Sleeping Pad Pros and Cons

A sleeping pad is a must have for anyone who wants to sleep comfortably while camping. Of course, what’s the bet sleeping pad is a highly debated topic. Some say plush foam core pads are the best sleeping pads for camping. Others say that the thermal rating matters more than the padding itself. Then you have the ultralight backpackers who just want to know which sleeping pad is the lightest and the most compact. As with all camping equipment and outdoor gear the best sleeping pad depends on preference, activity, and conditions.

Here is a brief rundown on the major types of sleeping pads. Knowing the pros and cons of different types of sleeping pads can help you choose the pad that’s right for you and your specific needs.

Air core sleeping pads

These pads typically pack smaller of any other type of pad. They’re also the lightest sleeping pads. However, you sacrifice warmth and comfort for lightweight packability. The Therm-a-Rest line of NeoAirĀ® sleeping pads is an exception to this rule. These pads use a reflective lining which reflects body heat, like an emergency blanket, to increase the R-value.


Super lightweight and very compact. These pads are great for backpacking.


Air mattress and air sleeping pads may lose air overnight. They’re also the less durable than other pads, and they can be expensive.

Foam core sleeping pads (self-inflating pads)

These pads combine compressible open-cell foam and air. This provides more comfort and insulation than an air mattress. They tend to weigh more and take up more space than air sleeping pads, however. It’s also important to note that self-inflating pads don’t actually inflate themselves. If you open up the valve, they foam will expand and the pad will take in air. This helps the pad reconstitute itself, but you will have to blast a few breaths to get the support you need for a comfortable night’s sleep.


These pads are arguably the most versatile and maybe the most comfortable. Most are lightweight and compact enough to be used for backpacking or car camping, but some self-inflating pads may be too big or heavy for a backpacking trip. Self-inflating sleeping pads are more affordable and more durable than air core sleeping pads.


While cheaper and more durable than some air pads, they’re more expensive and less rugged than a basic foam pad.

Foam sleeping pads

Foam sleeping pads are closed-cell foam mattress that keep the roughing it spirit alive. The technology is pretty basic, but it gets the job done.


Foam pads are the cheapest and most durable option of any camping mattress. While heavier than an air mattress, they are still lighter than self-inflating mattresses. These pads are great for people who want a low-hassle, low-maintenance sleeping pad.


Foam sleeping pads take up the most space. 10 times out of 10 you’re going to have to strap a foam sleeping pad to the outside of your pack. These pads are less comfortable than self-inflating pads.

What is the best sleeping pad?

Are you backpacking or car camping? Do you sleep warm or cold? What’s the volume of your pack? How important is packweight? Do you camp in the winter? How much do you want to spend? These are all important questions to ask yourself before buying a sleeping pad. We’d love to help you pick the pad that’s right for you. Stop by and see us at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters in Northwest Arkansas!

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