Are Foam Camping Pads Comfortable?


Foam sleeping pads have been used for decades, but are there better options on the market? Sleeping pads play two very important roles. They get you up off the ground providing cushion and insulation. So, are foam camping pads comfortable?

Foam sleeping pads aren’t as comfortable as inflatable pads, but they do offer some padding from the ground. They’re affordable, waterproof, durable and offer additional insulation from the cold ground. I recommend combining a foam and inflatable sleeping pad for the most comfort.

Although I wouldn’t recommend using a foam sleeping pad on it’s own, they do work great underneath other sleeping pads. It’s not just about comfort! I’ll go over a few other reasons why you should consider purchasing a foam sleeping pad.

How Comfortable Are Foam Camping Pads?

Foam sleeping pads are comfortable, but not in the way you think. This might sound kind of crazy, but foam sleeping pads aren’t designed to cushion your body from the ground. Obviously, the foam provides some cushion from the hard ground, but that’s not it’s most important function!

At less than an inch thick, they don’t provide much cushioning. So why would you use one? A foam pad lifts your body off the ground and provides insulation from the ground. Think about your body temperature for a second.

At 91 °F your body will always be warmer than the ground. The earth will always draw heat away from your body. That’s fine in the summer, but you’ll freeze on chilly nights.

A foam sleeping pad provides insulation to keep you warm throughout the night. My Therm-a-Rest Foam Pad weighs less than a pound and provides a 2.0 R-Value. That’s enough insulation to take the chill out of the ground throughout most of the year.

For the best results, you’ll want to combine a foam and inflatable sleeping pad. You’ll get the high R-Value Insulation of the foam pad and padding from the inflatable pad. Keep reading below for tips on combining a foam and inflatable pad.

Foam Pads Are Extremely Durable

A foam sleeping pad is both inexpensive and extremely durable. That’s why they work so well with inflatable pads. They’re not all that comfortable when used by themselves, but it protects your expensive inflatable pad. You won’t have to worry about sticks/stones ripping through the bottom of your sleeping pad.

Which R-Value Is Right For Me?

The R-Value is one of the most important features to look at when choosing a foam sleeping pad. Generally speaking, you want to look for the highest R-Value pad you can find. Aim for a pad right around the 2 R-Value range. That should be good enough for 3-Season use when paired with an inflatable pad and sleeping bag.

Luckily foam sleeping pads are cheap so you won’t have to spend more than $30-40. I recommend the Therm-A-Rest Ridgerest Pad (2 R-Value), because it’s light durable and cheap. It’s good enough for summer and warmer spring/fall nights, but you’ll need additional insulation in colder weather.

  • Summer: 1-3 R-Value
  • 3-Season: 3-5 R-Value
  • Winter: 5+ R-Value

Most experts recommend an R-Value of 4.8 for 3-Season use, but 2-3 is generally acceptable. Always opt for a higher R-Value if you’re not limited on space, weight or price. Going with a high R-Value pad isn’t going to make you overheat.

Since everybody’s different, it’s hard to be decisive when discussing R-Values. It really depends on your price range and how much weight your willing to carry. In a perfect world you’d aim for a 5+ R-Value and carry both a foam and inflatable sleeping pad.

Backpackers usually want to save some weight by carrying a self inflating pad (traditional inflatable for ultralight).

Pair a Foam and Inflatable Sleeping Pad

Personally, I like to pair a foam pad with an inflatable sleeping pad (my favorite), but that can get expensive. You will generally spend $100-200 on an inflatable sleeping pad. REI makes an inflatable pad that’s reasonably priced, but it’s a little heavy.

You get the durability of a foam pad with the added insulation/padding of an inflatable. This is the only way to get your R-Value rating high enough to camp in the winter. The only downside to going this route is the price. Plan on spending around $30 for your closed foam pad and $100+ on the inflatable. You’re looking at close to $200 for a lightweight sleeping pad setup and another $150-300 on a winter bag.

Consider a Self Inflating Pad To Save Money (3-Season Use)

I recommend saving some money and using a self inflating pad for 3-Season use. You can protect it with a foam pad, but that’s usually not necessary. The Thermarest Self inflating Pad (3.1 R-Value) I use is so cheap that it’s not worth carrying an additional foam pad. Coleman’s Self Inflating pad is heavy but ridiculously cheap if you only plan on car camping.

You’ll need to spend some extra money to buy a self inflating pad for winter use. At that point you’re better off combining the foam pad and an inflatable. That way you can save some weight.

Different Pads For Different Uses

When choosing a sleeping pad, you need to consider the weight, price and R-Value. Warmth is by far the most important factor, but you don’t want to carry a heavy pad if that’s not necessary. The following chart should help you choose a sleeping pad.

ActivityPad TypeBenefits
Car campingFoam Paired With A Self-Inflatable Sleeping PadLots of cushioning, high R-Values and Protection against sticks/stones
Backpacking and General TouringAir Pad or Self-Inflating PadComfortable, Lightweight and High R-Value
Thru-HikingClosed-Cell Foam PadExtremely Durable and Lightweight
Winter CampingHigh R-Value Air/Self-Inflating PadGo For The Highest R-Value You Can Afford
Minimalist/UltralightUltralight Air PadLightweight with a High R-Value

Better For Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers are the only people that should be using a foam pad on their own. They tend to prefer firm mattresses so don’t mind sleeping on ridgid foam.

Back and side sleepers tend to be miserable with just a foam sleeping pad. You can’t get enough lumbar and side support to protect your back. You’re better off with a self-inflating sleeping pad. It won’t be that much more expensive and it’s filled with foam so you’ll have basically the same comfort if it gets damaged.

Don’t Buy an Open Cell Foam Pad

Be careful when buying a foam sleeping pad. Most camping stores sell a ridiculously cheap $5-10 foam pad that doesn’t have any waterproofing. Those are fine for car campers, but they can’t be attached to your pack. They’ll soak up water and you’ll end up carrying a heavy wet pad.

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