Now that you know why a sleeping pad is a necessity, you need to know what kinds of pads are available so that you can choose the one that's right for you. There are four types of backpacking sleeping pads on the market today: backpacking air mattresses, open-cell foam pads, closed-cell foam pads, and self-inflating pads. Each type of sleeping pad has its pros and cons.
Backpacking air mattresses are small, thin inflatable mattresses. The idea of sleeping on air after a long day on the trail may sound heavenly, but air mattresses are not always the best choice for backpacking. They are undeniably comfortable, but they have several drawbacks. The first is the possibility of leaks. Backpackers put their gear through a lot of stress, and even a durable air mattress can spring a leak. Leaks are a pain to fix in the field, especially at night, but if you don't fix it, you'll be sleeping on cold, hard ground. Backpacking air mattresses also do a poor job of insulating to begin with. The large, open space of air inside the mattress chills to outside air temperature and circulates that air underneath you. Thus most backpacking air mattresses are only suitable for warm-weather use. Some backpacking air mattresses remedy this problem by adding insulation to the mattress. For example, the Exped Downmat is an air mattress filled with down. The stuff sack doubles as air pump, and you can also use it as a pillow. Handy!
However, I was just looking for a decent summer backpacking mattress at a good price and that's what this is. It's comfortable, it has held it's air well in my testing and use so far, and at 25 bucks I can't help but feel like I got a good deal, especially when it's nearest competitor that I can find costs almost twice as much.
Two of the car camping mattresses we reviewed fit into this category, the and the . Essentially, these mattresses consist of a lightweight, inflatable backpacking air mattress paired with a piece of memory foam on top and a zip-over soft cover. They are adaptable and versatile because you can remove the backpacking mattress and use it by itself should you want to, and then use the cover for added comfort and warmth when camping at the car. It is worth noting that the while the NeoAir Dream comes as one complete package (sleeping pad and cover), Big Agnes sells the Sleeping Giant and the air mattress to go inside it separately.