10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads

10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads

An insulating sleeping pad is a must-have for backpackers who sleep on the ground in tents and under tarp shelters to prevent body heat loss to the ground. The best backpacking sleeping pads are air mattresses or foam pads because they’re lightweight and compact. While they vary in composition and thickness, they are all designed to complement your sleep insulation, keeping you warm, so your body can recover after a day of hiking.

Last year (2020), the major camping and backpacking sleeping pad manufacturers including Therm-a-Rest, REI, Sea-to-Summit, NEMO, Exped, and Big Agnes began using a common R-value testing standard to measure and rate the insulation values of their sleeping pads. This is a big win for backpackers because you can now compare the warmth provided by pads made from different manufacturers. See this comprehensive list of the latest Sleeping Pad R-values from all of these manufacturers, including a comparison of their old ratings and the new R-value ratings.

Make / ModelTypeR-ValueWeightPrice
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLiteAir4.212 oz$190
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XThermAir6.915 oz$215
Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT InsulatedAir3.216.3 oz$190
NEMO Tensor InsulatedAir3.515 oz$160
NEMO Tensor Alpine ULAir4.817 oz$225
Big Agnes Q Core SLXAir3.218 oz$150
Sea-to-Summit Ultralight InsulatedAir3.116.9 oz$140
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SolFoam214 oz$45
NEMO SwitchbackFoam214.5 oz$50
Exped Synmat ULAir2.916.8 oz$179

While the R-value of a sleeping pad is important, particularly in cooler weather it’s best to also consider its weight, durability, size, thickness, comfort, and price. Here are our picks for the best 10 sleeping pads available today based on these dimensions. Many of these sleeping pads are available in different lengths, widths, and weights, making it easy to find a good choice to fit your needs.

1. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad

The NeoAir XLite is the most popular inflatable sleeping pad sold today and for good reason. It packs up small and flat, taking up little room in a backpack. The XLite is 2.5 inches thick, providing plenty of comfort for side sleepers and back sleepers, with an R-value of 4.2 making it one of the best 3-season pads available. The XLite is available in a variety of widths and lengths, with the 72″ x 20″ regular size weighing in at just 12 oz. The XLite also comes with an inflation sack that can be used as a stuff sack. Read our Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | REI | Amazon

2. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Sleeping Pad

The NeoAir XTherm is nearly identical to the NeoAir XLite but has more insulation and a tougher cover fabric for greater dependability in cold weather and winter. It also packs up small and flat, taking up little room in a backpack, despite having more insulation. The R-Value of 6.9 will keep you warm down to 40 below zero F, while the inflatable 2.5 inch thick pad provides plenty of cushion for side sleepers. The NeoAir XTherm is available in a variety of widths and lengths with the 72″ x 20″ regular mummy size weighing in at just 15 oz. The XTherm also comes with an inflation sack that can be used as a stuff sack. Read our Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm review.

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | REI | Amazon

3. Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Pad

Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated

The Sea To Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad has extra thick 4″ air sprung cells that provide excellent comfort for side and back sleepers. ThermoLite synthetic insulation and a platinum liner reflect warmth back to you to minimize radiant heat loss. A flat valve makes it quick to inflate and deflate, and a combination stuff sack/air pump is included for ease of use. The Ether Light has an R-Value of 3.2, making it suitable for three-season use, while a size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs in at 15 oz. Multiple sizes are available. Read our Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Sea to Summit 

4. NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad

NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad
The NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad strikes an excellent balance between low weight and comfort. Three inches thick, it provides plenty of clearance for the bony hips of side sleepers, but rolls up flat and surprisingly small when deflated. While it contains internal reflective layers like Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir pads, it’s noticeably quieter and not crinkly sounding. Weighing just 15 ounces in a size regular (72″ x 20″), the Tensor has an R-value of 3.5, making it suitable for 3-season use. The Tensor Insulated pad is available in a wide range of lengths and widths, including a 9 0z short 48″ mummy which is ideal for ultralight backpacking. An inflation sack is included. Read our NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad Review.

Check out the latest price at:
NEMO

5. NEMO Tensor Alpine Air Pad

NEMO Tensor Alpine Air Pad

The NEMO Tensor Alpine is a four-season insulated sleeping pad that lightweight enough that it can be used year-round. With an R-value of 4.8, the Tensor Alpine is 3 inches thick and insulated with 3 layers of aluminum film much like Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir pads but far quieter without any crinkly sounds to disturb your tent partner. A low profile flat valve provides rapid inflation, deflation, and micro-adjustments so you can fine-tune the inflation firmness. Weighing just 17 oz, the Tensor Alpine includes an inflation sack for rapid deployment.

