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Although most people think of camping as a summer activity, cold weather camping offers its unique beauty and excitement. Whether you want to combine your camping experience with winter activities like snowshoeing and cross country skiing or you want to extend your camping and backpacking season beyond the summer months, cold weather camping is an enjoyable experience for any camping enthusiast. That said, even the most spectacular winter views will not make up for a miserable night of sleep trying to stay warm and comfortable.
Getting a good night’s rest is essential for any camping trip. One way to ensure you have a more restful and safe sleep is to use an appropriate sleeping pad. While it may seem like the primary function of a sleeping pad is to provide comfort, it is the pad’s ability to keep you warm that is its most useful function. A quality sleeping pad provides a barrier between you and the cold ground, helping you retain body heat and warmth.
Insulation is critical when sleeping outdoors. The cold ground causes your body temperature to drop rapidly by pulling heat away from you. This situation is especially true during cold weather camping was staying warm during the night is no longer only about comfort but also avoiding a dangerous situation.
What is R-Value?
One way to make sure your car camping or backpacking sleeping pad is up to the task of keeping you warm is to check its R-value rating. This value is a measurement scale used to determine the thermal resistance of an object, in this case sleeping pads. Using R-value will give you an idea of how well a particular sleeping pad insulates your body from the cold ground.
In regards to a camping sleeping pad, R-value is typically measured on a scale from 0 to 6. In general, sleeping pads with R values between R0 and R2 will only be useful enough to keep you warm during the summer. A pad with an R-value in the R2.1 to R3.3 range should be comfortable enough for 3 season camping in the summer, spring, and fall. For cold weather camping, though, you need a pad with an R4 to R6 rating. These pads are necessary when the temperature drops below freezing. In winter, it is vital to have an insulation R-value of at least R5 to retain heat. Especially if you plan on camping during extreme cold or if you intend to sleep on snow.
R-value is undoubtedly a useful tool when choosing a comfortable camping sleeping pad; however, it is not an exact science. You should not assume that choosing a high R-value pad means you will automatically have a comfortable cold weather sleep. You still need to combine this pad with an appropriate sleeping bag and shelter combination to get a warm night’s sleep. That said, a sleeping pad with a high R-value rating is not designed exclusively for use during cold weather camping. Some campers find they naturally feel colder during the night and might want to use a pad with a higher R-value even for warm-weather camping. Unlike sleeping bags, choosing a higher warmth rating won’t make you too warm; you won’t have to worry about the discomfort of sleeping on a cold surface. High R-value pads tend to be thicker and offer more cushioning.
High R-Value Sleeping Pads
Now that you have an idea of what the R-value rating of a sleeping pad means and why it is useful to take a look at some of our favorite high R-value sleeping bags.
What we like about this sleeping pad is the exceptional warmth it offers in such a lightweight package (15 oz). It packs down small and is an excellent option for backpackers who plan to camp all four seasons. The pad has an impressive R-value of R5.7, which means it would not be out of place on a winter camping trip. If you are a cold sleeper or plan to camp in cold weather, we recommend taking a look at the Xtherm Ultralight. Therm-a-Rest is a trusted brand with a great warranty, so you can feel confident that this ultralight sleeping pad will last.
Klymit’s sleeping pad features a unique v-chamber design, which not only makes this pad exceptionally comfortable but is also intended to reduce heat loss by limiting air movement. This pad has an R-value of R4.4, which makes it a useful sleeping pad for camping in all four seasons. If you want a warm sleeping pad that does not sacrifice on comfort, we recommend taking a look at the Static V LITE 4 Season camping pad.
The ECOTEK sleeping pad uses a hexagon pattern design to reduce heat loss and maximize comfort. The pad is designed to trap your body heat and keep you warm on cold surfaces. It has a respectable R-value of R4. One of our favorite things about this pad was how quick it is to set up. The valve system is well designed, and inflation and deflation are both fast and hassle-free. Although this pad might not be suitable for extreme cold, it is a great sleeping pad for cold sleepers and four-season campers alike.
When choosing a sleeping pad, it is essential to consider a few factors. R-value is undoubtedly a useful tool in determining if your pad will be up to the task of keeping you warm. You should also consider the length and width of the pad to make sure it is an adequate size for your body type or even consider a double sleeping pad if it suits you. Your backpacking sleeping pad is one of the most critical items in your camping pack. If you find one sleeping pad is not comfortable enough or you still find you are losing body heat to the ground, you can always double up on pads. The decision should be personal, but if you plan on camping in cold weather, any of the sleeping pads above mentioned would be an effective way to make sure you get a safe and restful good night’s sleep outdoors.