How To Repair an Inflatable Sleeping Pad

One of the most important aspects of any backpacking adventure is getting a good night’s sleep at the end of each day. Crushing miles all day is quite the endeavor, and if you’re unable to get high-quality rest afterward each successive day gets harder and harder. Unfortunately, one of the most important pieces of gear in your kit is also one of your most fragile.

Having a high-quality inflatable sleeping pad is often the difference between a night spent tossing and turning and a night spent peacefully sawing logs, but do you know what to do when your pad springs a leak?

There is no worse feeling than waking up in the middle of the night on top of a flat sleeping pad. Trust me: I’ve been there. On my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, my sleeping pad suffered a catastrophic failure. It could not have come at a worse time.

Deep in the Sierra and days away from the next town, I woke up on the cold, hard ground. With subfreezing temperatures and a quilt with a temperature rating that was a bit questionable for the time of year, I simply could not afford to continue losing heat to the ground beneath me.

Luckily, I had a patch kit with me, and more importantly, I knew how to use it. My repair job wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to last me the next few nights until I could get to town.

I hope you don’t ever find yourself in a situation like mine, but if you spend enough time in the backcountry, chances are you will. Here’s how to repair an inflatable sleeping pad if it gets punctured.

Patching a Hole

The steps for fixing your sleeping pad are more or less universal. Most sleeping pads come with a small patch kit for field repairs, or you can always make your own patch with Tenacious Tape.

For the purposes of this article, I will be repairing a hole in my old Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite using the Instant Field Repair Kit that comes with the pad. The kit includes alcohol wipes, glue dots, and self-adhesive patches.

Locating the Leak

This can be one of the more frustrating aspects of sleeping pad repair. It’s clear that air is escaping, but from where?

Hopefully, you can hear air escaping slowly when your pad is fully inflated and will be able to locate the hole based on sound and the feel of air escaping, but this is not always the case. Some small pinholes may release air so slowly that they give off virtually no sound, and the air is not leaving the pad in large enough quantities to feel it.

If this is the case, don’t fret. There are still a few strategies you can use to locate the puncture.

Get It Wet

This is the easiest way to find a leak. Inflate your pad and submerge it. Bubbles should start coming out of the puncture location. If you are at home or in a hotel, I would recommend dunking the pad in a bathtub. If this isn’t an option, a slow-moving stream or a lake should do the trick.

how to repair an inflatable sleeping pad

You can also use a damp rag and some soap to pinpoint a leak. This method is a little trickier than the submersion technique but can work in a pinch. Suds should appear at the hole as you slowly rub the wet, soapy cloth around your pad. (You can also mist the pad with soap water in a spray bottle instead of using a rag.)

If neither of these options is possible, you should fully inflate your pad and put as much pressure on it as possible. Lay on it, fold it up, and do whatever you need to to force as much air out of the puncture as quickly as you can. Hopefully, this added pressure makes it easier to hear the air escaping or to feel the slight breeze it creates.

how to repair an inflatable sleeping pad

Once you have located your puncture, be sure to mark it in some way. I used a sharpie, but a piece of tape right next to the hole would work just as well without leaving a permanent mark.

Fixing the Puncture

The first step here is to make sure that the site of the puncture is completely clean. If your pad is still wet from your puncture location efforts, dry it thoroughly. Wipe the area around the hole with an alcohol wipe to remove any dirt or oil that could keep the patch from sticking well.

Next, take one of the glue dots and remove one side of the protective wrapping. Firmly press the glue dot, pressing through the protective layer on the other side, into the fabric of the pad. Make sure to fully cover the puncture.

Once you have worked the glue dot into the fabric you can remove the other layer of protective coating and apply the patch over the entire area. Firmly press the patch to make certain that the adhesive fully sticks to the pad, then leave it alone for at least 10 minutes so the glue can cure.

Fixing the Puncture with Tenacious Tape

If you don’t have or don’t want to carry a dedicated patch kit, you can also make your own patches by cutting bits of Tenacious Tape down to size. This method foregoes the additional sealant of the glue dot included in the Therm-a-Rest kit, but it still works in a pinch.

Be generous with your cut: a larger patch will work better than one cut so small it just barely covers the puncture. As with the other method described in this article, you should still clean the area with an alcohol wipe from your first aid kit before applying the tape and give the adhesive 10 minutes to set before inflating the pad.

Testing the Seal

At this point, it may be a good idea to lay something heavy on it for a few minutes to be sure. Therm-a-Rest recommends leaving the pad inflated with a weight on top of it overnight, but if you’re mid-thru-hike this may not be an option.

how to repair an inflatable sleeping pad

That should be it; reinflate your pad and sleep easy.

How To Extend the Life of Your Sleeping Pad

Now that you have gone and done all that hard work, here are a few tips to help it to last as long as possible.

1. Don’t Puncture It Again!

Duh. But really, there are a few things you can do to help you achieve this.

First and foremost is campsite selection. When setting up camp, you should thoroughly inspect the area where you plan to set up your tent and remove any small rocks, twigs, or micro-trash. (I’ve heard that people who pack micro-trash out of campsites receive excellent sleeping pad karma, but maybe that’s just a rumor.)

Once your campsite is completely clear make sure that you are also using a footprint for your tent. It can be either the footprint specifically designed for your trail home, or something makeshift, like a piece of Tyvek.  Not only will this help to protect your pad, but will also help to prevent the floor of your tent from wearing thin or tearing.

2. Stop Blowing Into Your Sleeping Pad

I was guilty of this for a long time. I never wanted to carry the inflation sack with me on my hikes. It just felt like unneeded extra work (and extra weight) and I felt I could do without it. That stopped when I held the sleeping pad I used on the AT up to the light and saw just how much mold was growing inside of it. Disgusting.

Using the inflation sacks that are included with many sleep pads helps to prevent moisture from getting into them, and thus helps to reduce the potential for mold growth.

Additionally, using the inflation sack when it is cold out can actually help keep your pad firm all night. When you blow into your pad directly, you are blowing hot air into your pad. Over time, that air will cool and condense, leaving your pad less firm than it was when you first went to bed.

The inflation sack sidesteps this issue. By inflating your pad with cool air from the inflation sack rather than your breath, you avoid this temperature change and can sleep soundly all night. Science.

If you have any more tips for your sleep pad please let me know in the comments. Sleep tight!

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm; photo via Carl Stanfield.

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Comments 2

  • Carol Fielding : Jan 19th

    I have the same sleep pad. I had zero issues with it through my entire AT thru-hike — just lucky, I guess. Thanks for the info about the possibility of mold growth. I never even considered that could happen, and now I will never blow into that sleep pad to “top off” the air again.

    Reply
  • John : Feb 5th

    OR. You buy a tube of Barge Cement. 2 ounces. It dries in 20 minutes and ages to an entertaining snot yellow. It permanently seals, tent floors, tent flys. holes in sleeping pads (punctured a Trest, dripped barge on it, waited 20 and not only did inflate that night but the repair lasted 20 years), tears in rain gear, loose soles on footwear and tears in clothing, making the garment look Frankenstenish. 2 ounces.

    Reply

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