How to Fix a Leaky Sleeping Pad

After a day of breathtaking vistas and ascents, you climb into your sleeping bag and doze off for the night, only to be woken up later by the cold, uncomfortable ground. Despite your usual care, your sleeping pad has sprung a leak.

Rather than sleeping on a flat air mattress with no insulating value, you can repair your sleeping pad, in the field or at home, with some basic materials, a few easy steps, and a little time.

 

Materials

Repair Kits: If your pad goes flat out in the field, a repair kit can be well worth its light weight and small size. Many manufacturers of inflatable sleeping pads (like Therm-A-Rest, Big Agnes, Pacific Outdoor Equipment, and REI) sell repair kits, as does McNett. Typically, sleeping pad repair kits contain either a) self-adhering patches or b) patch(es) and a liquid adhesive.

The patches provided in repair kits can be small. For larger tears, you may be able to use several patches together, or try self-adhering Tenacious Tape, which comes in a roll. Duct tape will get the job done, but should be considered a last resort, since it will leave a reside on your air mattress after you remove it at home.

Liquid Adhesives: One of the most versatile liquid adhesives is Seam Grip. In this case it can be used alone or with a patch, depending on leak size, to plug holes, tears, and punctures. Seam Grip also has the advantage of a faster curing time in the field, when mixed with a few drops of water.

Check with the manufacturer of your air mattress for their recommended repair materials and methods.
Read all directions and warnings for your sleeping pad and repair kit and materials before starting.

 

Preparation

First, you need to identify the leak(s), any pinholes, holes, tears, or punctures in your sleeping pad. Unless the leak is obvious, you’ll have to locate it by one of the methods below:

    1. Listen: Inflate the sleeping pad, close the valve, and listen closely for the sound of leaking air.
    2. Add soap and water: Mix together a little soap and water and pour some onto the inflated mattress (if you’re in the backcountry keep soap at least 50 meters from water sources). Bubbles on the pad’s surface should help you pinpoint the leak.
    3. Submerge: If you’re at home you can submerge the inflated pad in your bathtub, or try it in a lake or stream in the field. Carefully fold over and rotate the pad so its entire surface area is eventually under water. Escaping bubbles should pinpoint any leaks.
    4. Mark: You may want to mark the location of your leak with a pencil, lest you have to search again.
    5. Clean: Once you’ve located your leak, clean the area of any debris or residue with water, a pre-cleaner (like Cotol-240 from McNett), or an isopropyl alcohol pad.
    6. Deflate the mattress and close the valve.
    7. Dry: Let the pad dry thoroughly before repairing it.

       

      Pinholes: No Patch Method

        1. If the leaks are small pinholes, apply a few drops of Seam Grip to fill in each hole and spread the adhesive at least 1/4 inch beyond each side of the hole. 
        2. Let the pad dry flat overnight.

           

          Liquid Adhesive and Patch

          If the holes are larger than pinholes, a patch from your repair kit may be needed.

          1. Cut a patch from the repair material. The patch should extend 1/2 inch beyond the tear or hole in all directions. Cut the patch in a circular shape; avoiding corners will help keep the patch from coming off.
          2. Apply your adhesive to the leak area, extending beyond the size of the patch you’re going to apply.
          3. Press the entire patch down on the adhesive on the pad and hold it down for 2-3 minutes to help the adhesive get a good hold.
          4. Let dry flat for 5-10 minutes, then you can apply another coat of adhesive and give it 15-20 minutes to cure.
          5. Let the pad dry flat overnight.

           

            Self-Adhering Patch

            Similar to the liquid adhesive method is the self-adhesive, or peel-and-stick, patch method.

            1. Cut a patch that extends past the edges of the tear or hole. For larger tears and holes leave a larger overhang to give the patch better grip. Cut the patch in a circular shape; avoiding corners will help keep the patch from coming off.
            2. Peel away the protective film from the sticky side of the patch and firmly apply the patch to the air mattress.
            3. Hold the patch down for 2-3 minutes to help the adhesive get a good hold. Then give it another 5 minutes to cure. Use a bit of Seam Grip for extra holding power if available.
            4. Let the pad dry flat overnight.

             

            Valve Leaks

            1. If you develop a small leak in your sleeping pad’s valve, carefully apply Seam Grip to the leak.
            2. Allow the pad to dry in an upright position, giving it extra drying time due to the pressure on the valve.
            3. If your valve is beyond repair and needs replacing, see if your manufacturer offers a valve repair kit.

