There are several different types of sleeping pads, all of which share the goal of providing a barrier between you and the ground and adding comfort in a camping or camping-like situation. Self-inflating sleeping pads are just one type of sleeping pad that does this.

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Unlike a regular sleeping pad, a self-inflating pad borrows the concept of an air mattress to add comfort without bulk. As a result, the best way to describe a self-inflating sleeping pad is to imagine a sponge on top of an air pocket with a fabric covering. It works when the sponge (aka a thin foam mattress) sucks in air, inflating the air pocket, and it can be compressed by simply squeezing the air out of the sponge. Since there is no need for air pumps or electricity, a self-inflating sleeping pad is perfect for camping or backpacking trips.

Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads— What to Consider

Valve Type: In order for a self-inflating sleeping pad to inflate and deflate, there needs to be a controlled way for air to get in and out—this is the job of the valve. Generally, self-inflating sleeping pads have either one valve that inflates and deflates the pad or two valves, one for inflating and one for deflating. Valves usually work by twisting a mechanism that allows air to flow, but many of them also allow for manual inflation. So, if the pad doesn’t fully inflate on its own, you can add a few puffs of air to help it expand completely. Usually you will find the valves located on a corner, or corners, of the sleeping pad.

Durability: Since sleeping pads will often be placed on rough terrain, durability is a major factor to consider if you want to be able to use your sleeping pad multiple times. Even when placing it on the tent floor, there is a high potential for punctures or rips that could ruin the pad. Because of this, you will want to find a sleeping pad with a durable outer shell. A term that outdoor enthusiasts use for this is denier, which refers to the thickness of fabric. As you can imagine, the higher the denier, the thicker and more durable the fabric will be, but this could also mean more weight. The goal is to find a balance between durability and weight that meets your needs. But, if you are using your sleeping pad on a cot or surface other than the ground, durability and denier may not be as important to you.

Insulation & Thickness: Part of a sleeping pad’s job is to provide a barrier between you and the surface you are sleeping on, which could be the cold, hard ground. Because of this, you will want a sleeping pad that is thick enough and insulated well enough to keep the cold from the ground away from you while you sleep.

The overall thickness of a self-inflating sleeping pad depends on the height of the foam pad plus the amount of air used to inflate it. You will find that most of these pads are 3 inches thick or less when fully inflated. If you are looking for a lighter pad, you could find one with less foam and more space for air, while a heavyweight pad would be made up of more foam than air.

Since self-inflating sleeping pads need to be able to draw air in on their own, they are insulated with open cell foam, which closely resembles, and works like, a sponge. Luckily, open cell foam is a better insulator than closed cell foam (i.e. a memory foam mattress), so it will do a better job blocking cool air from the ground. An easy way to tell how well the pad insulates is to look at its R-value; the higher the R-value, the warmer you will be. Usually an R-value of 3 is for general purposes, but you should look for an R-value of 5 or higher for particularly cold temperatures.  

Size & Shape: Self-inflating sleeping pads are usually either rectangular or mummy-shaped, which is basically a narrower rectangle with rounded corners. But, they do come in many different lengths and widths. Be sure to find a sleeping pad that, first, accommodates your body, and second, matches up with the sleeping bag, cot, or tent you will be using with it. If your sleeping pad is too short or narrow for you, it won’t be able to provide enough comfort or insulation. Another point you may want to consider is how much weight the sleeping pad can hold without losing air. Similarly, a sleeping pad that is a bad fit for the rest of your equipment won’t be able to meet your needs.

Comfort: Comfort is one of the main reasons campers purchase sleeping pads. Not only do sleeping pads add comfort by keeping you warmer, but they are also able to mask the painful imperfections of the terrain you are sleeping on. Some self-inflating sleeping pads have specialized cell designs to address individual preferences, while others provide more comfort by using thicker foam pads inside. Additionally, you can control the amount of air your sleeping pad takes in, which allows you to customize the comfort level. Some campers have found that sleeping on your back while on an inflated pad can help distribute your weight, which also adds comfort. In the end, comfort is a matter of your personal taste.

