Last Updated: February 12, 2021

The R-Value Of Sleeping Pads: Why Is It Important?

Want to know more about R-values of sleeping pads? You’re definitely in the right place – this detailed guide will tell you everything you need to know about R-value of sleeping pads, as well as help you find the best one for you. 

Read on to learn more about the R-value of sleeping pads, what the numbers indicate and how you should choose the best option for you!

Why You Need A Sleeping Pad

Sleeping Pad

Sleeping pads are essential gear for people who frequently go camping. Especially for people who go hiking and camping year round, since their main purpose is to create a comfortable barrier between your body and the cold wet ground.

The obvious purpose of a sleeping pad is so that you can spend the night comfortably. A sleeping bag might be able to keep you warm enough, but it’s not thick or padded enough to keep you from feeling the cold hard ground. A great sleeping pad is the difference between a good night’s sleep and tossing and turning until the wee morning hours, and sometimes it’s even more important than a sleeping bag.

The other function of sleeping pads is insulation. All sleeping pads have an R-value rating, which determines what season it is best for. I will tell you a lot more details about that in the rest of this guide, including which sleeping pads are suitable for which seasons and how to choose the best one for you!

What Is R-Value?

Every sleeping pad has an R-value, which is a number that indicates how well an object can resist heat. And this measurement is not used just for sleeping pads but for all objects that can conduct heat. Thermal insulation of windows is also rated with an R-value, as well as housing insulation.

The higher the R-value, the better the sleeping pad is at resisting heat. And that’s actually a good thing – the sleeping pads with the highest R-values are best for camping in extreme colds because they will insulate your body well. Options that have low R-values are great for warm and mild weather, since they do not have high heat resistance.

When it comes to choosing the right sleeping pad for you, there are a lot of other factors you should consider. It’s not as simple as just get a pad that has the best heat resistance. Instead, you should know everything about the different R-values and their performance, and even consider things like your metabolism and how you respond to different temperatures. So, let’s talk about that!

Different R-Values And Their Uses

The R-value of a sleeping pad ranges from 1 to 8+. The lowest rating doesn’t do much in terms of insulating your body from the cold, so sleeping pads that have an R-value of 1-3 are best for summer camping trips. Obviously the lower values are better suited for people who sleep in tents and have warm sleeping bags, while R-values 2 and 3 are more appropriate if you sleep out in the open without a heavily insulated sleeping bags.

Pads with an R-value between 3 and 5 are considered three-season sleeping pads. They are mild enough that you can sleep on them during the summer without overheating, especially if you normally set up camp in high elevations where summer night are never really too warm. But these R-values can also get you through spring and fall without any major issues, as they are sufficiently warm even for the colder weather.

You might even be able to stay comfortable during a winter camping trip with an R-value 5 sleeping pad, but only if you’re not sleeping on snow. In that case, it’s best to go with the highest ratings of 7 or 8+ for the most comfortable experience.

When you’re spending the night outside in extreme colds, it’s crucial to do everything in your power to ensure your body stays heated throughout the night. Hypothermia and frostbite are something nobody wants to experience, especially not on a fun camping trip. Therefore, only sleeping pads with the highest R-values are suitable for these situations.

These pads are also considered four season sleeping pads since they are perfectly fine for winter. Even though they are very warm, it is unlikely that you will overheat or sweat during the summer unless you combine that sleeping pad with a ridiculously warm sleeping bag. A sleeping pad protect your body from the cold ground, but it doesn’t do a lot in terms of keeping you warm throughout the night – that’s the sleeping bag’s job.

How To Choose The Right Sleeping Pad For You?

Insulated Sleeping Pad

There’s a few different things you should consider when purchasing a sleeping pad. The first one is when you are most likely to use it. If you only go camping during the summer, you will be fine with something that has a lower R-value. If you’re more likely to use the pad throughout the year, then it’s best to pick up a pad that can work for multiple seasons. And if you’re a hardcore hiker/camper who isn’t afraid of spending the night outside in the middle of January, a great four season sleeping pad is the best option for you.

