7 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads Reviews

In 2020, most major sleeping pad manufacturers began using a common R-value testing standard to measure and rate the insulation values of their sleeping pads. This is a big win for backpackers because you can now compare the warmth provided by pads made from different manufacturers.

Therm-a-Rest, REI, Sea-to-Summit, NEMO, Exped, and Big Agnes has released air mattresses and sleeping pads with the new R-values.

While the R-value of a sleeping pad is important, particularly in cooler weather it’s best to also consider its weight, durability, size, thickness, comfort, and price.

Here are our picks for the best 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.

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 4.2 making it one of the best 3-season pads available.

The XLite is available in a variety of widths and lengths, with the 72″ x 20″ regular size weighing in at just 12 oz. The XLite also comes with an inflation sack that can be used as a stuff sack. Read our The Best Sleeping Pad for Camping or Backpacking Reviews

Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Pad

The Sea To Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad has extra thick 4″ air-sprung cells that provide excellent comfort for side and back sleepers. ThermoLite synthetic insulation and a platinum liner reflect warmth back to you to minimize radiant heat loss.

A flat valve makes it quick to inflate and deflate, and a combination stuff sack/air pump is included for ease of use. The Ether Light has an R-Value of 3.2, making it suitable for three-season use, while a size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs in at 15 oz. Multiple sizes are available.

NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad

The NEMO Tensor Insulated Air Pad strikes an excellent balance between low weight and comfort. Three inches thick, it provides plenty of clearance for the bony hips of side sleepers, but rolls up flat and surprisingly small when deflated.

While it contains internal reflective layers like Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir pads, it’s noticeably quieter and not crinkly sounding. Weighing just 15 ounces in a size regular (72″ x 20″), the Tensor has an R-value of 3.5, making it suitable for 3-season use.

The Tensor Insulated pad is available in a wide range of lengths and widths, including a 9 0z short 48″ mummy which is ideal for ultralight backpacking. An inflation sack is included. 

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad

The Big Agnes Insulated Q Core SLX is a super comfy, lightweight inflatable sleeping pad, that’s 3.5 inches thick with 4.25-inch side baffles to keep you centered on the pad. With an R-value of 3.2, the Q-Core SLX is covered with a luxurious quilted top with flat valves for increased durability and rapid deflation.

Insulated with Primaloft Silver, the pad is very quiet compared to pads insulated with reflective foil and includes an inflation sack for rapid inflation. A regular-sized (72″ x 20″) Insulated Q Core SLX weighs 18 oz, but the pad is also available in a very wide variety of lengths and widths.

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 of stuff/air pump is included for ease of use. The Ultralight has an R-Value of 3.1, making it suitable for three-season use, while a size regular (72″ 20″) weighs in at 16.9 oz. Multiple sizes are also available.

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 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 2.0, the Z Lite Sol is a good warm weather sleeping pad. A size regular (72″ x 20″) weighs 14 oz, but it’s also available in multiple sizes. You can also trim a foam Z Lite Sol with scissors to shave off gear weight.

Exped FlexMat Plus Foam Pad

The Exped FlexMat Plus is a 1.5″ thick folding closed-cell foam sleeping pad with an R-value of 2.2. While it is slightly heavier than the comparable NEMO Switchback and Therm-a-Rest Z Lite foam sleeping pads, it’s substantially thicker more comfortable for side and back sleepers.

If you’d given up on closed-cell foam sleeping pads because they’re too thin and uncomfortable, you might want to try out the 1.5″ thick FlexMat Plus a try. The size regular (72″ x 20.5″ x 1.5″ ) pad weighs 17.6 oz. Multiple sizes are also available or you can easily trim the size you need with a pair of scissors.

Backpacking Sleeping Pad Guide

Choosing a sleeping pad requires prioritizing across multiple factors, some of which can be at odds with one another.

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 sleeps 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 mattress, 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.

A self-inflating mattress is 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, and Big Agnes has retested and re-rated their sleeping bags using it. Klymit, notably, has not. This new standard benefits consumers because it makes it possible, for the first time, to compare sleeping bags 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 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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