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Short Length Ultralight Sleeping Pads

The NEMO Tensor Insulated 20S Sleeping Pad is 48 inches long and weighs 9.5 ounces

Switching to a shorter torso-length sleeping pad is a good way to reduce the weight of your ultralight backpacking gear because your legs don’t need the same amount of insulation as your core in three-season conditions. If you have a short torso-length pad 36-48″ in length, you can usually rest your feet and legs on top of your backpack and spare clothing at night and stay perfectly warm. How much weight can you save by switching to a shorter pad? Let’s say you have a 6′ long inflatable pad that weighs 12 ounces and you replace it with one that’s 4′ long and weighs 8 ounces. Four ounces is a pretty significant weight reduction with very little loss of comfort.

Here’s a list of short sleeping pads to give you an idea of the type of savings that are possible if you were to buy a shorter-length foam pad, a self-inflating sleeping pad, or an inflatable one.

Short Ultralight Sleeping PadsTypeLengthR-ValueWeight (oz)
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite SInflatable47"4.28.3
Therm-a-Rest Prolite XSSelf-inflating47"2.412
Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol SFoam51"2.010
Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Sol SFoam48"2.19
NEMO SwitchbackFoam51"2.010.5
S2S Ultralight SISelf-inflating49"2.613.9

DIY Pad Shortening

If you’re willing to gamble on modifying a self-inflating pad or an air-inflatable one that you already own, there are also lots of videos online that explain how to shorten such pads using a pair of scissors and an iron. Here are a couple of good ones that I recommend:

In addition, don’t overlook the option of switching to a cut-down closed-cell foam pad, like the accordion-style folding Therm-a-Rest Zlite favored by many long-distance hikers because it’s so durable.

Updated Dec 2022.

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  1. As always, thank you for all the work that you put into pulling all this information together and then sharing it with us. Your blog is a great resource for learning about, and comparing, the different types of gear.

  2. I have often thought about making such a modification because I prefer wide pads that aren’t often offered in short lengths. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to try it some day!

  3. I am uncomfortable sleeping on an uneven suface and prefer a full legth pad. Perhaps users that don’t mind the shorter length could use a “sitting pad” from cutting 4-5 panels out of a Therma rest foam pad for their legs. That would seem more comfortable than gathering clothes or bags. Thanks for the web site, I check it before email!

  4. Am I taking it from this post that you do not use a partial length pad Philip?
    Those who have tried a short pad, did you find it too cold, too uncomfortable, too dirty, etc? Or did you love it? Could you even notice the ounces that were being saved?

    • Occasionally. Slept on one last night as a matter of fact. Nice to have a smaller pack.

    • Just last month i went from a full size therma rest large neo air all season to a sea to summit ultralight small. I did so because i realised my pillow is never on the pad but in front of it. So that’s quite an amount of length i don’t need in my pad. Because of that realisation i cut my pad weight in half and volume wise the savings were even bigger (saved 3/4th i think). Tried it out during 4 days of rain and colder than average days and slept better than ever. Mainly because you don’t just save volume in your pack. You save volume in your tent as well. Lots of extra space:)

    • Last year I bought the woman version with a length of about 165cm and a higher R-value although my own length is about 195cm and I’m a male. I wanted to have my knees on the pad. I emailed Therm-a-test about it. That the short one was too short te be really comfortable. Your feet over the pad is more natural than on the pad. But your knees should really be on the pad.

      Saw just at the site of Therm-a-rest that seem to have listened. Because the shortest one is now about 165cm.

  5. One point that hasn’t been mentioned here is the very significant volume savings. I may not notice those few ounces, but they are still there. What I do notice is a volume reduction of about 30% in going from a full sized insulated 2.5″ pad to a shorter or thinner lightly or uninsulated pad. Philip has mentioned this volume reduction as an important point in many of his post in the past.