What Are the Top Five Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads?

Here is a summary of the top five self-inflating sleeping pads, each offering a unique combination of desirable features. All of these products are highly rated, and sleep tested.

TNH Outdoors Self Inflating Sleeping Pad

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The TNH Outdoors Self Inflating Sleeping Pad has a mummy shape and is 1.5 inches thick to mask any bumps in the terrain you’ll be sleeping on. It comes equipped with a 500 series pneumatic valve that twists to open and close, or allows you to inflate the pad manually, and a 75D polyester out shell that is resistant to punctures and tearing. This sleeping pad rolls up into its compact carrying sack for easy transport on camping trips. TNH Outdoors offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, as well as discounts when purchasing 2 or more of their products together.

Pros:

  • Great value for the price
  • Easy to roll back into its carrying sack
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to inflate

Cons:

  • May have to help it fully expand with manual inflation

Freeland Camping Sleeping Pad

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The Freeland Camping Sleeping Pad is self-inflating and comes with an attached pillow, compression straps, and a carrying sack. It has a rectangular design that measures 76” x 24.8”, and it is available in four colors. This sleeping pad is 1.5 inches thick when inflated, and it is made from open-cell foam and 190T polyester pongee fabric. It is equipped with dual no-leak valves, and it is designed to attach to other mats for group camping. The purchase of this sleeping pad comes with one patch kit and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and small for carrying
  • Comfortable and supportive
  • Includes an attached pillow

Cons:

  • May have to help it fully expand with manual inflation

Lightspeed Outdoor XL Super Plush FlexForm Premium Self-Inflating Sleep and Camp Pad

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The Lightspeed pad has a rectangular shape that measures 77” x 30” and it is 3” thick. It has an R-value of 9.66, which will stay warm in extremely cold temperatures. This pad is built with 4-way stretch polyester and soft foam that hugs your body, plus it has an integrated pillow. It is equipped with dual valves for inflation and deflation and comes with a carrying sack and compression bands. Finally, it is available in teal and dark blue.

Pros:

  • Very comfortable and supportive
  • Includes an integrated pillow
  • Made with quality materials

Cons:

  • May be too big/heavy for backpacking

ALPS Moutaineering Lightweight Series Self-Inflating Air Pad

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The ALPS Mountaineering self-inflating pad is lightweight and rectangular. Unlike the other self-inflating pads on this list, it is available in your choice of sizes, which vary in length, width, thickness, and weight. Each size is intended to fit the user as well as the type of camping he or she will be doing. It is equipped with dual brass inflate and deflate valves, and it is built with jet stream foam for quick filling and durable ripstop polyester fabric. This pad comes with a repair kit, compression straps, and a carrying sack. ALPS Mountaineering offers a limited lifetime warranty with the purchase of this product.

Pros:

  • Very comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Durable and long-lasting

Cons:

  • May deflate slowly over night
  • May be too big for backpacking

Coleman Self-Inflating Camping Pad

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The Coleman Self-Inflating Camping pad has a rectangular design with an attached, inflatable pillow. It is made with a water-resistant polyester shell, and it has a free-flow valve that inflates and deflates the pad. This sleeping pad weighs 5.4 pounds, measures 76 inches by 27 inches, and gets up to 2 inches thick when inflated. Lastly, it has compression straps for easy transport.

Pros:

  • Very comfortable and supportive
  • Includes an integrated pillow
  • Made with quality materials
  • Inflates easily and quickly

Cons:

  • Does not come with a carrying sack
  • May be too big/heavy for backpacking

What Else Should You Consider When Using and Purchasing Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads?

