Choosing a good sleeping pad is obviously important for a good night sleep. Choices can vary in thickness shape size and inflation type. In addition to keeping you comfortable, sleeping pads are one of the most valuable sources of insulation while you sleep. More body heat is lost to the cold ground than to the surrounding air. Since sleeping pads can also be one of the larger items to pack it's important to find a good balance of packed size and price for motorcycle camping.

Read our article on the Best Sleeping Pads for Motorcycle Camping.

Things to consider when choosing a sleeping pad

  • The shape of sleeping pad you need.
  • The material the sleeping pad is made of.
  • The thickness/comfort of the sleeping pad
  • The amount of space the sleeping pad takes up when packing.

Sleeping Pad Shape

The shape refers to the outline of the sleeping pad when inflated. Traditionally, most sleeping pads are rectangular. These are some of the most affordable and available types of sleeping pads. Recently, curved sleeping pads that taper at the shoulders and feet to mimic mummy shaped sleeping bags are gaining popularity as they are lighter than their rectangular counterparts. This can be a downside for people who like to spread out while they sleep, as the likelihood of your feet hanging off the pad increases.

Length, width and thickness

Almost all sleeping pads have a standard width of 51cm (20 in.). Wider models are not as common, but for larger individuals, or those who need more space when they sleep, a wider sleeping pad is worth buying. Sleeping pads come in different lengths to suit individuals of different heights. Manufacturers usually offer 2 or 3 sizes (small, medium and large), which can generally accommodate individuals up to a height of 198cm (6 ft. 6 in.). Most people choose the smallest length sleeping pad that comfortably accommodates their height. For those who value weight and space savings more than comfort, choosing a sleeping pad that is one size smaller is a viable option, at the expense of having their feet hang off the end. It is also important to note that women specific sleeping pads are generally shorter than their standard sized equivalent. The thickness of the sleeping pad has a major effect on the comfort and insulating properties of the sleeping pad. Closed cell foam pads are usually the thinest, as they cannot pack down very small. Inflating pads are usually 1 to 3 inches thick, with a firmness that can be changed by inflating/deflating the pad.

Sleeping Pad Type

The best way to save space and weight is to choose the right type of sleeping pad. Sleeping pads can be separated into a few key categories.

Closed Cell Foam

Closed cell foam pads are those classic, very basic, non-inflatable solid pads. They are durable, well insulating, very water resistance and without a doubt the most affordable of all sleeping pads. Good quality foam pads can also be the lightest sleeping pads on the market. The tradeoff is that they are not the most comfortable and don't pack down very well. For motorcycle travel, this is not very space efficient and will catch a lot of wind on the back of the bike, but a little bit of ingenuity can go a long way if saving money is a priority.

Air Pads

Modern air filled sleeping pads are the lightest and some of the most comfortable lightweight sleeping pads available. They also take very little storage space when packed which is ideal for motorcycle camping. The downsides are that they are usually more expensive and must be manually inflated. Many air pads come with hand pumps to ease that task. Self-inflating pads are another solution to manual inflation.


Self-inflating pads, commonly referred to as Therm-a-Rest pads are essentially air pads with open cell foam on the inside. When the valve is opened, the cell foam on the inside will begin to expand, slowly drawing air into the pad. The sleeping pad will inflate itself almost completely in under an hour, and one or two breaths is all that is needed to fully inflate the pad. Self-inflating pads are very comfortable, lightweight and also pack down fairly small. The disadvantage is that they are more expensive.

Insulation and R-Value

The isolation of a sleeping pad is represented by an R-Value. The construction, thickness and filling of a sleeping pad all contribute to its insulating properties. The higher the R-value, the more insulation the sleeping pad offers. Some sleeping pads are designed specifically with materials that offer more insulation, which is beneficial when camping in colder conditions.


With the exception of some closed cell foam pads, care should be taken to protect sleeping pads from rain, snow and direct sunlight. All of these can damage the sleeping pad. Pads that pack down small enough can be placed inside bags or panniers, while larger pads will likely be strapped on the back of the motorcycle. This is less ideal as is takes up much more valuable space, and catches a lot more wind.