Last Updated on 12/08/2022
In this guide, we explore all the different sleeping pad alternatives you can use instead of an inflatable or self-inflating camping mat. Some of our alternative sleeping pad suggestions can be used by choice and others are ideas for things you can use when you need something to sleep on but don’t have a pad.
Sleeping pads are comfortable, convenient, and packable which makes them a great choice for camping and backpacking. The one risk you have is that they can be punctured if you accidentally sleep on a thorn or drop your knife the wrong way. If for any reason you puncture your sleeping pad while camping you will have to find an alternative.
Other reasons for wanting an alternative to a sleeping pad are if you forget to pack one, you’ve never owned one, or you weren’t expecting to need one. Some people, side sleepers especially, struggle to get comfortable on a sleeping pad due to their limited depth. In this case, an air mattress or camping cot would make a good alternative.
Here are 14 sleeping alternatives for camping mats and an explanation of how to get a good night’s sleep by using them.
13 Sleeping Pad Alternatives
Camping cots are almost always going to be comfier and more desirable to sleep on than a sleeping mat. The problem is, they are bulky and heavy and so they are only good for camping near the car. If the weight isn’t an issue then there are some really luxurious choices with plush mattresses on top. Personally, I like the retro-looking but reliable Coleman Camping Cot with Pad.
You can get lightweight camping cots that will fold away and fit into your backpack but they are still pretty heavy compared with a sleeping pad. The lightweight cot we recommended is the MARCHWAY Ultralight (click image above to check on Amazon) but even that weighs more than 4 times as much as a lightweight camping pad.
In many ways, hammocks are much comfier than sleeping pads if you know how to set them up correctly. They do mean you can’t sleep in a tent and require a tarp to be set up as your roof but there are many advantages too. The first is that they are super lightweight and portable, the second is that they make amazing chairs as well as beds. Other benefits include being off the ground, you can sleep on steep inclines as long as there are two trees, and they feel super cozy once you get used to them.
A hammock is definitely an alternative way to sleep other than using a sleeping pad in a tent. In summer you can stay cooler in a hammock than in a tent and feel any breeze through the material. This is good in hot humid conditions but in cold weather, this becomes a problem. You can do things like wrap your sleeping bag in a blanket, use a bivvy bag, use a sleeping mat inside your hammock, or get a specialist hammock underquilt (well worth it).
It could be argued that air mattresses and sleeping pads are the same thing but we see them as separate entities. A sleeping pad is fairly thin, often has some insulation inside, is very compact, is lightweight, and is designed for camping. Whereas an air mattress or air bed is much deeper, heavier, less compact, and is inflated with air only. The main difference is that sleeping pads are for camping and backpacking and air mattresses are more for indoor use or family camping holidays.
A foam camping mat is the most budget-friendly inflatable sleeping pad alternative and also the most reliable. You can pick them up for between $10 – $20 and they will last forever. They have a decent R-value for the money and many people use them underneath an inflatable pad for extra warmth, protection, and comfort.
A bed roll is a hybrid type of ground shelter that combines a durable and waterproof outer layer with a thick foam pad inside. You then put your sleeping bag on top and the whole thing can be rolled up like a hotdog, hence the name bed roll. Bed rolls are super quick and easy to set up, very comfortable, and not too difficult to strap to the outside of your backpack.
Bedrolls are popular in hotter countries where it rains less like Australia and South Africa but they are also traditionally used by cowboys and shepherds around the world. You still need some kind of cover over your sleeping bag to protect you from air moisture settling at night. Something like a tarp, poncho, or even a wool blanket will do the trick.
Blankets are an underrated piece of camping gear if you ask us and can be used in so many different ways. One of the ways you can use a blanket is as a sleeping pad alternative. By folding a blanket over once or twice you will increase the thickness, insulation, and comfort it provides as a pad.
Wool is the best type of blanket to use instead of a sleeping mat because of its natural durability, weatherproofing, and insulative properties. Synthetic blankets and fleece blankets work too although they may not perform as well as wool if they get wet.
A bivvy bag is a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag but you can use them without a sleeping pad if you need to. They don’t provide any cushioning but they will protect you from wind and rain. Bivvy bags are a great addition to a tarp shelter but not the best on their own unless it is a clear night. To get the most out of using a bivvy bag as a sleeping mat you should sleep on top of the bivvy bag instead of inside it which doubles up the fabric between you and the ground.
Yoga mats and exercise mats are an excellent alternative to camping pads and are very similar to foam camping pads. They are not normally as thick and comfortable to sleep on and are often a little heavier but they will provide protection and insulation from the ground. We went into much more detail about using yoga mats for camping here.
Some bed mattress toppers have a nice layer of insulation in them which if folded over provides enough comfort and warmth to use as a make-shift sleeping mat. This isn’t the best option by any means but if you have a memory foam mattress topper, it will work relatively well. Be prepared for it to get dirty though.
Bubble wrap is surprisingly comfortable and the perfect insulation when you think about it. Each bubble is a pocket that can trap warm air and when layered up it feels just like a sleeping mat. You probably need to have around 4 – 6 layers of bubble wrap for it to work. Other types of air packaging can also be used.
The one downside of bubble wrap is that if you move even a little bit in your sleep, there is a good chance a bubble will pop which can lead to a restless night.
Cardboard again is another type of packaging that can be found everywhere in cities and is something you are likely to have in the garage or attic. Corrugated card is what you want as this is insulative and much deeper.
Even a single layer of corrugated cardboard will add a good amount of comfort to the hard ground. 2 or 3 layers will be warmer though and should provide enough protection against any dampness rising from the ground.
Rug or Carpet
I often use a sheepskin rug as a sleeping pad at music festivals but a piece of carpet or any kind of rug will work just as well. Many carpets and rugs are backed with a kind of water barrier which works to your advantage when camping. You could very easily roll up a strip of carpet just wide enough to sleep on and strap it to the outside of your backpack.
Sofa cushions, chair cushions, pillows, and bench cushions can all be used in place of your camping pad. Of all the different types of cushions you can find around your home, bench cushions are the best for sleeping on. They are long and narrow with the right depth so that it can be rolled up and if it is from an outdoor bench then it will likely be made from durable and water-resistant fabric.
Moss or Leaves
If all else fails and you are forced to sleep outside without a sleeping pad then natural materials like moss and leaves can be layered up to create somewhere to sleep. In spring and some, you can use green leaves like ferns and other leafy plants and then in fall and winter you can use fallen tree leaves. Moss comes up in large blocks and can be rolled up into strips for transporting by hand.
We hope we showed you some different sleeping pad alternatives that you hadn’t previously thought of and that you can find something that will make do.