Even though there are several factors to take into account when purchasing and using self-inflating sleeping pads, paying attention to detail could help you find the perfect one for you on the first attempt. First, consider the price. The sleeping pads listed above range in price from $30 to $85, but if you are looking for one that is more professional grade, you could spend several hundred dollars. With all of the equipment that goes into a successful camping expedition, it is important to think about where you want to spend the majority of your budget, and it may or may not be on a self-inflating sleeping pad. Luckily, there are options at every price point.

Next, consider any accessories you may need that aren’t included with the pad itself. Although many of the sleeping pads listed above come with their own compression bands and carrying sack, some don’t, so if those items would be helpful to you, be sure to opt for a sleeping pad that comes with its own extras. Aside from compression bands and carrying sacks, an important accessory that may prove to be necessary is a repair kit. Some of the pads on the list include a repair kit, but if your choice doesn’t, a repair kit is an inexpensive way to avoid sleeping on a flat pad.

In addition, be aware of the fact that, like air mattresses, self-inflating sleeping pads may make some noise when you change positions at night. If this is something that could bother you (or your partner), you may want to find a pad that is more foam than air, or simply not inflate it to max capacity. By the same token, you want a sleeping pad that only loses air when you want it to. Some self-inflating pads may leak and gradually flatten throughout the night. A quality valve and durable materials could remedy that.

Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads— Final Thoughts

Self-inflating sleeping pads are a sleeping pad and hassle-free air mattress all in one. Although there are many factors to consider when purchasing one, keep in mind that all of it comes down to comfort level, which is different for everyone. So, the best self-inflating sleeping pad is the one that meets all of your needs and checks off all of your criteria.

About Marissa Gvozdenovich Marissa is an English teacher and writer. She enjoys the Florida beach life with her husband and puppy.

Camping can be an expensive hobby. Whether you are going on a backpacking expedition or setting up a tent for just one night, the cost of all of the equipment you need can really start to add up. One piece of gear that you don’t want to cut out of the budget is a sleeping bag.

Quick Look at Our Top 5 Picks

Sleeping bags can cost anywhere between $18 and several hundred dollars, but it is possible to find a quality sleeping bag for a good price. In general, sleeping bags are priced based on the quality and quantity of the materials they are made with, as well as any special features or accessories that they have. So, when looking to purchase a sleeping bag on a budget, you will have to find a balance between the features you need and want with the amount you are willing to spend.

What do you need to know about budget sleeping bags?

How It Will Hold Up To Weather: It is reasonable to think about the type of weather you will encounter when sleeping outdoors, so this is one of the first and most important factors that most people consider when searching for a sleeping bag. In fact, the weather you will endure while using your sleeping bag determines many of the features to look for.

First, each sleeping bag is temperature rated—this indicates the lowest temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep you warm while wearing one layer of clothing. Most sleeping bags are rated between +15 degrees Fahrenheit and +50 degrees Fahrenheit, but some are rated as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Since warmth is perceived and that one layer of clothing can vary, it is best to choose a sleeping bag that is rated for a lower temperature than you expect to experience, just to be on the safe side.  

Weather also includes any precipitation. If there’s a chance you will get rain, snow, or any other kind of moisture, it is crucial that your sleeping bag be at least water resistant because a wet sleeping bag can be dangerous. Even if you don’t expect to encounter precipitation, it is still a good idea to err on the side of caution and have a sleeping bag that resists moisture. Many sleeping bags are made with water resistant materials, but they can also be treated with a water proof substance for extra protection.

How Heavy It Is: If you plan on carrying your sleeping bag any significant distance (i.e. backpacking), its weight could become an issue. Usually, the warmer the sleeping bag, the heavier it is, and the more it costs. Because of this, most budget sleeping bags are rated for higher temperatures or are considered to be summer bags. But if this doesn’t jive with your camping expedition, there are some cold weather bags that are budget friendly, too.

Its Shape and Size: While the shape and size of a sleeping bag doesn’t play a particularly large role in its price, it does impact warmth and comfortability. Generally, a fitted sleeping bag keeps more warmth inside, but it allows for limited movement. Knowing this, you can consider the 4 main sleeping bag shapes: rectangular, barrel shaped, mummy, and double wide. 

