Sleeping pads can certainly be big and bulky, and if not attached properly, they can get in the way of what would be an otherwise pleasant hike. Depending on what type of sleeping pad you use, you may be trying to figure out the best way to attach one to your pack.
Air pads and self-inflating pads should pack down small enough to fit nice and tight inside your backpack. Closed-cell foam pads are a bit more challenging, however, and generally need to be attached to the outside of your pack by attachment points, webbing, or straps.
Whichever one of these options you choose will mostly depend on the type of pack that you have. If your pack doesn’t have specific attachment points, webbing, or straps, then you can always use your own webbing and friction buckles to attach your pad.
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What Is A Sleeping Pad For Camping?
A sleeping pad, sometimes called a ground pad, essentially serves two very crucial purposes for maintaining your comfort and safety while camping. Its primary function is to maintain your body temperature and keep you from losing heat to the ground during the night.
There are three main factors that you will need to consider before selecting the sleeping pad that’s right for you: comfort, weight, and insulation. Sleeping pads use an “R-Value” to determine how resistant they are to transferring heat from your body into the ground. A sleeping pad will have more insulation if it has a higher number.
You should remember from science class that heat transfers. So without a sleeping pad, your body heat will transfer to the ground because the ground temperature is lower than yours. A sleeping bag alone does not provide enough insulation to prevent the transfer of heat.
A sleeping pad provides a barrier between you and the ground that will prevent loss of body heat, making you both warmer and more comfortable throughout the night. Sleeping pads come in three different varieties, and each has its own benefits and disadvantages. So you must first decide which type of sleeping pad to get.
3 Types Of Sleeping Pads
1. Air Pads
Air pads are an inflatable device that places air between you and the ground. It is lightweight and easily compacts for packing. Air pads provide insulation by having extra sheets and/or reflective layers between the exterior sides. You can adjust the firmness of an air pad by inflating or deflating the pad to your desired comfort level.
They are, unfortunately, easy to puncture, but most will come with an easy-to-use repair kit. Ideally, air pads minimize weight while maximizing comfort. Because of the type of material that air pads are made of, they can be noisy if you move around a lot in your sleep. This can be an annoyance for those who sleep lightly. Be sure to evaluate your air pad closely if this is a deterrent for you.
Air pads are also pretty narrow so people who have a tendency to sleep on their side may find that they are unable to fit their entire body on the ground pad. This may be uncomfortable for some and unnoticeable for others. It’s always a good idea to evaluate your sleeping pad before you purchase, and an even better idea to try it out at home before you take it out on your next excursion.
- Rips easily
- Can be noisy
- Challenging for side sleepers
2. Self-Inflating Pads
Sometimes called open-cell foam pads, self-inflatable pads provide both structure and insulation offering a variety of options. Their exterior is durable and rigid, while the interior is soft and provides great insulation. They are not as cheap as inflatable pads, but not overly expensive either.
They are bulkier and heavier than standard air pads, and equally prone to punctures. They provide slightly more comfort than air pads, but they are also heavier. If you’re mindful of your pack weight, then this may be a deal-breaker for you, and you may want to stick with the air pad.
Self-inflating air pads are made for both backpacking and camping, so be sure you grab the right one that you need. The self-inflating pads for backpacking can usually be folded and rolled for easy packability.
- More comfortable than air pads
- Good insulation rating
- Heavier than air pads
- Prone to punctures
- Not as compact as air pads
3. Closed Cell Foam Pads
These are the pads that you usually see rolled or folded and attached to the exterior of hiking packs. They use a dense foam that is very durable. Since there is no air involved, you don’t have to worry about punctures.
For sleeping, however, they are certainly not the most comfortable as they don’t offer much padding. These types of pads will also have to be strapped to the outside of the pack because they can’t be rolled and compacted. Some hikers choose to combine a foam pad with an air pad for added comfort and insulation.
- Very durable
- Must attach to pack
- Not very comfortable
Do You Need A Sleeping Pad For Camping?
You can go camping without a sleeping pad, but it’s really not recommended. It’s definitely not very comfortable, and you’re likely to get cold during the night. Car campers typically use a variety of alternatives to sleeping pads such as quilts, air mattresses, foam floor matting, and rugs.
You need to have some type of barrier between you and the ground not only for insulation but also for comfort. Otherwise, you’ll feel every pebble, twig, and divot underneath your tent floor. Likewise, as already mentioned, your body heat will transfer to the ground, likely giving you a very poor night’s rest, which is the last thing you need after a long day’s hike.
Why Weight Distribution Is Important For A Backpack
Weight distribution is a key component of a successful hiking expedition. Proper weight distribution not only helps you balance and stabilize, but it also helps you prevent injury. If you have too much weight up high, it has a tendency to propel you forwards or backward. By the same token, if you have too much weight too low on your back, this leads to back strain and injury.
There is plenty of evidence to show that if your pack weight isn’t proportioned just so, you’re more susceptible to injury. The most common of these include knee and ankle sprains, and soft tissue damage. In extreme cases, you could cause a significant enough injury to where you would be unable to hike out. This, in turn, could lead to a crisis situation.