Other thing you should consider is the warmth of your existing sleeping bag. If you own a high end sleeping bag that’s insulated with 800 fill power goose down, you don’t actually need an R-8 sleeping pad – an R-6 will do just fine. But if your sleeping bag is not as high end, then it makes more sense to pick up a sleeping pad that has a higher heat resistance.

Additionally, you should also think about how warm your body usually gets and how it reacts to heat. I’m one of those people that is always cold when the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius and I prefer R-5 sleeping pads that I can use throughout the year – spending the night outside in the dead of winter is not something I’m interested in!

But if you’re not like that and you usually feel warm, you can get away with an R-6 sleeping pad as a four season option. And if you have an ultra warm sleeping bag, even an R-5 pad might do the job with snow on the ground.

There’s no such thing as a perfect sleeping pad because it’s a rather individual thing. But there is such a thing as the best sleeping pad for you and it’s not so difficult to figure out which one that is once you’ve considered all the important factors.

Pricing

Sleeping pads with lower R-values are generally the cheapest option. But the price also depends on how thick the sleeping pad is, whether or not it’s inflatable and just how well made it is. There are lots of high end sleeping pads with low R-values, which are specifically designed to provide you with all the comfort you need in your summer camping trips.

Then there are also the cheap $20 sleeping pads that are neither very comfortable or very warm. But they are decent options for people who rarely ever go camping and need a quick and cheap solution fast.

Our Top Picks

The priciest sleeping pads are the ones that have R-values of 6 or more. Those higher end sleeping pads also tend to feature sand other pricey materials, so it’s not surprising that their cost is quite high.

Top Products


The Best Sleeping Pads

Best Four Season Sleeping Pad

Exped DownMat XP 9 Insulted Sleeping Pad

Exped DownMat XP 9 Insulted Sleeping Pad, Black, Long Wide

The Exped sleeping pad is easily the best option if you want a warm, four season sleeping pad. With an R-value of 8 and 700 fill power down insulation, this sleeping pad is absolutely perfect for camping in cold winter weather. Also, this is an inflatable sleeping pad, which will take up very little space in your backpack.

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Best Low-End Sleeping Pad

Klymit Insulted Static V Sleeping Pad

KLYMIT INSULATED STATIC V Sleeping Pad, Lightweight, Outdoor Sleep Comfort for Backpacking, Best Gear for Cold Weather Camping, and Hiking, Inflatable Camping Mattress

The Klymit sleeping pad is a great three season option. With an R-value of 4.4, this sleeping pad is perfectly  fine for summer, spring and fall. And with a warm enough sleeping bag and a body that rarely gets cold, you might just be able to use it in the winter as well.

It’s worth noting that this is an inflatable sleeping pad, but it doesn’t automatically inflate. You will either have to use your mouth or carry a pump with you, and neither is the most convenient option. But it’s affordable enough that you won’t hear me complaining!

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Best Three Season Sleeping Pad

Venture 4Th Self Inflating Sleeping Pad

VENTURE 4TH Self Inflating Camping Pad - No Pump or Lung Power Required - Warm, Quiet and Supportive Camp Mattress - Sleeping Bag Air Mattress (Green/Gray)

The self-inflating sleeping pad from Venture 4th is another great three-season option. The R-value of the pad is 4, which is perfectly enough for most seasons apart from winter. Plus this sleeping pad packs down into a small carry pouch and it’s takes up very little space in your backpack. And it’s self-inflating, meaning you don’t have to carry a pump or waste precious breath to make it functional! On top of all that, it retails for a little under $40, making it one of the best affordable sleeping pads on the market.

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Best Summer Sleeping Pad

Powerlix Ultralight Sleeping Pad

POWERLIX Sleeping Pad – Ultralight Inflatable Sleeping Mat, Ultimate for Camping, Backpacking, Hiking – Airpad, Inflating Bag, Carry Bag, Repair Kit – Compact & Lightweight Air Mattress

If you want a sleeping pad that’s great for warm summer evenings, the option from Powerlix might work out for you. It has an R-value of 1.6, which is perfect for warm evenings under the starry sky.

This sleeping pad is also very comfortable and remarkably lightweight at only 1.32 lbs. It is inflatable and it packs down into a tiny pouch that takes up almost no space in your favorite bag. If you don’t need something for cold weather, this is certainly a great affordable option!

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