Finding the stamina to take on the outdoors and conquer it at your best means you need to be in fine shape: Mentally sharp, physically strong and well geared for the terrain. Feeling sleep deprived, groggy or experiencing aches and pains due to an uncomfortable sleeping situation from the previous night will not only hamper your performance but will also ruin the experience. Therefore finding the best sleeping pad for side sleepers is essential to your performance out on an excursion.
To combat this challenge, it is worthwhile investigating what the innovations of technology and equipment can offer the outdoorsman for a better sleep during expeditions into the wilderness.
The market has recently seen an enormous rise in what can be offered in sleeping pads. There exists a variety of styles of sleeping pads which will work for different intents and purposes. Within each style, there exist great quality products, and of course inferior products.
It is great to be armed with the knowledge of what to look for in a good sleeping pad before you tackle the retail world and hand over hard earned money in the hopes of getting a good night’s rest in return during camping trips.
Important Features in a Great Sleeping Pad
Different sleeping pads provide well for the purposes of different needs. Some are bulky, but comfortable, while some are minimalist and easy to carry with a heavy pack for a great distance. Some are ideal for family camping adventures and some have features that will insulate provide added warmth in icy conditions.
Therefore, ensuring that the sleeping pad you purchase is suited to your needs will ultimately decide whether you are happy with the product or not. Even a great sleeping pad can be terrible if it is used for purposes that are not catered for by its features. Take careful consideration of what is available before making a final purchase. Some of the considerations to keep in mind when selecting a sleeping pad include:
Knowing what your needs are
Where will you be using the sleeping pad; in the car, for camping, for winter overnights or something to provide added comfort on uneven surfaces?
Which Features you prefer
While some sleeping pads may embody more than one feature in a product, decide which ones would be most important to you. The most common features include size, insulation, cushioning and weight. These features can be chosen based on the previous point, which highlights what your needs are based on your intended purpose for the sleeping pad.
A great sleeping pad should be as lightweight as possible, and should also be able to fold up into quite a tight and compact accessory that adds minimal extra weight to your luggage, while also not taking up too much space.
It is a great idea to compare different sleeping different sleeping mats, and the most compact and light folded sleeping pad should be shortlisted as a possibility, as this is an important criterion to weigh into your buying decision.
Warm your Bones
The most important function of a sleeping pad is to help your body to retain its natural heat. The floor can be pretty icy at night and is able to conduct warmth away from the body even more effectively than air. Therefore, ensure that you select a sleeping mat that comes with a high R-Value.
An R-Value refers to how efficient the sleeping pad will be at helping your body to retain its heat by resisting the heat flow away from the body. While R-Values are not always a reliable measuring tool (due to there being little to no industry standards enforced onto the manufacturers), you can ensure that your sleeping bad is going to help you retain warmth by selecting a model that has decent insulation and will keep your body at least 2 inches above the ground.
The Right fits For You
Typically, back sleepers require a high R-Value to keep warm, as it is estimated that 40% of the body touches the ground if you are sleeping on your back. Side sleepers also require a higher R-Value, because their weight will compress the pad much more, reach the ground more easily.
Regardless of your sleeping position, a decent R-Value is essential if you are camping in cold conditions, as this will ultimately prevent body warmth from escaping and instead, insulation the warmth to stay near the body.
Types of sleeping pads
The sleeping pad market caters for a wide variety of needs and preferences. Most of the sleeping pads available are classed into three varieties:
Air sleeping pads are most effective for hiking, as they are the most lightweight variety, generally speaking. They require manual inflation, and it is recommended to use a pump to prevent moisture from the breath entering into the air pad, creating frost issues in cold conditions, and mold issues in warm climates.
Most air sleeping pads come with their own pump, or one can be bought separately, and they are often manufactured to inflate extremely fast with minimal effort. Unfortunately, they can be more prone to tears and punctures, but many manufacturers include repair kits, and their repairs are fairly easy to mend. If a lightweight option is best suited to your needs, the price for a sleeping pad will be greater for the lighter models.
