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10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2018

10 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2018

When choosing a sleeping pad for backpacking and camping, it’s best to consider its weight, durability, size, thickness, insulation, comfort, and price before making a decision to buy it. 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

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 3.2 which will keep you cozy down to 20 degrees F. The XLite is available in a variety of widths and lengths, with the 72″ x 20″ regular size weighing in at just 12 oz. Price Range: $130-200.

Check out the lastest price at:
REI | Amazon

2. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

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 5.7 will keep you warm down to 40 below zero F, while the inflatable 2.5 inch 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. Price Range: $200-240.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

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

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 boy scout 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 2.8, the Z Lite Sol is a three-season pad that will keep you warm to 20 degrees F. A size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs 14 oz, but it’s also available in multiple sizes. You can even trim a foam Z Lite Sol with scissors to shave off gear weight. Price Range: $35-$45.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

4. Big Agnes Q Core SLX

Big Agnes Q Core SLX
The Big Agnes Q Core SLX is a super comfy, but lightweight inflatable sleeping pad, that’s a whopping 4.25 inches thick and tailor-made for side sleepers. Rated down to 15 degrees F, the Q Core SLX is covered with a luxurious quilted top with flat valves for increased durability and rapid deflation. A regular sized (72″ x 20″) Q Core SLX weighs 16 oz, but the pad is also available in a very wide variety of lengths and widths. Price Range: $140-$220.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

5. Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL

The Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL is an inflatable pad that weighs 15.2 ounces (72″ x 20″) and has an R-Value of 4.4, making it suitable for 3-4 season use. It’s made with a durable 20D polyester fabric for extra durability, with a stick valve for fine tuning the inflation level. It features lofted air pockets with a depth of 2.5″ with side rails to keep you comfortably on the pad. A lighter weight, uninsulated version is also available with a very low R-value, really only suitable for summer use. Price $120. Note: Klymit makes many versions of this pad with small spec changes and under similar names. Double check the specs when purchasing.

Check out the latest price at:
Amazon |MassDrop

6. NEMO Tensor Air Pad

The NEMO Tensor Air Pad strikes a good balance between a light weight and comfort. Three inches thick, it provides plenty of clearance for the bony hips of side sleepers, with a minimal compact size when deflated. Weighing just 13.5 ounces (72″ x 20″), the Tensor Air Pad has a stick valve and is rated for temperatures down to 25 degrees F. It is also available in multiple sizes and both mummy and rectangular shapes, including an insulated version suitable for four season use. Price Range: $120-$140.

Check out the latest price at:
Campsaver.com

7. Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Insulated Pad

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 3.3, making it suitable for three season use, while a size regular (72″ 20″) weighs in at 16.9 oz. Multiple sizes are also available. Price Range: $130-$150.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

8. Therm-a-Rest ProLite

TAR Prolite
The Therm-a-Rest ProLite is a self-inflating sleeping pad prized for its durability, comfort, non-slip covering, and ease of use. The size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs just 16 oz and has an R-value of 2.4, making it suitable for three-season use down to about 30 degrees. The ProLite is also available in many different sizes, in addition to women’s, and insulated versions suitable for four season use. One inch thick when inflated, its die-cut foam retains heat well and packs up surprisingly small when deflated. Price Range: $80-$110.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

9. Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Sol Foam Pad

Ridgerest Sol
The RidgeRest Sol is another Therm-a-Rest closed cell foam sleeping pad that’s also quite lightweight and virtually indestructible. A size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs just 14 oz and has an R-Value of 2.8, making it suitable for use to about 20 degrees F. While bulkier when rolled up than the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, the RidgeRest Sol is used by many ultralight backpackers as a tube-like virtual frame in a frameless backpack, eliminating the need to attach it to the outside of a backpack. The RidgeRest Sol is available in a number of different sizes, in addition to the RidgeRest Solar, which is thicker and has a higher R-Value of 3.5. Price Range: $20-$40.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

10. Exped Synmat HL

Exped Synmat HL
The Exped Synmat HL is packs down small, but has an impressive R-value of 3.3, making it suitable for three-season use (rated for 21 degrees F). Weighing 12.7 ounces (72″ x 20″) it has a flat valve for extra durability and comes with an included pump bag (0.4 oz) for rapid inflation. With a depth of 2.8″, it provides plenty of support for side sleepers, with side channels designed to keep you in the center of the pad at night. Available in multiple lengths and widths. Price Range: $170-$190.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

How to Choose a 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 two types of sleeping pads: those intended for three-season (spring, summer, and autumn) use and those intended for use year-round. While four season sleeping pads are slightly heavier, they can be an excellent value if you can only afford to buy one 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 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. 

