Sleeping pad

Is this generally an essential? Yes

Sleeping pads are even more important than sleeping on a mattress at home. Because not only do they provide comfort but they also prevent you from losing your body heat to the ground. Along with sleeping bags, sleeping pads are part of your outdoor warmth system! Sleeping pads are designed for outdoor use; they are individual-sized (to fit tents) & much more durable than a traditional air mattress.

We carry for rent & sale: Self-inflating & blow-up pads in 6 foot (1.8 m) lengths with standard widths.

  • For sale only: foam pads
  • For rent only: extra-wide & extra-long pads. We also have air mattress on occasion (but this must be rented by phone or in-store)

Choosing your gear


The three main types of sleeping pads are generally compared below (always check your specific brand/model), with rankings from Low to Medium to High on each feature scale, and more detailed explanations that you can toggle here. Note that although air mattresses are common, they're vastly different from pads in terms of durability for outdoor use & hard to compare on the same scale. As such we've listed them under Alternatives you can use.

Usable if punctured H
Ease of use H
Packs down small L
Lightweight H
Offers a thick cushion L
Offers more warmth (for more info see below) L
View detailed comparison notes in table above

Size & Weight

  • Style: The style-comparison chart shows how style can substantially impact the weight & compactness of a sleeping pad, which is very important for backpackers
  • Length: The most important part of your body to be on the sleeping pad is your core (torso) for warmth reasons. Therefore, it's more forgiving to use a shorter sleeping pad (which can save weight or be cheaper). Adult pads come in 5.5 to 6.5 feet (1.7 to 2 m).
  • Width: Sleeping pads are generally designed for 1 person & conform to the camping's guideline of roughly ~20 inches (~55 cm) width per person. If you need more, there are extra-wide sleeping pads, or double sleeping pads, and you can also buy straps to hold 2 sleeping pads together
  • Thickness: The style-comparison chart shows how style influences general thickness. One thing to note: if you want to stack pads for thickness, generally no more than 2 will stack & the bottom one must be a foam-only pad. Otherwise they tend to slide around & slip!
  • Firmness: Some notes to consider below:
    • Fully blow-up pads allow you to regulate firmness as you inflate
    • Foam-only pads are the most firm, but aren't very thick


This refers to the pad's "resistance" to heat transfer (R-value is also used in general insulation). The higher the R-value, the more a pad resists heat transfer, the warmer you stay since you lose less body heat to the ground. Use the style-comparison chart as a starting point & always check the specific R-value of your specific pad.

In fact, sleeping pads are critical to maintaining warmth. Since the bottom of your sleeping bag is fully compressed by your weight, it will not be very insulating (read more here). This is where the sleeping pad comes in, by preventing you from losing heat on this side

Most good sleeping pads have R-values between 2-3 and higher R-values for colder conditions. A women's specifc pad may have a higher R-value than its comparable men's/unisex model since women are generally cold-sleepers. You can stack pads to increase R-value, but follow the stacking notes in the Thickness section above.

Alternatives you can use

  • Air mattresses: a few notes on use
    • They're less durable & more prone to puncture than sleeping pads
    • It's generally too hard to blow up by mouth, so be sure to have an appropriate pump set-up (hand pump, battery pump are best, as electrical outlets are rare, though if you can drive to the campsite, a car outlet pump can work)
    • Be sure to have a tent that will fit your size mattress

    Camping cots: a frame that lifts you up off the ground. (more detail needed)

  • Hammocks: can potentially substitute for your tent, sleeping bag, and/or sleeping pad all-at-once. That said, some people choose to add a pad in the hammock for additional comfort & warmth (be sure the pad is compatible to fit in the hammock). Be sure there are plenty of trees & you're comfortable sleeping without support for long periods of time (it can result in back pain for some & back pain relief for others). Modern hammocks can also come with insulation or a top covering to protect from rain & bugs
  • Sleeping on the ground: because at Last Minute Gear we see that people are more willing to forego a sleeping pad than any other essential, we want to remind again of the below points
    • Sleeping pads are important to warmth since they resist heat loss to the ground
    • Imagine yourself sleeping on the ground at home! Most people aren't used to such a firm surface, which can cause aches & a poor night's sleep

Using your gear

Site selection

If you're using an inflatable pad, be sure that there are no sharp objects on the ground where you plan to sleep (these can poke through the tent floor & puncture the pad). Review the notes on site selection for a tent for more info. Using a footprint or ground cloth underneath your tent can provide extra protection, but it is not a substitute for careful site selection. If you are camping without a tent (e.g., cowboy camping or using a tarp), it's still best to use a ground cloth to help protect your sleeping pad.

Cleaning, repairing, & storage

Store unrolled, with valve open

Some of the newer trends include a single sleep system (since both sleeping bags & pads are essential for warmth & comfort). Now you see combination sleeping bags & pads, or sleeping pads designed to fit into specific "slots" on sleeping bags. Even pillows are making it into the integration; some sleeping pads have built in larger air pockets that serve as a pillow! These integrated systems are great, but may not offer the flexibility that some people require (e.g., customizing based on colder temperatures, or backpacking and weight-conscious situations).

Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, and we'll do our best to get you ouside!

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