These firmer sleeping pads are made using a dense foam containing small closed air cells. They are a great option for hikers as they are lightweight and will not require any extra space in a backpack. They are not prone to damage as their counterparts are, and are extremely competitive price-wise, proving to be an effective an inexpensive variety of sleeping pads.
They are less comfortable and provide less support than the other varieties, and their stiffness combined with their inability to become compact may provide a challenge to some for transportation on a hike.
Self-inflating sleeping pads combine the methods in which the other two varieties are manufactured, making use of both a closed cell and an air mechanism. Usually, they require the valve to be released and will then begin to inflate themselves. Some models may require a manual top-up for optimal comfort.
These models are an ideal answer to those seeking warmth and a good sized sleeping pad. Despite being heavier than air mattresses, they are extremely compact and convenient to set-up. They are also rather durable, although they can be prone to rips quite easily.
Fortunately, they are fairly easy to repair. This is a great variety for someone who does not mind a slightly heavier product in exchange for added comfort at night, and the convenience of effortless inflation and deflation.
Our Top Picks
Getting acquainted with these will help you to decide which is most comfortable and better suited to your purposes. It is always highly recommended to try out each variety of sleeping pads and deciding based on how the experience goes.
Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite Mattress
Weight: 2.6 pounds.
Dimensions: 15 x 8 x 9 inches
Specific features: A lightweight, compact sleeping pad that is designed for those who are hiking and camping. Made from die-cut foam, it truly manages to create a comfortable night’s sleep without hindering a hiker with extra weight during the day. For added convenience t is also self-inflating, and once inflated it spreads out over a wider space to create better space accommodation for the body.
Best use: Its durability and comfort make it suitable for car sleeping, as well as camping outdoors or in tents.
The Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite Mattress is clover-colored sleeping pad that comes with an R-Value of 3.4. This means it is not a full air mattress, but it is certainly suitable for side sleepers and provides a fair amount of support. While the manufacturer has made a fair effort at creating a compact design, it remains slightly bulky and is probably best strapped to the outside of a backpack, rather than being stored inside the backpack, demanding valuable space.
It is easy to set-up, being self-inflatable, and easy to stuff back into its stuff sack the next day. It is extremely comfortable and can even be used on the slightly rocky terrain.
This product has a nylon shells, which is technically somewhat water resistant. It is most likely better not to put this to the test, but it may be helpful should you be caught in an unexpected downpour before setting up camp. The manufacturer has included a stuff sack for easier storage.
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Sleeping Pad
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Dimensions: 10 x 5 x 5 inches
Specific features: Designed to keep you warm, with synthetic insulation and larger air pockets on the outsides to prevent you from rolling off. It also contains rip-stop technology along the top and bottom and ensures an extremely durable product. The manufacturer has also managed to make the product incredibly lightweight. The manufacturer has also very thoughtfully included a repair kit, as well as a stuff sack in the packaging for maximum convenience.
Best use: Moto-camping (which requires light packing), hikers who camp.
While the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Sleeping Pad is not self-inflatable, it is easy to inflate fast and comfortable to sleep on. The product does seem to be rather inclined to develop pinhole-sized leaks, so the repair kit that is included is really a necessity. This sleeping pad is best used on smooth, flat ground, as it does not deliver very well on rocky or uneven surfaces, due to the ridges becoming uncomfortable, which may be quite limiting.
Despite boasting that it makes use of synthetic insulation, this claim does not deliver too well, as the Big Agnes tends to allow the sleeper to become cold rather easily, particularly for people camping in the PNW area. This can probably be counteracted by taking a thermos blanket along too.
It rolls up into an extremely lightweight and compact item to carry with a backpack and therefore is a fantastic buy for anyone needing something convenient and light.
