How to Choose a Backpacking Sleeping Pad
Sleep is of vital importance to both our physical and mental wellbeing. In recent years, poor quality sleep has been tied to numerous health issues ranging from poor posture to memory problems and weight gain. Sleep is particularly critical when you are hiking since you need to be well-rested and clear-headed to tackle the challenges of the backcountry. Whether you are new to hiking or simply searching for the perfect product, the guide below should help you decide which features are important for your particular camping needs.
If the following sleeping pads don’t fit your particular needs then check out our other reviews on:
Types of Sleeping Pad
There are three main categories which provide varying degrees of comfort, and which are ideal for different kinds of outdoor activities. These are closed-cell foam mats, self-inflating pads, and inflatable air pads.
Closed Cell Foam
Closed cell or foam mats are made from any number of solid foam materials. They are usually extremely lightweight, affordable, and durable, and are often favored by ultralight hikers since they can be used on bare ground without fear of rips or punctures. However, they are often bulky and are not as comfortable or cushioned as other types. Some people choose to use them in combination with another type of mat when extra cushioning is desired. But most outdoor enthusiasts prefer other styles.
Self-inflating models have a fabric exterior and are filled with open-celled foam. When it is unrolled, the foam expands on its own allowing air to enter the pad. Typically, a few breaths of air are needed to inflate the pad to its ideal firmness, after which a valve is closed to prevent the air trapped in the foam from escaping. When it is time to decamp, the valve is opened, and the air is pressed out of the pad.
This style of mat is not only incredibly comfortable but also tends to be warmer than other styles since the foam acts as both padding and as insulation from the ground below. They take very little effort to inflate, unlike air-filled pads. But they also tend to be heavier than other styles, making them a less desirable style for activities that require extremely lightweight gear.
Air pads are a diverse category of camping pad and come in a wide variety of styles. Included in this group are thin ultralight ones that weigh less than a pound, and queen sized air mattresses which are the size of a standard mattress. No matter the size, this style of mat is filled with air and must be inflated via a valve by mouth or with a pump. Baffles inside the mats inflate and provide the cushioning. This type is usually one of the most comfortable, although the style of baffle strongly determines this.
Sleeping Pad Considerations
Type of Outdoor Activity
The type you choose will largely depend on the type of outdoor activity you typically enjoy. Individuals who camp in established campgrounds or out of their cars will have the opportunity to use much heavier models – or even full sized air mattresses – since they will not be carrying their gear to a campsite. Hunters or campers who plan to use one camping spot for an extended period may also choose to utilize models which prioritize comfort over weight. However, ultralight hikers or anyone who wants to do a multi-week hike would be wise to pick the lightest pad possible, even if it means sacrificing a little bit of comfort.
Since one of the primary purposes of a sleeping pad is to create a barrier between the ground and your body, the climate and season you typically find yourself in will also determine which mat you need. If you favor summertime camping, you’ll not have to worry about ground temperature, and can pick a thin, uninsulated model. But if you plan to do any camping during cold weather, a pad which provides a thermal barrier between you and the ground will not only make your sleep more comfortable but may be vital to your safety. Try to find a pad which is rated for four season camping and which has some form of heat reflective barrier within the pad.
Most individuals should strive to find a product which offers a good balance between padding and weight. Although closed cell foam models offer excellent value, they aren’t typically comfortable, so most people should look for a self-inflating or air pad style model which is between one and two pounds.
Comfort is, of course, one of the primary things you should consider when purchasing. Each model’s unique design will impact how well you can sleep, and different people will find different styles of mat more comfortable. Since preference is so individual, try to borrow or test as many pads as possible before buying your own. This will help you decide what kind of mat is best for you. During this process, you may find that tapered pads don’t allow enough room for your legs, or you may decide that you prefer deep baffles to shallow ones.
