Sleeping Pad Vs Air Mattress

You need nothing but the right gear to get quality sleep, whose advantages are in the public domain. While preparing for camping, however, it’s easy to get confused between sleeping pads and air mattresses.

Sleeping Pad Vs Air Mattress

This article (Sleeping Pad vs Air Mattress) is here to clear the doubt by outlining a clear comparison between the two. From the piece, you’ll never regret your choice between an air mattress and a sleeping pad. Here we go.

Here we go.

What’s a Sleeping Pad?

It’s a lightweight, thin pad engineered for thermal insulation and sufficient comfort from the hard ground while slumbering outdoors. More often than not, it’s used alongside sleeping bags.

The primary aim of sleeping pads is often to prevent your body from losing heat. Pads achieve this using air. Air is one of the most cost-effective and best insulators. Read on.

Sleepingo Camping Sleeping Pad


You’ll mostly meet the following types of sleeping pads.

Manually-Inflated Pads

These are more like miniature air mattresses. Just like their name suggests, you need to inflate them manually before achieving the ideal shape that deserves their name. One disadvantage associated with them is that air is lost via convection. However, some are material-filled to alleviate this effect.

Self-Inflating Pads

It’s easy to tell that there’s no need of adding air manually into these ones. Instead, they have open cells which trap air inside. An external valve also regulates the inflow and outflow of the air. Usually, it’s more useful for thermal insulation than the manually-inflated model above.

Closed-Cell Pads

They feature tiny air cells that are responsible for the premium insulation they offer. These ones are quite lightweight but a bit bulky as compared to the previous two.

What Is An Air Mattress?

Also popular as air beds, inflatable mattresses, and others, the air mattress needs air to fill up like the manually inflated pads. However, it needs more because of its large size. There’s nothing between the upper and lower membranes of an air mattress, hence the name.

While it offers quite a large, air-filled distance between the cold ground and your body, there’s always heat lost from your body through convection, the same way it happens with the manually-inflated types.

Most air mattresses are built using rubber, PVC, or plastic. While not in use, you can always fold (to reduce space consumption) and store them somewhere safe for the next night’s use.

EnerPlex Never-Leak Camping Series Twin Camping Airbed

The Comparison:


You already know that sleeping pads are mainly made for thermal insulation, especially the closed-cell types. They turn out to be so good at this. This is the reason they’re better at preventing heat loss from your body than air mattresses.

Even the inflated types are better at heat insulation than air mattresses because the amount of air trapped inside them is relatively less.

Air mattresses aren’t very much designed for insulation. They can easily lead to heat loss via air convention. Plus, the material at the top surface where the user sleeps is quite thin; it can further cause you to feel the cold that has traveled from the ground via the air inside the mattress.


It’s easy to judge that air mattresses feel more comfortable than sleeping pads. Their large surface area and thick air that’s trapped inside are the main reason they’re comfortable.

On the other hand, sleeping pads are relatively thin and smaller in size than air mattresses. You won’t get comfort from a flat pad that also restricts you from turning and tossing. So, pads are generally less comfortable than air mattresses.


Air mattresses turn out to be bulkier and heavier, leave alone more conspicuous than sleeping pads. Such features make it difficult to take the product with you as you go camping, backpacking, climbing the mountains, hiking, et cetera.

Sleeping pads are often thinner and more lightweight, hence, highly portable. You can easily use them alongside sleeping bags.

If you want to use air mattresses during camping, it should be during car camping in summer. Sleeping pads will suit any environment, including car camping. It prevents heat loss during winter and can also be used in summer. So, sleeping pads are more versatile than air mattresses.

The Cost

Surprisingly, sleeping pads are often pricier than air mattresses. It’s almost impossible to find a low-cost sleeping pad. Air mattresses, however, have a very wide range of prices. Cheaper ones can cost as low as $20, which saves you a lot at the moment of purchase, but not in the long run!

It’s easy to meet a low-quality air mattress than a sleeping pad. Even some of the most expensive air mattresses can disappoint you; a small hole and the mattress loses its value.

So, if you must choose one between the two that will stand the test of time, the sleeping pad wins.


Sleeping pads are more portable than air mattresses. Their lightweight and compact design warrants this. Despite these qualities, the pads are still foldable into smaller sizes.

Air mattresses will never be more portable than sleeping pads because of their heavy and bulky design. Even after deflation, they’re still bulkier than sleeping pads. This is the reason why they’re best for car camping.

Space Needs

Whether we’re talking about the that they demand while in use or when stored, air mattresses are still bulkier than sleeping pads. They take up more space, mostly due to their large surface area.

Sleeping pads take up small spaces, and that’s why even the backpackers love them. Mostly, you won’t manage to camp with an air mattress in the standard-sized tent. You’ll only manage this with the sleeping pads.

The Bottom Line

Both air mattresses and sleeping pads are great camping tools all the time. However, each of them has a perfect place to suit, with sleeping pads being more versatile than the air mattresses. Air mattresses are super comfortable and perfect for the summer while sleeping pads are great for all seasons.

If I’m asked about the best for camping between the two, I’d rather the sleeping pads. However, it’s wise to have both, so that you use each one when and how it’s supposed to be used.

Meanwhile, I believe you can now make the best choice between these two camping tools, especially after wrapping your head around them in our Sleeping Pad vs Air Mattress article above.

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