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29 comments

  1. Not a lot of surprises here, I suppose.

    I’m not going to be buying one anytime soon because I already have a NeoAir so there are other things I’d rather spend $200 on, but the new Big Agnes AXL Air looks amazing. About as light and warm (and pricey) as a NeoAir XLite, but 3.75 inches thick! And higher at the sides than in the middle to “cradle” you in.

    Looking forward to hearing some real field results from people on it.

    • Not really. The thing to watch out for “in the great race to the bottom in terms of UL gear weight” is the R-value or temp rating of the pads. There are some really lightweight sleeping pads out there which are essentially the equivalent of inflatable pool mattresses in their ability to keep you warm in any conditions except high summer.

      As for the AXL. Big Agnes doesn’t have the greatest reputation for air pads. There’s a reason why Therm-a-Rest still owns the category. We’ll see how it does in real world use.

      • I have both the NeoAir XLite and a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core and for me there is no comparison between the two. I know the BA Air Core isn’t on this list but my experience in testing the two pads in identical conditions (17ºF in my back yard), I froze on the BA pad and slept as the proverbial bug in a rug on the XLite. My experience is subjective and can’t be extrapolated across the line of products from the brand but it does correlate a bit to Philip’s comment.

      • I was alluding to seam leakage more than insulation value. I had an insulated air core many years ago and it seemed fine at the time.
        But you will notice that Big Agnes has moved away from using R-values on their pads to, in my opinion, much more subjective temperature ranges.
        Therm-a-Rest still uses R-values which can be “scientifically” measured and is in fact leading the way on standardizing outdoor industry R-value testing and reporting standards.

      • Yeah. I agree with where you’re coming from, Philip.

        The great thing about R-Values is they’re comparable across brands/products, which is super handy even if the meaning itself is a little esoteric. The “temp ratings” on the AXLs are 30 degrees for the uninsulated and 15 for the insulated. I’ve taken my XLite down to 15 or 20 with no issues, so I figured the insulated AXL should be comparable but it’s tough to say, obviously. And like I said, I’m happy with what I’ve got and don’t plan to be an early adopter here.

        I’ve never owned a BA pad, and I wasn’t aware they didn’t have a great reputation in the space, or rather had never really thought about it–for as many BA tents (and sleeping bags to a lesser degree) as you see in the wild, you don’t see many pads, and maybe that’s why!

  2. Is this list based upon data gathered from a reader poll or your personal preferences, and does the order represent a ranking of the pads with 1 being the best? Thanks for sharing all the valuable gear info contained in this list as well as all the other 2018 lists.

    • Based on reader polls, input and the 1000+ product reviews I’ve published. The list isn’t strictly rank-ordered because people have a wide range of different needs and most aren’t fulfilled by just one product. Take price for instance. I’ve found it best to recommend a set of products to guide people to the quality items and let them make a decision about what suits them best.

  3. A respectable list, though nothing tempts me to move off my cheerfully yellow, ExPed Synmat UL 7 LW (long/wide; 77″ x 26″) which i’m still comfortably snoozing on. A reasonable 21 oz., even for the larger size. No potato-chip bag noise, though it will squeak a bit when the sleeping bag moves against the pad under weight. The Schnozzle inflation bag takes light-headed hyperventilation out of the set-up ritual (though i still haven’t mastered getting a full bag of air).

    One can find some grumbling about the pool-raft effect of the pad-length air chambers, but i find that with the right level of inflation (not too much), the hill-and-valley effect mostly goes away. I’m a tosser and turner between my side and my back, and have no issues with padding no matter how i’m oriented.

    Somewhere, i still have my original, closed-cell foam pad (about half an inch or so thick). I can’t believe i ever slept on just that.

    • Thanks for that. Synmat is one I’m leaning towards. I’m not too worried about weight because I’m never in woods longer than 4 or 5 days.

  4. Does anyone use a foam pad base and air pad upper for cold weather, on the theory that R values are additive?

  5. For the price, it’s hard to beat a REFURB Klymit Insulated V from their Ebay store. Just picked one up for my son. Much heavier (25 oz) than the Ultralite but under half the cost.

  6. Thanks for a great post. I haven’t sent my Prolite self-inflating pad to the landfill because it seems to me that a leak in an inflatable pad would leave me with no padding at all between me and the cold, hard ground. Seems like a trip killer. So just how reliable are these new inflatable pads? Are leaks a rarity or not that uncommon?

