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The best sleeping pads

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By Kelly Hodgkins


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Sleeping pads are a necessity for any backpacking or camping trip. They not only give you a comfortable surface for sleeping, but they also provide an extra layer of warmth. Anyone who has slept without one learns the hard way how quickly heat drains from the body especially when your back is exposed to the cold ground when sleeping in a tent or the cool air when in a hammock. Even the best sleeping bagor the warmest quilt won’t prevent this bone-chilling heat loss.

We want you to be warm and comfortable while camping, so we’ve tested and found the top sleeping pads currently available. You’ll be as snug as a bug in a rug when you pair one of these best sleeping pads with a quality sleeping bag.

Our pick

THERM-A-REST Neoair XLite

Why should you buy this: The NeoAir XLite is not only comfortable and warm for sleeping, but it’s also lightweight, delivering one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios on the market.

Who’s it for: Weekend backpackers who don’t mind paying a little extra for a 3-season sleeping pad that’s comfortable, warm, and packs down to fit in a backpack.

How much will it cost: $130-200

Why we picked the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite:

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is an inflatable air mattress sleeping pad with a sleek, tapered mummy design. It’s popular among backpackers and for a good reason — the pad isn’t only warm and comfortable for sleeping, but it’s also lightweight, adding less than a pound to your base weight.

The NeoAir XLite delivers lightweight warmth in three seasons thanks to the company’s innovative Therma-capture reflective layer that traps heat without using bulky down or synthetic fills. It’s incredibly warm for 3-season use — this pad has an R-Value of 3.2, providing protection from the cold down to about 25-degrees Fahrenheit.

Because Therm-a-Rest doesn’t use insulating materials to provide warmth, the NeoAir XLite is exceptionally light and compact, weighing a mere 12 ounces. It also packs down tightly to the size of a water bottle, allowing you to store it easily inside your backpack. On the comfort scale, the NeoAir XLite hits the middle ground with 2.5-inches of cushioning to protect you from the hard surface of the ground or shelter.

The most significant criticism we have with the XLite is the noise it makes when you move around. The crinkly sound can be bothersome while trying to fall asleep. Because it’s an inflatable, the sleeping pad also remains susceptible to developing a leak, especially on demanding thru-hikes where the pad repeatedly sees a variety of surfaces. Thankfully, field repair is easy.

The best inflatable air sleeping pad

NEMO Tensor Insulated

NEMO Tensor

Why should you buy this: The NEMO Tensor is lightweight, warm, and packs down to a small size. It’s one of the quietest pads on the market.

Who’s it for: Weekend backpackers who want a 3-season sleeping pad that hits the mark for warmth, comfort, and pack size.

How much will it cost: $150-170

Why we picked the NEMO Tensor:

The Tensor offers an impressive mixture of warmth and comfort while remaining free of extra bulk.Using a combination of stratofiber and aluminized film, this ultra-warm pad’s thermal mirror reflects radiant heat and its layer of insulating PrimaLoft will keep you snug and cozy all night long.

Comfort and convenience are also at theforefront withthe Nemo Tensor. The “spaceframe” baffles are basically die-cut trusses of low-stretch fabric that create a firm and stable sleep surface, allowing you to roll over or read comfortably on your stomach without sinking into the pad. Back, side or stomach sleepers will find this 3-inch pad very comfortable for sleeping. The heat reflecting metal layer is suspended in the center of the pad so it doesn’t crinkle, making the tensor one of the quietest pads on the market.

Our only gripe is the pad’s 20D nylon bottom which saves on weight but is thin for a piece of gear that rests on the ground. You need to treat this pad with some extra care. Thankfully, its bottom surfaceis compatible with pressure-sensitive adhesive patches so you can do quick and easy field repairs. If the 20D concerns you, then take a look at the Tensor Field which adds a puncture resistant coating to the bottom of the pad.

The best closed cell foam sleeping pad

Therm-A-Rest Z Lite

Why should you buy this: The Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol is an affordable sleeping pad that stands up to the rigors of the backcountry.

Who’s it for: Backpackers who don’t mind sacrificing a bit of comfort in exchange for a no-nonsense sleeping pad that won’t fail in the backcountry.

