Exped Ultra 3R Sleeping Pad Review

Exped Ultra 3R Sleeping Pad Review
The Exped Ultra 3R Sleeping Mat is a lightweight inflatable sleeping pad that’s 3 inches thick and has an R-value of 2.9, making it suitable for outside temperatures down to 25F. It contains synthetic insulation which makes it very quiet to sleep on and is covered with a durable 20d polyester that feels good against the skin. The pad has a pair of flat stemless valves for rapid inflation and deflation which are more durable and less accident-prone than old-school valves that stick out of a mattress.

The 3″ thickness is sufficient to mask uneven ground, including small rocks, roots, and bumps if you have to lie on top of them. It’s one of the best reasons to switch to a thick inflatable sleeping pad since you can use it to make crappy tent sites (including the one pictured above) comfortable without bottoming out.

Specs at a Glance

  • Type: Air mattress
  • R-Value: 2.9  (~25F/-5C)
  • Size Tested: Rectangular, Medium-Wide (72″ x 25.6″ x 3″)
  • Weight: 18.3 oz (19.4 oz actual) plus an additional 0.5 oz for stuff sack
  • Baffles: Vertical
  • Cover fabric: 20d polyester made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic
  • Valves: 2, flat
  • Inflation sack: Yes, doubles as a waterproof pack liner, weighs an extra 2.1 oz (actual)
  • Available shapes: Mummy, Rectangular
  • Available dimensions: Long Wide (77.6 x 25.6 x 3″), Medium: (72 x 20.5 x 3″), Medium Wide: (72 x 25.6 x 3″)
  • Packed size: 12.2 x 5.1″
  • For complete specs visit ExpedUSA.com

The Ultra 3R Sleeping Pad is available in three mummy and three rectangular sizes including a regular width, a wide width, and a long and wide pad. All six sizes are priced identically so you can pick the size you want without having to choose a smaller size based on its price. The Ultra 3R is also bundled with a large 45L inflation sack/dry bag called a Schnozzel (a $36 value, also available separately), which can be used as a waterproof pack liner.

I tested the wide-width size (72″ x 25.6″ x 3″) which is nice because your arms don’t fall off the sides of the pad while you sleep, compared to narrower mummy or rectangular pads. I’m not that choosy when it comes to sleeping pad width, but some people are. My preference is for air mattresses that are 3″ or thicker, for better cushioning against the ground. Much less than that and you start to feel rocks and roots pocking you in the back.

Ultra 3R Size Variants Available

StyleSizeDimensionsWeight
RectangularM72 x 20.5 x 3 in16.4 oz
RectangularMW72 x 25.6 x 3 in18.3 oz
RectangularLW77.6 x 25.6 x 3 in19.8 oz
MummyM72 x 20.5 x 3 in12.9 oz
MummyMW72 x 25.6 x 3 in15.5 oz
MummyLW77.6 x 25.6 x 3 in16.4 oz

The one thing missing from the Ultra 3R is a way to connect a pillow to the pad so it stays in place at night, like the velcro-based system offered with Sea-to-Summit air mattresses including the S2S Etherlight XT pad. That would be a great enhancement if was offered with the Exped pillow line. If you sleep with a pillow at home, you’ll benefit by using one on backpacking trips. It’s worth the few extra ounces to carry one and really makes a difference in comfort and sleep quality.

The Exped Ultra 3R pad is covered with a 20 ripstop polyester fabric for added durability.
The Exped Ultra 3R pad is covered with a 20 ripstop polyester fabric for added durability.

Insulation

While the Ultra 3R is insulated with synthetic insulation, it has a relatively low R-value of 2.9 making it more of an air pad designed for comfort in late spring and summer weather than a pad for shoulder season or winter use. Its biggest benefit over lower R-value pads in the R=2 to R=3 range is its thickness (3″). See our comprehensive sortable list of sleeping pad R-values to get a sense of where the Ultra 3R air mattress falls in terms of minimum weight, R-value, and thickness compared to its competitors.

What little insulation there is in the Exped Ultra 3R, is laminated to both the top and bottom of each baffle to prevent cold spots. This makes it a quiet pad to sleep on, unlike Thermarest’s NeoAir Pads which use foil sheets inside, that can sound like you’re sleeping on a bag of potato chips if you move around at night.

All of Exped’s New Ultra Sleeping Pads are bundled with a Schnozzel 45L Pump Bag which can be used as a waterproof pack liner.
All of Exped’s new Ultra Sleeping Pads are bundled with a Schnozzel 45L Pump Bag which can be used as a waterproof pack liner.

