In this article we cover the differences between inflatable and foam sleeping pads. We are going to highlight the pros and cons of each, so you can quickly determine when each type of pad is best to use, or when you may want to consider both.
What is a Foam Sleeping Pad?
A foam sleeping pad is the most basic type of sleeping pad. It’s a flat, rectangular piece of foam that provides cushioning and insulation between your body and the ground. Usually these pads either fold up, or roll up for storage or strapping to a pack. It’s usually about 0.5 to 1.5 inches thick and comes in various sizes to accommodate different body types and tent sizes. Foam pads are lightweight and generally inexpensive.
Examples Of Foam Pads:
Two of the most popular foam pads on the market are:
One of these has the folding design, while another is a roll up design.
What is an Inflatable Sleeping Pad?
An inflatable sleeping pad is a lightweight and comfortable option for those looking for the best in terms of cushioning, pack size, and insulation. Inflatable sleeping pads are filled with air, either by mouth or using an integrated pump, making them thicker than foam pads once fully inflated. This provides more comfort on hard ground surfaces. In addition to being thicker, these pads can also be more expensive and heavier than a foam pad.
Examples Of Inflatable Pads:
Some of the best inflatable sleeping pads on the market include:
You can read our full guide on choosing the best inflatable sleeping pads for more information.
Inflatable Vs Foam Sleeping Pad Comparison Chart
|Inflatable Sleeping Pad||Foam Sleeping Pad|
|Weight||Lightweight, often between 0.5lbs – 1.0 lbs||Lightweight, but generally heavier than inflatable pads|
|Packability||Packability varies by model, but most easily pack down to fit in your backpack and are the size of water bottle or larger||Bulkier, but can be strapped on the outside of pack easily|
|Durability||Can be punctured and they do get leaks. Carrying a patch kit is recommended.||Pretty much invincible|
|Comfort||Comfort varies, but generally more comfortable than foam||Very firm|
|Warmth||Varies based on model. Summer – winter R values are all possible||Lower R-values than inflatable pads generally|
|Ease of use||Requires inflation, deflation, folding, rolling, or stuffing. More difficult than foam||Just unfold or unroll – doesn’t get easier. Usually packed on the outside of backpack|
|Price||Price varies. Quality pads are often $100-$200||Cheaper, often $45-$60 for the nicer foam options|
|Versatility||Usually not advised to use as a seat or cushion outside of sleeping||Because they are so durable, they can be used as seats or pads to lay directly on the ground while eating or resting|
What are hybrid sleeping pads?
Hybrid sleeping pads are a combination of a foam pad and an inflatable pad, typically with air chambers on the top and bottom separated by an internal layer of foam. These types of pads offer the comfort of an inflatable without sacrificing much in terms of pack size or weight.
Examples Of Hybrid Pads:
There are not a ton of products that are listed ad hybrid pads. They will be listed as inflatable pads, but those pads will also have internal foam chambers.
Here is one highly rated example: Nemo Flyer Sleeping Pad
Benefits of a Foam Sleeping Pad
• Lightweight and easy to transport
• Provides ample cushioning and insulation
• Doesn’t require inflation
Foam Sleeping Pad Cons:
• Not as comfortable as an inflatable pad
• Can be bulky when folded up or rolled up for transport or storage
• Doesn’t provide great insulation in cold weather
Benefits of an Inflatable Sleeping Pad
• Lightweight and packable
• Provides cushioning, comfort, and insulation
• Easy to inflate
• Can be customized for different sleeping positions
• Great insulation in cold weather
Inflatable Sleeping Pad Cons:
• Expensive compared to foam pads
• May require a pump or another tool to inflate fully
• Easier to puncture than foam pads
• Not as durable as foam pads
When to Use a Foam Sleeping Pad
The most common times to use a foam sleeping pad are:
- When needing to have an additional insulative layer for an inflatable pad. This adds warmth, gives backpackers a backup, and foam doubles as a seat that can be used at any time on the ground without worry.
- When trying to minimize the budget
When to Use an Inflatable Sleeping Pad
The most common times to use an inflatable sleeping pad are:
- When needing a lightweight and packable pad (backpacking trips & thru-hiking)
- When needing insulation on cooler nights
- When comfort is more important than cost
In conclusion, when it comes to choosing between a foam sleeping pad or an inflatable one, it really depends on your individual needs and preferences. Foam pads are lightweight, inexpensive and durable, but don’t add as much comfort as inflatable solutions. Inflatable pads provide more comfort, but are more expensive, require more effort to blow up and pack, and also aren’t as durable as foam pads.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about