Our eternal dilemma: sleeping pads

We started camping about 9 months after we got married. I spent a lot of time researching the various camping equipment we would need, since it was my husband’s first time camping ever and my first time since I was a girl. My husband is a minimalist, so I tried not to get too crazy about gear. Despite that, we way overpacked and our first camping trip was rather funny and another post for another day.

The age-old question for us has been sleeping comfort. There are a variety of ways to solve this problem, with air mattresses probably being the most popular among car campers. Due to significant weight differences between my husband and me, we don’t care for air mattresses, and besides – we wanted to be true authentic campers. Air mattresses just seemed to be cheating to us. (I have since come down from my pious horse and say, whatever works for you!)

We initially had a complicated system of one of those memory foam bed toppers and a really thick sleeping bag. It was very comfy, but took up SO much room in our trunk. Once we got our Toyota Corolla, we had to rethink our strategy.


We then bought blue foam pads from Walmart – only $5 each I think. We were so proud of our minimalism! We used these for several years, even when we camped while I was pregnant.


Then at some point in the past year or two, I said enough. I couldn’t do the hardness of those blue foam pads anymore. So, I set about researching what other options were out there. Space in the trunk was a huge concern for us, but it’s hard to balance that and personal comfort, especially when you’re car camping.

At our last camping trip, we ended up renting self-inflating sleeping pads from REI. As an aside, I really love having the option to rent camping equipment. These babies are not cheap at all, and we wanted to make sure we liked them before we invested any money in them.


I had the best sleep of my life on these pads. (Okay, exaggeration, but probably the best sleep I’ve ever had while camping.) I couldn’t believe the difference. My husband and I zip our sleeping bags together, so we each had a 3.5 inch pad underneath. For my 3 year old (who really doesn’t care), we rented the much thinner 1.75 backpacker’s sleeping pad. It worked out really well. (And, as I’m looking at REI’s site right now, turns out they have kids’ sizes of those self-inflating pads, which would definitely be worth checking out…)

My only hesitation with biting the bullet and getting the sleeping pads for us is the packed size is still pretty big – 6.25″ x 26″ and 5 lbs. Also, they’re fairly expensive, especially when you need to buy two. So… I am not sure. We might be better off just getting over our issues with the air mattress and going that route. Despite a positive test run with the sleeping pads, we haven’t decided anything yet.

One good thing is it’s fairly cheap to rent them from REI – only $6/day. We rented 3 pads for 5 days for only $36 total. At that rate, we can camp almost 9 times before we would spend the same amount on buying them outright. So, we’ll probably do that until we make a decision.

Image sources:
Memory foam topper source here
Blue foam pad source here
REI camp bed source here


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