Should Sleeping Pads Go Inside Sleeping Bags? 5 Factors to Consider

By Emma
Should Sleeping Pads Go Inside Sleeping Bags?

Should Sleeping Pads Go Inside Sleeping Bags?

Sleeping pads are fantastic, but it’s easy to slip off of them at night. There’s not enough friction between the bag and the pad! This got me thinking—what if the sleeping pad was inside the bag?

You can use your sleeping pad inside or outside of your sleeping bag. Putting it inside will ensure you don’t slide off the pad, but it also increases the space for cold air to circulate inside the bag, lowering your body temperature. 

There are many more benefits and negative aspects to using your sleeping pad inside your bag, and I’ll talk about them below.

Reasons To Use Your Sleeping Pad Outside of Your Bag

There are downsides to every idea, so let’s get those out of the way first. Why shouldn’t you use a sleeping pad inside your bag?

It’ll Fit Better

Sleeping bags come in different shapes, as you’ll see here as I talk about mummy vs rectangular sleeping bags. Due to this, your sleeping pad won’t always fit in the bag, so it’s best to use the pad on the outside.

There’s Less Room for Cold Air 

Mummy sleeping bags are made to seal heat in. They hug your body, minimizing the room for airflow in the bag.

If your pad is in the bag then you have more room for air to move around you. This can make you colder at night.

You’ll Be More Insulated

The bottom of your sleeping bag helps insulate you from the cold, and it can’t do that if there’s a sleeping pad separating you from it. Your sleeping pad will often have less insulation than your sleeping bag, so you’re lowering the insulation in your sleeping setup.

Reasons To Put Your Sleeping Pad Inside Your Bag

Despite the drawbacks outlined above, there are many benefits to using a sleeping pad in your sleeping bag. The points below detail how useful this tactic can be.

To Prevent Sleeping Bags From Migrating

Sleeping pads often slip around under you as there’s very little friction between them and the tent floor. Tossing and turning at night only helps them move further. 

However, keeping your pad inside your sleeping bag will prevent the pad from moving. Some bags, like The Big Agnes Lost Dog 15 even have a “pad sleeve” to ensure your sleeping pad doesn’t move around at night.

They Won’t Scrunch Up

Foam pads aren’t very thick, so they often scrunch up as you move around on top of them. 

If the middle or end scrunches up then you’ll often be left with no pad under your feet, and this is particularly dangerous, as hypothermia is a real threat—toes are often the first to be impacted!

If your pad is inside your bag then it may be less likely to scrunch up, as you’re lying directly on top of it.

You Get a Built-In Pillow

If you’re using a foam sleeping pad that’s longer than your sleeping bag, then you can roll up the top of the pad and use it as a pillow. 

This cuts down on your pack size, and if you weren’t using a pillow before, then your camping trips are about to get much more comfortable.

It Protects Inflatable Pads

Your tent floor is usually smooth and free of debris, but debris can still get in there and threaten the life of your inflatable sleeping pad. If your pad rolls over a small, sharp pebble, then it may be punctured.

Keeping your sleeping pad inside of your sleeping bag will protect it from punctures and any inconvenience that results from it. It’ll also save you money as you won’t need to replace your sleeping pad.

You Can Use Two Pads

Using two pads can be difficult as they slide around on top of each other. However, if you use one in the bag and one on the floor, then they’re not going to do that.

You can consider sealing your inflatable pad safely inside your bag, and you can have a foam pad for some further comfort and insulation under your bag.

It’s Convenient For Storing Your Sleeping Gear During the Day

You may need to stow your sleeping gear away during the day to maximize livability in your tent.

It can be annoying to have to roll up your bag and your pad separately, so save time by rolling them up together. Your pad will already be in the bag, and it’ll still be in position when you roll them out for use again at night.

What Kind of Sleeping Pad is Best to Use Inside Your Sleeping Bag?

Foam and otherwise soft sleeping pads are the best to use inside your sleeping bag, as they’re usually the thinnest and easiest to reshape if they’re too large for your bag. You can also use inflatable and self-inflating pads, but you’ll need a roomier bag.

Any type of pad that’s 3 inches thick or less is the easiest to bend if necessary, in my experience. You can easily use these if you find the right one. 

Self-inflating sleeping pads are more compact and warmer than foam ones, so if you find one with the right qualities, then I recommend using one.

Here are the qualities to look for:

  • High R-value
  • Flexibility
  • A thickness of at least 2.5 inches
  • Lightweight

The Ryno Tuff Sleeping Pad Set is decently lightweight, bendy, 3 inches thick and it has an R-value between 4 and 5. On an R-value scale of 1–6, higher means warmer, so you know the Ryno pad will work for all seasons.

Does the Answer Depend on Whether You’re Using a Hammock or a Tent?

Whether you are using a hammock or a tent also impacts your decision to use your sleeping pad inside or outside of your bag. In a tent, you can use your sleeping pad any way. In a hammock, you need the pad inside your bag so it doesn’t slide around.

It can be tough to keep your sleeping pad anchored in your hammock. The hammock bows under your weight, and as you move around, you could end up slipping off the pad, or the pad will move under you too much for it to stay comfortable. 

If your sleeping pad is in your sleeping bag, then it’ll be held tightly against you. You won’t be able to slide off of it, as the bag is tight on all sides, keeping you both in line and in place.

At most your arm may slip off the pad for a few hours, but the rest of you will still be warm. This situation happened in the video below, and as you can see, everything turned out fine.

Of course, you can try to use a sleeping pad outside of your sleeping bag in your hammock, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s more convenient to use it inside the bag, but make sure it fits well! You don’t want it to be a tight fit like it was for the camper describing his experience above.

Can You Go Without A Sleeping Pad?

It’s fine to go without a sleeping pad, but it’s not recommended that you do so. A sleeping pad adds comfort and warmth to your sleeping setup, and you should always use one if you can.

I went into this in detail to cover all angles in this article –  do you need a sleeping pad for camping?

Can I Use a Sleeping Pad in a Bivy?

As bivys are quite similar to sleeping bags, you might wonder if you can use a sleeping pad inside one—and you can. 

Bivys aren’t as tight as sleeping bags, so there’s more room for your pad, and air will already be circulating inside of them so the sleeping pad is reducing ambient space.

It’s often recommended that you use a sleeping pad or a sleeping bag inside a bivy for additional warmth and comfort.

It’s easier to use an inflatable sleeping pad in a bivy than in a sleeping bag, as you have more room for the thicker pad to fit comfortably, too.

Using a sleeping pad in a bivy isn’t mandatory, though. Figure out what’s most comfortable for you, and be aware that you likely won’t need an insulated sleeping pad in a bivy during warmer seasons.

Wrapping Up

Using your sleeping pad inside or outside of your sleeping bag is mainly up to personal preference, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I recommend experimenting to see what works best for you. 

Different setups will work better or worse for different pads and bags, too, so it’s good to play around with different types of pads to see which works best for comfort and function purposes in and out of your bag.

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My name is Emma, and I’m a city dweller who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I’ve gone on a number of car camping and backpacking trips over the past few years. I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.