    • I’ve never had a leak with a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite or XTherm. The XTherm is the more durable of the two because it has a thicker cover. Most inflatable pads are pretty reliable, but you do still need to be conscious of the risk of using one (like in the desert/cacti/thorns.) For example, I usually carry a foam pad of some sort in winter as an “oh shit” fall back to insulate my torso.

  7. Bob, while it is certainly possible to puncture an inflatable, they often include a repair kit to fix these types of leaks. Valves can be damaged by closing over sand and other debris…they can leak. The biggest killer is the material itself. This is basically in two parts. First, saliva from blowing them up and water from condensation can dissolve away at most of the coatings, so, over time, this can cause a series of small, “under pressure” type leaks. Saliva is almost a universal solvent. Always store them dried or with the valve open and hanging down. Second is simple wear. I wore out one of my NeoAir originals. I used it so much the bottom side became almost transparent on the bottom in places (hips, shoulder areas.) I coated it with a *thin* coating of mineral spirits and silicone caulk. It held for another couple years. (I retired it when it got to be more than once per night re-inflation.)

    And yes, like Philip, I, also, carry a 5oz foam pad, 50×20. I use it as my backpack frame, and for sleeping. Worst case, I sleep on it, but this is usually on the ground, lean-to floors are too hard.

  8. I think it is about time to retire my 25 year old Thermarest but having a hard time with selecting.

    Neoair for self-inflating and Thermarest hasn’t treated me wrong OR
    Tensor as I am a boney side sleeper OR
    QCore: Boney Side sleeper

    I’m 6’4″ so the XL Wide is a must for me.

    Would like for future reviews to include two new categories of measure: Chip bag crinkle noise level and Hyperventilation factor.

    For most of you with the inflatables are you purchasing a pump bag/sack to go with it or just pure lung power?

    • Good ones!
      I don’t actually find the NeoAir XLite as crinkly as the original. I also don’t hear anything when I’m asleep.
      But I do pause a couple of times when blowing all of the air pads up and don’t try to do it all in one go (anymore). I get too dizzy.
      If you get a Sea-to-Summit or Exped, they’re compatible with a exped pumpsack called the schnozzel. It’s huge and doubles as a pack liner.

  9. I don’t think my XLite is as crinkly as the original but the small amount of noise never bothered me anyway. I found a plastic bag type inflator at Leslie’s Pool Supplies for a couple bucks that works well on my NeoAir. It’s on the same principle as the Schnozzle and weighs an ounce. It stays in the bag with the XLite and saves me from hyperventilating.

  10. Any suggestions for us big guys? Something at least 77L x 30w? With a history of neck, shoulder, back injuries.. something extra comfortable?

  11. I always fall off the sides of the xlite. I had one but sold it… need to find something ultra light where I get cradled in. I dont like waking up on the ground three times a night. Apart from it being like a bar of soap if the ground wasn’t 100% flat it was comfortable.

    I wish the made the xlite with rails.

  12. I love Exped pads…but the HL ones (the mummy shaped ones…I think they’re all have HL in their name) have NO insulation on the larger, outermost baffles. I don’t understand this…in fact, it makes me angry :)
    I wondered why I froze one night even though the R-value should have been sufficient (and I had a TAR Zlite under me, although the Z-lite is 20″ (why don’t they make a 25″ option?!) and the Exped was 25″ at the shoulders. When I got home, I inflated it and held it up to a window with the room dark, and sure enough…no insulation at all along the edges.
    Now I use a 40″ Exped doublemat evazote as a tent “carpet” in really cold weather and it makes all the difference…along with changing the mummy Exped for a rectangular.

  13. I have been using an old Thermarest Performance series guidelite sleeping pad. It has worked for me for the last thirty years. On camping and hunting trips. it’s one inch thick and it has kept warm from sleeping on the shack floor to a snow storm that lasted two days. I hunt and go camping in northern and central New york. I feel I should buy something a little better. Can you help?

    Thanks,
    Sam

    • Buy a thermarest xtherm. Very warm for winter camping, but lightweight.

    • I agree wirh Phillip on this one. The reason your mattress works so well is that it has not had the insulation removed (holes punched through the foam) to make it lighter and more compact, so it actually works to insulate you. Whatever you get, you shoukd look for R-value 5 since that is what is required to get the full EN RATING out of your sleeping bag.

      Michael Glavin, Zenbivy

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