Why You Should Pack a Sleeping Pad for RV Camping


Conner Lund

Favorite Trip

Backpacking Ozark Trail

Home Base

Bowling Green, KY

Favorite RV

Winnebago Revel

About Contributor

Conner Lund is a Technical Content Writer. He has both hands-on experience and real-world knowledge. He’s an avid outdoorsman: camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, hunting, and fishing are all things he enjoys that you could find him doing on any given weekend. He loves to travel and see new places. He does most of his exploring and camping out of his overlanding truck with a rooftop tent.

If the first item that every camper should have is a sleeping bag, then the second item is a sleeping pad. A sleeping pad goes hand in hand with a sleeping bag. It serves an important role in providing comfort and warmth. Plus, you can use these in far more situations than you might think.

Do You Need a Sleeping Pad for Camping?

woman fixing sleeping bag inside tent
Photo by Camping World

There are tons of different ways to camp. However, whether you’re tent camping, car camping, RV camping, or hammock camping, you’ll likely want to invest in a sleeping pad.

When sleeping on the ground, in a truck bed, or in the backseat of a car, a sleeping pad provides extra cushion, comfort, and insulation. It creates an extra layer between you, the sticks under your tent, the ridges in your truck bed, or the seatbelt buckles in your car. If you camp in early spring or late fall, it can get cold at night, and having extra insulation to keep you warm is very important. 

If you have a sleeping bag with a down fill, lying on a sleeping pad can also keep you warmer. This is because the fibers inside the bag are compressed when set against the ground, inhibiting their ability to trap heat. 

By adding cushion and insulation, a sleeping pad tremendously improves your chances of getting a good night’s sleep while camping. It can help you avoid waking up tired and sore after a long day of hiking or exploring the outdoors.

Do You Need a Sleeping Pad for Hammock Camping? 

camping tent and hammock at sunset
Photo Credit: Mvltcelik/Getty

Hammock camping offers more comfort than tent camping as you are not lying directly on the ground. Therefore, your need for a sleeping pad is reduced. However, using a sleeping pad with a camping hammock can help you enjoy a much warmer night. 

When you’re hanging in the air in a hammock, cold air underneath you can lead to an uncomfortable backside. No matter how much you roll over or curl up, there’s no escaping the cold. Some hammock campers employ an underquilt to remedy this issue, but a sleeping pad can also provide another layer of protection from wind and the cold, keeping you warm throughout the night.

Types of Sleeping Bag Pads

The three main types of sleeping bag pads are self-inflating, manual-inflating, and closed-cell foam. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Self-Inflating Pads

Self-inflating sleeping pad valve
Photo by Shutterstock

As the name suggests, self-inflating sleeping pads are designed to inflate on their own. You don’t have to carry a pump or give your lungs a workout every night. Once open, the integrated valve allows air to flow into the different chambers and fill the pad. These pads are lightweight and compact. However, they are the least affordable type of sleeping bag pad, on average. 

Manual Inflating Air Pads

Blowing air into sleeping pad
Photo by Shutterstock

As their name suggests, manual inflating sleeping pads require manual inflation, usually with a pump sack or by blowing air into the pad. Like self-inflating pads, manual inflating pads are also compact and lightweight. On average, they cost less than self-inflating pads but more than closed-cell foam pads.

Closed-Cell Foam Pads

Yoga mats used for camping
Photo by Shutterstock

The most durable type of sleeping pad is made with closed-cell foam. These are great if you’re on a budget, as they are the most cost-effective of the group. However, they can be bulky to store and don’t offer the comfort and warmth of self-inflating or manual inflating pads.

What is the Best Type of Sleeping Mat for Camping?

The best pad type will come down to how you’ll use it and the features you value most. 

If you’re on a budget and don’t want to worry about repairs, then closed-cell is the way to go.

If you want the most comfortable sleeping pad possible, you’ll want to choose either a self-inflating or manual-inflating camping sleeping pad. 

Remember that self-inflating and manual inflating allow you to adjust your comfort levels, whereas closed-cell is non-adjustable. My first sleeping pad was made of closed-cell foam, but I quickly upgraded to manual inflation soon after. I sometimes use both together when space is not an issue.

What is R-value for Sleeping Pads?

Holding inflatable sleeping pad
Photo by Klymit

Understanding R-value is very important. The rating indicates the effectiveness of the sleep pad in retaining body heat. It’s displayed on a scale from 1 to 10. The higher the number, the more heat the pad will retain.

