Increasing the R-Value of a sleeping pad is easier said than done. You can’t just wrap a blanket around your pad and hope for the best. It might help some, but you probably won’t notice. So, can I increase the R-Value on my sleeping pad?
You can’t increase the R-Value of a sleeping pad, but you can add additional insulation to increase the R-Value. Combining 2 sleeping pads is the best method to increase R-Value without spending a fortune. I recommend pairing a foam pad and an inflatable or self-inflating sleeping pad.
Keep reading to learn how to increase the R-Value of your sleeping pad. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to double the R-Value of your pad.
Can I Increase The R-Value On My Sleeping Pad?
Increasing your sleeping pads R-Value isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just throw on a few extra layers and call it a day. You’re basically left with three simple options. Either buy a higher R-Value sleeping pad, use a second pad to double up, or find an alternative way to increase insulation.
- Buy a High R-Value Pad: Buying a new high R-Value pad is the only option if you’re limited on weight. Save some money by sticking to a 5.5-6 R-Value pad. That’s the sweet spot where you can save money and still camp in 0°F+ weather.
- Stack Sleeping Pads: This is by far the best option for 4-Season camping. Combine a foam sleeping pad with an inflatable or self-inflating pad for a combined 5-6 R-Value. The Foam Thermarest Ridgerest Pad is a lightweight affordable option.
- Natural Padding: Use natural insulation layers to separate your body from the ground.
- Adjust Layers: A thicker sleeping bag and wearing additional layers to bed will help increase insulation. It won’t help a ton, but there will be some benefit.
- Side Sleeping: Sleeping on your side will reduce the contact area between your body and the cold ground.
What Sleeping Pad R-Value Do I Need?
It’s hard to give a one size fits all answer when recommending R-Values. It really depends on the type of year and temperatures you camp in. The following chart should help point you in the right direction.
|Weather||Warm/Hot||Cool (Spring/Fall)||Cold (Winter)||Extreme Cold|
|Expected Nighttime Temperature||Greater Than 50°F||32°-50°F||20°-32°F||0°-20°F|
|R-Value Range||Less Than 2 R-Value||2-4 R-Value||4-5.5 R-Value||5.5+ R-Value|
I usually aim for 2-3 R-Value for 3-Season use. You’ll be carrying a little extra weight in hot weather, but you can get away with using the same sleeping pad from spring-fall. Most of the mid-range foam, inflatable, and self-inflating sleeping pads will fall in the 2-3 range.
Foam pads usually top out at 2 and budget inflatable pads will be in the 2-3.5 range depending on their weight. My Therm-a-Rest Basecamp (6 R-Value) Self-Inflating Pad is about as cheap as you can get for cold weather pads. The only downside is it’s a little heavy compared to warm weather pads.
I recommend 2 budget sleeping pads if you’d like to save some money and weight in the summer. You’ll use a lightweight pad in the summer and 2 pads in the winter. I’ll go over a few options in the next section.
R-Values Don’t Linearly Increase
Remember that R-Value measures insulation not radiant heat. You can never add additional heat by increasing insulation. So you’re working your way towards 0 and will never actually get there (perfect insulation is impossible).
As the R-Value increases you start to run into diminishing returns. You get a little less than 50% drop as you go up 2 values. Look at the picture above and you’ll see a glaring problem. There’s not much of a benefit once you get above 6-8 R-Value. Extremely cold mountainous terrain is the only time you’d need to go above 8 R-Value.
Can a Sleeping Pads R Value Be Too High?
There’s only 2 reasons you may regret buying a high R-Value sleeping pad. High R-Value pads are very expensive and additional insulation adds extra weight to your pack. Rising up from R6 to R7 adds over 1lb of insulation with minimal insulation benefit. It gets even worse as you go up from there.
It doesn’t matter how high the temperature gets. Adding additional insulation will not make you hot at night. It will actually raise you up off the ground increasing comfort.
Stack Your Sleeping Pads
Personally, I think that stacking up sleeping pads is the best option for 99% of people. It adds some weight to your pack, but you’ll be able to use the same gear all year long. How do I pair multiple sleeping pads?
Your goal is to buy 2 sleeping pads with R-Values that add up to a combined 5-6 R-Value. Start with a cheap foam sleeping pad and add a lightweight inflatable or self-inflating pad. An inflatable is your lightest option, but you can get higher R-Values with self-inflating.
Start off by purchasing a cheap closed-cell foam sleeping pad. The foam pad should have an R-Value close to 2 and weigh 1lb or less. Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Foam Pad (2 R-Value) is a lightweight affordable option that’s perfect for most people. Strap the foam pad to the bottom of your pack and use it on the bottom of your sleep system to protect the inflatable pad.
I prefer using a self-inflating pad over inflatable, but I’m not worried about carrying a few extra oz. The 3.2 R-Value Thermarest trail scout pad is an affordable option and pairs perfectly with a foam pad. You’ll get a mid 5 R-Value that will get you down in the 0°-20°F temperature range. REI has a few other options that are in the $50-75 range. Spend more if you need to cut weight or plan on camping in less than 0°F weather.
Adjust Your Layering System
Remember that your sleeping pad does most of the work when protecting you from the cold ground, but there’s always room to improve your layering system. A warmer sleeping bag and extra sleeping clothes will help more than you think. The insulation will pack down a bit, but you’re still adding extra layers between your body and the ground.
There’s really no reason to go over everything there is to know about layering. Just make sure you’re set for cold temps and remember that it’s always best to wear extra layers. I usually plan for 15-20 degrees colder than expected. You can always remove layers if the weather gets too cold.
I prefer sleeping in merino wool base layers in the winter. Merino wool provides excellent insulation, transports moisture away from your body and has antibacterial properties. You can wear the same gear for 2-3 days straight before it starts to get funky.
Icebreaker is easily my favorite brand of merino wool base layers, but it can be pricey. You can usually find quality merino wool at Goodwill if you want to save some cash. Just check for rips and a quick smell to make sure it’s not funky. Merino wool might have antibacterial properties, but it can really start to stank if it’s not washed after a few days.
Use Natural Materials To Increase Insulation
Sometimes you need to get creative to keep yourself warm in freezing weather. That means working with natural materials to form a barrier between your body and the ground. Every little bit of insulation helps.
Start off by thinking about how other animals create bedding in the winter. They build a raised bed out of grass, leaves, branches, dead plants(ferns) and anything else they can find. Pile snow around your sides to cut down on the wind chill. Just make sure you have a waterproof barrier between you and anything that’s wet.
Build a raised bed roughly 6″ off the ground and fill it in with leaves and brush. Hard stuff goes on the bottom and soft leaves go up on top. Focus on the area under your back, because that has the largest surface area.
Try Sleeping On Your Side
This is one of those options that should only be used as a last resort. Try sleeping on your side to minimize surface area touching the ground. It will definitely help some, but increasing insulation is your best bet.
Will An Emergency Mylar Blanket Under My Pad Help?
Mylar Emergency blankets work by reflecting radiated body heat that would normally be dispersed into the environment. So they mainly keep you warm by preserving the heat that you’re already generating. Will an emergency blanket under my sleeping pad help keep me warm?
A mylar blanket might help a little, but it won’t be enough to notice. There wouldn’t be any body heat to trap so it would be as effective as sleeping on top of a sheet of plastic. It would work as a vapor barrier, but there are better options that would be far less noisy. You’d be better off using the emergency blanket on top of your sleeping bag if you’re truly freezing.