If you are unable to test pads in advance, consider your favored sleep position when choosing a mat. Do you sleep on your back, stomach, or side? People who sleep on their back are likely to find most styles of sleeping pad comfortable. If you sleep on your side, look for products which cannot easily compress or form low spots under the shoulder and hip. Self-inflating mats or air pads with shallow baffles are often best. These same recommendations apply to individuals with old injuries, arthritis, or with physical issues which make extra padding especially important. Stomach sleepers will want to look for rectangular rather than tapered models, and may even want to consider purchasing a wide mat so that their legs and arms won’t stretch off of the sleeping surface.
As noted above, one of the primary functions of a camping sleeping pad is to provide a barrier between the cold ground and your body. During colder weather, you’ll be most comfortable on a model which does not allow any part of your body to come into contact with the floor of the tent. This is especially important for side sleepers since low points are prone to form beneath shoulders and hips and may cause you to become chilled.
Not only can lack of insulation be a cause for sleepless nights but during extreme weather, it can become dangerous to sleep on a pad which allows too much heat to transfer from your body to the ground.
If cold weather camping is in your future, look for either a self-inflating mat or for an air pad which has insulated baffles. Often this type tends to weigh more, but the extra insulation will provide welcomed warmth. You should also look for pads which have an internal heat barrier of some kind. In certain pads, this barrier is nestled between two layers of baffles. The upper baffles keep warm air near your body, and the reflective barrier keeps cold air from the lower baffles from rising.
Many manufacturers assign an R-Value which represents how well the pad insulates against heat loss.
Other Factors to Consider
Choosing a sleeping pad that is warm and comfortable is most important, but there are a few other things that you should keep in mind when selecting a mat.
Budget is undeniably one of the factors which will determine the brand and quality of product you can buy. Since it is such an important piece of camping equipment, it should be one of the items which you make an effort to splurge on. There are some less expensive brands of backpacking sleeping pad that cost less than a hundred dollars, yet provide a good quality night’s rest. However, most decent sleeping mats will cost more.
Sleeping pad weight is another key factor to consider. As mentioned above, most modern lightweight models will be between one and two pounds. Well-insulated four-season products will weigh more, while pads specifically designed for ultralight hiking will weigh less.
The materials it is made of should also be investigated before purchase. This may at first seem like a trivial part of the selection process, but the kind of material used for a mat can make a big difference in your sleep quality. One of the most common complaints people cite when evaluating a pad is the noises created by shifting around on the mat. The nylon fabric used by most manufacturers makes a loud hiss or swishing sound when a sleeper moves. This can not only be irritating to that person but to everyone in their nearby vicinity.
Ease of inflation is most important for air mats but is also important for self-inflating pads. It usually only takes a few breaths to inflate a sleeping pad, but some models that have deeper baffles can be challenging to inflate. If you dislike expending a lot of energy inflating your mat or if you will be camping at high altitude, consider finding a model that either needs very little air to inflate or which can be inflated via a stuff sack style pump.
Lastly, but not necessarily the least important is durability – pads are going to take some of the rough (from the ground) so you don’t have to. Closed-cell mats are undoubtedly the most indestructable, but a good air pad shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you know how to repair it yourself.
The Best Sleeping Pad Reviews
Klymit Static V2SaleKlymit Static V2 Ultralight Sleeping Pad (2017)
- Ultralight weight: 16. 3 ounces
- Compact pack size: 8 x 3″
- Inflated dimensions: 72 x 23 x 2. 5″
- At Klimt, we focus on one thing: improving the outdoor sleep experience. We…
- The static V2 sleeping pad delivers exceptional comfort that weighs just a…
The Klymit Static V2 Sleeping Pad is a perfect choice for campers on a budget who want a product which strikes a balance between durability and weight. Klymit’s unique V-shaped baffle design along with their deep weld patterning are instantly recognizable, and many people find that the unique shape of the baffles keep the pad from forming low points where their hip or shoulder contact the ground. This often means the Klymit Static V2 is a more comfortable sleeping surface than sleeping pads which make use of horizontal or vertical baffles. The V-shaped baffles also prevent free movement of air within the sleeping pad, which makes this design both warmer and more comfortable to sleep on.
