Do You Really Need A Sleeping Pad? (Yes!, This Is Why)

If you are anything like me then sometimes you want to go camping but you don’t want to go through a big checklist of gear. Sometimes bringing only the bare minimum is more fun, especially for spontaneous camping trips. Finding ways to limit the number of things you need to take with you if fun. One of those gear items you may have wondered if you really need is a sleeping pad.

So, do you really need a sleeping pad? Sleeping pads are one of the most essential gear items that you can take with you on a camping trip. They serve multiple purposes and do not take up much space. You need a sleeping pad for safe and effective camping.

There are many reasons why a sleeping pad is an essential camping gear item. The most obvious is that it makes sleeping on the floor much more comfortable. They also play a part in providing you with adequate warmth through the night. Sleeping pads aren’t all that heavy or bulky in the first place so they are easy to take with you.

By the way, If you are in the market for a new sleeping pad, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

Sleeping pads are comfortable

You might think your tough and can handle it, but sleeping on the hard ground if you are used to a nice mattress at home gets painful pretty fast. Especially when you are camping and sleeping on uneven surfaces comprised of rocks, sticks, dirt, and such. Sleeping pads offer a lot of comfort for getting a good night’s rest when camping. It can already be difficult to sleep outside, you don’t need to make more difficult than it needs to be. I like bringing only the bare essentials from time to time, but a sleeping pad will always fit into that category.

A good sleeping pad should be long enough for your entire body, maybe with the exception of your feet. At a very bare minimum, the pad needs to be long enough for your shoulders and your hips to rest comfortably on them. With most sleeping pads this shouldn’t be a problem since the typical length for a regular-sized sleeping pad is 72 inches or 6 feet, and the long-sized pads are usually 78 inches or 6 feet, 6 inches long. If you are on the short side or want to be as minimal as possible, the typical short pads come in at just 48 inches or 4 feet long.

How much comfort you want and need is up to you. Typically, more comfort comes with more weight and bulk. If you have room in your vehicle and are car camping then you can splurge on a really comfortable sleeping pad. If you want the ultimate luxury while camping you could opt for a nice air mattress. Air mattresses are usually much more comfortable than sleeping pads, but most of them aren’t as good at keeping you warm as sleeping pads are.

Sleeping pads keep you warm

Beyond just a comfortable surface, sleeping pads can provide you with insulation from the cold hard ground and thus keep you warm. You might be very surprised to find out that even on warmer summer nights, the ground can steal a lot of your body heat if you are lying directly on it. Sleeping pads act as a barrier to insulate you from losing heat from below you. Sleeping pads have distinct “R-values” associated with them that means “resistance value”. The resistance value is how well the sleeping pad does at resisting heat flow. You will need a higher R-value in colder temperatures and a lower R-value in warmer temperatures.

It is worth mentioning that choosing a warmer-than-you-might-need sleeping pad will not cause you to overheat on warm nights like a warm sleeping bag will. So you can get a sleeping pad that is rated for colder temperatures and feel good about using it whenever. This makes higher R-value sleeping pads much more versatile. Even if you don’t camp in the winter or late fall during colder temperatures you can benefit from having a warmer sleeping pad just in case. Even though you might want to pack as little as possible on a spontaneous or quick camping trip, sleeping pads don’t take up much space or weigh very much so bringing them along shouldn’t be a problem 

Sleeping pads aren’t heavy or bulky

Depending on what kind of sleeping pad you get and how thick it is, you could have one that is less than one pound. Seriously, they get that lightweight. If you are into backpacking then that might be the best choice for you. If you are car camping then going with a thicker, and more comfortable one that weighs 2lbs is still no problem for most of us. Sleeping pads are one of those gear items that you have no excuse for having because they are so lightweight and yet they serve such an important purpose.

If you can have more space to spare and are going to be camping close to your car then consider getting a nice air mattress for camping. They are a lot heavier and bulkier than sleeping pads but they can give you a great night’s sleep. Air mattresses do need to be insulated if they aren’t camping specific air mattresses. It’s very easy to do, I have written a full article on how to insulate an air mattress.

The 3 main types of sleeping pads

There are 3 main types of sleeping pads and they each come with their strengths and weaknesses just like anything else. The three main types are air pads, closed-cell foam pads, and self-inflating pads

Air pads

These are like miniature air mattresses. They are on average the lightest of the three and the least bulky, and yet they provide a lot of comfort. These pads usually aren’t the warmest among the three but they do have four-season pads. They are at risk of punctures when camping so you will need to keep a repair kit with you. Another cool thing about them is that you can customize the firmness by putting more or less air into them as you desire

Closed-cell foam pads

These pads are very basic, and yet extremely useful. First of all, they are lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. You do not have to worry about punctures with these foam pads. Although they do take up the most space of the three, they are still pretty lightweight. They are versatile because they can double as something comfy to sit on without worry. They also do not require you to blow them up so you can just roll them out and be done with it. They are the least comfortable of the three, so keep that in mind, but they do provide a lot of insulation.

Self-inflating pads

These sleeping pads are almost like a hybrid of the other two types. They still need to be blown up (usually by mouth) but it can be done in less than a minute. They are like air pads with foam insulation built inside of them. Being a combination of the former two pads, they share both strengths and weaknesses. They can be punctured, but not as easy as regular air pads since they are thicker. They are very comfortable and well insulated, and you can adjust the firmness with more or less air.

Which one is best for you?

If you don’t have the right gear then you have a choice to make. Which pad to choose. The answer, of course, depends on how you will be spending a majority of your camping time and what is most important to you. If you purely care camp then you should consider trying to maximize comfort since you can carry more weight. For the ultimate comfort, you can go with a regular air mattress, but if you want a sleeping pad for the lightweight and compactness then an air pad might be right for you.

If you want to be as minimal as possible then a closed-cell foam pad is probably best. If you are totally unsure then you can’t really go wrong with the self-inflating pad. Decide for yourself how you will be camping a majority of the time and then you should know which sleeping pad is best for you. Also, there is no rule that says you can’t have more than one pad so experiment with two or all three if you want to. That way you can know which type is best for you and have an extra for when someone wants to tag along on a camping trip and doesn’t have a sleeping pad themselves.


Sleeping pads are an essential camping gear list item so try not to go camping without one. Not only do they provide a lot of comfort, but they also play an integral part in keeping you warm and insulated from the cold ground. They come in many different shapes and sizes but most of them are very lightweight and compact. Which one is best for you depends on what kind of camping you will be doing and how much luxury you want, but whichever one you choose, you will be glad that you had one over no sleeping pad at all.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click hereOpens in a new tab. to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here Opens in a new see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click hereOpens in a new tab. to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here Opens in a new see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click hereOpens in a new tab. to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

Recent Posts