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Can you use a winter sleeping pad for year-round backpacking and camping?

My boring gray Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad "in action."
My boring gray Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad “in action.”

If you want to go winter camping or backpacking but want to save some money, there’s no reason you can’t use a winter sleeping pad with a higher R-value all year round instead of buying separate three-season and winter sleeping pads.

A sleeping pad like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is a good example: it has an R-value of 5 and weighs 15 ounces while its three-season counterpart, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite has an R-value of 3.2 and weighs 12 ounces. If you don’t mind carrying an extra 3 ounces (the weight of half a gulp of water), there’s no reason you can’t just buy a XTherm and use it year round. They’re basically identical sleeping pads, although the XTherm is a bit more durable with a thicker cover, not necessarily a bad thing with an inflatable sleeping bag if you are rough with your gear.

Will you be too warm in summer if you sleep on a higher R-value pad? Not noticeably. Car campers use thick, high R-value sleeping pads in summer without a loss of comfort. For example, my wife uses a sleeping pad with an R-value of 9.5 in summer and she sleeps fine with it. If you do feel warm, just vent your quilt or sleeping bag more.

How high should the R-values of a three-season sleeping pad and a winter sleeping pad be? If you’re male, a sleeping pad with a minimum R-value of 3 is usually good enough for three-season camping in temperatures of 40 degrees or warmer. Women tend to be colder sleepers, so I’d recommend using a sleeping with an R-value of 4 or higher. In winter, men can usually get by with a sleeping pad with a minimum R-value of 5, while women should shoot for a sleeping pad with R-value of 6. Also check to see if a manufacturer makes mens and women’s sleeping pads, because the pads for women tend to be warmer than the pads for guys. If you’re a guy, there’s also no reason you can’t use a women’s sleeping pad.

Can you combine a foam pad with a warm weather sleeping pad and save money that way? Absolutely. R-values are additive if you stack two pads together. One way to do this in winter is to put an inflatable pad like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite (R-Value = 3.2) on top of a foam pad like the Therm-a-rest Zlite Foam Pad (R-value = 2.6)

Here’s a list of sleeping pad R-values to help you choose a sleeping pad. Companies that don’t list R-values usually don’t test their pads because they don’t want to pay for the extra product testing.

