Can You Float On a Sleeping Pad?


I was a little shocked after buying my first inflatable sleeping pad. It looked and felt like a very expensive pool float. You quickly realize that it’s way more durable/comfortable, but it leaves you wondering a simple question. Can you float on a sleeping pad?

Yes you can float on an inflatable sleeping pad, but I don’t recommend it. They’re very expensive and won’t hold enough air to be comfortable floating on water. Foam and Self-Inflating pads also float, but they won’t support the weight of a typical adult.

Campers/backpackers are an innovative bunch. We all want to get the most out of our camping gear, but some ideas are best left on the drawing board. A sleeping pad might float, but I’ll explain a few of the reasons why it might not be a great idea.

Can You Float On A Sleeping Pad?

So can I use a Sleeping Pad as a float? Yes an inflatable sleeping pad will float on the water, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. A quick trip to your local Walmart or Dollar Store will get you a better float for like $5. Don’t try to use a foam or Self Inflating sleeping pad. Let me get into a few of the basics for a second.

  • Expensive: A quality self inflating sleeping pad usually costs $100-150. Do you really want to risk that kind of money when you can buy a pool float at the dollar store.
  • Durable: Inflatable sleeping pads are surprisingly durable and easy to patch. It would probably hold up in a pool, but floating down a river is risky. Your pad will eventually get stuck by a stick or drag on the bottoms. Is that a risk you’re willing to take.
  • Easy To Fill: This is both an advantage and disadvantage to sleeping pads. They’re designed to be filled without a pump. So they’re so much easier to inflate than your typical pool float.
  • Not Much Air: Inflatable pads don’t hold a lot of air. That’s why they’re so easy to fill. You don’t even need a pump to fill your bag. All it takes is a lightweight pump sack (these things).

I’ve heard of using pool floats as sleeping pads, but not the other way around. Never even thought about it until I went on a recent tubing trip at my local kayak livery. We were floating down a river and I saw a couple floating down the river on their Neoair Xlite sleeping pads.

So obviously you can float on a sleeping pad, but it might not be the best idea. Let me start off by saying floating on a sleeping pad is an expensive gamble. An inflatable sleeping pad is lighter and way more durable than your typical pool float, but it will definitely tear if you’re not careful. Pool floats are meant to take a little bit of abuse. Inflatable sleeping pads will tear easily.

With that being said, there’s one major difference. Inflatable pads are designed to be quick/easy to inflate so they don’t hold as much air. That’s great for sleeping and ease of use, but it doesn’t make the best pool float. You probably won’t be able to lay down lengthwise on the float, but you can still relax across the center.

Don’t Use a Foam Sleeping Pad

There are two main reasons to avoid using foam sleeping pads. A foam sleeping pad isn’t thick enough to support an adults weight, and the foam might absorb water(depends on the pad). Before tossing your pad in the pool I’ll explain why some pads absorb water.

Look at the Thermorest Ridgerest (my favorite foam pad) sleeping pad as a quick example. It uses a closed-cell design, which is more durable than typical foam and waterproof. Waterproofing is very important since foam pads are carried on the outside of your pack.

Now think of the typical military issued foam pad (these pads) you see all the time. These are the pads you see at every military surplus store and flea market. They use an open cell design, which makes them cheap/comfortable, but they’re not waterproof. Toss one of those pads in the water and you’ll be carrying 70lb of water soaked dead weight.

Self-Inflating Pads May Work

Self inflating sleeping pads may work as floats, but it depends on your body weight. Think about how self inflating sleeping pads work. The foam expands as you open the fill valve and allow air to be drawn into the pad. Top it off with a few breaths and you have a comfortable pad.

It will definitely float, but self inflating pads used open cell foam. So it will work, but you’re absolutely screwed if there’s ever a leak. You’ll end up with a water logged mess if there’s ever a leak.

Don’t Be Stupid!

This might seem obvious at this point, but I highly recommend just buying a pool float. You can always find a cheap pool float at your local Walmart or Sporting Goods Store. Storing a float might be a pain, but it will be a much better experience.

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