The Right Sleeping Pad for Every Outdoor Adventure

4 Min. Read
The Right Sleeping Pad for Every Adventure

If the thought of sleeping on the ground is the only thing holding you back from truly enjoying a night outdoors and camping under the stars, fear not. There’s now a sleeping pad for every adventure. But don’t lose sleep over choosing which one you need. Take a look at the list below and sweet dreams.

The Backpacker or Kayaker

When a backpack or kayak is your tool for exploration, you’ll need a sleeping pad that is exceptionally lightweight and small. That’s why inflatable designs fit the bill. There are a number of quality brands on the market, but Thermarest remains the industry leader. Their NeoAir XLite, which runs from $129 to $199, weighs in at 12 oz. and packs down smaller than a Nalgene.

The Right Sleeping Pad for Every Adventure | Thermarest NeoAir XLite

The only drawback, like all inflatable pads, is that it’s fragile. You can forget about sitting on it around a campfire. One stray ember would ruin your night. It’s also relatively loud when you move around on it, but whatever drawbacks are well worth the fact that it weighs under a pound. It’s also surprisingly plush, so you can even sleep on your side without your hip digging into the ground.

The Rafter

The raft is your vehicle to wilderness luxury. You can bring all the goodies that you may otherwise leave at home. You don’t need to skimp on your sleeping pad, but you do need to consider the environment. You don’t want your sleeping pad to get wet, yet you don’t want to waste premium dry bag space with your sleeping pad. Enter the AIRE Landing Pad.

The Right Sleeping Pad for Every Adventure | AIRE Landing Pad

They’re made of high density foam and coated with a waterproof PVC and are practically indestructible. You can throw them anywhere on the ground late at night and pass out without a care. The only drawback is that they’re expensive (retail price is $169) and they do take up a lot of room. If everyone brings an AIRE Landing Pad, your boat is going to fill up quick. Once you invest you won’t regret it because a quality night’s sleep is, as they say, priceless.

The Canoeist

The canoe is the watercraft for purists. Perfecting the strokes to ferry around rocks and rapids is a physical form of art, and the consequence for failure is always significant. There’s not much margin for error. You need to evenly distribute weight throughout the boat, and space is limited. That’s why the Z Lite by Thermarest, which retails from $34, is such a great option.

The Right Sleeping Pad for Every Adventure | Thermarest ZLite

It folds like an accordion and is made of closed-cell foam so it doesn’t absorb water. This combo allows you to use it as a knee pad in the open cockpit. When approaching rapids, you can kneel down on the comfortable pad and navigate the whitewater. Once through, you just shake off the water and it’s dry enough to sleep on. At just 14 oz., the foam-only design is lightweight and incredibly durable. It doesn’t offer as much cushion for sleeping, however, so you’ll need to be selective about your tent site. Flat, forgiving ground will provide you and your Z-Lite all you need for a great night’s sleep.

The Car Camper

Here’s your invitation to bring everything. This is the domain of tent mansions, full kitchens, and the most comfortable sleeping set up you can imagine. You have two options that are equally attractive, but fit different situations. If you’re sleeping with a partner, there’s nothing more glorious than inflating an air mattress. The Coleman QuickBed is an American classic.

The Right Sleeping Pad for Every Adventure | Coleman Quickbed

At around $40 for a queen-size single-high airbed, it’s cheap and fills the entirety of your tent with plush comfort. If you really want to max out the comfort, splurge for the double-high version. It gives your tent the feeling of an inflatable jump house, and there’s nothing more comfortable for sleeping with two. If you’re flying solo, however, consider the cot. Throw an inexpensive inflatable pad on top and this elevated experience makes the tent an afterthought. You can set up directly beneath the stars, floating safely above the spiders and snakes, and sleep as soundly as a lone soldier. The other plus of both of these set ups is that they double as excellent options for the houseguest who wants to crash on your couch.

Top photo: Jake Sloop on Unsplash

Portrait of Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His articles have appeared in Outside magazine, The Oregonian, Montana Outdoors, and he has worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park.

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