Nothing matches the fun and adventure of backpacking; the fun of exploring the backcountry of this great country and taking in all of the gorgeous flora and fauna it offers.
One of the keys to a successful backpacking adventure is a pack that is loaded up correctly and thoroughly, with all the gear one might want and need for their trip loaded up in such a way to facilitate easy travel along the trail.
One piece of that gear that can often cause a packing dilemma is the much-needed sleeping pad—the piece of equipment that lies under one’s sleeping bag to provide both a moisture-free and comfortable night’s sleep.
To help you with this task, below we will briefly define the sleeping pad and the different forms it takes, highlight its many benefits and show you several different ways to attach that sleeping pad to your specific type of backpack.
What Is A Sleeping Pad?
A sleeping pad is an accessory used by campers and backpackers to provide extra comfort and insulation as they sleep within their tent—an accessory that also provides a moisture barrier between the ground and one’s sleeping bag.
A sleeping pad is roughly the same size of a standard sleeping bag, albeit slightly wider and longer, and typically measures between one-quarter inch to one-half inch in thickness. The sleeping pad is known by a number of alternate names, including sleeping mat, bed roll, ground pad and thermal pad.
There are essentially three types of sleeping pads, including air sleeping pads, self-inflating pads, and foam pads:
- Air sleeping pads (blow-up). Air sleeping pads are blown up by the user prior to use. They come in a variety of types, sizes and colors.
- Self-inflating pads. Self-inflating pads are essentially a combination of the air sleeping pads and foam sleeping pads.
- Foam sleeping pads. Foam sleeping pads are comprised of dense foam that is filled with a series of tiny closed air cells. These types of pads are typically “rolled up or folded in a Z-shaped formation.”
The Benefits of a Sleeping Pad
As we have mentioned very briefly at the outset of this article, a sleeping pad offers many benefits to the user. Chief among these benefits are:
- A sleeping pad offers comfort. Most people rarely use the words camping and comfort in conjunction with each other. After all, camping offers us a chance to live outside our comfort zones; to test our bodies and minds. That does not mean, however, that we would should sacrifice all comfort. Despite having a thickness that is often less than one inch, a sleeping pad can make one’s sleeping area measurably more comfortable. Instead of placing your sleeping bag directly on the cold and rocky floor of the tent, you can layer your sleeping area with a thin, cushioned sleeping pad to help absorb some of the natural rockiness.
- A sleeping pad provides insulation. Camping can be a cold experience. In fact, depending on where you camp and at what time of year, camping can be an absolute frigid experience. Fortunately, a sleeping pad provides thermal insulation that prevents the cold of the ground from permeating your sleeping bag. It absorbs that cold and retains it, essentially blocking it from reaching you. This is perhaps the greatest benefit of a sleeping pad and the reason it is so essential for all campers and backpackers.
- A sleeping pad provides a moisture barrier. A sleeping pad acts as a go-between between the ground and your sleeping bag. As such, it can prevent you from getting wet in those instances when rain and snow might leak into your tent. This benefit cannot be ignored, as hypothermia is one of the biggest dangers faced by campers who choose to brave the chilly temperatures and inclement weather.
Attaching a Sleeping Pad to Your Backpack
Other than your sleeping bag and perhaps your tent, the sleeping pad is, unfortunately, one of the bulkier pieces of camping gear you will need to attach to your backpack.
How you accomplish this task will depend largely on what type of backpack you have: a backpack with an internal frame or a backpack with an external frame.
Attaching a Sleeping Pad to an Internal-Frame Backpack
If your backpack has an internal frame—a frame that is covered and enclosed by the backpack itself—attaching your sleeping pad to that backpack is actually quite simple. In this case, you simply need to roll or fold your sleeping pad into the smallest size you can achieve, and then tie up that sleeping pad so that it holds the desired form.
Then, you simply place the sleeping pad within the backpack, preferably near the very bottom of the pack.
A sleeping pad that is packed within the backpack is always preferable to one that is attached on the outside of the backpack. Why?
Because this way, you can ensure that the sleeping pad remains dry and protected. Since the purpose of the sleeping pad is to protect you from the cold and moisture, as well as to provide you with an extra layer of comfort, keeping that sleeping pad dry and protected makes all the sense in the world.
Additionally, when the sleeping pad is contained within the interior of the backpack, you will not have to worry about snagging the sleeping pad on any trees or thickets. A snag on a sleeping pad can be seriously detrimental to the effectiveness of this device, particularly those that are air-based.
One snag to one of these types of sleeping pads and the ability to use it as intended may be destroyed.
It’s important that you pack the sleeping pad near the bottom of the backpack. Not only will this make it easier to carry that backpack, it will also save the top portion of the backpack for items that may need to be accessed often during a daily hike, such as water, snacks, sunscreen and more.
Attaching a Backpack to an External-Frame Backpack
External frame backpacks usually have rails and a bottom rack made to accommodate items such as sleeping bags and sleeping pads. To attach a sleeping pad to one of these types of backpacks, you will first want to roll or fold that sleeping pad in the same way you did before.
Next, place the sleeping pad directly above the sleeping bag on the backpack’s frame and, using some type of rope, cordage or a bungee cord, tie the sleeping pad tightly to both sides of the frame.
When tying off the sleeping pad to the backpack, make sure it is fastened very securely. This will ensure that the sleeping pad will not come dislodged and will decrease the odds of encountering a snag as you backpack to your ultimate camping destination.