As you might expect, rectangular sleeping bags are shaped like a rectangle, but they provide lots of space and comfort. The barrel shape is like a modified rectangle that is wider at the shoulders and narrower at the feet; this makes them spacious and slightly warmer. The mummy shape is the most fitted of them all and hugs the entire length of your body; this shape provides the most warmth and least amount of movement. Double-wide sleeping bags are essentially the size of two rectangular sleeping bags and are meant to sleep two people. Although double-wide sleeping bags are spacious, there are two bodies to keep heat in.

Because sleeping bags vary in shape and size, it’s important to check the specific dimensions of the product you want to buy to ensure it will fit your body. For example, mummy bags are narrow, so they may not fit all body sizes whereas rectangular or barrel-shaped bags are more accommodating. Be sure to give yourself an extra couple of inches all around, depending on the shape you choose. You may also want to take note of the zipper on the bag you wish to purchase. Some bags have full-length zippers for easy entrance or the option for ventilation while others have shorter zippers to keep warmth in.

What It’s Insulated With: Sleeping bags are insulated with either synthetic fill or down fill. Synthetic insulation is the less-expensive option, so all budget-friendly sleeping bags will have it. Usually synthetic insulation is made from polyester, nylon, or cotton, and it is durable, hypoallergenic and fast drying. But, synthetic fill can be bulkier and heavier than down fill. Some people may want to splurge on a down-filled bag because it is recommended by the pros, but down insulation can be an allergen and is virtually ruined if it gets wet.

What are the top six budget sleeping bags?

Here is a summary of the top six budget sleeping bags, each offering a unique combination of desirable features. All of these products are highly rated, sleep tested, and under $25.

Coleman Sunridge 40-60 Degree Sleeping Bag

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The Sunridge bag is a warm weather, adult sleeping bag rated for temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It has synthetic, polyester insulation, with a brushed polyester outer shell. This sleeping bag can accommodate people up to 5 feet 11 inches tall, and it is equipped with ZipPlow and Roll Control. ZipPlow is Coleman’s system for keeping fabric away from the zipper to prevent snags, and Roll Control makes it easy for one person to roll up and pack the sleeping bag. The Sunridge bag has a rectangular shape, and it can be zipped to a second bag to accommodate two sleepers.

Pros:

  • Great quality for the price
  • Durable zipper
  • Lives up to temperature rating

Cons:

  • May not be soft inside
  • Narrower than expected

Outdoorsman Lab Lightweight Sleeping Bag

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The Outdoorsman Lab Lightweight Sleeping Bag is ideal for warm-weather camping trips, with a temperature rating of 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It has several special features, including an integrated pillowcase, an interior pocket, and straps for a sleeping pad. This sleeping bag is ultralight, weighing just 1.6 pounds, and it measures 73 inches by 29.5 inches. Its shell is water repellent, plus it comes with a compression sack for storing and transporting. This bag can also be zipped to a second bag to accommodate two sleepers. Outdoorsman Lab offers discounts when purchasing one or more of their products together.

Pros:

  • Keeps pillow in place
  • Spacious
  • Extremely portable
  • Great quality for the price
  • Easy to roll up and pack

Cons:

  • Does not completely unzip
  • Narrower than expected

Ohuhu Sleeping Bag

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The Ohuhu Sleeping Bag is a rectangular-shaped, waterproof bag with a nylon shell and synthetic polyester insulation. It is lightweight at only 1.72 pounds, and it comes with a space-saving carrying sack. This bag is rated for temperatures between 48 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike many other bags, this one has the option of a left-side zipper or a right-side zipper. Both options measure 75 inches by 34 inches when unrolled, and two bags can be zipped together to accommodate two sleepers at once.

