Sleeping Mats & Pads For Motorcycle Camping: Why You Need Them!

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A few years back, I went to a motorcycle event in the north of England called the Yorkshire Pudding Rally.

And as brilliant as it was, the cold, wet, and uncomfortable night I spent in my tent was enough to put me off camping for life.

Because despite being the height of summer, I was freezing.

I could feel the lumps and bumps of the ground beneath me.

And I could feel the moisture of the earth creep up through my cheap sleeping bag and into my clothes.

All in all, it was an incredibly miserable experience.

As a result of this experience, I learned about the importance of sleeping mats & pads when motorcycle camping. And it completely changed everything.

guy camping in mountains - sleeping mats & pads motorcycle camping
A few nights on the cold, wet ground will change your entire view of camping. Image via Patrick Hendry / Unsplash

Sleeping Mats & Pads For Motorcycle Camping: It’s Not All About The Sleeping Bag!

A big mistake many riders make is splashing out on a sleeping bag but then neglecting any kind of mat or pad to go underneath it.

But no matter how clever the technology is in your sleeping bag, it’s worthless if you’re not protected from the damp and cold coming from the earth below.

Decent sleeping mats and pads can make the difference between a comfortable night or a sleepless night when motorcycle camping.

So today, we’re going to look at how to choose a sleeping pad or mat. And we’ll take into account pack size, weight, comfort, reliability, insulation, and cost.

tent and sleeping bags, misty morning
Sleeping pads & mats make all the difference. Image via Steve Halama / Unsplash

Why Do I Need A Sleeping Mat Or Pad When Motorcycle Camping?

The primary purpose of sleeping mats and pads when motorcycle camping is insulation.

Their main job is to prevent you from losing body heat to the earth beneath you.

And as mentioned above with my own experience, your body will transfer heat to the ground without a ground mat or pad. This means you’ll get pretty cold, pretty quick, even in the summer months.

As well as basic comfort, the job of a mat or pad is to provide a layer of insulation. And this prevents you from losing body heat to the ground below.

sleeping mats & pads motorcycle camping - guy hiking in mountains
Sleeping pads & mats provide insulation when motorcycle camping. Image via Ali Kazal

Sleeping Mats & Pads For Motorcycle Camping: The Basics

When you start looking at your options, you’ll see that there are many shapes and sizes available. And whilst some may be technically better than others, you need to consider what you’re using it for (and how you’re going to pack it.)

But in general, you’ll find 3 different constructions of sleeping mats and pads for motorcycle camping:

  • Closed-cell foam mats
  • Self-inflating sleeping pads
  • Inflatable air mattresses
collection of camping gear

Closed-Cell Foam Mats

Closed-cell foam mats are the most common style of ground pads. They’re quite rudimentary, and therefore cheap to buy.

They also tend to be the biggest and bulkiest of the mads and pads we’ll look at in this post.

Whilst temping from a standpoint of cost, you need to consider where you’re going to put it when travelling on your motorcycle.

They’re too large to fit in a pannier so will need to attach to your luggage or roll bag.

But despite being big, heavy, and a pain in the arse to carry, closed-cell foam mats can take a lot of abuse. They’re pretty much indestructible.

And this makes them the most reliable type of sleeping mat for any kind of longer tour. If you need something that won’t fail, a closed-cell mat is the best option on a budget.

Pros

  • Cheap as chips
  • Durable
  • Simple to set up
  • No faff
  • Indestructible

Cons

  • Not the comfiest
  • Big
  • Bulky to carry
  • Somewhat heavy (ish)
sleeping mats & pads motorcycle camping - big agnes
Closed-cell foam mats. Image/product via Big Agnes

Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads

Self-inflating sleep pads offer a more technical solution to the cheap and cheerful closed-cell foam mats above

And (for the most part) they do most of the inflating for you.

Simply open the valve and air will rush in. The air expands the cells and becomes trapped between the foam beneath. This creates an airtight layer.

On the whole, self-inflating sleeping pads are smaller and lighter than foam pads. But they’re not quite as small and light as air pads. They sit somewhere in the middle.

Due to their mixture of air and foam, self-inflating sleeping pads are generally more comfortable and insulating than foam mats.

The downside is that they are prone to punctures. And whilst repairable in the field, it’s worth bearing in mind that things can go wrong with self-inflating sleeping pads.

