The first time I slept in a hammock I was excited. I have to admit I didn’t get the best night’s sleep of my life; a mixture of nerves, excitement and inexperience contributed to that!
But, I was fortunate, the very friend that introduced me to hammock camping was also on hand to enlighten me. I suddenly discovered it was possible to sleep on my side diagonally across the hammock. I’m glad I committed to the second night, it was probably the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.
Of course it wasn’t long before the weather was starting to cool and I realized that I needed more than just my comfortable hammock; I needed to stay warm. That’s when I came across the idea of using a camping pad as hammock insulation. The question is whether this is just a great budget option or a viable solution.
Personally I’ve tried several different methods now and I can confidently say that a camping pad doesn’t match the feel of an under quilt. But, there are times when it is the best solution.
The question of camping pads for hammocks is often asked and it certainly got me thinking. This should help to enlighten you and aid you in choosing the right item to keep you warm as the nights start to cool:
What Is A Camping Pad?
A camping pad is often referred to as a sleeping pad by those who use the traditional tent method of camping. In essence it is simply something that goes between you and the ground. There are two main reasons why this is important in a tent:
Sleeping on the ground will leave your body vulnerable to every lump and bump. Even the smoothest looking piece of ground will have undulations. The result is you waking up stiff and probably poorly rested.
A good camping pad will give you something comfortable to lie on and reduce the impact of the ground on your body.
The second purpose is to help you stay warm. If you’ve ever tried sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag you’ll understand why. A basic survival strategy is to ensure your body is not in contact with the ground while you sleep.
This is because the ground is cooler than your body; to balance the temperatures it sucks the heat from your body; lowering your body temperature. At best this can make you cold and give you a difficult night’s sleep. At worst, it can give you hypothermia.
The majority of camping pads are made from a strong material such as nylon and they are inflated. The air acts as a cushion to keep you comfortable and helps to insulate you from the coldness of the ground.
The same is true in a hammock; you don’t need the camping pad for comfort but it will provide a shield between you and the cooler air that flows beneath the hammock. The result is you stay warmer.
I’ve tried a number of camping pads and have to say this is one of the most effective ones available. You’ll note that you can purchase it in a variety of sizes which ensures that it will fit your hammock and be completely under you when you sleep.
When Is A Camping Pad A Good Idea?
Camping pads are generally much cheaper to purchase than an under quilt. This makes them the best option if you are on a budget. You probably have one laying around in the house.
Of course, the price of your camping pad will vary according to which type you purchase. However, in general there is much less to a camping pad than an underquilt; making it a cheaper option.
You’ll also find that the pad is likely to weigh al little more than the underquilt. This might vary on the season you are going. And what kind of pad (closed foam or inflatable)
From a personal point of view, it is worth carrying the underquilt because it gives me more comfort. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on an underquilt you can go with a sleeping pad.
However, if you think that you may need to go to ground because there are no suitable hammock hanging points then you’ll appreciate the camping pad a lot more. It will help you to get a good night’s sleep even on the ground; the underquilt can’t compete in this respect. Therefore having a sleeping mat is more versatile.
So, if your budget is tight or you’re thinking you’ll have to camp on the ground for any number of nights then you need to use a sleeping pad.
Prevent a Sleeping Pad from Slipping in a Hammock
You need to have a hammock with a double layer to put the insulation mat in. Otherwise the camping pad is going to slide away from your body.
What Are Camping Pads Made From?
Most camping pads are made from nylon; they are filled with air before you can use them. They may have reinforced edges to help ensure the air doesn’t escape as you toss and turn through the night.
It is possible to get thin rolls of foam that utilize dense foam with tiny air cells to create a thin but effective insulation layer. This type is exceptionally cheap and surprisingly effective. I haven’t tried but I highly doubt the insulation value of this during winter.
The most common type is the air-filled camping pads. These will usually have several chambers inside and have reflective material added to the nylon. This will bounce your body heat back towards you; helping you to stay warm even on a cold night. The level of insulation is usually adjusted according to what you intend to use it for.
In general the lighter and more effect the insulation the camping pad has, the more expensive it will be. The more expensive camping pads are comparable in price to a mid-range underquilt.
How Effective Is A Camping Pad for Hammock Camping?
It will depend on where you are sleeping and the temperature overnight. If you’ve gone to ground an airbed is an effective camping pad but incredibly bulky and heavy to carry with you.
If you’ve opted for the hammock then the camping pad simply sits below you; any of them are effective at blocking the cooler wind from your body and helping you to stay warm. But, you do need to choose one that is wider than the width of your body. If you don’t you’ll find it is both uncomfortable and ineffective at keeping you warm.
What Alternatives Should Be Considered?
If your budget won’t stretch to a camping pad then you’re not likely to have the funds available for an underquilt. The alternative is to sleep with all your clothes on or to create a layer between you and the cooler air below you. This could be done with a second sleeping bag or by laying your spare clothes out on your hammock before you go to bed.
You could also try a reflective blanket such as those you get for emergencies. If you wrap it round your sleeping bag you’ll definitely retain more body heat.
There are a few extra things that should be considered before you decide on a camping pad for your next hammock trip:
- Camping pads get damp
Because the camping pad is against your body and the cold air it will become damp overnight thorough the power of condensation.
This could increase your feeling of cold and leave you waking up damp and uncomfortable. Damp also attracts bacteria which you don’t want when camping in the wild.
- Camping pads can be ripped easily
Most camping pads are made of either foam or nylon. Unfortunately both of these materials can be fairly easily damaged. It can occur through your dog’s claws or simply by catching it on your other gear or a tree.
Unfortunately this will then make it ineffective at keeping you warm.
You’ll probably be aware that the traditional air filled camping pad makes a significant noise when you move. This will prevent you and your partner or friends from sleeping properly. The thermarest Neoair Xlite (opens in new tab) is known for this problem.
In fact it can be quite frustrating.
A common complaint, which I share, is that the pad will move when you’re sleeping. This will allow the cold air to hit your body and make your hammock uncomfortable.
A camping pad will already change the nature of your hammock and make it feel less comfortable than when you are just hanging in the hammock. But, when you move off of it overnight you’ll feel even worse.
I still have my camping pad and I still use it when I know I’m going to have to go to ground. But for the rest of the time I like the comfort and warmth of the underquilt. It allows me to retain the pleasure of sleeping in a hammock without suffering from the cold.
If your budget can stretch to a camping pad and an underquilt then get both; they each have a place on your trips. If not, the camping pad has a practical edge but you’ll never beat the underquilt for comfort and warmth.
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