MfgLowest Price (Click)R-ValueWeight (oz)ThicknessType
Big AgnesGreen Ridge1.5172.5Inflatable
Big AgnesAir Core1.5213.25Inflatable
Big AgnesInsulated Aircore4.1223.25Inflatable
Big AgnesDouble Stuffed Double Z 5.8244Inflatable
Big AgnesInsulated Q-Core5274Inflatable
Big AgnesInsulated Q-Core SL4.5173.5Inflatable
Big AgnesDouble Z1.5174Inflatable
Big AgnesTwo Track5.5362Self-Inflating
Big AgnesHinman5.5361.5Self-Inflating
KlymitInertia X FrameNA9.11.5Inflatable
KlymitStatic V1.318.12.5Inflatable
KlymitInertia XLNA171.5Inflatable
KlymitInsulated Static V4.4252.5Inflatable
KlymitInertia X-LiteNA6.11.5Inflatable
KlymitInertia O ZoneNA12.21.75Inflatable
KlymitStatic V21.316.332.5Inflatable
KlymitX WaveNA10.51.5Inflatable
KlymitStatic V Luxe1.326.53Inflatable
KlymitInsulated Static V4.4252.5Inflatable
Sea-to-SummitComfort Light Mat1162.5Inflatable
Sea-to-SummitComfort Light Insulated Mat4.220.52.5Inflatable
Sea-to-SummitComfort Plus Mat2.5202.5Inflatable
Sea-to-SummitComfort Plus Insulated Mat525.52.5Inflatable
Sea-to-SummitUltralight Mat0.712.52Inflatable
Sea-to-SummitUltralight Insulated Mat3.315.52Inflatable
Therm-a-RestZ-lite SOL2.6140.75Closed Cell
Therm-a-RestZ Shield1.5120.38Closed Cell
Therm-a-RestProlite2.4171Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestProlite Womens3.0171.0Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestNeoAir XLite3.2122.5Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir XLite Womens3.9122.5Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir XTherm5.7152.5Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir XLite Max SV3.2162.5Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir All Season4.9192.5Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir Trekker3172.5Inflatable
Therm-a-RestRidgerest Solar3.5190.79Closed Cell
Therm-a-RestRidgerest SOLite2.8141.5Closed Cell
Therma-RestProlite Plus3.4201.5Self-Inflating
Therma-RestProlite Plus Womens4.2201.5Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestNeoAir Venutre WV1.8242Inflatable
Therm-a-RestTrail Pro4302Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestWomens Trail Pro4.8302Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestTrail Lite3.4281.5Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestWomens Trail Lite4.9281.5Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestTrail Scout3.4221Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestZonker4.4411.75Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestRidgeRest Classic2.6140.625Closed Cell
Therm-a-RestNeoAir Dream6664Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir Camper2.2243Inflatable
Therm-a-RestMondoKing11.4754Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestLuxury MAP6.8523Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestBasecamp5382Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestEvolite Plus3.2202.5Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestEvolite2.0122Self-Inflating
Therm-a-RestLair Air2.2322Inflatable
Therm-a-RestNeoAir Voyager2.2232.5Inflatable
ExpedDownmat Lite 54.1212Inflatable
ExpedSynMat Lite 53.823.12Inflatable
ExpedDownmat 75.929.82.8Inflatable
ExpedDownmat UL 75.920.52.8Inflatable
ExpedDownmat 98343.5Inflatable
ExpedSynmat 74.929.92.8Inflatable
ExpedSynmat UL 73.115.82.8Inflatable
ExpedSynmat 9625.43.5Inflatable
ExpedSynmat Hyperlite3.312.32.5Inflatable
ExpedSynmat Winterlite4.914.33.5Inflatable
ExpedDownmat Winterlite716.83.5Inflatable
ExpedSynmat 126524.7Inflatable
ExpedSyncell 52.925.62Inflatable
Gossamer GearNightlight2.274.90.75Closed Cell
Gossamer GearAir Beam SleepersNA10.12.5Inflatable
NEMOAstro AirNA202.5Inflatable
NEMOAstro InsulatedNA192.5Inflatable
NEMOTensorNA13.53Inflatable
NEMOTensor InsulatedNA153Inflatable
NEMOVector InsulatedNA203Inflatable
NEMOAstro Insulated LiteNA133Inflatable
NEMOCosmo AirNA233Inflatable
NEMOCosmo Air LiteNA173Inflatable
NEMOCosmo InsulatedNA292.5Inflatable
NEMOCosmo Insulated LiteNA213Inflatable
NEMOZOR-RNA141Self-inflating
NEMOZOR-SNA101Self-inflating
NEMOORA-RNA201Self-inflating
NEMOORA-SNA13.51Self-inflating
REIFlash Insulated3.2162.5Inflatable
REIAir Rail 1.54.2261.5Self-inflating
REITrekker5.6401.75Self-inflating
WenzelBlue Foam Pad1.47.50.38Closed Cell
REICirrus Insulated2.8232.5Inflatable

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27 comments

  1. I have also extended the comfort range of my 3 season pad by simply putting my raingear under it on nights when the temperature dipped below freezing

    • I can’t see how rain gear lying flat under a sleeping pad would slow down heat loss. Rain gear doesn’t have any insulating value by itself, only what it wraps. I think piling your pad on top on your backpack would probably been more effective. Or am I missing something?

  2. Phil,
    The XTherm in the photo has the dark gray side up. I always thought that that was the bottom of the pad, as it seems it is a thicker nylon. And photos on Cascade Designs website always show the silver side up. Which is correct?

  3. You mentioned:

    “If you’re a guy, there’s also no reason you can use a women’s sleeping pad.”

    I think you meant “no reason you can’t “. Otherwise, I have to take back all those nights I used a woman’s Thermarest ProLite 4 or turn in my man-card, whatever and wherever it is…. At the time, that was the lightest full length pad I could find.

    I use a 3 season earlier model Neo Air for year round camping. Qf course, in Texas, winter camping temperature range is 15° to 50°, often in the same week.

  4. Nice post! I think you meant to list the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite (you have the Klymit Insulated Static V listed twice)?

  5. I would like to see your chart with another column, which would be R-value divided by weight. That would be an interesting figure of merit. Also cool would be the ability to sort by column heading.

    • Welcome to the mobile world….hard to make wide displays that mobile readers can read.

