When out camping, there is a choice one must make between taking a foam or an air pad for comfort sleep outdoors. A sleeping pad’s main function is to provide both cushioning and insulation. Cushioning for your back support and insulating your body from cold surfaces allows you to sleep more comfortably and at ease. The question remains as to which one is better; a foam pad or an air pad.
Air pads are comfortable and lightweight and can be used for backpacking as well as camping. They are best used in warm weather, as they feel colder on cold grounds. They obviously use air for cushioning and are manually inflated. There are some insulated air pads in the market which can be used anytime of year.
Therm-a-Rest, Big Agnes and Exped offer some of the best insulated pads.
Another kind of air pads is the self-inflatable pads, mostly made available by Therm-a-Rest. They are perhaps the most popular as they combine both open-cell foam insulation and air cushioning. They are comfortable to best sleeping pad on with sufficient insulation and compact enough to be carried. That makes them a number one choice for backpacking. Perhaps due to their dual function however, they are also more expensive than other pads. It is noteworthy to mention that these pads are fragile and while they may be ruptured or torn, they are also easy to repair.
You would think air pads are everyone’s first choice, yet many people prefer a closed cell foam pad as the air pad is at times unstable under their body. In addition some will argue that the foam is best because it keeps the body warmer and feels more like a bed. Whatever the preferences, foam pads are lightweight, inexpensive and durable. They are however a little bulky and they do not fold up as compactly as air pads which may be an inconvenience when backpacking. They are great for winter time however, offering excellent insulation though may be too thin to be comfortable.
Lastly there are also camping air mattresses that are much thicker than foam pads or inflated air pads. These are the most comfortable yet the heaviest and so best used when car camping. Using air, they are easy to inflate usually via a pump. Air mattresses however offer no insulation so in winter time, it is recommended you use layers of extra clothing or blankets for warmth. Or possibly choose an insulated pad.
At the end of the day, you need to assess your situation and decide on a sleeping pad that suits both the weight and the comfort you are seeking. Therm-a-Rest is one of the best combinations available if you do not mind the price. The choice is up to you. We recommend you try laying on each at a store first and feel your body’s response before you purchase any.