If you end up with a puncture that you can’t repair, you’ll be in for a very cold and uncomfortable night’s sleep.

Pros

  • More comfortable than foam mats
  • Self-inflating
  • Slightly more insulation than foam mats
  • Relatively cheap

Cons

  • Can puncture
  • Need to carry a repair kit
  • Less reliable
  • Less durable
alpkit camping products
Self-inflating sleeping pads. Image/product via Alpkit

Inflatable Air Mattresses

The biggest positive of inflatable air mattresses is their compact size and lightweight properties. They pack down small and are light years ahead of closed-cell foam mats and self-inflating pads.

On the downside, you have to inflate them. And this can be a drag after a long day in the saddle.

The most basic way to inflate an inflatable air mattress is by blowing into it. This might take around 30-40 breaths to full inflation.

However, the problem with blowing into an air mattress is that the moisture from your breath can sit inside the cells. And over time this can cause the development of mould.

To counteract this, many inflatable mattresses come with a pump sack. Once connected to the valve, allow the sack to fill with air. Then force it into the mattress through compression.

If you want to be super-duper advanced, you can use an electric pump. This is a lot less effort, but it’s yet more kit that you need to lug around with you. It also means carrying spare batteries.

For that reason, I’d recommend a pump sack for the sake of ease and keeping weight down.

Pros

  • Incredibly lightweight
  • Small pack size
  • Most comfortable on this list
  • Provides the best insulation
  • Adds a feeling of luxury on a cold night

Cons

  • You need to inflate them
  • More equipment
  • Prone to mould
  • Can be noisy
  • Expensive
inflatable air mattress - sleeping mats & pads for motorcycle camping
Inflatable air mattresses. Image/product via Thermarest

Sleeping Mats & Pads For Motorcycle Camping: What Is An R-Value?

An R-value is the unit of measurement used to gauge the level of insulation of motorcycle camping sleeping mats or pads.

Thankfully, R-values aren’t as complicated as they sound – because they work in a linear format.

So a product with an R-value of 4 means that it has twice the amount of insulation as a product with an R-value of 2.

This article from Thermarest does a great job of explaining R-values.

r-value ratings
R-values show the insulation ratings of sleeping mats & pads for motorcycle camping

A Simple Way To Increase Insulation

You can double up products if you need to increase insulation properties of your motorcycle camping sleeping pads or mats. Premium products can be expensive. So doubling up is a viable option if you’re on a budget.

For example. if you’re prepared to carry a bit more gear, you can increase insulation by putting a foam mat underneath an air mattress.

As an added benefit, this will also help prevent punctures.

sleeping mats & pads motorcycle camping - hiking in wilderness
Double up for additional insulation. Image via Tamas Meszaros / Pexels

Sleeping Mats & Pads For Motorcycle Camping: How Much Do They Cost?

You can pick up foam mats for a few pounds on the internet. And the better ones cost up to around £30.

Self-inflating mattresses can cost anywhere between £15 and £175.

And air pads can cost anywhere up to around £200 and above for the really technical ones.

It all comes down to what you’re using it and for, and how often you’re using it.

For the occasional night, you might be better off lugging around a bulky, less comfortable foam mat and saving yourself a few hundred pounds.

But if you’re regularly camping for weeks on end (especially in colder climates), then the more premium air pads would suit you better.

camping in mountains
Costs vary; from a few pounds to a few hundred! Image via Yann Allegre / Unsplash

Sleeping Mats & Pads For Motorcycle Camping: Conclusion

So there you have it! Three different options to suit whichever kind of camper you are.

The takeaway point here is insulation. The more insulation you can put between your body and the ground, the warmer and comfortable you will be throughout the night.

For one-night wonders, I’d recommend doubling up a cheap self-inflating pad with a foam mat. 

But if you’re serious about your motorcycle camping, you’ll get more value for money with better quality sleeping mats and pads.

Finally, it’s important to remember that sleeping mats and pads only form one part of your sleeping system.

If you have the best sleeping pad in the world, it won’t mean anything if you have a shit sleeping bag.

Likewise, if you buy the most insulated sleeping bag available, but then put it on a rubbish mat, you’ll still find yourself having a cold and miserable night!

As always, it’s all about balancing cost and functionality when it comes to sleeping pads & mats for motorcycle camping.


Want more information on sleeping mats & pads for motorcycle camping? Then check these out!

Top image via Lakewooducc / Pexels

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