             

            Faster Curing

            There are a few options for faster curing times.

            Hot Bond Adhesive: Therm-A-Rest sells repair kits with Hot Bond, a permanent adhesive that works in cold and wet conditions and cures very quickly. This is the short version of Hot Bond directions (always read the complete directions first):

            1. Place a Hot Bond pouch in boiling water for three minutes.
            2. Quickly, and carefully, apply Hot Bond, then patch, to leaky area of pad.
            3. Place your hot pan of water on top of patch for 60 seconds (be sure mattress valve is open!). You may want a piece of plastic bag between the pan and patch.
            4. Smooth out the patch by rolling a water bottle over it a few times.
            5. Let pad rest 10 minutes. It’s now ready for immediate use.

            Seam Grip + Water: In the field you can speed up Seam Grip’s cure time by mixing in a few drops of water before application:

            1. Mix together the water and adhesive on the back of the repair patch you’ll be applying.
            2. After applying the Seam Grip and patch to the pad (as described above), allow the pad to cure flat for 30 minutes. It will fully cure in 2 hours.
            3. Note that mixing water with Seam Grip will give it a cloudier appearance. McNett’s Cotol-240 also works as a cure accelerator.

            Uncured + Self-adhering Patch: if you must use your sleeping pad before the adhesive has fully cured:

            1. Apply a self-adhering repair patch over the uncured Seam Grip. The patch should extend 1/2 inch beyond the adhesive area.
            2. Press the patch firmly onto the pad.
            3. Remove the patch after 3 or 4 days and the Seam Grip should have permanently sealed the hole underneath.

             

            The moment of truth

            The final test is to slowly inflate the repaired air mattress and listen for leaks. If you notice any additional leaks follow the same process you used above to fix them.

            Regardless of the repair method you use, the longer you leave the adhesive to dry, the better hold it will have on your sleeping pad. If possible, allow the repair to cure overnight, ideally up to 24 hours, before using.

            The best care for your sleeping pad is to avoid leaks in the first place. Check your sleeping pad for leaks out of the box, before heading into the backcountry. In camp, remove any rocks, sticks, or other items that could cause pressure points and holes, as well as discomfort, underneath.

             

            Always check first with the manufacturer of your air mattress for their recommended repair materials and methods. Read all directions and warnings for your sleeping pad and repair kit and materials before starting.

             

            Filed under: Outdoor Skills

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            Sleeping Pad Accessories  |  Sleeping Pads

            Comments

            Bill S
            TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
            2,430 reviewer rep
            5,359 forum posts
            November 14, 2009 at 4:06 p.m. (EST)

            We encountered a problem on Denali not dealt with in the article. One of the members of our party had a slow leak in his pad - not a complete disaster, since we, like most people in winter conditions, were using a combination of a closed cell and an inflatable pad. Finding a small, slow leak in subzero conditions is very challenging, and the soap and water approach does not work. By several of us working on it, we eventually identified the leak, but there must be a better way.

            Also, you don't mention that Cascade Designs (Thermarest) has a thermal glue in their repair kit. That is, you heat the tube in boiling water to soften it. The big advantage is that it cures very rapidly - you can use the pad immediately without waiting for a long cure as with seamseal.

            Tipi Walter
            225 reviewer rep
            1,200 forum posts
            November 14, 2009 at 6:40 p.m. (EST)

            Bill's post reminds me of my last trip when I took out a brand new Thermarest and discovered a very slow 16 hour leak from inside the valve. I put a little water in my cook pot and suspended the valve in the water and voila! The leak. I learned two things:

            ** Never take out a brand new pad on a long trip w/o using it first in the "back yard."

            ** Find a box and send it back quickly to get a refund.

            Thermarest has had several repair kits over the years, the Hot Bond of course comes to mind, along with a new Fast and Light patch kit for the Prolite/NeoAir types and before the Hot Bond they had another glue-patch kit. As mentioned, McNetts also has their own repair kit and so when I go out I take the Hot Bond kit and the McNetts--double duty, double protection? Maybe.

            trouthunter
            MODERATOR REVIEW CORPS
            998 reviewer rep
            3,505 forum posts
            November 14, 2009 at 10:05 p.m. (EST)

            I never had a leak in my Ridgerest!

            Sometimes I carry two, and sleep like a baby.

