weather system is the R-value.

R-value: the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.

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Brand-Versions of these products often list the R-value, like the similar MEC Vect-Air with a value of 5. Unlike the MEC pad, the Trekology pad does not have any fancy reflective liners, but I assume a similar R-value. Warmer pads have foam inside that helps keep air from circulating around.

So for the ultra-light, fair-weather camper, I have to recommend this pad.

The Rugged Closed-Cell Foam Pad

This is the pad for people that don’t mind extra bulk for the certainty that they won’t pop anything. I have one similar to this popular option on Amazon. Unfortunately I have no idea what brand mine is.

Egg-carton shaped, semi-ridgid and commonly with a reflective surface, these folding or rolling pads are great for the warmest of temperatures. I can not find a comparable version that lists an R-value, so we can assume they are quite low. Perhaps not fantastic on its own when the weather turns, these make a great addition to the above as both an additional insulator, and protection from pokeys like sticks and rocks.

This would not be my first purchase, as I believe the inflatable is more functional, but it should be mentioned for its compounding qualities. These two combined could rival the last option listed.

The Self-Inflating Foam-Walled Mat

The be-all, end-all in my opinion, these mats have the bulk, they have the weight, and they certainly have the insulation. You can spend a small fortune on some of these mats, like this aptly named Megamat with an R-value of 9.5 for almost $400cad. Lighter, smaller and more in-line with the backpacker are options on MEC that seem to range from $70-$300cad depending on the brand.

Looking for a lighter, more compact replacement to mine that has developed a slow leak I found this one. Having not purchased it yet I can’t say anything about it. When I do I will be sure to update this website.

The way these mats self inflate is functionally similar, if the internal structures are not. Using foam sections throughout the mat that want to expand when the valves are open help these mats self inflate. Those “foam walls” help to trap air and increase their insulating ability.

These are probably the mats for you if you are consistently camping in temperatures 5 degrees C or lower, but ultimately your comfort levels will vary.

I hope this information helps you keep warm!

*Amazon links are affiliate links

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