Despite its budget price, the Klymit Static V2 has some impressive features. Antimicrobial laminate inside of the pad prevents the growth of mold and bacteria which can cause unpleasant odors and premature deterioration in other pads. Dynamic side rails which are integrated into the baffle design will keep you at the center of the pad throughout the night. Additionally, the side rails curve slightly when this pad is in a hammock, making it an excellent choice for campers who prefer hammocks to tents. Finally, the simple to use Twist-Pull inflation valve makes inflating the Static v2 sleeping pad quick and easy.
- V-chamber body mapping limits heat loss and air movement for a more comfortable nights sleep
- Quickly inflates in 10-15 breathes
- Sleep soundly in the center of the pad thanks to the dynamic side rails
- Has an R-Value rating of 1.3
- Extremely lightweight and packs down to the size of a soda can
- Stuff sack and patch kit is included
- Klymit’s unique V-shaped baffles offer excellent cushioning
- Noise limiting fabric prevents irritating rustling
- Rectangular shape offers more leg room than tapered pads
- Affordable price tag compared to similar lightweight pads
- Two mats can be pushed together easily for couples
- Low R-value makes this pad a poor choice for cold weather
- Slippery exterior fabric means the pad tends to slip around during sleep
- Doesn’t always deflate easily despite the well-designed valve
Therm-a-Rest ProLite PlusSaleTherm-a-Rest Prolite Plus Ultralight Self-Inflating Backpacking Pad, Regular – 20 x 72 Inches
- Four-season self-inflating foam sleeping pad for winter backpacking and…
- Diagonal-cut foam offers more warmth than the typical vertical-cut foam
- Expanding foam core is lightweight and compressible for easy packing; pad…
- Suited to ski touring and alpine excursions, the 1.5-inch thick mattress is…
- Regular measures 72 x 20 x 1.5 inches inflated, packs to 11 x 4.8 inches,…
Acquiring high-quality hiking gear can put a lot of pressure on anyone’s wallet. Thankfully, the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus offers many of the same features as top brands at half the price. Although it weighs in at 1 pound 4 ounces for the regular pad, and almost two pounds for the large size, the fact that you can use this sleeping pad year-round makes up for the extra weight.
The ProLite Plus comes in small, regular, and large sizes, and can also be found in a women’s specific design. Side sleepers and campers with larger frames conclude that the self-inflating foam pads provide more protection from the ground than baffled sleeping pads and the smoother surface texture is an excellent choice for anyone who finds the contoured shape of blow up air mattresses a nuisance. It also tends not to move around beneath you when you shift during sleep.The pad went through a recent redesign which dropped its weight by several ounces thanks to the inclusion of Atmos foam in its core. Diagonal channels within the foam allow it to expand more quickly once unrolled and also help to lessen its weight. However, like all self-inflating mats, it can be challenging to compress the ProLite Plus down to its pack size. In our opinion, due to it’s heavier weight we’d rate this as the best camping sleeping pad.
- The Atmos foam reduces the overall weight of the pad by 10% and enhances compressibility to keep your pack size down
- Has an R-Value rating of 3.4
- The expanding foam core self inflates, merely top up with a couple of breathes to get the right firmness
- Regular size pad weighs 1 lb 11 oz and is 72 x 20 x 1.5 inches big
- Self-inflating; needs only a few breaths to reach ideal firmness
- One of the least expensive four season pads available
- Perfect for restless sleepers, since the fabric is quiet and it rarely slips
- Can be difficult to compress down to its pack size
- Comparatively heavy, and not ideal for ultralight backpacking
- There can be small issues with fabric quality including seam leaks
Exped SynMat HyperLiteExped SynMat Hyperlite Sleeping Pad
- Top Material: 20 D Polyester, TPU Polyether Film Laminate, Hydrolysis…
- Bottom Material: 20 D Polyester, TPU Polyether Film Laminate, Hydrolysis…
- Insulation: Texpedloft Microfibre
- Temperature: 21.2 °F
- R-Value: 3.30
The Exped Syn Mat Hyperlite is the perfect solution for backpackers who need to travel light but who value a comfortable night’s sleep. While every ounce counts when it comes to hiking gear, many people sacrifice their comfort by choosing ultra-lightweight products with little padding or insulation. Thankfully, a new generation of ultralight pads has emerged in recent years which provide more cushion and warmth but weigh less and have a smaller packed size than closed cell foam mats. The key to the Exped Syn Mat Hyperlite’s comfort are the unique insulated baffles which provide excellent protection from the cold ground yet deflate to almost nothing. This allows this product to pack down to the size of a water bottle and weigh less than 1 pound.