            Tipi Walter
            225 reviewer rep
            1,200 forum posts
            November 15, 2009 at 10:12 a.m. (EST)

            What's the Rvalue of two Ridgerests??


            Okay, I figured it out, it's about 5.2R. I wonder how comfy two of them actually are? I tried one Ridgerest back in the '80s and found it totally unusable on snow and ice. Is it a true factor to add up the Rvalues of two pads and this becomes the true R number? Just wondering.

            trouthunter
            MODERATOR REVIEW CORPS
            998 reviewer rep
            3,505 forum posts
            November 15, 2009 at 11:24 a.m. (EST)

            Good question Tipi,

            I don't know.

            I tend to be one of those guys that hangs on to old gear until it turns to dust, and that's the biggest reason I still use a Ridgerest, not that it's necessarily the wisest choice. I've found I can sleep on plywood if I have to, I guess that's not typical. On the flip side, if I have to eat freeze dried for more than three days in a row I tend to get whiny, I keep it to myself, but I don't have to like it. HaHa.

            I've found two Ridgerests provide adequate insulation and comfort for me during January / February. They are light & trouble free, but bulky no doubt.

            I bought three of them from buddies who moved on to Thermarests, and I do plan on getting one this year myself.

            Alicia
            TRAILSPACE STAFF
            715 reviewer rep
            3,158 forum posts
            November 15, 2009 at 2:21 p.m. (EST)

            Finding a small, slow leak in subzero conditions is very challenging, and the soap and water approach does not work. By several of us working on it, we eventually identified the leak, but there must be a better way.

            Also, you don't mention that Cascade Designs (Thermarest) has a thermal glue in their repair kit. That is, you heat the tube in boiling water to soften it. The big advantage is that it cures very rapidly - you can use the pad immediately without waiting for a long cure as with seamseal.

            Good question, Bill. Naturally I would turn around and ask you what the solution is in subzero conditions! If anyone has some good suggestions for specific situations/problems like this, I'd love to work them into the article.

            You're right about the Therm-a-rest Hot Bond. I'll add that info to the article under faster curing info. You'll notice a tube of Hot Bond in my pictures.

            Tipi Walter
            225 reviewer rep
            1,200 forum posts
            November 15, 2009 at 3:00 p.m. (EST)

            My solution for long trips is to have a buried Thermarest cache within a day or two of wherever I am backpacking. On my last trip this proved to be worthwhile as I needed it. For backpackers not doing long loops and doing a A to B trip in below zero temps, there's the Toughskin pad solution. When inflated it has an R of 5.1, and when deflated or leaking it's the same as an inflated Prolite 4: 3.2R. Good to know and I tried it down in my basecamp tent a couple of nights ago and it works.

            Bill S
            TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
            2,430 reviewer rep
            5,359 forum posts
            November 15, 2009 at 8:43 p.m. (EST)

            Naturally I would turn around and ask you what the solution is in subzero conditions!

            The way we found the leak on Denali was several hours of blowing the pad up as hard as we could (helps to have a genuine blowhard in the group!), then putting weight on one end and putting an ear close to the pad while scanning every square centimeter of surface, top and bottom (is "scanning" the right term for putting your ear next to the pad and moving it around?). Your ear is fairly sensitive to a gentle pinpoint breeze (ask your significant other about this ;=D). Everyone in the tent has to be very quiet, and the wind needs to be at a low level with no tent flapping. It still took a couple of hours of scanning and rescanning, then confirming with a bit of hand sanitizer (rather than soapy water, which is harder to clean off before applying the patch). It turned out to be 2 holes, the second discovered while doing a confirming scan. As I said, there must be a better way, certainly one that is faster. There was also a bit of luck involved.

            Rick-Pittsburgh
            1,631 reviewer rep
            3,962 forum posts
            January 8, 2010 at 1:46 a.m. (EST)

            I have used tear-aid(purchased from Cabelas.) Seems to work and its not a messy process. I keep it in my kit.

            http://www.cabelas.com/p-0028443516558a.shtml

            2 diff types(A & B)/diff. applications. Ive used it on my tent fly and have a friend that used it on an inflatable raft. Quick, strong fix. Weighs next to nothing.

            This is the big roll. But you can get it in smaller lengths. Quick fix for alot of applications. I have also used it on my gaiters. Works well and it is clear.

            As far as another way of finding a leak? The above mentioed are the only ones I know of.

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