WACOOL Sleeping Pad
Weight: 2.6 pounds
Dimensions: 15 x 8 x 9 inches; 3.1 pounds
Specific features: This product is lightweight, as well as self-inflating for added convenience. It is durable, and the manufacturer claims it is also resistant to abrasion trauma. It also has a built in manually inflatable pillow for maximum comfort. In the package you will receive 1 Pad, 1 Storage Bag, and a repair kit that is compact and convenient to carry.
Best use: This sleeping pad is designed for the adventurer wishing to keep the load lightweight. Once inflated it stands 1 inch off the ground, allowing it to fold into an incredibly compact and tight bundle which can conveniently be carried in most backpacks. It is best suited to travelers who do not need too much protection against the cold but do need to keep the backpack as light as possible.
The WACOOL Sleeping Pad is great for hikers and campers who expect to cover a large area of ground each day and need to remain conscious of the weight on their backs. It provides a comfortable night’s rest, by making use of open-cell foam on the inside. Open-cell foam is a material that provides great insulation, so despite only being 1 inch off the ground, this sleeping pad should still provide much-needed warmth on chilly nights.
The Wacool Sleeping Pad also delivers a great service which hikers will appreciate more than most after a long day trekking over demanding outdoor terrain: they are self-inflating. Once the valve is opened and the sleeping pad spread out onto the ground, it will begin to self-inflate. It is important to ensure that the valve is properly sealed once the sleeping had finished inflating itself, to ensure that it retains the air, especially once a human’s body weight compresses it.
The manufacturer was also considerate enough to include a repair kit, which can be used to repairs small tears and abrasions while the user is out in the field with it.
OutdoorsmanLab Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Weight: 9.6 ounces
Dimensions: 73 x 21.6 x 2.2 inches
Specific features: Probably the most lightweight product on the market in its category, the manufacturer is specifically catering for those in need of compact and easy to carry. This product is also extremely durable and sports a rip-stop Nylon fabric with a TPU coating to ensure that their durability claims deliver on their promises.
Best use: Military, backpacking, paddling.
The OutdoorsmanLab Ultralight Sleeping Pad has a patent that is still pending, but with such a superbly designed sleeping pad, it is hardly surprising that the manufacturer would patent their unique design. When it is packed, it becomes smaller than an average water bottle, and much lighter too. It is specially designed this way to cater for men in the military or backpackers who will be hiking for days on end.
The materials used to make this sleeping pad make it uniquely tough too, meaning it should last for a good number of years, while also providing comfort and peaceful rest in the outdoors. It is also designed with convenience in mind, reaching its full inflation level within a mere 10-15 breath, and deflates within a matter of seconds. Once again, this proves it to be extremely effective for use in the military, where time management is of the essence.
While it can probably hold almost any person’s weight, it may be constraining in its size, being somewhat narrow. For this reason, it is important to check the sizing before making a purchase, as the manufacturer does offer various size selections.
Airline Sleeping Pad
Weight: 1.8 pounds
Dimensions: Long (78 x 24 x 3.5″) & Regular(72 x 20 x 3.5″)
Specific features: Comes with a pump to assist with manual inflation, makes use of an air tube system allowing the user to choose how much air they wish to have in order to provide optimal comfort. It is durable and is made from diamond rip stop materials to ensure that it can serve you well outdoors in rough terrain.
Best use: Camping, backpacking, hiking
The Airline Sleeping Pad offers high claims in comfort, promising adjustability in outdoor bedding, allowing the user to choose their own optimal position for good sleep.
Possible challenges faced when using this product include rolling off, as it does not contain any side protection from the pockets, and is incredibly narrow.
The manufacturer takes into consideration that most people will already be physically fatigued by the time they are ready to set up camp and prepare for bedtime, and therefore they have included an air pump to assist in easier inflation of the sleeping pad. The manufacturer does not offer an R-Value for this product, and it does not seem to offer much in terms of insulation, therefore it is best used during the warmer months when the body can remain warmer easily.
Due to the great comfort of this product, is ideal for a side sleeper as it is able to keep the body elevated off the floor in any position when it is fully inflated.