    • I too thought this would be interesting, so I ran the numbers through Excel. Here are the Top 5 pads in R-value per oz (where R-values exist):
      – Gossamer Gear Nightlight (0.463)
      – Exped Downmat Winterlite (0.417)
      – Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm (0.380)
      – Exped Synmat Winterlite (0.343)
      – Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Womens (0.325)

      Only four of the top 15 aren’t Exped or Therm-a-Rest. Outside of the Gossamer Gear pad, it’s those two brands until the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SL (0.265) at #9. BA Double Stuffed Double Z at #11 and S2S Ultralight Insulated at #14.

      • Big size difference between a GG nightlight and a TAR XTherm, so I’m not sure what you’re really measuring. Perhaps you should normalize for surface area too.

      • Good caveat, as this is just straight R-value to weight with no accounting for size (or thickness). Also, the 20 pads from the table that don’t have/publish R-values throw a wrench in this comparison. For instance, I have the Nemo Astro Air Insulated Lite and I’m almost certain it would be competitive with the XTherm, or at least in the top 10, but Nemo doesn’t publish. I think the most meaningful revelation from this comparison is how stacked it is with Exped and TAR mats — include other brands in your research, of course, but they appear to be a good place to start.

      • Exped is always a good choice for winter sleeping pads. I use an TAR Xtherm because I think it’s more compressible, but for comfort Exped rules.

  6. I have a Big Agnes Insulated Aircore (R-Value: 4.1) and a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (R-Value 3.4). I tested both in a tent on a 17º night in my back yard, which had several inches of snow on the ground at the time. I froze on the Big Agnes pad and, after a few sleepless hours, switched to the NeAir, was plenty warm and I finally got to sleep. I changed only the pad, nothing else. I don’t know why the higher rated pad was so much colder for me (it also weighs about twice as much). I guess after all the spreadsheets, comparisons, and purchase decisions… YMMV.

    On that testing night, my original plan was to sleep on the ground with a tarp cover, however, our Great Pyrenees wanted to join in the fun so I pitched the tent. Once the tent went up, my eleven year old grandson decided to partake in the adventure on his regular size NeoAir XLite. I don’t think he stirred the whole night, not even the first half when I was freezing.

    • Perhaps it was all your hot air? Seriously, if you inflated the first pad earlier in the night, the air in the pad would have cooled while warming the snow below it by a few degrees. When you inflated the second pad later in the night, the air in the pad was warmer (because it just came from your lungs) and the snow beneath it would have been warmed by your body heat and the air in the first pad.

  7. Phil. I used a sea to summit ultralight pad (r0.7) plus a gossamer gear thin light (r0.45) during a recent trip with temps in the upper 30s I was chilly with my 20 deg quilt. Clearly a time to bring my insulated version. I know its subjective to individual differences but where would you say a lightly insulated set up would start to fail? I feel that my r 1 system works fine in the 60s and even the 50s .

    • Air temperature is very different from ground temperature, which is why you can get hypothermic from lying on the ground, injured of instance, for a long period in warm weather. Just mentioning that because it’s hard to correlate the two.

      Where will R=1 insulation fail? I’ve used R=1 and R=2 in summer but never in lower temps.
      Now, I tend to stick to about R=3 myself for three season for no particular reason other than it’s always worked for me. In other words, I don’t know.

  8. In combining 2 pads for winter use in order to obtain a higher R value, is it best to put the foam pad beneath the inflatable pad or vise-versa? I’ve read on another site where some people believe it does make a difference, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to me that it would. Any thoughts on this?

  9. The extra-large Mondo King has become my alternate year-around bed at home. Heavy for backpacking but it is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on and portable for anywhere or any surface, if protected from sharp objects. With 11+ R-value it can roll up to go anywhere any time of the year. No, it is not warmer in warm weather. I also have the Neo Air X Therm for packing, larger size even though I’m short, and very warm in any winter condition so far, down to zero F. I don’t know what the technology is in these things, but it sure does work as advertised.

  10. R = 5 BA insulated Q-core works fine for me on warm nights (60 degrees F) as well, as long as I am in an unzipped light bag, or a knit bag liner draped with my coat or with one of those silvered emergency tarps people keep in their cars. Q-core is a thick pad, very comfy. Note, it is a thicker pad, so it takes longer to heat up from your body. I have a sub-3 oz battery powered automatic inflater gadget, best sub-3 oz luxury (other than seasoning for food). Set it up, pad inflates in 3 to 5 minutes while you are busy doing other things. https://www.camp-tek.com/

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