Sleeping Pads 101: From Thru-Hiking to Car Camping
Whether you are on an ultra-long thru-hike with the lightest possible gear or posted up in your van or truck with all the conveniences, a good night’s sleep is essential to enjoy whatever adventure you are on. We are breaking down sleeping pads across the spectrum to help you decide where your head will lay best while you make your travel dreams a reality.
Take Your Entire Sleep System into Account
This means considering the weather conditions (temp), the warmth of your sleeping bag, whether you are using a bivy, the clothes you are comfortable sleeping in, if you are sleeping on the ground or elevated, and your own physiology (whether you generally sleep warmer or colder). All of these variables will play a key role in deciding what sleeping pad is going to provide you with the most comfortable sleep away from your own mattress.
To help you navigate the warmth you may need from a sleeping pad, pay attention to the R-value and the rating of the sleeping bag you will be using. When sleeping bags are tested, they are tested with a sleeping pad of a 4.8 R-value. Keeping this in mind you will be able to differentiate that if you have a 20-degree sleeping bag and have a pad with a 2.3 R-value, your sleeping bag is not going to be a true 20-degree bag. On the other hand, if you have a pad with a 6.2 R-value, that 20-degree bag will be a touch warmer, given the 20-degree rating comes from a 4.8 R-value testing. The higher the R-value of the sleeping pad, the more insulation it offers, meaning it will keep you warmer at lower temperatures. This one tidbit of knowledge can get you closer to dreamland on its own.
Let’s Break It Down
These ones are for those who need the bare necessities and every ounce counts (you are literally counting every ounce – think: PCT hiker who has bags of sour patch kids separated by color and calorie count).
The Tensor comes in multiple sizes, come insulated or non-insulated, and in mummy options.
Let’s start small and mighty. The Tensor non-insulated short mummy comes in at 8 ounces, 48” long, and 20” wide. Though it weighs 2 ounces more than the Therm-A-Rest we have listed below, you get an additional 3” of height and an extra inch of length. This one is for the warm weather thru-hikers with an R-value of just 1.6. However, if this size is up your alley but you need just a bit more warmth, the insulated short mummy takes the R-value to a toasty 3.5 and only adds 1 ounce of weight.
As you have probably assumed, as we go up in size, we also go up in weight. All the non-insulated Tensor’s measure at a 1.6 R-value, while all the insulated Tensor’s measure at a 3.5. Now, all we need to do is take into account the weight that each size adds. At the heaviest, we have the Tensor long wide weighing in at 1lb 5oz. There is nearly a 1 pound difference between the lightest and heaviest Tensor. If you find your desire lies in the middle, the regular options sit nicely at just under 1 pound ready to give you anything but a sub-par nights sleep.
It’s not even ultra light, it’s uber light. With four different size options, this baby comes in weighing a mere 6 ounces at its smallest option and 12 ounces at its largest. Across the board this sleeping pad has an R-value of 2.3 and is 2.5 inches in height. When you just need to keep the core warm you can go for the small at 47″ in length and 20” wide.
Got a little extra room to spare in the pack? Jump up to the regular that adds 30” length, making it 77″ total in length. If you are looking to spread out even more, the regular wide and large add 5” of width (and length for the large). Your decision between the size options of the Neoair Uberlite will ultimately come down to the ounces you are willing to sacrifice (or not) to give those ultra tired feet the rest they need.
So You Want Lightweight and No-frills?
We’ve got you covered there too! We know what it’s like to be so tired that the last thing you want to do is inflate your bed when you can just roll out a slick foam pad, plop down, and treat yourself to an end-of-day brew before you snuggle in. If you fall into this category, we have two classics for you, the Nemo Switchback and the Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest Classic. These no-nonsense sleeping pads are budget-friendly and come in under 1lb at the regular size. When you want something quick, light, and cost-effective these timeless models are just the answer.
Ultralight, Yet Ultra Warm
Cold weather escapades are your thing, eh? We know winter travels can involve a bit of extra/heavier gear, but with the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm you don’t have to choose between more weight or more comfort. At 15 ounces, 72” in length, and 20” wide, this sleeping pad packs a punch of heat with an R-value of 6.9. Dial-in your winter sleep system with this sleeping pad and go get those dawn patrol turns.
Sleeping Pads for Four Wheels and Plenty of Space
If you haven’t slept in your car before, I suggest giving it a try! Yea, hiking out into the backcountry, not seeing another person for miles, is an effort worth every bit of the reward. Car camping can be convenient and comfy, if you do it right. Be it on a cross-country road trip, a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway, or working on location, car camping can take a little experimenting to perfect your sleep system. Whether you are sleeping alone or sharing your space, the Exped Megamat Duo 10 can give your bed at home a run for its money. When comfort is your number one goal, this 4-inch thick pad will have you day dreaming of it! And if you are sharing your space, but you and your partner have different comfort needs, the Exped Synmat HL Duo is for you. With two separate halves with their own inflation/deflation valves, you and your partner will forget you are not on a Tempurpedic. No sheep needed to get to those zzz’s with this sleeping pad.
There is something for every kind of camping comfort needs. Just remember to think about your entire sleep system and the variables that matter most to you, like weight, space, warmth, etc. If you have no idea where to start or need help configuring the most versatile sleep system for multiple adventures, come into Tahoe Mountain Sports and we’d be glad to help set you up!
Is maximum comfort while camping your thing?
Tarin is a personal trainer, yoga teacher, the TMS marketing director and overall outdoor enthusiast who’s dabbled in a little of everything. She spends winter snowboarding, splitboarding, and more recently, snowmobiling too. In the summer you can find her mountain biking and teaching paddleboard yoga and fitness on Lake Tahoe and Donner lake!