If you’re tossing and turning at night there’s probably something wrong with your sleeping pad setup. Inflatable and self-inflating sleeping pad should be very comfortable, but it doesn’t take much to mess them up. There’s a fine line between an overinflated and underinflated pad! How much air does it take to inflate a sleeping pad? How full should a sleeping pad be?
Try to fill your sleeping pad to 50-75% air capacity or whenever you’re butts barely above the ground. Most people overinflate their sleeping pads and end up rolling off in the middle of the night. You need to let some of that air out. The key is inflating your sleeping pad and slowly letting out air until it conforms to your body. Your hips and butt should dip down into the pad until you’re an inch or so off the ground.
There are lots of reasons why your sleeping pad could be uncomfortable, but over or underinflating your pad is one of the most common problems. In the rest of this post I’ll explain how to full a sleeping pad should be, and go over some of the common problems with over/under inflated pads. There’s no reason to be uncomfortable on a camping trip.
How Full Should A Sleeping Pad Be?
I was absolutely miserable when I first purchased an inflatable sleeping pad. I’d either be rolling off the pad all night or feel like I’m trying to stay on top of a balance beam all night. After going through a handful of sleeping pads with moderate success, I finally figured out the problem. I was overinflating my sleeping pad!
How does the sleeping pad in the picture above look to you? To an untrained eye it looks perfect, but it’s actually overinflated. A perfectly filled sleeping pad won’t look like there’s enough air in it. So how full should a sleeping pad be?
When you start blowing in air to inflate a sleeping pad try not to over do it. A sleeping pad that’s firm to the touch is overinflated. You’re aiming for anywhere between 50% and 75% full. The pad should look and feel slightly limp to the touch.
How much air you will need will depend on your body weight and personal preferences. I recommend overinflating your bag and slowly releasing air until the pad conforms to your body. The sleeping pad should feel like it’s hugging your body. Your hips and butt should dip a few inches into the pad and be slightly above the ground.
Adjusting The Air In Your Sleeping Pad To Fit Your Body
As I mentioned above, you should aim for 50-75 percent fill capacity, but how much air you need in will depend on your body weight, sleep position, and personal preferences. It’s easy to adjust the comfort of your pad! Just overfill the pad and briefly open up the valve to let a little air out. Your goal is to let the pad conform to your body.
It might seem counterintuitive, but smaller people will need more air to keep them off the ground. The weights concentrated in a narrow area so they sink right through an underinflated mat. Wider people will spread the weight out over a wider surface area and need less air.
The same problem happens with side sleepers. All their weight is concentrated in a narrow area and they sink right into the ground. Side sleepers will want to go up closer to 75% fill or more depending on your size. I’ve found that the most comfortable position is when your butt or side is almost touching the ground, but not quite hitting it. Sleeping pads are really comfortable once you find the sweet spot!
Troubleshooting Overinflated and Underinflated sleeping Pads
How much air you need depends on the way you sleep.
- Perfectly Inflated Sleeping Pad: A perfectly inflated sleeping pad will look like it needs more air. That’s why most people accidentally overinflate their sleeping pads. Your body should sink down into the pad without touching the ground. It should feel stable under you and not like you’re fighting to keep balance.
- Overinflated Sleeping Pad: An overinflated bag is much worse than an underinflated one. A sleeping pad that looks like it’s perfectly filled is probably overinflated. The pad will look great and you’ll be up off the ground, but you’ll feel wobbly. Your back feels like it’s constantly fighting to stay balanced. That either leads to you rolling off throughout the night or being sore in the morning. Purchasing a wider pad will also help with rolling problems.
- Underinflated Sleeping Pad: It’s easy to tell if your sleeping pad is underinflated. If you can feel the ground it needs more air. Add just enough air to get your butt or sides up off the ground.
Rolling Off Your Pad Doesn’t Always Mean It’s Overinflated!
Rolling off your sleeping pad in the middle of the night is usually the result of an over inflated sleeping pad, but there are a few other causes. Take a look at the size of your sleeping pad and judge the surface to get an idea of the grip.
Most standard sized sleeping pads are ridiculously narrow! A regular sized pad is usually 20″ wide, but you can get wider pads. I’m not the biggest guy in the world and my arms dangle off the sides of a regular sized sleeping pad. Even my Oversized Thermarest Neoair Xlite feels narrow at 25″. When I’m not worried about trail weight I carry the X-Large Thermarest Basecamp Pad which is a little bit wider at 30″.
Every sleeping pad is a little bit different and some of them feel slippery for some reason. It won’t be pretty, but you can fix that with a Tube of Seamgrip. Just make a few rows of dots across the pad paying special attention to the hip and torso area. You can also add a few dots to the bottom of your sleeping pad so it doesn’t slip on the tent floor.