Why do you need a sleeping pad for camping?

sleeping pad and mat

Not everybody considers the importance of a sleeping pad. We often think that because we have a sleeping bag or camp bed, sleeping pads are not needed. So why should you use use a sleeping pad?

Sleeping pads not only offer comfort but offer resistance against cold ground. They are R-rated, which relates to the thermal resistance against the cold ground. For an average family summer camping, a 3 rating will be sufficient. For comfort levels, the average depth should be 10 inches, especially if you are a side sleeper. The depth of a sleeping pad also depends on the ground and season.

Why do you need a sleeping pad or mat?

A sleeping mat is necessary to create a barrier against the cold seeping through during the night. Whether you use a camp bed or an air mattress, use a sleeping pad, as these will not stop the cold from penetrating. However, a sleeping pad will offer additional protection against the cold depending on the R rating, but it is also advisable to have a sleeping mat.

For everyday family camping holidays, sleeping mats don’t need to be expensive. The average price of an aluminium-lined mat is £5.99 – £8.99. They can easily be rolled and are lightweight for transporting, although they are bulky. I roll our sleeping mats together to save on space instead of separately.

A good quality sleeping pad is a must if you are not using an air mattress. Even if you use a camp bed, they can be rolled and stored compactly for transport, generally in a bag. However, sleeping pads are more expensive than mats. My Trekology UL80 camping pad from Amazon cost £45, and my BRGOOD Camping Sleeping Pad cost £24.99. I recommend the BGROOD sleeping pad, which is the cheaper option. It is very comfortable, especially if you are a slide sleeper. Whilst camping during Spring, which was extremely cold this year, I felt no cold seeping through, and it did not deflate during the nights.

Were you aware that you cannot use one type of sleeping pad for all-year camping? Or that they are either closed or open cells? We recommend an open-cell sleeping pad for family camping, R-rated a minimum of 2, but on average, an R-rating of 3 will keep you warm during Autumn and Spring camping. We don’t want you to buy the wrong sleeping pad and purchase the correct style, depth and R-rating for you and your family. We have an easy guide on the most suitable sleeping pads and the pros and cons of each type.

The best part about sleeping pads is how small they condense down for transporting. They can be rolled and tucked in small areas of a car compared to camp beds. I have replaced our camp beds with sleeping pads due to this reason.

How to use a sleeping pad?

Sleeping pads are very easy to use. and should not be confused with sleeping mats. Sleeping pads should be inflated several hours before usage and left to stabilise to avoid deflating during the night.

Inflate the sleeping pad to a suitable comfort level, and test as you inflate. If too hard, you will have an uncomfortable night or underinflate. You will find yourself sleeping on the floor.

Always ensure the air inlet valve is securely in place and fully sealing the air inside. Over time these will often become weak and can leak.

Sleeping pads pay on the top of a thermal sleeping mat or a camping bed—a sleeping bag placed on the top of the sleeping pad. A fleece bed sheet can add warmth to a sleeping pad.

How to use a built-in foot pump to inflate a sleeping pad?

Built-in foot pumps are ideal if you are camping with no EHU. They have two valves, one for fully releasing air and an intake valve.

  • Close the main outlet air valve.
  • The foot pump is the area that is a combination of foam and valve
  • Open-air inlet valve fully
  • Using your foot or hand, place over the value and press down
  • Lift your foot off the valve to allow the foam to inflate (no air will escape when removing your foot)
  • Keep repeating the process until the sleeping pad is inflated.

Foot pumps will differ depending on the design; read instructions before inflating. Place your foot entirely over the air inlet valve for some foot pumps. In some designs, you put your foot to the side of the valve.

How to use a pump sack to inflate a sleeping pad?

Pump sacks are bags with a value connector that attaches to your sleeping pad and an open end.

  • Open the sleeping pad and pump the sack fully.
  • Attached the pump sack valve securely to your sleeping pad
  • Open the pump sack so the top is open fully
  • Either gently breathe into the pump sack, but you do not need to bunch up and breathe into it or move gently so the bag inflates.
  • From the top, roll several times and seal the opening.
  • Either compress down using your arms or continue rolling, forcing the air into the pump sack.
  • Repeat the process.
  • Disconnect when complete

On average, you will need to repeat the inflation process 3-4 times, although this depends on your sleeping pad size. For our Trekology UL80 camping pad, take 3 pump bag fills before inflating fully.

Pump sacks are waterproof and ideal for storing clothes, sleeping pads and other items during transport.

Pump sack prices vary, from £8.00 to £47, depending on the brand, size and where they are purchased. Before buying, check that the valve connector size and not all pump sacks are comparable. I use the Trekology Pump Sack Roll, which has a valve diameter of 21mm and is 30L, which is for the Trekology sleeping pad and is suitable for the BRGOOD Camping Sleeping Pad because of the exact valve sizes. The Trekology pump sack is £14.99 from Amazon, although the price may vary. The pump sack has a clip roll top, so it does have a multi-purpose.

How to deflate a self-inflating foam sleeping pad?

Self-inflating sleeping pads can be awkward to deflate. Opening the valve will not automatically release air. They are designed to draw air in to inflate.