Check out the latest price at:
NEMO | Amazon

6. Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated
The Big Agnes Insulated Q Core SLX is a super comfy, lightweight inflatable sleeping pad, that’s 3.5 inches thick with 4.25 inch side baffles to keep you centered on the pad. With an R-value of 3.2, the Q-Core SLX is covered with a luxurious quilted top with flat valves for increased durability and rapid deflation. Insulated with Primaloft Silver, the pad is very quiet compared to pads insulated with reflective foil and includes an inflation sack for rapid inflation. A regular-sized (72″ x 20″) Insulated Q Core SLX weighs 18 oz, but the pad is also available in a very wide variety of lengths and widths.

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | REIAmazon

7. Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Insulated Pad

Sea to Summit Ultralight

 

The Sea To Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad has 2″ thick air-sprung cells that adapt to a sleeper’s curves like the mattress of their bed at home, providing excellent comfort for side and back sleepers. Flat valves make it quick to inflate and deflate, and a combination stuff/air pump is included for ease of use. The Ultralight has an R-Value of 3.1, making it suitable for three-season use, while a size regular (72″ 20″) weighs in at 16.9 oz. Multiple sizes are also available. Read our Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad Review

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | REI

8. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Foam Pad

Z Lite Sol

The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is an ultralight, inexpensive, and virtually indestructible foam sleeping pad, making it a favorite among ultralight backpacking fanatics and parents alike. Made with closed-cell foam, it folds up into accordion-like sections making it easy to carry and attach to the outside of a backpack. One side has an aluminized reflective coating with radiates your body heat back at you.  With an R-Value of 2.0, the Z Lite Sol is a good warm weather sleeping pad. A size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs 14 oz, but it’s also available in multiple sizes. You can also trim a foam Z Lite Sol with scissors to shave off gear weight. Read our ZLite Sol Review.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

9. NEMO Switchback Foam Pad

Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad

The NEMO Switchback is folding accordion-shaped closed-cell foam pad with a reflective coating, like the Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol. The only real difference between the two is that the Switchback folds up slightly smaller when folded up.  A size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs 14.5 oz, and has an R-value of 2. Like the Z Lite Sol, you can cut a Switchback up to save gear weight or reshape it for a specific purpose. Price Range: $40-$50. Read our NEMO Switchback Review. 

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | REI | Amazon

10. Exped Synmat UL

Exped Synmat UL

The Exped Synmat UL is a lightweight and compact inflatable mat that is 2.8 inches thick and has an R-value of 2.9. It has separate inflation and deflation valves that are flush with the surface of the pad for better durability. It’s a rectangular pad, 20.5″ wide at the head and foot ends and 72″. The regular length pad weighs 16.8 oz, but it also available in a shorter 64″ and longer 77″ length. The mat contains microfiber insulation to eliminate cold spots, but still rolls up extremely compactly for easy packing. This pad is usually bundled with an Exped Schnozzel, an inflatable pump sack, that also makes a great waterproof pack liner.

Check out the latest price at:
Backcountry | Amazon

Backpacking Sleeping Pad Guide

Choosing a sleeping pad requires prioritizing across multiple factors, some of which can be at odds with one another.

Sleeping Pad R-Values and Air Temperature in Degrees

What’s the correlation between air temperature and sleeping pad R-values? When do you need a pad with a higher R-value? This table is based on Exped’s recommendations in Fahrenheit and Celsius degrees.

Air Temperature (F):50433629221580-7-14-21-30
Minimum R-Value11.522.533.544.555.566.5
Air Temperature (C):1062-2-6-9-13-18-22-26-30-34
Minimum R-Value11.522.533.544.555.566.5

In addition:

  • R-values are additive, so you can combine two pads to increase your warmth level.
  • Women need higher R-values pads because they have lower body mass than men. An additional R-value of 1 is usually a good hedge for women and other cold sleepers

Sleeping Pad Thickness

Thicker sleeping pads are often more comfortable for side sleepers because they provide more cushioning under the hip bones. Depending on their length and width, it may take more breaths to inflate a very thick air pad, something to factor into your decision.

Sleeping Pad Dimensions

Most popular sleeping pads are available a wide range of lengths and widths. While large pads are often more comfortable, they’re often heavier. Most pads are available in a standard 72″ x 20″ size. But many pads are also available in longer, shorter, and wider sizes, or mummy and rectangular shapes.

Sleeping Pad Weight

A sleeping pad is one of the most important items on your gear list in terms of comfort and sleep insulation. While the weight of all backpacking gear matters, don’t make the mistake of being miserable at night by choosing a pad that compromises the quality of your sleep, simply to reduce the weight of your gear list. For example, most sleeping bag and quilt temperature ratings assume that you’re sleeping on a pad with an R-value between 4.0 and 5.0. If you sleep with a pad that has a lower R-value, even in summer, you probably won’t be able to experience the full temperature rating of your sleep insulation. That’s a sobering thought.

Sleeping Pad Compactness

The size and compactness of a sleeping pad can be an important fact depending on your style of packing and the size of your backpack. Inflatable pads usually pack up the smallest, self-inflating pads are usually larger, and foam pads are the largest. Depending on how you pack,  foam sleeping pads may need to be attached to the outside of your backpack because they’re so large. While closed-cell foam pads don’t absorb water if they get wet, you’ll want to dry one off before you put a sleeping bag or quilt on top of it, after a wet day on the trail.