The Ultra’s synthetic insulation is laminated to the baffles in a way that makes it impervious to bacteria and moisture from your breath should you opt to inflate the pad by blowing into it. But the pad can also be inflated with an included 2.1 oz 45L waterproof stuff sack, called a Schnozzel which is bundled with the pad and can serve double duty as a waterproof pack liner. I’ve used a Schnozzel as a pack liner/stuff sack pretty extensively (See Comparison of Five Ultralight Backpack Liners) and it’s also compatible with the flat valves of other air mattress vendors, including Sea-to-Summit.

The Ultra 3R has an R-value of 2.9 which is good for use down to a minimum outside air temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-5C). Most foam sleeping pads have an R-value=2, while winter sleeping pads have an R-value=5 or higher, which positions the Ultra 3R at the lower end of the warmth spectrum.

In the past, sleeping pad R-values were not comparable between different makes and models which made it nearly impossible to compare sleeping pads made by different brands. That changed in 2020 with the rollout of a new R-value sleeping bag standard (ASTM F3340-18) spearheaded by REI and several major sleeping pad manufacturers including Exped. The R-value of the Ultra 3R is measured using this standard, so this is an R-value you can actually trust. It’s always good to ask off-brand sleeping pad manufacturers how they test their published R-values, since a lot of them don’t test them at all, or don’t adhere to the new standard making it impossible to know their true warmth in comparison with other pads.

The Ultra 3R has two flat values, an industry innovation spearheaded by Exped and now widely adopted by other manufacturers.
The Ultra 3R has two flat values, an industry innovation spearheaded by Exped and now widely adopted by other manufacturers.

Inflation

Inflating the Ultra 3R with the Schnozzel is very quick and only requires three to four bags of air. If you do decide to blow it up by mouth, the intake valve seals after each breadth so you don’t lose air while inflating it. Deflation is also easy because the pad has a dedicated OUT valve and most of the air rushes out as soon as you open it. Both valves are flat and stemless, which improves durability because there’s nothing sticking out to break. Packing the pad away is equally easy. You simply pack fold it twice lengthwise, roll it up with the Schnozzel and pack it in the included stuff sack. It’s a snug fit but it’s not hard to pack.

The Ultra 3R and Schnozzel roll up very compactly and are just slightly larger than a 32 oz Nalgene bottle
The Ultra 3R and Schnozzel roll up very compactly and are just slightly larger than a 32 oz Nalgene bottle

The rectangular medium-wide pad I review here weighs in at 19.4 oz (or 1.1 oz over spec), the Schnozzel weighs 2.1 oz, and the stuff sack weighs another 0.5 oz. I’ve listed the factory weights of all of the Ultra 3R pad sizes above for comparison. As mentioned previously, these are all priced identically regardless of size or type, which I think is a spectacular benefit for consumers.

While this pad isn’t the lightest weight backpack air mattress available with this R-Value, I think it’s a perfectly comfortable and premium air mat if you want a thicker 3″ pad that’s close to 25″ in width. There just aren’t that many lightweight pads 3″ to 4″ thick sleeping pads available today to begin with.

The biggest question I have with the Ultra 3R is whether a sleeping pad with an R-value of 2.9 is worth buying since it has a fairly low range of use weather-wise, particularly in autumn, which is the best time to backpack and camp in my neck of the woods. My preference is to use a 3″ pad with a higher R-value like a NEMO Tensor UL Insulated, which has an R-value=4.2 and still only weighs 19 oz. It’s also easy to pair with a foam pad like the NEMO Switchback which has an R-value=2 for winter use since R-values are additive. But that’s just how I think about sleeping pads since I’m perfectly willing to pay a little more for gear that has a wider range of use, even if it adds an ounce or two to my gear list.

The extra width of a wide pad is great if you like to more space to sleep or hang out at night.
The extra width of a wide pad is great if you like more space to sleep or hang out at night.

Recommendation

Exped has always made excellent insulated air mattresses that are warm and bombproof in terms of durability and this new Exped Ultra 3R air mattress is completely consistent with that tradition. The Ultra 3R has a durable cover to protect it from punctures and is 3″ thick when inflated to protect you from roots and rocks if you have to camp on a poor campsite.

