Foam Camping Pads’ Two Biggest Benefits

When it comes to camping, the most difficult part of a trip isn’t the hike in, hauling gear, or rubbing sticks together trying to start a fire. It’s the thing we most need, but take for granted: a good night’s sleep.

When people prep for their first camping trip, they often make the mistake of testing a sleeping bag on the floor of their living room, atop soft carpeting in a climate-controlled space. That’s far from the reality of camping, where you’ll have quite a different experience rolling out your sleeping bag on the floor of a tent, a few millimeters of plastic away from rocks, sticks, and dirt.

Since getting a full night’s sleep can define your enjoyment of a camping trip, a sleeping mat for camping ranks at the top of the list of most important camping supplies, right with clean water and shelter.

Neoprene can be cut in very thin sheets for camping rolls

Camping pads offer two big benefits that make them vital to an enjoyable camping experience. One is fairly obvious, while the other is more easily overlooked, but they are equally vital to enjoying a refreshing weekend in the great outdoors.

While people often equate a soft surface to comfort, the forgotten aspect of comfortable sleep is warmth, and the insulation benefits of a foam sleeping pad provide that, whether or not people realize how important it is.

Even on warm days, the ground will remain cooler than your body temperature, conducting heat away from you. This is nice after you’ve worked yourself into a lather, bounding over hills and fields under the hot sun, but eventually, you cool down, and during the night, that ground can draw enough heat from your body to create an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation.

A sleeping bag offers almost no thermal resistance when compressed against the ground by your body, hence why the same bag placed atop a warm, carpeted floor is so much toastier than the one in the woods. The ground will drain heat away from your body, and over the course of a whole night, you’ll become uncomfortable. Maintaining body temperature is a major safety issue, beyond simple comfort.

Fortunately, insulating foam pads are a poor conductor of heat, and when used under a sleeping bag, reduce the ability of the ground to draw heat away from you, keeping you warmer and more comfortable. This benefit is offered by both open and closed-cell foam camping pads, with open-cell being slightly more insulating, while closed-cell foam is non-absorbent, easier to clean, and typically thinner and more easily packed.

The ground isn’t the only thing you may need to insulate yourself from while camping. People who use inflatable mattresses are resting on a large heat sink, as the cool air in the bed will draw heat from the body. A layer of foam atop the mattress will keep you warm while enjoying the comfort and support of the bed. Cots and hammocks create a similar situation, with open-air under the sleeper. Again, foam pads help insulate, and are also flexible enough to be placed on these non-rigid surfaces. Warmth, while obviously important to comfort, is even more important to safety, making the insulating characteristics of foam pads incredibly beneficial. (Foam has even been used in DIY projects to make survival gear and clothing.)

Open-cell camping pads are warm and cushioning

Camping pads’ second benefit is a bit more obvious, but impossible to understate. Simply put, you will be more comfortable on soft foam than hard ground. Quite the revelation, huh?

The beds we sleep on today are much softer than whatever brush pile people pushed together thousands of years ago. Through no fault of our own, when we make the transition from bedrooms to bedrock, it isn’t likely to be a smooth switch, especially when it’s only for a couple of days.

With a camping pad, you can add a layer of cushion that gets you a little closer to what you’re used to at  home. Lumps, bumps, twigs, and rocks will be invisible until you lie down for the night, when at that point they become the hardest, sharpest things in the world. A thin, closed-cell foam sheet can help smooth out a rough surface, perfect for people who don’t have major comfort demands, but prefer to not sleep on sticks and stones. An open-cell pad on top of that can totally transform the experience into luxury, with its plush comfort. Using durable closed-cell foam to protect your body against the ground, and soft foam to comfort it, you’ll be snug and warm all night.

While they may be basic pieces of equipment, the benefits sleeping pads bring to the camping experience are not insignificant. If you want to enjoy your time away in the wild, you need to make sure you can get your rest, and camping pads are the best (and easiest) way to ensure that happens.

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2 Responses to “Foam Camping Pads’ Two Biggest Benefits”

  • David Horton says:

    I have severe back problems, and a hard mattress equals little sleep. Years ago when we camped, I bought a 4” open cell foam pad made from material we made automotive air cleaners from. This on top of a firm mattress gave me the most restful sleep. I would like to get another one like it. Is that possible?

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