Sleeping Pad vs Air Mattress

Sleeping Pad vs. Air Mattress

Let's say, for talking sake, you've already scooped up your camping essentials. You've picked up a cool chair, complete with a drinks holder. You've grabbed an assortment of various items that you may or may not need. But what about your bed?

The importance of a quality sleeping pad shouldn't be understated. Where you choose to rest your head is just as important as the style of tent you choose to shield you from the elements. An inflating mattress is also a solid choice for anyone looking for a portable place of rest.

From double air mattresses that can comfortably accommodate two people to single memory foam pads that magically contour to your body, there’s a camping bed for everyone. Read on to learn more about the different product options for your trip! 

Different Types of Sleeping Pads

If you're only familiar with air mattresses for camping, you may be wondering exactly what the alternatives are. A sleeping pad can be a great sleeping spot for any camping trip as not only are they extremely portable and compact but they're usually cheaper in price too.

Essentially, a sleeping pad will provide a camper or hiker with a soft area to sleep on which is usually slightly wider than an average sleeping bag size. They can be particularly welcomed in colder weather conditions as they provide great levels of insulation. Klymit Static V2 is one of the best sleeping pads in the market today.

Below, you'll find some useful information on the types of foam pads available to buy including an overview of each. 

Closed Cell

The closed-cell foam model is lightweight but rather bulky at the same time, however, these foam pads provide an excellent level of insulation. The insulation provided is attributed to the mat's dense foam which contains small closed-cell foam pockets making it a great option for camping gear. 

Self Inflating

Ideal for backpacking or hiking, a self-insulating foam pad is utilizes a valve that allows the pad to self inflate and deflate when not in use. Quick to set up and customizable in terms of firmness, this option is one of the most popular amongst campers. 

Manually Inflated

Lightweight to carry, this type of sleeping pad is ideal for anybody who is planning to walk to their camping location. A manually inflated option isn't going to be best if you are camping in a freezing climate as these mattresses have less insulation due to their design. 

Different Types of Air Mattresses

Air mattresses are considered a staple for a camping trip as they (usually) guarantee comfort and convenience. With this said, there are different types of air mattresses available, and depending on your needs you may find one option more suitable than another.

Air mattress

You will usually need an air pump to inflate an air mattress which will of course add to the equipment you're carrying. However, air mattresses will deflate at a much quicker rate than they inflate, making them super convenient and easy to roll up after use.

Below, you will find an overview of the two different air mattress models and what to expect from each.

Temporary Mattress

A temporary air mattress is intended for temporary use only, meaning they're not designed for a full night's sleep though they can still be used for this. They're a great option for a hiker or backpacker who may need to set up a temporary camp on a walk for example. Small in size and lightweight, you won't have to worry about bulk when carrying this type of air mattress.

Permanent Mattress

Permanent air mattresses are intended as an alternative to a standard bed. They use air chambers in place fo where spring coils would be positioned and are ideal mattresses for longer camping trips. You won't have to worry about the mattress deflating (so long as there are no punctures) and they retain air really well. 

Considerations Choosing Between Sleeping Pads and Air Mattresses

When choosing your bed for any camping trip, we advise you to follow the considerations set out below. Because there are so many products available in these categories, by refining your options, you're likely to find the best option for you. From the warmth provided by the sleeping pad or air mattress (camping can get chilly!) to the ease of inflation, let's take a look at what considerations you should keep in mind: 


Deciding between an air mattress vs a sleeping pad can be a challenge. However, if you know the different types of products and what to expect from each, you're half-way there. Sleeping pads are less susceptible to punctures and are more lightweight making them ideal for hiking and backpacking trips.

On the other hand, an air mattress can offer the same level of comfort as a standard bed, making it more appealing for longer trips. If you are going to be sleeping on a cold ground it may benefit you to choose a sleeping pad and sleeping bag combo that is designed to insulate. Air mattresses can still offer great levels of warmth, though they are usually cooler to sleep on in cold weather due to their plastic surface. 