Pros:

  • Great quality for the price
  • Extremely portable
  • Unzips from both ends
  • Soft inside liner

Cons:

  • Inside liner may shift around
  • May not live up to temperature rating

OuterEQ Sleeping Bag

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The OuterEQ Sleeping Bag is lightweight and comfortable for people up to 5 feet 11 inches tall. It has a polyester shell, a soft cotton liner, and cotton synthetic insulation. This rectangular sleeping bag has a temperature rating of about 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, plus it is machine washable. The OuterEQ bag comes with a convenient compression sack for each storage and transport, and it is available in army green and dark blue. OuterEQ also offers discounts when purchasing two or more of their camping products together.

Pros:

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Easy to roll up and pack
  • Durable zipper
  • Great quality for the price

Cons:

  • May be a tight fit
  • May not live up to temperature rating

Egoz Peanut Sleeping Bag

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The Egoz Peanut is a modified rectangular sleeping bag that has a drawstring hood to keep your head warm. It is rated for 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, and it is built with synthetic 300 GSM insulation, a cotton liner, and a polyester shell. This water-resistant bag comes with a drawstring carrying bag, and it measures 83 inches by 30 inches, so it can accommodate someone up to 6 feet 6 inches tall. This bag is easy to clean and built to last.

Pros:

  • Great quality for the price
  • Easy to roll up and pack
  • Easy to clean
  • Comfortable and warm

Cons:

  • Zipper requires gentle handling
  • May be smaller than expected

Active Era Premium Lightweight Single Sleeping Bag

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The Active Era Premium bag is a water-resistant, warm-weather sleeping bag. It is rated for temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the right clothing, it is safe in temperatures as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The Active Era bag is constructed with synthetic 200GSM hollow fibre filling, and a polyester shell. This extremely lightweight, rectangular bag is machine washable and comes with a carrying bag that’s equipped with a handle and drawstring. It measures 75 inches by 30 inches, and it weighs just over 2 pounds.

Pros:

  • Great quality for the price
  • Extremely compact and portable
  • Comfortable materials

Cons:

  • May be a tight fit
  • May not live up to temperature rating

What else should you consider when using and purchasing budget sleeping bags?

There is more to consider when buying a sleeping bag on a budget. First, think about the other people on your camping trip. There is an even bigger incentive to look for inexpensive sleeping bags if you are purchasing them for multiple people, but as mentioned earlier, not all budget sleeping bags are the same. Some sleeping bags are gender and age specific, which affects the warmth of the bag. Luckily, there are budget-friendly sleeping bags available for everyone in your party.

Next, think about any extras you would want. There are several sleeping bag accessories available, but those could stretch the budget. If you are tempted to buy specialized pads, shells, pillows, or the like, there are cheaper ways to get the same result. Most of these products can be replaced by regular blankets or heavy clothing. Bring along a large comforter for more padding under the sleeping bag, layer up for more warmth, and bunch up a sweatshirt for the perfect camping pillow. Plus, a water repellant spray can replace a shell, and it can be used on multiple pieces of equipment.

Lastly, it is critical to not expect the quality of a REI, L.L. Bean, or North Face brand sleeping bag when purchasing a bag that is under $25. In general, the sleeping bags on the list above are meant for casual campers on an occasional basis, not for extreme temperatures and professional expeditions. If you keep this in mind, you will be extremely happy with the quality you get for an inexpensive bag.

Budget Sleeping Bags Final Thoughts

Sleeping bags are cheaper and more accessible than ever, so if you are looking for a quality bag at a great price, it’s certainly possible to find it. But, it is important to note that the expression “you get what you pay for” could always come into play when buying inexpensive items, so budget sleeping bags will never be top of the line, but they can address your sleeping bag needs. In the end, determining the best bag for you and your adventure is all about weather, weight, shape, size, insulation, and your comfort.

About Marissa Gvozdenovich Marissa is an English teacher and writer. She enjoys the Florida beach life with her husband and puppy.