Which Sleeping Pad is Best for Which Activity?

Brian Conghalie
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Which Sleeping Pad is Best for Which Activity?

Not sure which type of pad to buy?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • Some of the differences between pads
    • Which types of pads are best for car camping
    • Which types of pads are best for backpacking

Today, your youngest child excitedly asked you to go camping. You agreed, but then old camping memories start to fill your head.

You remember the trip with the Cub Scouts when you were an 8-year old. Everything was great. The hike through the woods provided lots of entertainment, and you got to see some animals in their natural habitat.

The troop pitched a tent (needed because the weather was a little chilly). You had trouble getting to sleep because you nearly froze to death (even with the top-of-the-line sleeping bag your parents bought). A friend later told you about the best sleeping pads and how they help keep you warm.

Choosing the Right Sleep Pad for Your Camping Adventure

This article will briefly look at the various forms of camping:

  • Car camping
  • Backpacking
  • Minimalist backpacking
  • Thru-hiking
  • Winter camping

The guide recommends which pad type best fit the camping method.

Best Pads for Car Camping

Since you are using a car to get your camping site, pad size and weight are not an issue. You can load your vehicle with whatever you need to make your trip a success. Therefore, you can choose a pad that is thicker and larger. These pads usually are less expensive than their lighter counterparts.

Good pad options for car camping are the self-inflating pad and thick air pad. These types of pad provide the camper with lots of cushioning (extra comfort as a result).

Best Pads for Backpacking

When taking a weekend backpacking trip, the hiker must decide which gear will serve his/her needs. The hiker must determine how much weight he/she will carry to reach his/her destination. Taking the wrong gear could affect how well the adventure is experienced.

The best choices for a pad are either an air pad or a lightweight self-inflating pad. These pad types are comfortable and lightweight. They also occupy a small space within a rucksack.

Best Pads for Minimalist Backpacking

The idea behind minimalist backpacking is to take only the most essential gear needed for the trip. On the surface, you may think this means less weight. But the goal is to travel with the things you need.

Sometimes, we overload our backpack with things we think we need. The minimalist packs simple, takes gear that can serve a multi-purpose and uses the best lightweight technology available.

The ultralight air pad is recommended for this form of backpacking. The pad is lightweight and occupies a small space in the backpack.

Best Pads for Thru-Hiking

Thru-hiking is a specialized form of backpacking. The hiker is focused on completing long-distance trails within a specified amount of time. Gear weight and minimalism are the concerns of the thru-hiker. Past evidence shows that hikers with lightweight gear are more successful in completing their task.

The best attributes for a thru-hiking pad are durability and lightweight. Since your trek is at least four months long, the pad needs the ability to withstand continuous wear and tear. The type of pad for the job is made of closed-cell foam. These pads are incredibly durable, but comfort could be an issue.

Best Pads for Winter Camping

For winter camping, experts recommend the use of two full-length pads. This method minimizes the loss of body heat to cold or snowy surfaces. To get the best insulation protection, use a combination of a self-inflating pad (on top) and a closed-cell foam pad (next to the ground). The foam pad also serves as insurance in case the self-inflating pad gets punctured.

It is essential to consider the R-value (a measurement of insulation) of the pads. Pads with high the R-value insulate better the lower value ones. Look for an R-value of 4.0 or higher for winter use. Also, you can achieve the same objective by combining two pads to get a pad rating of 4.0 or higher.

Brian Conghalie

Brian has been an avid hiker and backpacker since he was a small kid, often being taken out into the wilderness on trips with his father. His dad knew everything about nature and the wilderness (or at least that's how it seemed to a ten year old Brian).

After high school, he went to university to read for both a BS and MS in Geology (primarily so he could spend his time outside rather than in a classroom). He's now hiked, camped, skied, backpacked or mapped on five continents (still need to bag Antartica) & 30 of the US states.

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