What type of activity are you planning? If you want to go on a long walk and may need an option to rest, a sleeping pad is probably going to be ideal. They can be carried around easily and even come in a self-inflating option to prevent yourself from tiring out yourself further.

An air mattress is going to be appreciated if you're out and about exploring all day and want to come back to an accommodating campsite. Coupled with an insulating sleeping bag or thick duvet, you can retain a lot of warmth and will benefit from a more comfortable night's sleep. 

Warmth (R-value)

The R-value is the measurement given to a sleeping pad's ability to retain heat when in use. This is calculated based on the resistance it offers in terms of heat loss to the ground. You should be reviewing this score when choosing sleeping pads as it will indicate the climate it is best suited for.

A sleeping pad with a low R-value will not sustain you in cold weather. However, a higher R-value will provide the insulation you need alongside heat loss resistance to ensure you can sleep soundly with minimal heat loss. Always be sure to check out this information for each of the sleeping pads that you consider buying. Failing to do so, could result in you choosing a sleeping pad that leaves you freezing and uncomfortable. 

Sleep System

Sleep system refers to the pairing of an air mattress or sleeping pad with a sleeping bag and your chosen sleeping clothing to bring about maximum warmth. There are many different options to choose from, but you should aim to choose a pairing that offers you the best protection against cold. One of the biggest goals that campers share is ensuring that they are warm enough when camping sleeping. Nighttime temperatures drop and because of this, you should consider the variables that contribute to your sleep system. This will include the temperature rating of your sleeping bag, insulation of your self-inflating pad, and the combination of the two as a whole. 

Key Features

The key features of both sleeping pads and air mattress products differ largely though they carry the same purpose: to provide a portable means of sleeping when camping. When choosing between an air bed and a sleeping pad, it is best to determine which features matter most to you. This will largely come down to preference between each individual, though there are some things to look at. You should review the weight, inflation ease, size, and cushioning provided by each product to help you get an idea of which you should use. when you go camping. 


When choosing which type of product is going to be best for your camping trip, always consider practicality. When camping, you will have a lot of equipment to bring with you and the added extra of a bed is something that you want to keep as simple as possible. If you are car camping, for example, an airbed may be suitable given you have enough space in the vehicle. You will need to bring along extra things such as a pump for inflation which can be stored easily in the boot of your car and taken out when needed. A foam pad, however, provides more practical use in the sense it can be used in all types of camping and is extremely portable. 

Which Should I Choose for My Camping Trip?

Still not sure about which type of bed you should choose for your own camping sleeping trip? With the considerations laid out above and overview of each type of product, you should have a clear idea of what to expect. However, there are some key differences between air mattresses and sleeping pads that you should review before buying your chosen product

Sleeping Pad Vs. Air Mattress

Sleeping pads can't puncture

In the case of wild camping, for example, you may get your camping set up sorted only to realize your air bed is punctured. Without a puncture repair kit, this can cause you to have nowhere to rest which is a scenario that nobody wants to find themselves in. Although air mattresses puncture rarely, it is still something worth thinking about. A self-inflating sleeping pad is far less likely to puncture and will still ensure a good night's rest.

Air mattresses provide more comfort

Air Mattress

Air mattresses are comfier than a sleeping pad which is going to contribute to the overall quality of your rest. When it comes to a sleeping pad, you can still find comfortable models but they have far less air inside of them meaning you're more likely to feel the ground underneath you. 

An air mattress will last longer

Nobody wants to be replacing their camping gear every year, that's for sure. With an air mattress, you are more likely to get more usage out of it before having to replace it. They guarantee service life and that's exactly what you are looking for when it comes to choosing camping equipment, right? 

Sleeping pads don't come with extra accessories

When you buy an air mattress, oftentimes a pump is included too. This simply isn't the case with sleeping pads as you'll likely need to buy your own pump and pairing accessories to complete your sleeping setup.

Assembling a sleeping pad is more convenient

A self-inflating or cell foam sleeping pad is easy to carry and convenient to set up. You won't need to use a foot pump for hours and can have your bed set up in literally a matter of minutes. This makes a sleeping pad far more favorable for individuals such as hikers and backpackers who may need to settle down quickly at the end of the day with little fuss.