Klymit Static V Lightweight Sleeping Pad
Weight: 1.25 pounds
Dimensions: 4 x 9.25 x 4 inches
Specific features: Folds into a small package that is light and easy to carry. It has support side rails to help the user sleep comfortable without rolling off. It is great for side sleepers, ad very comfortable. Designed to last a lifetime, it comes with a lifelong warranty, as well as a stuff sack and a repair kit.
Best use: Hammock, cot, ground sleeping and camping.
The Klymit Static V Lightweight Sleeping Pad blows up manually within 10-15 breaths, so the user will save space and weight by not needing to carry a pump, and boasts equal convenience in the deflating and packing up the process. It is great for use on the ground or even in muddy conditions, but for harder or rockier terrain, it will not fair too well.
The product does lack slightly in durability as the materials are not designed to withstand tough and uneven surfaces. It is probably best used inside a tent. The Klymit has a design that allows a bit more leeway, which is easier on the back and can mimic a real bed slightly more accurately than a lot of other sleeping pads.
Premium Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Dimensions: 15.9 x 9.8 x 6.5 inches
Specific features: Lightweight foam padding and superior insulation
Best use: Hiking, backpacking and outdoor wanderers.
The Premium Self Inflating Sleeping Pad is warm and comfortable due to a thick polyester outer and padding, with an R-Value of 4. The manufacturers have taken the time to engineer a product that focuses on sustainability and sources the product’s materials from ethical manufacturers. The sleeping pad is mostly self-inflatable, requiring the user to remove the compression strap and open the valve to stimulate the sleeping pad to inflate itself effortlessly.
To gain further sturdiness, a few extra breaths can be added before the valve is replaced, and the sleeping pad is ready to be used. This product may pack a little bit of extra weight, but it ideal for anyone who requires the most comfortable sleep, and caters for side sleepers extremely well.
The manufacturer’s claims that the product will provide great insulation is delivered as promised, and this product is definitely suitable to be used in snowy or icy conditions, provided adequate sleeping bags are used too. It performs as well, however it can be tricky to get packed up again, especially if there are time constraints. It is recommended to practice a few times at home until it can be packed up easily.
Founded by environmental scientists who are out in the field constantly and using their own product, it offers you a sustainably made sleeping pad manufactured using ethical principles and materials that are effective in its purposes.
Fox Outfitters Ultralight Series Camp Pad
Weight: 3 pounds
Dimensions: Long (25 x 77 x 1.5″) & Regular(20 x 72 x 1.5″)
Specific features: Lightweight and durable: it is made from an internal polyurethane to ensure that it resists tears and abrasions. It comes in two sizes to accommodate most people. The manufacturers have added to the comfort factor with open cell technology, and the product is easy to inflate.
Best use: Hiking and the long size is also suitable for tent camping.
Although the Fox Outfitters Ultralight Series Camp Pad has a design that is small and narrow much like some of the other sleeping pads, it is great for using outdoors provided the long size is purchased, as the regular is most likely only going to be suitable for a child.
The sleeping pad is self-inflating, but the ability of the fox Outfitter to hold air may decrease after a number of uses.
It does provide some insulation and protection from the cold, but this is not the ideal product to use in winter months or excessive cold weather such as snow or icy conditions.
There exists a wonderful variety of sleeping pads that are all great for side sleepers in the outdoors. There is no longer any reason for an outdoorsman to expect anything other than optimal sleep and night time comfort.
Armed with knowing what kind of terrain you will be facing, how heavy your pack will be, and what the weather conditions will be are all part of knowing exactly how to choose your sleeping pad. Trying more than one model can also be incredibly helpful, as different body types will prefer different levels of inflation and different materials. A product with lots of positive reviews may not be as comfortable for someone as one that has fewer reviews.
Have you slept on something super comfortable outdoors recently? Or super awful? Tell us about it and the spread the word by filling your story into the comment section below!