While the option to purchase it in multiple widths and in a rectangular or mummy shape is a perk if you want the added comfort of a wide sleeping pad, my biggest question is whether it’s worth buying a thick pad on the lower end of the R-value spectrum or one with a higher R-value that you can use for a larger portion of the year.  If price isn’t a constraint and the weight is comparable, I’ll go with the higher R-value pad every time.

While the Ultra 3R is a fine pad, its relatively low R-value doesn’t meet my needs as a 3+ season backpacker and camper. But if you only camp during the summer and pack your backpacking gear away after Columbus Day (October 10), the Ultra 3R is a good value for the price and one you’ll certainly enjoy sleeping on.

Appendix: Exped’s Simplified Product Naming Scheme

Exped simplified its sleeping pad product line naming scheme this year to make it more understandable to consumers because their previous naming scheme was laughably complex and opaque. They also killed off most of their older pads, with a few exceptions, to standardize on the following product architecture.

They now offer three series of backpacking pads:

  • In three models: Ultra (ultralight), Versa (versatile), and Dura (durable).
  • In two shapes: Mummy and Rectangular
  • In multiple R-values (it varies by model – for example 1R, 3R, 5R, and 8R)
  • Three dimensions: Medium: (72 x 20.5 x 3″), Medium Wide: (72 x 25.6 x 3″), Long Wide (77.6 x 25.6 x 3″)

Exped’s Ultralight line of pads is recommended when weight and pack size are important; the Versa line offers value and ease of use, while the Dura line is recommended when durability is vital. Being Exped, there are a LOT of different versions  (SKUs) available and you might have to hunt around to find a retailer that carries the one your want since few will carry them all, with the exception of Exped USA, which also sells direct to consumers.

Disclosure: Exped donated this pad for review.

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11 comments

  1. I have an older version of the Nemo Tensor Insulated (R-3.5). I like it, but sometimes wish it were a little thicker. I also occasionally camp in winter, and wish it were a little warmer. I wouldn’t replace it just to replace it, but I put a pretty serious hole in it due to user error. The patch has held well for over a year, but I have been keeping my eyes open for a replacement in case the patch does fail.

    If my pad were to fail, the possible replacements I have in mind are the Sea to Summit Etherlight, the R5 version of this pad, and the new Tensor with R-4.2. I’m familiar with the Tensor, love the eight and packed size, and would welcome the extra warmth of the new one, but wouldn’t mind a little more cushion. From research, it seems like the Etherlight is the most comfortable, but it isn’t as warm as the others. The ExPed R5 seems like it may be a good mix of the two.

    Curious of your thoughts having used them all.

    • I’d get the new Tensor UL Insulated (R-4.2). You’re going to want a minimum of 6R for winter (-15F) and you get that by adding a foam pad (R-2), which you have to sit on outdoors for cooking and snow melting. The Etherlite only has an R of 3.2 (3.5 women’s) and the math just doesn’t get you there for winter. The Ultra 5R (R-4.8) isn’t quite as comfortable as the Tensor, but that’s just my personal opinion. Hope that helps.

      • Thanks for your thoughts. I would only be interested in the Exped for additional comfort where warmth wasn’t an issue. If the Tensor is just as comfortable, I’d stick with the new one.

      • Etherlight xt Xtreme has e value of 6.2. it’s heavy and bulky.
        2023 xlite nxt and xtherm nxt looking good. Less noisy and 3″ but probably still not as comfortable as Nemo/sts/exped

  2. This specific pad isn’t for me but I APPLAUD them for making it a same price regardless of size methodology.

    Therma-Rest NeoAir Xlite there is a $50(!!) difference between the small and large sizes. I acknowledge some level of ignorance on my part but I doubt the cost of the actual materials make up 1/10th the cost of the pad. The money is in labor/mfg/ship/marketing and size matters very little with something like this.

  3. I am getting good service out of my exped downmat. Have they discontinued the downmat?

  4. I went through this very same scenario a few weeks ago. Liked the Exped, the older model was on sale so the price was right but the R value was downgraded with the new ASTM numbers. I opted for the new Nemo insulated, glad I did. Its the same thickness but I can touch ground with my ‘elbow test’ and less so with the Nemo.

  5. I just want to make clear to readers that this pad with R2.9 is a great fit for southern states year round (high country cold weather trips excepted). Few southerners camp in 20F weather. Where Philip is in NH, winter camping is part of the culture and ppl have the gear for it. For cold weather I still use a T.rest Neoair, but the Exped is more comfortable and quieter for 95% of my trips in GA/TN/NC.

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