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Do Sleeping Pads Actually Keep You Warm?

Brown backpack with sleeping roll on top setting in the grass

Camping in the winter is such a fantastic experience, especially near a lake. Watching the stars while warmed by the campfire and listening to ice crackle is almost a religious experience. While sleeping outside in such cold weather, keeping warm is a priority. Unless you stay up all night, putting on logs to keep a fire going, you are going to need something else to keep warm.

Do sleeping pads actually keep you warm? In short, yes, a sleeping pad does keep you warm. It provides a soft surface for comfort while adding an insulating layer between you and the ground. Sleeping pads are popular not only for camping in the winter but for all seasons when you will be sleeping on the ground.

The winter camping experience can be spectacular, especially if you find a place where the view is worth the effort. Camping for cold weather takes a bit more planning, especially when keeping warm and comfortable. Some backpackers and campers think that a sleeping bag is just fine for sleeping under the stars. Even if you are camping in the middle of August, a sleeping pad is worth the cost.

In this post, you will learn the benefits of using sleeping pads, picking the right pad for the type of camping you are going to be doing, and a few other tips to help you keep warm.

Is a Sleeping Pad Necessary?

A sleeping pad is not a backpacking or camping necessity but highly recommended. Some backpackers and campers believe in the idea that the less you bring, the closer to nature you will be. Which usually translates to no sleeping pad or tent, just a sleeping bag. Being one with nature can also be one with comfort.

No matter how long a trip is going to be, how cheaply you want to do it, or even how light of a load you wish to have, a sleeping pad will be worth it. You don’t want your temperature to fluctuate so much that you are hot on top and freezing on the bottom. The insulation of the sleeping pad will regulate the heat, so you do not feel those inconsistencies. Don’t worry; the pad can not be too warm.

A sleeping pad provides a consistent cushioned surface for you to lay on protecting you from whatever is underneath you. You will be cushioned from rocks poking you in the back during the night, be off of the cold ground, and the water if it starts to rain.

In the summer, the padding between you and the ground will not make you sweat excessively, adding to better sleep. Even in August, the ground can be cold; the sleeping pad provides insulation from the ground temperatures.

Unless the ground temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a sleeping pad is necessary for a good night’s sleep. When sleeping outside in colder temperatures, a sleeping pad provides the insulation that helps your body produce heat faster, thus preventing hypothermia.

Do I Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad?

All sleeping pads have some kind of insulation, and even the air pads contain insulation to increase warmth. When sleeping on the ground, body heat is lost, so even in summer, insulation is essential. Sleeping pads are categorized by an ‘R’ value, which is the standard measurement and accurate measurement of the pad’s insulation.

Thicker pads often have a higher R-value, and the higher the value, the warmer it will keep you. Your bed at home probably has an R-value around 25, so your body will notice the abrupt change while sleeping outside.

The R-value is an accumulative value you can take advantage of if you tend to run cold. You can put two pads on top of each other for extra warmth. An example would be a pad with a value of 1.5 on top of a pad with a value of 2 will give you a value of 3.5.

If you are new to this type of camping, you could benefit from some expert advice. Some stores will have different sleeping pads on display for you to look, feel, and try out. They will also have experts on hand that can give you not only advice but some stories that you can learn from for when you go camping. If you go at the right time, they may also have older models on discount, saving you some money.

Season R-Value
Summer R1 – R2
3-Season R2 – R4
All-season R4 – R6
Extreme Cold R6
Activity Best Type Of Pad
Car Camping Self-Inflating
Intense Backpacking Air Pad
Minimalist Backpacking Air Pad
Thru-Hiking Closed-Cell
Winter Camping Self-Inflating
  • A self-inflating pad has excellent insulation and is more durable than air pads. By adding or releasing air, the firmness will adjust to your comfort level. However, it is heavy and is prone to puncture and leaks, even if you can quickly fix them while outdoors.
  • A closed-cell foam pad is lightweight and inexpensive. It offers continuous insulation in all weather conditions while being durable. Unlike the self-inflating pad, you don’t need to worry about punctures or leaks. It can be firm, stiff, bulky, and not as comfortable as the self-inflating pad.
  • An air pad is comfortable and lightweight, which is popular among backpackers. The air pads are more expensive; the more compact they are and prone to punctures and rips.

Some pads are prone to punctures, and tears, patch kits are recommended to keep with your backpacking or camping gear; some pads come with a kit, and you can buy them at any sporting store. Some repairs you will need to do in the dark, so it is a good idea to practice and make sure you know how to repair before you head out.

For the glampers, you can purchase pad sleeves to hold your sleeping pad in place during the night. You glampers can even get hand pumps to save your breath from inflating your sleeping pad yourself.

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Hiker with a backpack walking in the woods

How Can I Make My Sleeping Pad Warmer?

There are several tricks that backpackers and campers swear by. Some examples are sleeping with a partner, putting their feet in their pack, and warming up before getting in the sleeping bag. It is easier to stay warm than to get warm. There are some other ways to make the sleeping pad warmer, and sometimes it takes planning and some ingenuity.

For winter weather, experts recommend a closed-cell foam pad on top of an inflatable pad to accumulate the R-values and make you warmer. Don’t use an inflatable mattress. Salespeople, not experts, tend to recommend inflatable mattresses for camping. To their defense, they are comfortable, but while the heat sinks out, you get colder. A self-inflating pad is a better choice to keep warm and conserve your heat.

Look for a leafy or grassy area to set up camp. If it is frigid, pile up dead leaves or pine needles to make camp. Once you make a nice pile of leaves and needles, pitch your tent or lay your sleeping pad down. This extra 10 to 15 minutes of work is worth the extra layer of protection from the ground, that takes up all your heat while you sleep.

Put your sleeping pad in your sleeping bag for extra protection and extra warmth. The pad fills up space inside the bag, trapping in more heat while also protecting you from the ground temperature.

To further increase the heat inside your bag, you can grab some hand warmers and stick those inside your sleeping bag to keep you nice and warm. Just don’t sleep naked! The myth that if you are naked, you are warmer is false. The more layers you have, the more insulation your body has, thus keeping you warmer than if you were naked inside of your sleeping bag.

Final Thoughts on Sleeping Pads

Sleeping pads are beneficial, especially when you are camping during some of the colder times of the year. Purchasing one is not going to break your budget, and the cost is going to be worth it because it will help keep you warmer and sleep better.

Sleeping pads are lightweight and compact, so they are not going to take up a bunch of room when packing. So before you head out on your next camping adventure, consider adding a sleeping pad to your gear.

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The western part of the country draws me with its mountains, deserts, and red rock vistas. Still, there are numerous other wonders I'm ready to explore., from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.