You’ll find a lot of controversial information on the internet about how to correctly pack your backpack. Some will say pack heavier items on top so you are distributing the weight more evenly over the torso without putting too much strain on the lower back. Others will say pack the heavier things on the bottom so you don’t have too much weight on your back and shoulders.
The most factual answer lies somewhere in between and truly depends on the type of pack you have. Some packs are rather small and only run from your shoulders to your waist, while others are much larger and run from the top of your head to the bottom of your bum. Some packs have frames and some don’t. Instead of trying to figure out what to pack where, focus instead on how your body is designed.
How To Distribute Weight In A Backpack
There is no doubt that your core is the strongest part of your body, therefore you need to distribute the weight in your pack so that your hips and legs are supporting the bulk of the weight, not your lower back, and not your shoulders. You want to pack the heavy stuff closest to your body’s center of gravity.
Too low or too high places strain on the back. So what you really have to figure out is where your body’s center of gravity is in relation to your pack, and then pack the heavy stuff in that area. Depending on the size of your pack and your torso, this can be anywhere from the bottom to the middle area of your pack.
Another important factor of weight distribution is that it also helps you conserve energy and maximize efficiency, which in turn means you can cover more ground on any given day. When your pack isn’t loaded properly, it causes you to expend up to 5% more energy; and this makes you more prone to muscle fatigue and exhaustion, which in turn leads back to injuries.
Attaching Your Sleeping Pad To Your Backpack: Inside Or Outside?
If you have an air pad or a self-inflating pad specifically for backpacking, then you want to put those items on the inside of your pack. They usually fold up nice and compact so you shouldn’t have any issues fitting them inside. Occasionally, you may find a self-inflating pad that isn’t compact enough, and it will therefore need to be attached to the outside.
When placing pads inside your pack, most hikers tend to put their sleeping items towards the bottom of their pack simply because they won’t need access to them until it’s time to set up camp. Some even roll their pad in with their sleeping bag as a space-saving hack. The advantage to having your pad inside your pack is that it’s protected from the elements.
If you have a closed-cell foam pad or another type of ground pad that won’t fold tightly enough to fit inside your pack, then you’ll have to figure out a way to attach it externally. When placing a sleeping pad on the outside of the pack, a lot of hikers will place their pads inside a waterproof bag to keep them dry.
Where Should You Put Your Sleeping Pad On Your Backpack?
There’s no right or wrong answer as to where you should place your sleeping pad, and it largely depends on the pack itself. Some packs have attachment points located in specific areas. Other packs have specially designed webbing created for attaching external items.
Still, other packs have especially long straps for securing items. Regardless of the type of pack you have, most sleeping pads are attached horizontally at the top or the bottom of the pack. Alternatively, they can be placed vertically along the side of the pack.
If you hang your pad on the bottom of your pack, make sure that it isn’t hung so low as to be constantly bouncing off your legs. Makes sure it is nice and secure, and that it stays dry.
How Do You Attach A Sleeping Pad To Your Backpack?
How you attach your sleeping pad to your backpack largely depends on the amenities that your pack offers. Typically it’s done by way of internally sewn pack webbing, specifically designed attachment points, pack straps, or floating lids.
Depending on what circle you run in, some people call them daisy chains, some people call them MOLLE webbing, and some call them ALICE straps. They are all essentially the same thing and serve the same purpose. If your pack has the stitched looping that allows you to attach additional gear, then you can attach your pad to your pack using this stitched webbing.
Your ground pad may or may not have its own straps for folding or rolling. If so simply use a couple of carabiners by running them through your daisy chains and then clipping them to the straps on your ground pad so that your pad runs horizontally across the back or the bottom of the pack.
If your sleeping pad doesn’t come with its own straps, you can use parachute cord or bungee straps to bind your pad, and then attach it to your daisy chains that way.
Pack Straps Or Floating Lids
If you have single or double pack straps that run from the top of the pack to the bottom, you can slip the pad under the straps, and then tighten them down. This will affix your ground pad to the top of your backpack and hold it securely in place.
The same concept applies to a floating lid. It’s an extra, but separate, piece of material that connects to the four corners of your pack for holding external gear in place. Place the ground pad on top of your pack, place the floating lid on top of the pad, and then tighten down the straps to hold it in place.
Many hikers like to attach their pads vertically. Plenty of packs come with vertical attachment points for ground pads. One reason hikers prefer vertical attachment is because it’s more likely to keep the pad from snagging on things if you’re hiking through the brush. Others say it helps keep the weight of the pack centered.
If your pack doesn’t have vertical attachment points, you can use webbing and friction buckles to attach them to your pack. You can either attach it to the side of your pack or vertically across the center of your pack. Simply run your webbing around the pack and the pad, tighten it down and use the friction buckle to hold it in place.
There are a variety of ways you can attach a sleeping pad to your backpack, and you should consider both your backpack and sleeping pad type. You should also pay attention to how you attach your sleeping pad to your pack to minimize uneven weight distribution, which can lead to injury.