How To Choose A Sleeping Pad


Sleep To Survive – Being Smart About Your Sleeping Arrangements

What are “the essentials”?  We keep hearing that word in the survival community so much that some of its meaning has been lost in the clutter.  So, let’s make it really simple – what does the human body need to function properly?  Water, food, sleep and the ability to maintain 98.6 degrees.  Eliminate the noise and this is what you’re left with.  Yet, ask yourself, “When was the last time I read an article about sleep in a SHTF situation?”  We like to be men’s men and talk scopes and knives, things you can eat in the forest, hunting, water purification systems…it’s just cooler, more Bear Grylls-esque.  And sleep is, well…sleep.  That’s what this article is all about – planning well, choosing the best sleeping pad or airbed for your money and staying alert when SHTF.


We have that inherent feeling that if the time came for us to stand and protect what we love we’d have no problem staying awake for as long as it takes and protecting our own.  Sure, we might stay awake in the face of calamity but in doing so, we might be unknowingly putting the very things we protect at risk.  So, let’s get to it.

Choosing A Sleeping Pad

Here, we’re not going to get pulled into the argument about whether your BOB should include a sleeping pad, we’re just going to “arm” you with knowledge and hopefully you will choose to agree that the answer is “YES” or becomes a yes at some point along the way. To understand how to choose the right sleeping pad we should begin with looking at the different types that are out there.

Types Of Sleeping Pads

Depending on how you look at it, you can either say that there are two or three types of sleeping pads.  You have the foam mats (closed-cell foam used), a regular inflatable pad and a subtype of the later called a self-inflating sleeping pad which is basically a combo of the previous two. Let’s get to know them and how they’d relate to our BOBs and scenarios.

Foam Sleeping Pads


These are the mats you see campers carrying around attached to the sides or under their backpacks.  They’re the cheapest and the lightest option, yet, used on their own they have very little to offer in terms of comfort. Opt for just a foam mat and you’ll feel every bump underneath, wherever you set up camp for the night.  In spite of being light, they can’t be deflated and that adds bulk. If you are bugging out in your van, that might not be an issue, but if you’re on foot and every inch counts, it is something to think about.

Best use: Combined with a regular sleeping pad.  The foam will protect the sleeping pad from punctures and the pad will provide comfort.

Regular Sleeping Pads (Inflatable Air Pads)


These have evolved a lot over the past decade and the prices followed.  When we say evolved we mean everything from materials, weight, construction, versatility…today, some of these pack to the size of a soda can.  The ultra-small or the ultra-light are not the ones a prepper should be especially concerned with. Our focus should be full size pads (shoulder’s width, full body length).  The difference between the two – the ones of regular shape and size and the ultra-light ones doesn’t justify the difference in the comfort and sleep quality.  See the review JJ did on the Klymit Static V2 Inflatable Sleeping Pad below!

Click here to watch on youtube:

Self-Inflatable Sleeping Pads


It was the early 70’s and John Boroughs had just been let go from Boeing.  Using open cell foam knee-mats for gardening, he noticed how the open cell foam tends to bounce back to its original shape when there’s no more pressure.  That moment changed the industry of sleeping pads forever.  Most people who come across these are certain that there is battery operated pump somewhere. There has to be, right?  Well, there isn’t. It’s all about the properties of the open-cell foam.  The way it works – to inflate the pad, you open the valve and the compressed foam opens the cell “pores” to suck the air in. To deflate it, you open the valve and squeeze the air out and close the valve. As simple as that.


Why it might be a good choice for your Bug Out Bag – with a regular air pad, you basically have a piece of plastic which, if punctured, becomes pretty much useless. Because of the foam in the self-inflating pads, even if punctured, the pad still offers some cushioning and remains usable.  The main issue – bulk, weight and change over time.  The air from the open-cell foam can never be completely pushed out so the pad is heavier and doesn’t pack as small as a regular air pad.  Over time, the open-cell foam tends to lose some of its properties and the pad doesn’t inflate as well as it used to.

The perplexing R-value (Insulation value)

There’s way too much confusion and fuss about the R-value of an air pad and how it relates to temperatures.  Let’s be frank and say that the companies are partially at fault for the confusion.  Some of them list R-values alone, some of them list temperature rating of a pad and some of them list both, but if you compare it across companies you realize that there’s isn’t a uniform and simple way to match R-value and temperature ratings.  That’s where the confusion stems from.  So, let’s make it right. Let’s answer a few simple questions about what R-value is, what it isn’t and how it relates to temperature ratings.

Let start strong, with a dirty little secret of the industry – the R-value (stands for Resistance to temperature changes) is a standard value, it has its mathematical formula but and it should be very simple comparing it across brands.  Here’s the catch – there’s no standard of how an R-value is measured.  In fact, let’s go a step further and say that we know for a fact that some of the companies don’t even measure the R-value of all their pads, they just make guesstimates based on the thickness of the materials and the pad itself.  So, it comes down to us using our brains to figure out what’s what.

So, here’s what we did. We compared R-values and temperature ratings across a dozen of brands and products to put together one simple approximative table that should give you good insight into what R-value means next time you see it listed alone on the fact sheet of a sleeping pad.


We can guess that you are as tired as we are of the all the “it-depends” style of information and guides out there so let’s be as specific as we can about this, the sweet spot of pads for a prepper will most likely be a pad with an R-value in a range of 3.5-4.5.  These are the pads that you’d call 4-season pads because they are the most versatile when it comes to temperatures they cover. It’s also where the biggest market demand is so the pads in this range, in our experience, offer the best value for money.

Summing It Up

In spite of what you might feel or think, it’s been scientifically proven that only one night of sleep deprivation seriously interferes with your abilities. Yet, somehow we choose to ignore it…and we kind of get away with it on our daily lives (after all, you can sit at a desk for 8 hours “running on fumes”).  But when the SHTF we need our best selves and a smart prepper knows that it’s not about being the strongest or having the best weapon. It’s about planning right to minimize your weaknesses and maximize your chances of survival.  Getting proper sleep should be at the top of any of those to-do lists, there’s no two ways about it.  If this guide helped in raising awareness of the fact, our work is done and we’ll sleep well tonight.

Stay smart, stay sharp!

Note: This has been a Guest post from James at 3Beds.Com