Sleeping Pad 2

As you can see both air mattresses and sleeping pad products come with their own pros and cons. There is no right or wrong choice when deciding which type of camping bed will suit your needs best. Think carefully about how often you'll be using the equipment and in what sort of context as this will help you come to a decision. You may also want to think about other aspects such as budget as well and how much use you will get out of the camping item. 

Sleeping foam pads and air beds: how to choose

There are many scenarios whereby you may be suited better to choosing a sleeping pad as opposed to an inflatable bed. The key thing to aim for is an optimum sleep system whereby you will experience warmth, insulation, and a comfortable night's rest. Below you will find advice for choosing sleeping pads for different types of camping trips inclusive of car camping and winter camping. 

Backpacking camping

Both self-inflating and air closed-cell foam sleeping pads make a great option for those that are traveling on the road. Lightweight and easy to set up, you won't have to worry about carrying any additional equipment to set up your camping bed. Both of these options offer variability in terms of durability, pad thickness, insulation, and weight meaning that you can choose a product based on your exact needs.

You can also invest in a multi-purpose chair kit which allows you to double your self-inflating or closed-cell pad into a comfy chair for lounging in too. 

Car Camping

Car camping can be lots of fun but not without a comfortable pad to sleep on at the end of the adventuring. If you're not limited too much by weight and size, an ideal choice would be a self-inflating pad or air mattress which will ensure that you can rest well. A pump will be required for the air pad option and you'll probably want to pair with pillows and a duvet too.

A self-inflating pad is going to require less fuss as no pump is required, though they're not often as comfortable as their airbed counterparts. 

Essentials backpacking

If you've decided to embark upon a bare-essentials-only backpacking trip, you'll require a pad for camping sleeping. As you will be carrying your belongings with you regularly, your best bet is to go for an ultralight air pad which will provide you with a place to set up and sleep at the end of the day (or whenever needed). Full-length air pad products won't even go noticed as part of your backpack equipment, and some self-inflating options offer extra comfort which is highly portable too. 


Have you still got some questions about sleeping pad vs air mattress decisions? If so, we have answered the most commonly asked questions below to provide more insight into which product could be the best option for your circumstances. 

Is it good to sleep on an air mattress?

Air mattresses can be extremely comfortable thanks to the inflatable air pockets that provide cushioning for the user. They can be a great camping bed and are suitable for use in all sorts of tents. Air mattresses will provide you with a familiar mattress-like feeling, though they do not offer the same levels of support as a standard mattress. Because of this, it is advised to only use an air mattress as and when needed rather than choose it as a permanent sleeping setup.

If you choose to use an air mattress over the long-term you will likely suffer from a bad back and restless nights! They are a great choice for a comfortable camping bed but shouldn't be used in place of a normal bed. Without proper support, your spine will not be aligned and stiffness will ensue. 

Which is better: an air mattress or memory foam?

When comparing memory foam vs air mattresses, there are stark differences between the two. Both an air mattress and a foam sleeping pad will provide are ideal beds camping-style, however, they shouldn't be used in replacement of a normal bed. An air mattress gives the sensation of weightlessness when in use which can be extremely comfortable for the person sleeping on it. In contrast, a memory foam pad conforms to the body's shape and spread your weight evenly across the area.

As a result of this, a self-inflating pad can support the body well at a low cost but is likely to fall behind when it comes to comfortable sleeping. Though this question largely comes down to preference, an air mattress is better in terms of sleep quality than a foam mattress. However, an air pad isn't going to be a good idea if you're limited on space for example in the case of car camping. Therefore, we advise you to think about both practicality and comfort at the same time. 

What is the best sleeping pad for side sleepers?

If you're a side sleeper, you may be speculating which type of sleeping pad is going to best for you. We recommend choosing a cell foam mattress as they provide a good level of support for the side of the body while ensuring that you are comfortable, No matter which side of your body that you sleep on, cell foam sleeping pads are filled with tiny pockets of air making it easy to roll over or stay in one side sleeping position throughout the night. 

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