Sleeping Pad Types

There are three types of sleeping pads: air mattresses, self-inflating mattresses, and closed-cell foam pads. Air mattresses provide the greatest comfort and pack up the smallest when deflated. Most come with a lightweight stuff sack that can be used to inflate them. Self-inflating mattresses are usually the heaviest and will up partially with air when unrolled for use. You still have to blow them up a bit, but only a minor amount. Closed-cell foam pads are the least expensive but they are bulky have to be attached to the exterior of your pack. They are very reliable however because they’re made with foam so they can’t be punctured and they’re waterproof, so they won’t get heavier if it rains.

Sleeping Pad R-Values

The most reliable measure of insulation is R-value. Beginning in 2020, a new Sleeping Bag R-Value Standard was adopted by the outdoor industry and most of the major sleeping pad manufacturers including Therm-a-Rest, NEMO, Sea-to-Summit, REI, and Big Agnes has retested and re-rated their sleeping bags using it. Klymit, notably, has not. This new standard benefits consumers because it makes it possible, for the first time, to compare sleeping bags by their R-values because they all use the same testing methodology.

For three-season backpacking and camping, an R-value of 2, or higher, is recommended. For winter backpacking and camping, an R-value of 5, or higher, is recommended. R-values are additive, so you can stack two pads to increase your warmth level. Women need higher R-values pads because they have lower body mass than men. An additional R-value of 1 is usually a good hedge for women and other cold sleepers

Sleeping Pad Durability

Foam sleeping pads are the most durable, self-inflating pads are the next most durable, and inflatable air mattresses the least. Inflatable air mattresses tend to fail in two places: the valves and at the seams of fabric. Flat valves that are flush with the surface of the sleeping pad are more durable than stick valves because they have no moving parts and can’t catch on obstructions.

Check Out All of SectionHiker's Gear Guides!

Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed on SectionHiker.com, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!

Most Popular Searches

  • best backpacking sleeping pads
  • backpacking sleeping pad
  • sleeping pads for backpacking

8 comments

  1. Any thoughts on how a homemade solution like Reflectix compares; do you actually get the very high R value of foil insulation when using it under or instead of a purpose made pad?

    • Reflectix is only useful if there’s a closed air gap on one side like in a wall. It’s virtually useless except as a wind barrier (like in a hammock) if you lie on it. Lying on it on the ground is pretty pointless. You’ll be MUCH better off with a foam pad.

      • Note that the same laws of physics apply to the “silver” surface of some foam pads. From what I’ve read, the official R-value tests use a heated surface which is hard and flat to represent my body. In real life I am not naked. I’m wearing some soft, slightly fluffy clothing. As a result the air space which makes the silver surface work does not exist when I use that type of pad.

        Based on that understanding, I use the R-value for the pad manufacturer’s corresponding dark-surfaced product when making a decision about buying a silver-surfaced foam pad.

      • I don’t dispute the conclusion that foam is more practical but Reflectix has an intrinsic R value of 1.1 from its 5/16 inches of “double bubbles” according to their website. Their claim is that the static wall air gap increases the effective R from that base value when it is used in construction due the reflected heat back into the contained air in the wall cavity. That is basically how an X-lite and similar pads work. Assuming that effect then I would expect you get some increased effective R value using Reflectix under a pad, sleeping bag or quilt for the same reason…they are all essentially creating static air gaps… although drafts in open spots will counter the benefit.
        The main issue with Reflectix as a pad is that it is thin and stiff and slippery so not that comfortable for most people. Also condensation likes to form on its shiny surface if it is exposed directly to the air in the right conditions.

      • Snow has an R-value of 1.0.

      • Yes, the R value of snow is apparently ~1 per inch which is why you can make an insulating structure with it. An inch of Reflectix (~3 layers) has a theoretical R value of ~3.3. However, snow compresses under body weight, and melts at 0C which takes heat from your body. Reflectix does not. Snow is also hard to carry since it can only be compressed once and doesn’t roll up in a useful way so it is not the most practical material to take along as a pad particularly in summer.

  2. P.S.: Since I often use a foam pad for lunch stops on bare ground, I do find the silver surface useful to help me remember which is the clean(er) surface.

  3. I don’t know why the Big Agnes Air Core and Air Core Ultra aren’t featured here. They are a bit heavier than the Q core, but more budget friendly. I finally decided to replace my old Air Core Ultra with the new version, mainly because the valve is compatible with the inflation pumps. It’s also a bit lighter. I love the 25 inch width. I’m a restless sleeper so this gives me more room to move around without falling off. Getting a really thick, comfy pad had made all the difference in being able to continue camping. An arthritis condition left me so uncomfortable I thought I would need to quit. I even took my pad travelling when sleeping accommodations were uncertain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *