Getting an uninterrupted sleep in the backcountry can be exceptionally difficult. You would think after a long day of hiking, fishing, and paddling, most campers would be able to fall asleep standing up. Unfortunately, laying down on the uneven and cold ground is often a recipe for restlessness.
Sleeping pads are an essential camping tool and one of the first items packed by most experienced campers. They play two vitally vital roles in those trying to get a good night’s sleep in the great outdoors. First, they protect you from the discomfort of sleeping on rugged terrain. Second, and more importantly, they keep you warm and dry by providing a layer of insulation between you and the cold ground.
There are several types of comfortable sleeping pads available for campers to choose from, but often, this choice boils down to picking between a self-inflating camp pad or an air pad. Personal preference plays a significant role when deciding which type of camping pad best fits your requirements. Determining which features are most relevant to your needs is the only way to determine what type of pad is the best to invest in. To make an informed decision, we’re taking a closer look at each type of camping sleeping pads.
Self Inflating Sleeping Pads
Self-inflating camping pads use a combination of air and open-cell foam insulation. The pad itself is contained within a fabric shell to make it more comfortable. When the valve is opened, air rushes in and slowly fills the inflatable spaces in between the foam, which gradually expands the pad. For those who prefer a firm sleeping surface, extra air can be manually blown into the pad to adjust the level of comfort.
Self-inflating pads are quite versatile. Some are designed to be folded along a seam and then rolled to fit into a stuff sack. This type of lightweight sleeping pad is an excellent choice for those who prefer backpacking and camping in the deep woods. Other pads are more rigid and bulky and would be more suitable for more casual campers who prefer to drive to their site.
The combination of fabric, foam, and air makes any self-inflating pad for camping an excellent choice for those who value warmth and comfort. They can be comfortable and offer a high degree of insulation. Due to their fabric exterior, self-inflating pads are often stronger and less susceptible to rips and tears than manually inflatable air pads. This makes them an excellent choice for campers who plan to have children or dogs in their tent.
One of the real selling points of the self-inflating air pad is right in its name. For most models, you unscrew the valve and let the pad do the work for you rather than needing to inflate it using your breath or a small pump. This can be a real selling point after a long day or for those who value convenience.
An often overlooked benefit of using a self-inflating pad for camping is the decreased noise. Other types of pads can crinkle during the night as air shifts while you move. If you are a light sleeper or tend to move around during sleep, you may find you get a better night’s sleep on a self-inflating pad.
Unfortunately, self-inflating sleeping pads do have their downside. They are undoubtedly heavier and bulkier than air pads and are not always the best choice for a backpacking sleeping pad. Again, it is up to you if the benefits of the self-inflating pad offset the added weight and bulk. In this regard, considering the type of camping, you plan on doing is important
The clear advantage of using an air pad is that they are incredibly lightweight. Air pad manufacturers are continually trying to find ways to reduce weight while still providing campers with a comfortable and warm surface to sleep. Their lightweight design makes air pads an ideal, suitable choice for backpacking and portaging.
Many air pads use reflective materials for their exterior to increase insulation and keep users warm. Although air pads do need to be manually inflated, some models are packaged with a built-in pump. The ability to have more control over the firmness of the pad is also a real selling point for some people when choosing air pads over self-inflating pads.
For backpackers or anyone else who plans on carrying this sleeping pad for any significant distance, the air pad is a logical choice. They can weigh as little as one pound and are compact enough to fit in any pack. However, the lighter they are, the more expensive they tend to be.
There are other potential downsides, too. Not only is an air pad vulnerable to punctures, but noise can also be an issue. If noise levels are an issue for you or your tent mates, it might make sense to look at a self-inflating camping pad.
Overall, the air pad is designed with portability in mind. They are straightforward to pack and weigh considerably less than self-inflating pads. If this is something you value or you plan to carry your sleeping pad any significant distance, the choice is simple. Air pads are perfect for minimalist backpacking trips or any other sort of camping where low weight is essential.
Which is the Better Choice?
Ultimately, the decision depends solely on personal preference. At the end of an adventurous day, a sleeping pad is intended to provide you with a comfortable and warm place to rest your head. Choosing the right pad for your needs is essential, but you should not think of self-inflating sleeping pads and air pads as opposites. Both have their benefits, and, in certain situations, the pads can be used together to complement each other. If you are someone that values a cushioned sleeping surface, you could lay an air pad over a self-inflating pad. This combines the added insulation of the self-inflating pad with the lightweight comfort of an air pad. The choice of the pad is up to you and should take into consideration which features are more relevant to you. Happy camping!