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 / Model||Type||R-Value||Weight|
|NEMO Tensor UL Insulated||Air||4.2||17 oz|
|Exped Ultra 5R||Air||4.8||20 oz|
|Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated||Air||3.2||16.3 oz|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT||Air||4.5||12.5 oz|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT||Air||7.3||15.5 oz|
|NEMO Tensor Alpine UL||Air||4.8||17 oz|
|Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Extreme||Air||6.2||26.6 oz|
|NEMO Insulated Quasar 3D||Air||3.3||25 oz|
|Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol||Foam||2||14 oz|
|NEMO Switchback||Foam||2||14.5 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
2. 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 $50 value, also available separately), which can be used as a waterproof pack liner. Read the SectionHiker review.
3. Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Pad
4. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT
5. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT
6. NEMO Tensor Alpine Air Pad
7. Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Extreme
8. NEMO Quasar 3D Insulated Air
9. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Foam Pad
10. NEMO Switchback Foam Pad
Backpacking Sleeping Pad Guide
Choosing a sleeping pad requires prioritizing between 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):||50||30||25||10||0||-15||-25||-40|
|Air Temperature (C):||10||-1||-4||-12||-18||-26||-32||-40|
- 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.
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Wonder if the New Neoairs NXT will ever come in the 47 inch length such as the old models. I had reached out to Thermarest, and they said no, but im skeptical that they understood what i was asking about. So either its “no” or just mediocre customer service these days.
You can just make your own.
Is the Neoair NXT the new model that’s supposed to be much quieter than the “potatoe chip” models
Yes. The NXT is significantly quieter.
Thank you for the review.
The utility of these is drastically limited.
What this reader wants is a price indication and recommendations from your test.
Here’s the problem with that. Everyone has different needs and every trip has different environmental requirements. Some personal judgement is required. My goal is just to narrow the field to the best pads so you can avoid the heap of junk out there and to give you some insight into the tradeoffs. There are detailed evaluation criteria at the bottom of the page as well as linked reviews to help you with your decision. But it takes two to tango.
William, I think Philip makes a good point. How’s he supposed to know what temperature you plan to sleep in? I appreciate that he strives to educate his readers…I’ve learned a ton here…rather than dumb things down like backpacker magazine which is driven entirely by advertising.
I assume that it took significant pooled money from the manufacturers to develop the R-value testing methodology and equipment. I wish there were something comparable for resistance to deflation from valve failure, seam failure, and puncture. Do you think there is any chance of that?
No. That’s called competitive analysis.
There is also big agnes zoom ul. Should be out very soon.
Only 17oz for regular wide (25×72) and R4.3. 3.5″ height.
you think `I should add a pad to this list that hasn’t even shipped yet?
No love for the Big Agnes Rapide SL? This was was high on my list (still is) until I heard about the Zoom. Seems similar to the Exped 5R ($50 cheaper but without the Schnozzel).
Big Agnes got out of the sleeping pad business a few years ago, so let’s just say I’m biding my time to see if they can field serious products again. As backpackers, we have lots of other choices that are market-proven without chasing the latest bright and shiny object.
Thanks, that’s fair. By the way, there’s a 2019 post at BPL that discusses r-values. Tuens out the EN rating protocol for sleeping bags specifies an r-value of 4.8. If your pad has a lower value then there’s a decent chance your sleeping bag will feel cold as temps approach its lower limit. Something to think about when designing or evaluating a sleep system. (And don’t forget the specification for sleep clothes.)
Nemo tensor is comfy but so fragile. The valve fails frequently. I would not take it on a multi day trip.
The Sea to Summit is bulky, heavy and not warm enough for the rating. Not a backpacking pad. The most popular on a through hike is Therm-a-Rest XLite. I own all of these pads. My opinion is subjective and based on personal experience. To add comfort and warmth to the sleep I use foam pad on top of inflatable pad…
I own all three too and find myself using the S2S Etherlight the most. 4″ of comfort. Perfect and perfectly warm for 3 season use.