If comfort is your goal, the Exped Syn Mat Hyperlite truly rises above the competition. Once inflated, this model is one of the most comfortable lightweight mats available. While there are warmer and better-padded sleeping mats available, they often weigh quite a lot more for the same level of protection from rough and stony ground. The other fundamental difference between the Exped Synmat Hyperlite and other mats is weight. Self-inflating models and air pads just cannot compete with the impressively low weight of this product. However, due to its materials and innovative design, the Syn Mat is more expensive than average.
- Clever baffle design with lofted microfiber insulation
- Tapered mummy style saves weight & design allows for two Synmat Hyperlites to lay seamlessly together
- At less than 1 pound, it is incredibly light weight
- Packed size is about the same shape and size as a water bottle
- FlatValve inflation valve avoids wear and tear and discomfort while sleeping
- One of the most comfortable and supportive ultralight pads
- Packs up to the size of a water bottle
- The unique side baffles keep you centered on the mat
- Two mats will easily fit together for couples
- Thinner material is more vulnerable to punctures
- Cost is higher than average
- Noisy fabric rustles when you shift position
Therm-a-rest NeoAir XliteSaleTherm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Ultralight Backpacking Air Mattress, Regular – 20 x 72 Inches
- Ultralight (12 ounces) inflatable air mattress for backpacking and…
- Reflective ThermaCapture technology traps radiant heat while Triangular…
- Tapered design reduces weight without compromising warmth; textured,…
- The 2.5-inch thick mattress inflates in less than two minutes by blowing…
- Regular measures 72x20x2.5 inches inflated, 9×4 inches packed, and weighs…
The Therm‑a‑Rest NeoAir XLite comes from a line of exceptionally well-engineered products designed for the perfect balance between comfort and weight. The key feature of these mats are the V-shaped internal baffles. The two layers of baffles are separated by a reflective thermal layer which keeps warm body heat against your body, while cold rising up from the ground is prevented from rising.
While not specifically designed for winter conditions, the Therm‑a‑Rest NeoAir XLite performs better during colder periods of three season camping than many other products. It’s also an excellent choice for campers who prefer sleeping on their side as side sleepers will find that the dual layer baffle system keeps their shoulders and hips from connecting with the ground. Although some people believe that inflating this mat takes much longer than average, the inflated pad is also much thicker than most ultralight models. Considering how thick it is once inflated, it is surprisingly light and compact once packed up. At under one pound and approximately the size of a water bottle, the Therm‑a‑Rest NeoAir XLite easily fits into a hiking backpack.
- Reflective layer returns heat back to your body and creates air pockets that conserve warmth
- Packs down to less than a 1-liter water bottle while weighing only 12 ounces
- Tapered design and advanced fabrics help keep the weight down without skimping on warmth
- Has an R-Value rating of 3.2
- Innovative V-shaped baffles provide cushion and warmth
- Soft outer fabric is more comfortable and quieter than other pads
- Excellent choice for side sleepers
- Takes some effort to inflate fully
- Seems narrower than similarly shaped sleeping pads
- If you often move when sleeping, this pad may slip around too much
Sea to Summit UltralightSea to Summit Ultralight Mat Sleeping Pad with Inflation Pump Sack, Large (78×25)
- NEW Air Sprung Cells provide unrivalled comfort and support. The UltraLight…
- Multi-Function Valve integrates inflation and deflation plus pressure…
- Extruded TPU Lamination with Antimicrobial treatment prevents delamination…
- Integrated Sea to Summit Airstream Pumpsack and a repair patches included
- SPECS: Size: 78 in x 25 in x 2 in, Pack Size: 3 x 8 in, Weight: 17.4 oz /…
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat takes cues from the mattress you use at home to create a thin, lightweight model that packs small yet provides a comfortable cushioned sleeping surface. Additionally, the easy to use valve makes inflating and deflating this sleeping pad both quicker and easier than many air mattress style pads. It also stays inflated throughout the night eliminating those annoying 3 a.m. top-ups which can ruin a good night’s sleep.