When you sleep on the ground, your body loses precious heat to the ground if you don’t insulate yourself properly. Placing a sleeping pad between you and the ground can significantly improve your warmth throughout the night. The first time I went camping, I put my sleeping bag directly onto the ground of our tent, and I froze all night. The next time I went camping, I used a sleeping pad and stayed warm.

The best way to choose the correct R-value is to base it on the season you’ll be camping in.

Let’s look at some examples:

Hot Summer: Recommended R-value = 1

Late Spring/Early Fall: Recommended R-value = 1 or 2

Early Spring/Late Fall: Recommended R-value = 3 or 4

Cold Winter: Recommended R-value = 5+

It’s important to note that a higher value usually means a less compact and more expensive pad. If you’re using the pad inside a vehicle or RV, R-value is not as important, so you might get away with a lower rating. 

How To Choose an RV or Car Camping Sleeping Pad

These are some of the top criteria to use when comparing sleeping pad designs:


Car camping out of trunk
Photo by Shutterstock

Weight is another factor to consider when looking at sleeping pads. For some – long-distance backpackers –it’s everything. For others – RV and car campers – it’s less of a concern. It all comes down to what you’ll use the sleeping pad for and how you’ll transport it to your campsite. 

Weight is very important if you’re a long-distance backpacker because you want to minimize what you carry when you’re hiking all day. So, you’ll likely choose a lightweight pad. However, if you’re sleeping in a car or RV, the difference of a few ounces probably won’t cause you to exceed your vehicle’s cargo capacity. In general, lightweight sleeping pads are more expensive, so it’s important that you only choose a lightweight pad if you think you’re going to need it. 


Mummy and rectangular shape sleeping pads
Photo by Camping World

Two of the most common sleeping pad shapes are mummy and rectangular. The correct one for you should be based on your sleeping bag. If you have a mummy-style sleeping bag, you can use either the mummy-style or rectangular pad. You will want to use a rectangular-style pad if you have a rectangular-style bag. The only real benefit of a mummy-style sleeping pad is that it is lighter and more compact. We recommend the rectangular style for most applications.

Material and Water Resistance

Photo by Camping World

Sleeping pads are usually made from either foam or some type of polymer, such as nylon or polyester. Closed-cell sleeping pads are made from foam. Inflatable sleeping pads are made from nylon or polyester. 

They each have their pros and cons. Foam is the least water resistant, as it can hold and trap water. Nylon and polyester are much more water resistant than foam but are not completely waterproof unless a special coating is applied. 

Fortunately, you should not worry too much about water in a tent. Most of my experience with tent camping and water is condensation on the tent’s walls. There should not be much coming up from the ground, especially if you have a good footprint for your tent.


Regarding durability, foam is king. You really can’t beat a closed-cell foam sleeping pad if you’re concerned about durability. Compared to an inflatable pad, you don’t have any risk for punctures, and there’s no inflation valve that could break of malfunction halfway through a trip. 

If you own a self-inflating sleeping pad, the valve can go bad over time, A good indicator of this is excess time to inflate. Sometimes, manually filling the pad to avoid waiting can further damage the valve. 

That said, the terrain you camp in should factor into your choice. The rougher the ground, the more durable your sleeping pad should be. Generally, an inflating sleeping pad can last years if used cautiously on softer, friendlier terrain. A good tent and footprint, as well as following the manufacturer’s recommended inflation procedure, can help mitigate the risks of damage to an inflatable sleeping pad.

What Else Can I Use as a Sleeping Pad for Camping?

You may already have something you can use on your next camping trip as a sleeping pad. Let’s review some common sleeping pad alternatives.

These are great alternatives if you don’t have a sleeping pad. However, there are two major drawbacks: insulation and portability. Most of these are not easily portable, which is especially important if you are backpacking. As they are not designed for sleeping on top of, they also won’t have the comfort or temperature rating a traditional sleeping pad offers. 

How To Use a Sleeping Pad

Taking sleeping pad out of stuff sack
Photo by Klymit

A sleeping pad is very easy to use. Here’s the basic protocol: 

  1. Remove the sleeping pad from the stuff sack. 
  2. Find a suitable flat location to place the pad. If you’re using it on the ground, be sure there are no hard or sharp objects under the pad that could lead to punctures or discomfort. 
  3. Inflate the pad if necessary, using the method outlined in the owner’s manual. 
  4. Place your sleeping bag on the pad and crawl inside.

