10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2022

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.

When choosing a sleeping pad it is important to also consider its weight, R-value, durability, size, thickness, comfort, and price. What are your priorities?

Make / ModelTypeR-ValueWeight
NEMO Tensor UL InsulatedAir4.217 oz
Exped Ultra 5RAir4.820 oz
Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT InsulatedAir3.216.3 oz
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLiteAir4.212 oz
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XThermAir6.915 oz
NEMO Tensor Alpine ULAir4.817 oz
Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT ExtremeAir6.226.6 oz
NEMO Insulated Quasar 3DAir3.325 oz
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SolFoam214 oz
NEMO SwitchbackFoam214.5 oz

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. NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad

NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad
The NEMO Tensor Ultralight 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 17 ounces in a size regular (72″ x 20″), the Tensor has an R-value of 4.2, making it suitable for 3-season use. The Tensor Insulated pad is available in a wide range of lengths and widths, including a 12 0z short 48″ mummy which is ideal for ultralight backpacking. An inflation sack is included. Read our NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Air Pad Review.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | NEMO

2. Exped Ultra 5R

Exped Ultra 5R

The Exped Ultra 5R Air Mattress is a lightweight inflatable sleeping pad that’s three inches thick and has an R-value of 4.8. It contains synthetic insulation, instead of reflective films, which makes it very quiet to sleep on, and is covered with a durable 20d polyester non-slip fabric. The pad has a pair of flat stemless valves for inflation and deflation and vertical baffles that are designed to keep you from rolling off the pad at night. The Ultra 5R 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 sweat a higher price point. The Ultra 5R is also bundled with a large 45L inflation sack/dry bag called a Schnozzel (a $40 value, also available separately), which can be used as a waterproof pack liner.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry 

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.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Sea to Summit 

4. 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.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Therm-a-Rest 

5. 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.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Therm-a-Rest

6. 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. Read our review. 

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | NEMO 

7. Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Extreme

Extreme ether light
The Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Extreme Sleeping Pad is an insulated inflatable sleeping pad that is 4″ thick and has an R-value of 6.2 making it suitable for cold weather backpacking and camping use. Weighing 25.6 oz, the sleeping surface of the Ether Light XT Extreme is made up of air-sprung cells, which mimic a pocket spring mattress so that the surface of the pad conforms to your body shape regardless of whether you sleep on your back, side, or stomach. The Extreme is insulated with a reflective platinum coating and 2 layers of Thermolite synthetic insulation positioned inside the top and bottom sides of the pad. The pad’s 30/40d nylon covering offers a warm hand as well as added puncture and abrasion resistance. A pump sack is included. Read our Review

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Sea-to-Summit

8. NEMO Quasar 3D Insulated Air

NEMO QUASAR 3D

The NEMO Quasar 3D Insulated Air Sleeping Pad is a 25 oz (R=3.3)  inflatable sleeping pad with body-mapped baffles that are designed to gently prevent you from rolling off the pad at night. When inflated, it provides three and a half inches of luxurious support, perfect for side sleepers when used with or without a pillow. When deflated, the Quasar 3D packs up incredibly flat and small, making it ideal for smaller volume backpacks, where storage space is at a premium.Read our NEMO Quasar 3D Review.

Available from:
REI | NEMO

9. 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.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Therm-a-Rest

10. NEMO Switchback Foam Pad

Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad

The NEMO Switchback is a 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. 

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | NEMO

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):503025100-15-25-40
Minimum R-Value12345678
Air Temperature (C):10-1-4-12-18-26-32-40
Minimum R-Value12345678

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 in 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, Big Agnes, and Klymiy have retested and re-rated their sleeping pads using it. Klymit, notably, has not. This new standard benefits consumers because it makes it possible, for the first time, to compare sleeping pads 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!

SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

9 comments

  1. Well, I am on my 4th sleeping pad. I first tried the EXPED Synmat HL, it has been durable and warm, especially for it’s R value. After 60 nights on it, I decided I wanted to look for something more comfortable. I have the S2S Womens Etherlight. While it has an R value rated higher than the EXPED, for me, it is not as warm. I will keep it and use it in the summer as it is luxuriously comfortable. After about 15 nights on it, I got tired of being cold so I tried the NeoAir Xlite. It is definitely warm! I never noticed that is was crinkly. Sure, if you are not laying on it, you can make it sound really loud, but once laying on the pad, it is a bit quieter. It was however, very uncomfortable for my lower back, no matter how much air was in it. Lastly, I tried the Nemo Insulated Tensor. It is definitely warm and quiet. It is quite comfortable. I only have 7 nights on it, but if it stays this way, I will consider it a great compromise between all the pads I have tried. It is only slightly less comfortable than the S2S and as warm as the NeoAir Xlite. I do use the Schnozzle to fill it. My only concern is how hard I have to push down to close the valve, I hope it does not cause damage to the pad. Now if only I could find a great lightweight pillow!

    • I used the XLite for years too and eventually found it just too hard to sleep on. It was good when my priority was gear weight, but now I’m willing to trade a few ounces for a more comfortable and thicker pad.

      Oh – and hey – I got a honcho poncho that you were curious about to review.

  2. Couldn’t you just review Sherpa’s and make hiking easier on us all? :)

  3. This is such an informative site.
    I appreciate your efforts and the compilation of your information.
    Well done Phillip!

  4. I really think the new Big Agnes Rapide SL should be in the group .I have just spent 5 nights on it and it’s top notch .

  5. You might want to mention that exped mummy pads have zero insulation in the two outer most chambers- it definitely shows up when using a quilt not so bad in a zipped closed sleeping bag.

  6. So often, the weight comparisons are for the sleeping pad only. It would be nice to also see a comparison of the total weight of the pad plus its stuff sack and/or pump sack. I believe that the additional weight of the 12 oz therm-a-rest near xlite’s pump sack and stuff sack puts the total weight closer to the total weight of the Sea-2-summit pad with it’s single stuff sack/pump sack combo.

Leave a Reply

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