How to Attach a Sleeping Pad to a Backpack Like a Pro

how to attach a sleeping pad to a backpack

A bad night’s sleep can ruin anyone’s camping trip. Rocks, branches, and bumps can quickly rob you of the comfort you need for good sleep. After a long day in the great outdoors, you want to sleep as soundly as possible. You need a sleeping pad to cushion you. However, sleeping pads are annoyingly bulky. Many people struggle to find a good way to carry their sleeping pad. If it’s not taking up too much room inside your pack, then it’s getting snagged on every branch you hike past. Who’s got time for that? In this article, we’re going to show you how to attach a sleeping pad to your backpack.

Who cares?

Why should anyone read an article about how to hook a sleeping mat to their rucksack? Simply put, camping comfortable is all about preparation. If you take the time to learn a few things every time you head out, then you are going to be increasingly comfortable during your excursions. Think of this reading time as an investment in your well-being.

Here are three things to think about when working out the best way to attach your sleeping pad:

Weight distribution

One thing you could always consider carefully is where to put weight in your bag. Packed correctly, a backpack can carry a lot of gear without being too cumbersome. If a bag isn’t packed wisely, then that sack of bricks will punish its wearer for their lack of packing prowess.

Sleeping pads affect weight distribution because of their lack of weight. Most pads are either closed-cell foam or self-inflating air mattresses. These are designed to be lightweight. Yet they are also bulky and can take up huge amounts of space.

Inside your pack, these bulky items can be used to move things into the right zone for maximum comfort. Packing your mat on the outside will free up space in smaller bags. We’ll show you how to do both in just a moment.

Ease of use

Another packing point to ponder is how useful your stuff is once it’s packed. If you cram your snacks into the bottom of your bag, then you might waste time unpacking just to chomp on a few peanuts. Instead, try to pack things in the order you’ll unpack them when you reach camp.

Your sleeping pad is probably going to be one of the last things you need at your campsite. Setup priorities will probably be something like this:

Shelter first. Food second. Comfort third. Sleeping last.

Your sleeping pad can be strapped to the outside of your bag where it won’t interfere with packing and unpacking. Equally, you can cram it into the bottom of your bag or stuff it along one side if there is space. Since you won’t need it until you are ready to sleep, just keep it out of the way.

Style points

Most of us are at least a little image conscious. Sure, we don’t tend to wander into the wilderness in search of a photo shoot. We also don’t want to look like dorks with random bits of camping gear sticking out everywhere.

Stylish backpacker with sleeping pad
Stylish backpacker with sleeping pad | Hubble

Camping style is all about looking ready to go. This means your sleeping pad should be secured properly and not banging about your knees. Whether it’s vertical, horizontal, or internal doesn’t matter as much as you might think. Just strap it on properly somewhere.

Your sleeping mat should also look like it’s ready for business. Nothing says, “Camping Noob!” like a wet bag or sleeping mat. Wherever you put it, keep it dry and ready to go at bedtime.

Sleeping pad: inside or outside?

Unless you drag it behind you like a stubborn dog or fly it over your head with a noisy drone, you’ve only got two sleeping pad attachment choices: Inside the bag or outside the bag. Both have their merits and we’ll help you sort out which one is best for you.

One little disclaimer: your gear is personal and unique. We can advise you on good ideas and tips. We hope they work for everyone! Your sleeping pad might need a slightly different approach because of your backpack.

group people hiking on hill
Group people hiking on hill | vardan harutyunyan

Pack it in the backpack

The best reason to put the pad in your bag is to keep it dry. You can then hang wet things on the outside of your backpack to dry them during the day.

REI has a great way of talking about packing. They refer to three zones in your backpack. There is a bottom zone, a core zone, and a top zone. The bottom zone is for lightweight and bulky items you will not need until you set up camp. This is the perfect space for your sleeping pad!

Of course, many people can’t fit their sleeping pads into their backpacks. The pads are simply too wide. There are a couple of options.

First, use a self-inflating mattress with a compression/stuff sack. Simply fold the self-inflating mattress in half along its length, then roll it up tightly into the compression sack. A little tip here is to open the valve while you’re rolling it up and then close the valve once you’re finished. Your self-inflating mat should now be narrow enough to fit into your backpack.

Second, if the pad isn’t so long it will stick out the top of your bag, then simply roll it up, squash it flat, and tuck it on one side of your bag. This will keep it out of the way.

Strap it to the bag

Outside your bag, there are three places most people put their sleeping pads:

  • If the bag has a loose top fly, then you could attach your sleeping pad to the top underneath the fly of your backpack. Roll it up, set it on top, and then cinch the fly down to keep it in place.
backpack using its top fly for the pad
Backpack using its top fly for the pad | kooikkari | CC BY 2.0
  • The side compression straps on most bags can be used to attach your sleeping pad. You can fit it under the compression straps. Or, better yet, simply bring some simple cord to tie it to the straps.
  • Many packs have loops on the bottom for sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Use these to hang the pad underneath your load. Just be sure to tighten up so you’re not banging your legs or caboose all day long.
man walking on grass field
Sleeping pad below the backpack | Nicolas Mejia

An accessory for adding attachment capabilities is a simple length of webbing and a friction buckle. You can pick these up from a retailer or on Amazon.

Attach a sleeping pad on a backpack: the next level

We said, “most people…” for a reason. We don’t want you to be like most people. We want to give you some cool ways to camp in even more comfort. There are two things you could try out for your next trip to up your sleeping prep game.

Make a roll

One way to add some swag to your camping experience is to make a swag. That’s another word for a bedroll. A simple bedroll consists of a waterproof bivvy bag, a sleeping pad, and your sleeping bag. Put the sleeping pad into the bivvy and then place the sleeping bag inside as well.

Then, starting at the foot of the bag, roll it up towards the top. Compress it as you go. Make sure the bivvy bag folds over the end of the sleeping bag and pad. Then secure it with compression straps to make it a very tight roll. If you do this right, it will be waterproof and compact. Then, when you’re ready to set up camp, just take off the straps and roll your bed out.

A bedroll like this will always go outside your bag. It won’t be too heavy, though. Since it’s bulky but light, you can tie it on to your bag vertically.

Go vertical for extra style points

Every idiot can tie their sleeping pad sideways onto their backpack. Real pros know how to attach their sleeping pads to their backpacks vertically. Doing this keeps the weight centered. It also prevents the ends of the pad from snagging or rubbing on things while traveling the country.

Your backpack may or may not have attachment points for a vertical sleeping pad. However, the simplest solution is webbing and friction buckles. These are cheap to buy and easy to use. Here is how you do it:

  • Pack everything you need into your bag and zip it up. Lay it flat on the ground with the back of the bag facing up.
  • Place your sleeping pad or bedroll on top of your bag in the middle.
  • Feed your webbing underneath your bag and then through buckles. It should form a loop, like a belt, around your bag and sleeping pad.
  • Tighten everything up as much as possible to maximize carrying comfort and minimize load shift. You’re good to go!

The final few words

hiking gear on stones
Hiking gear on stones | Andrew Ly

We have talked about three things to keep in mind when you consider attaching a sleeping pad to a backpack. It should give you maximum comfort by boosting your packing prowess. It should give you more utility by putting the useful things where they are needed. It should give you super style points by making you look the business. Follow our advice and you’ll get all three.

Featured image src: How to attach a sleeping pad to a backpack | Simon

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