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How to Repair a Punctured Sleeping Pad at Home

by Staff

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Picture this: You’ve settled in for the night on your comfy, insulated sleeping pad and drifted off to dreamland. A couple hours later, you wake up, cold and uncomfortable, and realize your cushy camp mat has deflated until you’re laying straight on top of the roots and gravel. You blow it up and lie down again, but it’s no use: soon, you’re awake on the ground once more.

Modern insulated, inflatable sleeping pads are comfier than their more durable closed-cell-foam counterparts could ever be, but if they can’t hold air, they’re no good to you. Anyone who’s slept outside for long enough has suffered a puncture and knows the frustration of spending hours trying to find and close up a microscopic hole that’s causing major trouble. I know it better than anyone: I spent two nights sleeping on my life jacket after my own pad popped during a SUP-camping trip to Colorado’s Blue Mesa Lake last summer, and I’ve helped colleagues search for more cactus punctures than I can count around the deserts of southern Utah and Arizona.

But what if I told you it doesn’t need to be that way? With a couple of basic tools and some know-how, finding and patching a hole in your inflatable sleeping bag is an easy task that should only take a few minutes of work (plus a few hours of drying time. Learn and practice these sleeping pad repair skills for a more comfortable trip.

A spray bottle and towel are important tools for fixing your sleeping pad (Photo: Winnie Bruce / 500px via Getty)

Finding a Hole in an Inflatable Sleeping Pad

The first step in finding a hole in your sleeping pad is invariably the hardest: Most sleeping pad punctures are too small to see with the naked eye, at least without already knowing where they are. But instead of busting out a magnifying glass, get out your dishwashing kit. Add a couple of drops of soap to a bottle or bowl of water and mix it up. Inflate your pad, then spread that mixture across the surface of your pad with a spray bottle if you have one, and your hands if you don’t. The air escaping from the puncture will blow bubbles in the soapy water, allowing you to immediately see where the damage is. Mark the puncture with a piece of athletic tape or a marker, then keep going until you’ve checked the entire pad. (Pro tip: Start this process as soon as you get up in the morning. You’ll need time for the pad to dry and the subsequent repair to set.)

glue
Use glue, not patches, to fix holes and tears in your inflatable sleeping pad. (Photo: Courtesy)

Patching a Hole in an Inflatable Sleeping Pad

That adhesive patch that came with your pad? All but useless: It might keep your pad from deflating too badly for a night, but it’s not a good or durable solution. Instead, grab a tube of outdoor-gear-friendly glue; Gear Aid Seam Grip WP ($10) is our go-to choice. Once your pad has dried, spread a dime-size dab of adhesive over the hole. Let it dry for 8 to 10 hours (ideally lying flat, but if you have miles to go you can carefully fold your pad and strap it to the outside of your pack glue-side out). If you’re at home, test your repair job by laying some heavy-but-not-pointy objects—textbooks, water jugs, a loaded pack—on the inflated pad and checking it eight hours later to make sure it’s still holding air. In the field? Blow it up and hope for the best.

Goatheads
Goatheads: your pad’s worst enemy. (Photo: ziprashantzi / iStock via Getty)

Tips for Preventing Damage to Your Inflatable Sleeping Pad

It’s always better to prevent a repair than to do one, and with a little bit of foresight you can avoid most damage to your sleeping pad. In areas with pointy foliage or sharp rocks, consider laying a groundcloth underneath your tent to reduce the chance of them puncturing your pad. In some desert areas, you may need to take more drastic measures—I’ve seen friends suffer a baker’s dozen punctures in their pads at once after pitching their tent on goatheads in southern Utah. If weight isn’t a huge issue, consider carrying a light closed-cell foam mat to layer underneath your inflatable.

Besides looking awkward, carrying your sleeping pad on the outside of your pack is a great way to cut, scrape, and poke it into oblivion. If at all possible, carry it inside your pack.

When to Get a New Sleeping Pad

On a recent family trip to Banff National Park, I found myself patching my 8-year-old lightweight sleeping pad what felt like every other day. I was baffled until the last night of our adventure, when I took a closer look and realized that I had been, well, baffled: The fused seams holding the pad’s baffles were coming undone under tension, tearing small holes in the face fabric of the pad while I was asleep. The next morning, I tossed my wadded-up pad in the campground’s trash.

Some damage isn’t worth fixing: If you find yourself constantly repairing small holes, facing down a sizable rip, or trying to glue a tear near a valve, it’s time to call it a day and spring for a new pad.

3 Sleeping Pads to Make Your Next Trip Cozier

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT
(Photo: Courtesy Therm-a-Rest)

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT ($240)

This somewhat pricey inflatable mat was our top pick in Outside and Backpacker’s 2023 Summer Gear Guide, and in my humble opinion, it deserved the honor: I’ve slept soundly on this pad everywhere from Kenya to Canada. At 1 pound, it’s light enough and packable enough to take on long hikes, yet its 7.3 R-value means its suitable for winter camping as well.

"Gear Guide Paria sleeping pad"
Photo: Courtesy

Paria Outdoor Products Recharge UL Insulated ($87)

If you’re shopping on a budget, Paria’s direct-to-consumer gear is a solid, lightweight option. At 20 ounces, the Recharge UL was light enough for us to tote it on trips around the Rockies and through the Grand Canyon, and the microfiber insulation and R-value of 3.5 kept our testers comfortable enough into the high 20s. The 40-denier nylon construction was robust enough to keep it from getting damaged on “rowdy” family camping trips as well.

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Photo: Courtesy

NEMO Switchback ($55)

Prefer to skip the puncture-repair-puncture dance all together? Closed-cell foam pads are a solid option that won’t stop working no matter how many times your dog steps on them; most of the time, they’re what I reach for. The Switchback uses a hexagonal divot pattern that was cushier than competitors, and the reflective layer helped keep our tester comfy down to a low of 35 degrees in a floorless tent on a trip to Colorado’s Sugarloaf Mountain.

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