Although the idea of an air-filled pad that inflates itself sounds like something from a science fiction film, campers have been using self-inflating sleeping pads for years. These sleeping pads provide campers with the comfort and warmth afforded by an airbed, without requiring them to spend hours inflating it each time they change camps. Some backpackers won't camp without their self-inflating pads, especially those who appreciate big comfort in a small, relatively lightweight package.
Self-inflating sleeping pads consist of a piece of open-cell foam, a valve and a plastic envelope. When rolled up and sealed, the foam is compressed and the bag contains very little air, taking up very little space. But when you open the valve and place the pad flat, the foam expands back to its original shape and size -- this causes it to suck in air as it inflates. Closing the valve prevents the air from rushing back out once you lay on it. When it is time to pack up, simply open the valve and roll the pad into a tight coil, which expels the air and compresses the foam. Once you close the valve on the deflated pad, it cannot draw in air or expand.
The Pros and Cons
Although self-inflating sleeping pads operate similarly to those you manually inflate, its automation offers a superior option in many cases. Self-inflating pads are usually very comfortable, well insulated and weigh very little. But in contrast, because of how they roll up for carrying, self-inflating sleeping pads usually feature less insulation, and are rarely suitable for use in extremely cold climates. Avoid blowing these up manually, as human breath contains water vapor, and adds moisture to the air bladder, which reduces its insulating efficacy and encourages the growth of bacteria. The most significant drawback to self-inflating sleeping pads is their high cost, but serious backpackers and campers are often able to justify the expense, given the significant increase in comfort and convenience.
Not all self-inflating sleeping pads are made the same -- choose one that suits your needs and intended use, especially as it relates to your weight, size and shape. Backpackers must be conscious of space and weight, so they often opt for mummy-shaped pads, rather than the more bulky -- but luxurious -- rectangular pads. Car campers need not make such sacrifices, and should choose the most comfortable pad possible rated for the temperature in which it will be used.
Self-inflating sleeping pads provide a cushion of comfort for trail-weary campers. But if you accidentally puncture your air-filled sleeping pad, you will find yourself sleeping on the hard, cold ground with only a thin layer of polyester beneath your body. Carry a repair kit to deal with such eventualities. For those camping in rugged terrain, it makes sense to select a premium model, as these are often constructed from tougher materials.
- SanderStock/iStock/Getty Images