What is a sleeping pad? Size, styles, R-values

Camping sleeping pad and mat

Sleeping pads are essential to camping as we all want a comfortable night’s sleep. Nothing is worse than waking up during the night feeling uncomfortable and cold. You can hardly move in the morning as your sleeping pad has not offered the protection or comfort you thought it would.

Either mummy or rectangle shape. The length should be proportional to height, avoiding body parts touching the ground. Size ranges from 4.4 to 6.56 ft long—regular width 2ft to a double 4.33 ft. They are thermally insulated to protect against the cold ground. R-value R1 – R6 plus; the higher the rating, the more excellent insulation. To have a comfortable night’s sleep, a depth of 5 cm – 10 cm, especially if a side sleeper.

So many sleeping pads are available that deciding which is best for you can be confusing. What may be comfortable for you may not be suitable for another person. Plus, if you camp during different times of the year, you may need more than one sleeping pad.

What are sleeping pads, and why do you need them?

Sleeping pads are known as SIMs (self-inflating mats) or sleeping mats. They are thermal mats that improve comfort levels whilst camping. They are essential to help reduce heat loss from the body whilst sleeping.

Sleeping pads can either be mummy or rectangle and the same shape as a sleeping bag, single or double. Several different styles are designed for comfort, backpacking and wild camping.

There are two types of sleeping pads, either closed or open-cell pads.

Closed-cell is a thermal foam base usually placed underneath an open-cell sleeping pad to help increase thermal insulation, typically used for wild or backpacking. They are not very thick and not comfortable to sleep on directly.

Open-cell sleeping pads are either foam and air or fully air-filled. Thickness can vary from 3cm to 15cm. Combining air and foam is not very comfortable to sleep on directly but adds good insulation. In contrast, a complete air sleeping pad can be adjusted to suit the users’ comfort levels.

Open-cell sleeping mats are often self-inflating or inflated by an electrical, battery-operated pump. Inflation bags are a quick and easy way to inflate for backpacking or wild camping rather than blow up manually.

Prices can range from £4.99 – £300. Higher-costing sleeping pads will have a higher R-value, providing more thermal insulation. You may only want a lower-budget sleeping pad for summer family camping compared to wild or colder-season camping.

We use a budget closed-cell sleeping mat with foam on one side and aluminium foil on the opposite side for our family camping trips. It is bulky for transporting as you cannot condense it down. We combine it with an open-cell pad for comfort 10cm thick and a season 4 Colemans Basalt sleeping bag. Combining all three provides good thermal insulation against the cold.

It does not matter how much you spend on a sleeping pad so long as it works efficiently. However, if you have an open cell sleeping pad, it is vital to understand how to look after it. Otherwise, you will see marks on the outer layer, which will be mould forming inside. Once this happens, it is not possible to remove it without damaging its effectiveness.

Before buying an open-cell sleeping pad, please read our article about how to avoid damage and mould forming inside. This may change your mind, and you decide on a closed-cell sleeping pad instead.

How to choose the right sleeping pad for you?

The type of sleeping pad depends on how often you camp, the season and the type of camping.

Consider the following, as they will affect the sleeping pad you buy.

  • Time of year – Spring, summer, autumn or winter camping
  • R-value – Insulation against the cold ground
  • Type of camping – family, wild, car or backpacking
  • Body length and width – Small, regular or large to suit comfortably
  • Thickness – Comfort level at night
  • Single or double
  • How do you sleep? – Side, back or front sleeper
  • Style – Match to your sleeping bag, rectangle or mummy
  • Self-inflating or manual inflating – Will you have EHU?
  • Closed or open-cell – Solid foam or combined foam and air or just air-filled
  • Weight and packing size – Transporting,
  • Budget – How much can you spend?

What sleeping pad should I buy? Family, car, wild or backpacking

Camping StyleRequirementR-Value
Family CampingComfort
No weight limit for transporting
Open-cell pad – Air mattress
Self-inflating or via a pump
Combine with a closed-cell mat to increase insulation
R3 – R4
20 °F / -6.6 °C
Car campingComfort
Open-cell pad
Midrange R-value depending on the season
R3 – R4
20 °F / -6.6 °C
Wild camping/backpacking- summerLightweight
Small compact for transport
R-value depends on the season of camping
Combination of the closed and open-cell pad
R4 – R6
0 °F / -17.78 °C
Extreme campingHigh R-value
Compact for transporting
Self-inflating open-cell pad
Closed-cell pad to add additional r-value
R6 Plus
Less than 0 °F
Sleeping pad guidewhat type of sleeping pad should I buy?

There are several reasons why a sleeping pad is essential for camping. Not only to help keep you warm but also to protect your sleeping bag. A sleeping bag is often overlooked, and we don’t often think about what we must do to maintain it correctly whilst camping. You can do several simple things during your trip to prolong the life of your sleeping bag and help retain the heat. Avoid having to replace it after a year. Our simple guide will help you save money and keep warm at night.

What length and width are sleeping pads?

Sleeping pad cover for additional R-value and pillow storage

Sleeping pads are available in various sizes, varying depending on the brand. They are small, regular and large. The width of sleeping pads is standard, large, single and double. A large single is ideal if you like to move around in your sleep or use a pod sleeping bag instead of a mummy or rectangular.

What is the width of a sleeping pad?

  • Regular single – 51 cm – 63 cm / 1.67 feet – 2 feet
  • Large single – 76 cm – 100 cm / 2.50 feet – 3.28 feet
  • Double – 130 cam = 132 cm / 4.26 feet – 4.32 feet

Mummy and rectangular sleeping pad length guide

To determine a suitable length, combine your height and additional pillow space. You will avoid curling up to keep your pillow on your sleeping pad. Avoid touching the ground with any part of your body.