The Air Sprung system works in the same way coils in a traditional mattress do, and distribute your weight more evenly thus preventing low spots in the mat. However, some side sleepers may find that their shoulders or hips may contact the ground. This issue is exacerbated on rough or uneven ground. Most people, however, conclude that the sleeping pad works well and provides a comfortable night’s rest. It should be noted that the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat has a low R-value. This isn’t an issue during the spring or summer, but if you plan to use it during cold weather, it will need to be augmented with a reflective barrier or extra padding to keep out the cold.
- Uses Air Sprung Cells with a single chamber for maximum comfort and lightweight ease of use
- Face fabric is made from 40 denier ripstop nylon, providing a keen balance between weight and durability
- 181 Air Sprung Cells are formed by a matrix of dot welds and function like individual coils in a pocket-sprung mattress for unrivalled support and comfort
- An antimicrobial treatment designed to prevent warm moist air trapped inside the mat spawning mould
- Regular sized pad only weighs 12 ounces and is 72 x 21.5 x 2 big
- Includes stuff sack, repair kit, and spare silicone 1-way valve insert
- Extruded TPU Lamination is resistant to bacterial growth
- Inflates quickly and stays inflated throughout the night
- Lightweight; small, regular, and large sizes are all 1 pound or less
- R-Value of only 0.7 makes it only suitable for warm weather camping
- Too thin to be comfortable on rough terrain or for side sleepers
- Thin material can be prone to more punctures
Big Agnes Q Core SLXSaleBig Agnes – Q Core SLX, 20×72 Regular
- PORTABLE: lightweight and compact construction make this sleeping surface…
- REPAIR KIT INCLUDED: great to have on camping trips in case of emergencies
- PORTABLE: lightweight and compact construction make this sleeping surface…
- SAFE: inside of pad is treated with an antimicrobial solution to prevent…
- LARGE OUTER CHAMBERS: keep user cradled comfortably in the center of the…
Big Agnes is a legendary and well-respected company, and the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX lives up to the high expectations of outdoor enthusiasts. At only 1 pound, this model is a versatile and comfortable option for campers in need of an ultralight product that is both durable and comfortable.Unlike many ultralight pads, the Q-Core SL sleeping pad boasts an impressive R-value of 5. This makes it an excellent choice for extended season camping. The mat’s unique X-Static insulation not only keeps you warmer than other options but thanks to the inclusion of silver filaments, it’s more resistant to microbes and odor.
The Big Agnes Q-Core SL comes in long, wide and petit sizes to fit any sized hiker, and the alternating I-beam baffles provide a great deal of support even for heavier individuals and side sleepers. However, some campers found the shape of the regular pad to be too narrow and combined with the slippery fabric; some found it hard to stay on the pad while sleeping.
- Weighs just one pound (regular size)
- Antimicrobial treatment inside the mat prevents microorganism growth
- Minimalist I-Beam construction reduces weight and provides consistent stability and comfort
- Uses advanced heat reflective technology to return your body heat and keep you warm
- Holds an R-Value rating of 4.5, making it suitable for temperatures down to 15°F (-9°C)
- Uses lightweight ripstop nylon to improve durability, combined with a quilted top to give superior comfort
- High volume valve allows for efficient and easy inflation and superfast deflation
- X-Static insulation has anti-microbial and anti-odor silver filament
- R-Value of 5 making it ideal for cooler camping conditions
- Durable inflation valve allows for quick deflation
- Like many lightweight pads, the nylon ripstop fabric is noisy
- Some campers report issues with slow leaks that result in a deflated mat
- Requires a lot of effort to inflate