  • Lay your sleeping pad flat and open the value fully
  • Roll from the furthest point from the valve
  • As you roll, place pressure to force the air out towards the valve
  • Don’t remove all air, as this will destroy the loftiness of the foam
  • Close the valve when finished to avoid reinflating the sleeping pad
  • Ideally, storing flat, as rolled and compressed, will ruin the loftiness of the foam.

What do you put under a sleeping pad?

Sleeping mats for underneath a sleeping pad

Can a sleeping pad be used on top of a camp bed?

Sleeping pads can be used on standard canvas camping beds. Sleeping directly on the top of a canvas camping bed is uncomfortable and cold. However, they will move, and it can be very frustrating.

Sleeping pads can be secured by an anti-slip mat, which will not only stop them from moving but also help reduce heat loss. Another alternative is to use straps; for cheapness, you can use luggage straps, which buckle or clip underneath the bed so the sleeping pad does not get damaged.

Some people will glue velcro strips to the sleeping pad and the camping bed; however, this can damage the material.

You do not need a sleeping pad or mat if you have a camping bed with a mattress integrated, like a fishing camp bed. These Camp beds are exceptionally comfortable but bulky and take up valuable space, especially on family holidays.

Please don’t make the same mistake as I did when I started camping. I only had a 1-inch self-inflating sleeping pad on a canvas camp bed, which was uncomfortable. The first night I did not use a camping mat or sleeping pad; it was a very cold and uncomfortable night.

There are camp beds, normally fishing camp beds, that have a mattress secured on the bed, so you don’t need to worry about buying an additional sleeping pad. Myself and my son Nick have tested two different types over several camping trips, as we have friends that are avid fishermen. They can be expensive, but when you consider a med, plus a sleeping pad and mat, they will work our nearly the same price.

The Westlake high-leg chair from Amazon is only available in a karki colour and has an integrated pillow. Although I did not find this really comfortable, I also used my own pillow. There was no cold seeping through. Although I placed a sleeping mat underneath the legs to avoid becoming cold during the night Very easy to set up. However, they are bulky, mainly because of the fixed mattress.

I liked this bed because of the adjustable legs; It allowed me to store items underneath. This, for me, is a positive because my son always has lots of things, and it can be a struggle to find areas to put his items.

Another camp bed that has a mattress is the RedCamp folding bed. I prefer this to the Westlake high leg because you can remove the mattress. It is slightly cheaper, and the height is not adjustable. However, over time, the mattress’s comfort will reduce. Because the mattress is not fixed to the bed, I can easily replace it. The mattress is fixed in place by straps underneath each corner. Both beds are suitable for heavier people, and you can turn over easily without worrying about falling off.

Does a sleeping pad go inside a sleeping bag?

Using a sleeping pad inside of a sleeping bag

Sleeping pads can be placed inside a sleeping bag, but they will be more efficient if they are underneath a sleeping bag. A sleeping pad inside a sleeping bag will make you feel hot and lead to a comfortable night’s sleep.

Sleeping bags are designed to keep heat in, and sleeping pads are designed to reduce heat loss and stop coldness from seeping through. Having the pad inside the sleeping bag reduces the effectiveness of the sleeping pad.

I have tried sleeping with my sleeping pad inside, and during the night, I had to remove it and place it underneath. I am a cold sleeper, and this did surprise me. Not only did I feel sweaty, but it was uncomfortable. My sleeping pad is 12cm in depth and has an R-rating of 5. It took up a lot of space inside my sleeping pad and reduced my freedom to move.

Whereas my son’s sleeping pad is the same depth and R-rating of 1.6, it was cooler but still uncomfortable for me.

If you want to use a sleeping pad inside a sleeping bag, check the length of your sleeping bag. Our two sleeping pads are extra-long and will not fit into a standard sleeping pad. It will restrict snuggling down into your sleeping bag.

Related questions

Why is my sleeping pad deflating during the night?

Nothing is worse than waking up with a deflated sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are inflated with warm air, either with a foot pump, pump sack or by breathing into it. During the night, the air inside will shrink. This is because when warm air cools, it reduces in size—leaving you with a semi-deflated sleeping pad.

How can you stop your sleeping bag from deflating? Inflate your sleeping pad during the day when you first set up camp—allowing the air inside to climatise. Before going to bed, you will notice that your sleeping pad is not as inflated. Reinflate to a comfortable firmness, reducing a potentially uncomfortable night.

Another reason a sleeping pad deflates is the material’s stretchiness. Nylon is the worst, and when you inflate, the nylon will stretch and become saggy, and the air inside reduces in temperature. Polyester sleeping pad material will stretch but not as much as nylon. You will still need to inflate slightly.

Can you use sleeping pads on the floor?

Sleeping pads can be laid directly on the floor. However, you may feel cold if the R-rating is not high. With a standard 1.6 rating, you will feel some coldness from the ground. The higher ratings will provide more protection. With my sleeping pad R-rating 5, I can sleep directly on the ground without using a sleeping mat.

However, I prefer a combination of both as a sleeping pad will offer additional protection against rough ground and grit, which can puncture your sleeping pad.


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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