How Are Self-Inflating Camping Pads Made?

How Are Self-Inflating Camping Pads Made?
Self-inflating camping pads have been a staple in the packs of serious backpackers since the 1970s. The easy-to-use air mattresses are low profile, lightweight and help insulate campers from cold ground.


Self-inflating camping mattresses consist of an open cell foam core, an air-tight fabric shell and an air valve. Core and shell thickness determine the mattress weight and how much padding it provides. Foam and fabric vary by manufacturer and the pad's intended use.

Fabric Shell

The exterior fabric shell can be made of nylon, polyester, polyurethane or PVC-coated polyester. Thin nylon shells are ideal for lightweight backpacking mattresses, while thick, waterproof, PVC-coated polyester is used on pads designed for river rafting.

Foam Core

Each manufacturer uses different polyurethane foams, with cell walls that are broken or open to let air move from cell to cell within the mattress. Foam density and mesh pattern help determine the amount of cushion.


Self-inflating camping pads are constructed by sealing the foam core within the airtight fabric shell. High-frequency welding uses electromagnetic waves to heat the coated fabric's edges while applying pressure to the seam, melting the fabric and bonding it with an airtight seal.

Die Cut Foam

Foam cores are die cut--machine cut to the manufacturer's exact specification, allowing for ergonomically shaped pads that maximize comfort and minimize weight.

Article Written By Mike Matson

Mike Matson is a freelance writer and photographer living in Salt Lake City. He is the author of the guidebook Moon Utah Camping. Starting in 2003, Matson's work has appeared in National Geographic Adventure, Backpacker, Canoe and Kayak, Utah Adventure Journal and Northwest Travel magazines. Matson has a degree from Western Washington University.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.