What Is a Self Inflating Sleeping Pad?

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Camping is the favorite pastime for many people, and if you're one of them, a self-inflating sleeping pad is a must. It will provide you with more comfort and a warmer bed, which is especially important during the colder months. Every mountaineer, hunter, skier, and hiker would be better off with a self-inflating sleeping pad. Keep reading if you want to know more about how it works and what it can do, and if you may want one for yourself.

What Is a Self Inflating Sleeping Pad?

A self-inflating sleeping pad is a compact inflatable and insulating pad designed to provide you with comfort and warmth when you spend the night camping outdoors. It's lined with foam pads inside a plastic casing that you can roll into a small package. The outer layer is waterproof and acts as an extra layer between you and the ground.

When you inflate the pad, the foam expands and becomes soft like a sponge. You’d put it under your sleeping bag to insulate from the cold ground, so it's ideal for winter camping trips and wet conditions. When you want to put it away, just deflate the air and roll it up into the provided nylon bag. You can hang one on your backpack, and it's much lighter than a folding camp cot or a camping air bed.

How Does It Work?

When you pack up your sleeping pad, you need to close the valve to keep the air from getting in. That makes it compact and easy to carry. However, the foam inside is always ready to expand naturally, so you only have to open the valve for the pad to inflate itself.

You can use the pad as a pillow in its rolled-up shape. It provides excellent heat insulation, and since it's waterproof, you don't have to worry about getting wet.

What's Important?

Even though most sleeping pads work more or less the same way, there's a big difference between them. You can find many brands and models on the market, so it's essential to get your facts straight before buying one. Apart from the price, here are some factors to consider when you’re getting one:


Thicker sleeping pads provide better insulation from the cold ground. Most of them are open-cell pads that can trap a lot of air that acts as an excellent insulator. Staying warm while sleeping is important for every camper. Also, thicker pads are more comfortable. There isn’t any significant difference in weight between a thick and a thin self-inflating sleeping pad, so you should always go with the thicker option if you can handle the bigger roll.


The cover material of your pad also plays a vital role. First of all, it protects the foam inside the pad from water, but it also protects it from sharp rocks. High-quality pads are usually covered with a thick layer of durable vinyl-nylon.


Self-inflating sleeping pads come in many different sizes. Some are made for children, some are double-sized, and some for extra-large men. Whatever you do, make sure that the pad is larger than you. If you don’t have anything else to consider, you should always go with the bigger option but, of course, life in the wild also requires you to think about whether you think it’s worth carrying the extra bulk and weight during the day.


Now that you know what to expect, you should understand the difference in specifications. Let's start with length. The pad has to be long enough to fit your head and feet. It has to be wide enough for your hips and shoulders too. Regular pads are 72 inches long, and the bigger ones are up to 78 or more inches. You also have shorter 3/4-length pads that measure 48 inches.

The standard width is 20 inches. There are some large sizes of up to 30 inches wide and double-sized pads that can accommodate a double sleeping pad. If you want a sleeping pad that rolls up to the smallest package, then you should get the tapered one for use with mummy sleeping bags.

Lastly, you should always check the insulating R-value before buying a self-inflating sleeping pad. That's the number that tells you how warm the pad is. The scale starts at 1.0 and rises to 9.5. Generally, thicker pads will have higher numbers, and better insulating capabilities.

Extra Features

You may find that additional features usually come at higher prices, but if you want the best, prepare to spend more. Useful accessories include built-in pillows, multiple chambers, stuff stacks, cot straps, a non-slip bottom layer, and others that might come in handy in the field.

Bottom Line

If you are the type of person that likes to spend time hiking and camping outdoors, a good sleeping pad can make you feel like you are sleeping in a bed. It will keep you insulated from the cold ground, and you will have a spongy base for your sleeping bag. Self-inflating sleeping bags are lightweight and perfect for any outdoor sleepout.

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