Few people in the US can really identify with this preference for the hard ground. We love our high tech cushy mattresses! A night on a hard and unforgiving floor would leave most of us sore and unrested. Perhaps you have been there before...tossing and turning...lying on the cold earth...with a rock jutting up into your side! With no amount of repositioning that could ever find that level of comfort that you are familiar with!
If you have experienced what I just described...it was probably on a camping trip. It is experiences such as those that have put sleeping on "Hard Ground" at the top of many people's complaints about going camping. It is because of this that the market for camping sleeping pads has been so successful. People don't want to feel like they are roughing it when they don't have to be.
But you know...sleeping pads are not just a luxury. A sleeping pad could save your life! That is because they help prevent the loss of warmth through conduction with the earth. Temperature is transfered when there is a difference in temperature between the two objects...based upon the total surface area of the two objects in contact...and on the efficiency of the insulation that is between the two objects.
If you were to lie down on a nice cool rock...like the man in the photo...your warm body would transfer it's heat into the rock. You would become colder...as the rock became warmer. If you are ever in a survival situation trying to stay warm through the night...contact with the cold earth could sap all of your warmth away...even if you do have on nice warm clothing. And it doesn't need to be a blizzard outside to make you cold enough to die! Hypothermia can strike at moderate temperatures around 60 degrees, if inadequate clothing, dampness, high winds or prolonged exposure overcomes the body's ability to conserve heat. A sleeping pad can effectively separate you from the earth...helping to keep your warmth where you need it...with you!
Sleeping pads have come a long way over the years. It's not just that blue foam thing that everyone used to have. Nowadays there are a myriad of options to choose from.
As you are looking at the options...here are some questions you ought to ask yourself...
"Is this pad going to be used for car camping...or backpacking?"
With "car camping" pads only having to be carried from your car to your campsite...it is no big deal if they are heavy and bulky. A good ole' fashioned big blow up mattress like a coleman weighs somewhere around 10lbs...but who cares!...you will be sleeping on something in the ballpark to what you have at home. Make sure if you go with one of those big inflatable mattresses...that you arrange to have a pump of some kind! Blowing up an entire mattress with just your lungs is exhausting.
If you are backpacking...and need to watch every ounce that you carry...and need to conserve room...then you can go for the other extreme like this one from Thermarest that is the latest in light comfort. The regular size only weighs 14 ounces!!!!...and it rolls down to the size of a water bottle. The downsides are that it is expensive...and thin enough that you would need to watch what you rested it on to avoid puncturing it.
"Is this pad going to be used in rugged conditions where it needs to be built tough?"
Is it your intent to lie this pad directly on rock? In the quest to make lighter and lighter weighted pads...many sacrifice durability. Does the pad have a patch kit if it has a hole?
"How cold of conditions do I want it to be good for?"
Sleeping pads have different ratings for how well they insulate you against the ground. Some will use the terminology "Summer" or "Winter" pads...while others give a temperature rating for how cold you can use the pad and expect to stay warm...or they use something called an "R-value". Here...Big Agnes offers their summer version of a pad...and an insulated model for colder weather.
Mummy...or square...long...or regular...automatic blow up?...
Make sure that the pad you purchase is big enough for your body and fits the shape of your sleeping bag! Do you want to blow it up...or have that done automatically? There are other bells and whistles that you may have to weigh the value of.
"What is my budget for a pad?"
If your budget is limited...like many of ours are nowadays...you could look on craigslist and find pads from time to time that might suit your purposes. Or you could do like my family did...and instead of spending a wad of money on one or two pads...we spent the same amount getting pads for the whole family by purchasing these Alps Mountaineering pads from Sierra Trading Post. They are heavier than some of the other backpacking pads...but hey...at least we ALL have pads! They have great reviews...are durable...are self-inflating...and a great value. These pads are our emergency evacuation pads...that will also be taken out for Boyscout campouts and the like. Other than that...our family will continue to enjoy our $30-ish Coleman mattress!!
I just threw out some common names in the world of sleeping pads and mattresses...there are plenty of others out there that could do well for you. I recommend going to a site like Amazon...and reading others reviews of the products to learn of their strengths and weaknesses before purchasing. There are also all kinds of backpacking sites that review gear and can give you their two cents.
So...get together pads for your family...for both recreation...and emergencies!