When choosing a sleeping pad for backpacking and camping, it’s best to consider its weight, durability, size, thickness, insulation, 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.
|Make / Model||Type||R-Value/Temp Rating||Weight (Regular)||Price|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite||Air||R=3.2||12 oz||$170|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm||Air||R=5.7||15 oz||$200|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite||Air||R=2.0||8.8 oz||$180|
|Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol||Foam||R=2.6||14 oz||$45|
|NEMO Switchback||Foam||R=2.6 (est.)||14.5 oz||$50|
|Big Agnes Q Core SLX||Air||32 F||16 oz||$160|
|MassDrop Klymit Ultralight V||Air||R=4.4||15.2 oz||$60|
|NEMO Tensor Insulated||Air||20 F||15 oz||$160|
|Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated||Air||R=3.8||15 oz||$190|
|Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Insulated||Air||R=3.3||16.9 oz||$130|
1. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
2. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
3. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite
4. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Foam Pad
5. NEMO Switchback Foam Pad
6. Big Agnes Q Core SLX
7. MassDrop Klymit Ultralight V
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8. NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad
9. Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated
10. Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Insulated Pad
How to Choose a Backpacking Sleeping Pad
Choosing a sleeping pad requires prioritizing across multiple factors, some of which can be at odds with one another.
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.
LENGTH AND WIDTH: 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.
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.
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 smallest, self-inflating pads are usually larger, and foam pads are the largest. Depending on how you pack, foam sleeping pads may need to 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.
INSULATION: There are three types of sleeping pads: those intended for one season use (summer), three-season use (spring, summer, and autumn), and four season, year-round, use. Most backpackers buy three season pads, but one season pads also fine if you only backpack and camp in warm weather. While four season sleeping pads are slightly heavier, they can be an excellent value if you can only afford to buy one sleeping pad. The most reliable measure of insulation is R-value, but some sleeping pad manufacturers still rate their pads with temperature ratings. (A new Sleeping Bag R-Value Standard has been ratified by the outdoor Industry but won’t be available to consumers until 2020.) 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
DURABILITY: Foam sleeping pads are the most durable, self-inflating pads are the next most durable, and inflatable air mattresses the least. Inflatable pads 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.
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Disclosure: Therm-a-Rest, Klymit, Sea-to-Summit, Big Agnes, Exped, and NEMO have all provided the author with many free gear samples for testing and review during the past 10 years.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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