    I strive to be lightweight, but like many, I am not willing to sacrifice comfort to get there. I am not giving up my pillow, no matter how many people think it’s silly to bring one. My previous 3 season setup was a TR Neoair Xlite in 72X20″. When starting with inflatables I realized that 1.5″ was not enought cushion to achieve full comfort, so I went with 2.5″ of height. I noticed that the 3″ plus pad put me to high in relation to the ground. If I regret anything about that purchase of that Xlite is not getting the wide version. I am a size large, and I sleep fine in 20″ of width, but I have come to the realization that 25″ is what I enjoy. I don’t need 30″.

    About a year ago I started transitioning from my +/- 60 L 2 pound pack to a =/- 40L 14 oz pack. To reduce my volume by 30% I had to look at the items that could also be reduced. And that brought me again to a shorter pad, both when on the ground and hammocking, the latter being my preferred camping option when possible. I have brought a 50X25x1/4″ CCF that weights about 4.5 oz as the backpanel for my frameless backpack, and I have combined it with an Inertia X Wave, a first gen short Neoair and also a full-size Inertia O (love the attached pillow that doesn’t fly everywhere). So I have slept about 12-15 nights outdoors on the ground playing with the combo of a CCF and the three other pads. Maybe 2-3 of those I wasn’t as rested as if I brought a full length pad, but I still slept fine all night. These combos weight actually more than an my full size Neoair Xlite by 1-2 oz, but I can get away with carrying the 13 oz backpack, which I cannot do if I do not reduce my gear volume. What do I do with my feet? I just put my pack there. In warm weather I do not need more insulation.

    Also, if I get a puncture on the inflatable pad, which I have luckily never suffered, I still have a reasonable amount of insulation in three season conditions. The short CCF pad works great in warm weather in a hammock.

    I am trying to make this work for me. What would be my ideal pad to compliment my 50x25x1/4″ pad? A 25″ wide Inertia O. We all sleep at different temperatures and have different body shapes. My setup may or may not work for you.

  6. Just spent 5 days on the AT in the Birckshires with the Nemo 48″. Perfectly comfortable with the shorter pad, feet resting on extra clothes, with temps in the 40s every night. 2.5″ thickness. Nice having the lighter weight and smaller volume in the pack. Inflates with 15 breaths.

  7. I have experimented with the short pad/pack combo but found it uncomfortable when sleeping on my side because of the uneven level. It caused enough knee pain that I ended up curled in a ball on my 48″pad for a couple nights.

  8. My compromise has been to use the womens version of the Therm a Rest Neo- Air. It is shorter slightly wider thru the hip are and somewhat more insulated than the standard men’s size. I am 5-9 and have never felt It did not serve as a full size mattress while saving a little weight.

  9. I am short (5’3″) and always used to sleep on my side curled up in the fetal position. A short pad has always been just fine, and even my feet stayed on it. Now that I’m getting older, though, I sleep on my back more often so have shifted to a longer (and warmer and thicker) pad. The short one, with my sit pad under my feet and lower legs, is still OK for lower altitude summers, though. Of course, sleeping styles, like shoe sizes, are quite individual!

  10. Does anyone use the Zlite Thermarest Sol anymore? Am thinking on using one instead of an inflatable.

  11. Will the Inertia X Wave work with a top quilt? Without using a second pad.

  12. How do you think a Neo Air Short would work for a side sleeper with a quilt? This is on my list to upgrade for next year. Currently I’m using a Prolite which is neither light nor comfortable. I’m thinking I that between my Trekology camp pillow and my zSeat, I might be able to get away with the short. I’m also considering the women’s version for the better r-value since I sleep a little cold.

    • I am 6’ and use a Nemo Tensor Short 48” with my quilt while side sleeping. Works well for me. One hint is to put your sit pad in the foot box of your quilt to keep your feet from getting cold.

  13. I have a nature hike zlite clone. I don’t understand how long to trim it. I mean which part of my body is still important to insulate with the pad. Do the thighs need the insulation?

  14. I have three NeoAir XLite pads, the regular, women’s and a short one. I now only use the short one. I found it will slip into the top of my backpack to a certain point. I put some velcro on the pad so that it would attach to the velcro on the opening at the top of the backpack and stay put, which keeps the backpack from sliding away from my legs at night. This system works very well an saves me about 6 oz.

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