That said, every sleeping pad comes with instructions from the manufacturer. Read yours before unpackaging and setting it up to ensure you use it properly.

Can You Put a Sleeping Pad Inside a Sleeping Bag?

Most sleeping pads will fit inside a sleeping bag. However, that is certainly not the optimal way to use a sleeping pad. For your sleeping bag and pad to retain heat properly, the pad needs to be placed under the bag. Most sleeping pads are not made for direct contact with your skin, so it would also be rather uncomfortable. 

Considerations For RVers and Car Campers

Sleeping in back of car with sleeping bags
Photo by Shutterstock

Car camping is an excellent option if you don’t have an RV but still want to enjoy nature and the outdoors. Like an RV, car camping protects you from the elements and wildlife. It’s more economical and lets you go places your RV doesn’t fit.

However, there is one downside of car camping, and that’s space. If you have a small vehicle, you don’t have much room to stretch out or move around. If you have a larger vehicle, like an SUV, crossover, or truck, you should have no problem cozying up at night, so long as you don’t overpack.  

For solo campers, a single sleeping pad laid out in the hatch is an excellent option for comfort and warmth. If you’re with a partner or friend, a nice double-wide sleeping pad would make a great addition. For all you pickup truck owners, the bed is an excellent place to rest with a sleeping pad on warmer nights.

Trailer parked next to tent
Photo by Camping World

A sleeping pad is also a great addition to your RV. There are many uses for a sleeping pad when RVing. If you need to create more sleeping space inside, just plop down a sleeping pad anywhere you have extra floor space. They also add extra comfort to undesirable sleeping locations inside the RV, such as pull-out sofas, convertible dinettes, or bunk beds.

Sleeping pads are also great for adding comfort to the wooden bench seats of your campsite’s picnic table. They can provide added padding for your furry companion’s RV sleeping area. There are no limits on what a sleeping pad can be used for. If you keep one inside your RV, I guarantee you will find a need for it.

How To Care for a Sleeping Pad

sleeping pad inside tent
Photo by Camping World

This process is often overlooked when owning and caring for a sleeping pad. However, it’s vitally important to ensure its longevity. The correct way to clean your pad varies by type and manufacturer, so check your owner’s manual for care tips before proceeding. That said, here are some basic tips:


It’s important to let your pad air dry after each use to prevent mold and mildew growth. Moisture from your breath can get trapped inside an inflatable pad, so you need to let it air out before packing it away. Your pad could also get moisture on or inside from sweat and condensation.

We recommend placing your sleeping pad on a clothesline with the valve open (if applicable) out of direct sunlight to dry.


Like your bedding at home, you must wash your pad often to keep it clean. However, most sleeping pads are not machine washable. Instead, wash your sleeping pad by hand with water and a non-detergent soap. Some sleeping pads have certain coatings that help shed water, and you need to be sure not to remove these.

As not every sleeping pad is the same, we always recommend referring to the manufacturer’s recommendations on care.


Most manufacturers don’t recommend storing your sleeping pad in the stuff sack for extended periods. The reason for this is that you can damage the insulating properties of the pad with constant compression. The same goes for your sleeping bag.

We recommend placing your sleeping pad in a large trash bag so it does not take up too much space and is still somewhat organized.

Are Camping Sleeping Pads Worth It?

Car Camping
Image: Shutterstock

If you camp more than a few times a year, you’ll probably want to invest in a sleeping pad. If you camp in colder weather, such as early spring or late fall, the added warmth a sleeping pad offers can feel like a lifesaver in the middle of the night. There’s a sleeping pad for every budget, so don’t wait for another restless night at the campsite; wishing you invested in a pad sooner. 

Where Can You Find a Camping Sleeping Pad?

Our sleeping pad selection includes self-inflating pads for lightweight backpacking, closed-cell foam pads for car camping, and extra-large sleeping pads for overnight RV guests needing a comfortable space on the floor. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find options to suit your needs.

Most campers start out in a tent, a truck bed, or the back seat of a car. Like me, you might be one who loves a more rugged experience, but many eventually transition to RV camping for added luxury while still being able to explore the great outdoors with ease. 

Here are a few helpful resources if you’re curious about owning or renting an RV: 

Let us know your favorite sleeping pad and why in the comments below! 

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