Mummy / RectangularLengthBody length
Small120 cm / 4 feet
140 cm / 4.6 feet
Under 4.6 feet
Regular160 cm / 5.24 feet
180 cm / 5.90 feet
182 cm / 5.97 feet
183 cm / 6 feet
Standard size up to 6 feet tall
Large185 cm / 6.06 feet
195 cm / 6.40 feet
200 cm / 6.56 feet
Over 6 feet
Guide for sleeping pad length compared to body length

To help keep your pillow in place and increase the warmth rating, you can use a sleeping pad cover, like an undersheet on a bed. They have a strap underneath to keep them in place and a small pocket to hold your pillow during the night. I use the Klymit Unisex cover, but it is only available for rectangle sleeping pads.

Sleeping pads: Understanding R-values 

R-values determine a pad’s suitability for specific seasons. Higher R-values offer better protection against cold ground. These are thermal ratings and make them ideal for winter camping.

  • R1 to R2 is suitable for summer – Temperature range -32 °F / 0 °C
  • R2 to R4 for cold sleepers in winter – Temperature range – 20 °F / -6.6 °C
  • R4 to R6 for winter camping -Temperature range – 0 °F / -17.78 °C
  • R6 Plus for extreme cold – Temperature range – Less than 0 °F

R2 – R6 is ideal for cold sleepers.

Pros and cons of sleeping pads: Closed and open-cell

Closed-cell sleeping pad with pits for trapping air, which increases warm

Closed-cell sleeping pads

Closed-cell sleeping pads vary in their R-value. If you are family camping, you do not need a high rating as you will probably have a camping cot or air bed. Placing a closed-cell pad underneath your air bed will help insulate as air beds do not have R-values ratings.

Prices range from £4.99 – £60

WaterproofNot comfortable to sleep on directly
DurableBulky for transporting – rolled or foldable
Ideal for placing under an open-cell pad or air mattressNot suitable for side sleepers if there is no other sleeping pad
Some have indents that can trap air that will gradually warm during usage.Need an additional sleeping pad to improve comfort level
Ideal for laying on a sleeping cot
Closed-cell sleeping pads – Pros and cons

Open-cell sleeping pads

There are three types of open-cell sleeping pads

  • Air and foam – self-inflating – Cost £25 – £109
  • Full air-based pad, either horizontal or vertical baffles – Cost £65 – £276
  • Air bed (single or double) – Cost £10 – £150
ComfortableIt takes a while to self-inflate
Different depths available for comfort Air-filled – Moisture from breath can cause mould inside over time.
Self-inflating or manual inflation Expensive
Inflation via foot, battery or electrical pumpA combination of foam and air is not comfortable.
Option of airbags to inflate Some can be noisy when moving during the night.
WaterproofAir beds have no R-value.
Do not need EHU to inflate.Roll off the pad easily with vertical baffle pads.
Ideal for side sleepersIt will need reinflating as the cold will affect the firmness
Prices vary depending on the style.Need a repair kit in case of damage
Can inflate or deflate for comfort levels
High R-values
Open-cell sleeping pads – Pros and cons

Related questions

Is there a weight limit for sleeping pads? Expert confirmed

On average, there are no weight limits for sleeping pads. However, NEMO has confirmed their general weight limit is 136kg / 300lbs / 21 stone. Therm-a-rest has confirmed that there is no weight limit on their sleeping pads.

Bodyweight must be disturbed evenly across the sleeping pad to avoid touching the ground. If a person places all their weight onto their knee or elbow, body weight won’t be evenly distributed, resulting in direct contact with the ground.

How do self-inflating valves work?

Self-inflating valves on sleeping pads allow air to be drawn into the pad when the valve opens. Air will fill the air pockets between the foam., However, you must set up at least 2 hours before bed. Close the valve once complete.

If the sleeping pad does not inflate sufficiently or fast enough during the time frame, it can be manually inflated by blowing into the value. To avoid air escaping, you must close the valve between breaths.

Deflating a self-inflating sleeping pad is a bit of a pain. Because they are self-inflating when deflating, keeping the pressure on the pad is important to avoid inflating via the valve. As soon as it is fully rolled or folded, close the valve. Keep a band handy to wrap around the folded sleeping pad for ease of playing in a carry bag.

Is a sleeping pad suitable for side sleepers?

A comfortable sleeping pad for a side sleeper is between 5cm and 10cm thick. My sleeping pad is 10cm thick, offering comfort and cushioning for my hip and shoulder. Sleeping pads can be inflated fully or deflated, depending on your comfort levels.

Thickness matters 

Look for sleeping pads with thicker cushioning, as they provide better support for your hips and shoulders when you’re on your side. Consider pads at least 2 inches (5cm) or thicker for side sleeping comfort.

Material choice

Opt for pads made from memory foam or self-inflating foam. They conform to your body’s shape, reducing pressure points.

Inflatable pads with adjustable firmness can also work well if you find the right level of support.

Size and shape

Consider the size of the pad. As a side sleeper, you will benefit from wider pads to prevent your arms from falling off the edge.

Some pads have contoured shapes designed to cradle your body, which can be comfortable for side sleeping.

Could you test it out before you buy it?

Don’t be embarrassed about testing a sleeping pad out before you buy. Camping stores have fully inflated sleeping pads; they are there so you can visually see their depth. Please test it out before purchasing and ensure you are comfortable on your side.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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