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Sleeping Pad Buying Guide

posted Feb 17, 2019, 1:00 PM by Mike Bailey   [ updated Feb 19, 2019, 10:17 PM ]
The Sleeping Pad is 1/2 of the Sleep System in camping.  The Sleeping Pad provides comfort and insulation for the camper to ensure a restful sleep.  The other 1/2 of the sleep system is the Sleeping Bag we cover that in a separate article in our buying guide. This is a key purchase to keep your eyes open for deals, once you know what you are looking for. This guide is designed to help you make that informed decision.

Sleeping Pads come in 3 main types:  Inflated or Air Pads, Closed Cell/Foam Pads and Self-Inflating or Combo pads.  NOTE: We are not comparing or recommending pads designed to emulate a bed mattress.  Parents are welcome to bring those and the powered inflation devices they usually require. We do not recommend those for Scouts.
 Air PadsSelf-Inflating PadsFoam Pads 
 Air Pad Self-Inflating Pad Foam Pad
Pros: Comfortable and lightweight and the most compact type of pad when packed. Make sure you purchase one with insulation.

Cons: More expensive and can be punctured or ripped.
Pros: Comfortable and compact, excellent insulation. They’re made with stronger fabrics than many air pads.

Cons: Heavier and more expensive than simple foam pads, and not as compact as air pads.
Pros: Lightweight, inexpensive, durable and offer good insulation.

Cons: They are less comfortable. They’re relatively stiff and firm, so they tend to be bulky.

As leaders, we are always amazed at how little padding our scouts seem to need and still get a good night's sleep.  So, when choosing Sleep Pads for Scouts, parents tend to purchase on price or familiarity, not function or comfort.  It is also important to consider long term needs to avoid needing to purchase a 2nd Pad as the Scouts prepare for High Adventure trips that require more lightweight and/or compact gear.  For backpacking, it's all about weight, bulk doesn't matter as the sleep pad can be attached to the outside of the backpack.  But, for most any other high adventure trip, compact storage is best. 

Across all 3 styles, Pads vary in thickness and insulation, so that is what to important to understand what to look for when comparing across styles to know a good price.  Pads can be as narrow as 1 inch and some inflate to up to 4 inches.  We recommend at least 2 inches of thickness.  2.5-3 inches is best.  The thicker the inflation, the easier it is to control the firmness of the pad and still not feel what may be underneath the pad on the ground.  Overall sizes can vary as well, but are less important for youth.  Most youth don't need a long pad, but be careful not to be surprised by 3/4 length pads that forego padding under your legs in favor of packing size or weight. 

Air Pads are best for delivering comfort, light weight AND compact storage.  The downside CAN be expense and durability, but quality Air Pads can be found at a comparable price to the other styles if you are patient. It is especially important make sure that the Air Pad has some insulation or "R" rating.  Keeping the ground temperature away from the camper, even a cold floor when we are indoor camping, goes a long way to providing a warm and comfortable night's sleep.

Self-Inflating Pads combine the insulation of foam with the additional thickness and comfort of air.  They are more durable than a strictly air pad.  But they are not considered light weight or compact and are usually not suitable for high adventure trips. If you already have a pad of this type for a young Scout to use, there is no need to purchase a new pad, but if you are in the market for a new pad for a Scout, we would evaluate the other choices.

Foam Pads are the most durable as there is nothing to fail.  They are the most bulky of the styles, but can be just as lightweight as any air pad.  They are also far less expensive.  For weekend camping, it is likely that a Foam Pad will not fit inside whatever bag or bin your Scout packs for the rest of their gear.  So, it will be important to have a protective sleeve or bag to store the Foam Pad in and some straps to secure the pad to your sleeping bag or backpack. 
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