How much will it cost: $35-40

Why we picked the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol:

With a thickness of less than one inch, the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol may not get high marks for comfort, but its light weight and outstanding reliability make it a top choice for long distance hikes. Because it uses a closed cell foam matrix and not air, the Z Lite Sol won’t develop an annoying leak at the wrong place and time. Besides durability, the Z Lite Sol is versatile and can be used as a seat pad for extended lunch breaks.

Therm-A-Rest developed the Z Lite Sol to be warm as well as durable. It features heat-trapping dimples and a reflective ThermaCapture coating that collects your body’s radiant heat. The result is a pad with an R-value of 2.6 that keeps you warm even when the temperatures drop into the low 40s. If you backpack in the winter, you can pair the Z Lite with an inflatable mattress for colder conditions.

Because it uses a solid foam, the Z Lite Sol cannot be compressed down like its air mattress competitors — it’s big enough that it won’t fit inside most backpacks. While some foam pads can be rolled up, the Z Lite Sol is designed to be folded into a large rectangle that can be attached to a backpack using straps. It’s a bit awkward having the pad dangling on the outside of your backpack, but this is a small price to pay for having a pad that won’t fail to keep you warm when you need it most.

The best self-inflating sleeping pad

Therm-A-Rest ProLite

thermarest-prolite

Why should you buy this: The Therm-A-Rest ProLite is known for its durability, warmth and a non-slip surface that makes sleeping in the backcountry a breeze.

Who’s it for: Backpackers who want the comfort of a self-inflatable mattress and the convenience of not having to blow out a lung trying to inflate their pad.

How much will it cost: $130-150

Why we picked the Therm-A-Rest ProLite:

Sleeping on an inflatable air mattress like the Nemo Tensor is very comfortable but having to inflate it using your breath is so time-consuming. After a day of hiking, the last thing you want to do is get light headed from having to blow up a mattress. The Therm-A-Rest ProLite self-inflatable pad is a convenient alternative that provides the comfort of sleeping on air with the easy setup of a closed cell foam mattress.

The Therm-A-Rest ProLite is a time-tested favorite among backpackers. It is known for its durability and praised for its non-slip surface which keeps you securely on the pad if you happen to find yourself sleeping on an incline. It’s also easy to use — just open the valve and let the sleeping pad fill with air on its own. When it is time for bed, you can add a few breaths to get the firmness you desire, shut the valve and enjoy a good night’s sleep. The ProLite is great for tents, shelters and also fits well into most camping cots.

There are some detractors to the self-inflatable pads — they don’t pack down like their air inflatable counterparts so you’ll need to attach them to the outside of your backpack. They also are thin, approximately 1-inch, making them less than ideal for side sleepers who benefit from 2 or more inches of padding.
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The best ultralight sleeping pad

Klymit Inertia X Frame

klymit-x-frame best sleeping pads

Why should you buy this: The Klymit Inertia X Frame is one the lightest sleeping pads on the market and packs down to the size of a soda can.

Who’s it for: The Klymit Inertia X Frame is for ultralight backpackers who don’t need a lot of insulation.

How much will it cost: $70

Why we picked the Klymit Inertia:

At 8.5 ounces and 3″ x 6″ when packed, the Klymit Inertia X Frame is one of the lightest and most packable sleeping pads on the market. The company cut weight and material by placing the air chambers only at pressure points. This creates an x-shaped frame that maximizes comfort and eliminates all unnecessary fabric.

One advantage to such a small pad is that it inflates quickly and easily. Unlike air inflatable pads which take 20-25 breaths to fill, the Inertia X Frame can be inflated using as little as five to seven breaths. If you overfill, the mattress too much, no worries — it also has a valve with micro adjustments that lets you dial in just the right amount of air pressure for a good night’s sleep.

The use of a frame instead of a solid pad has its drawbacks. Not everyone is going to find the frame construction comfortable for sleeping. It’s really meant for the minimalist who wants a bit more comfort than a foam pad like the Z Lite but still wants to keep their weight down. Also, the areas that are open to the ground can become cold spots when the temperature drops below 40-degrees.

The most comfortable sleeping pad

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX

best sleeping pads big agnes q core slx

Why should you buy this: The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX air pad is as close to a real mattress as you can get for backcountry sleeping.

Who’s it for: The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX air pad is for backpackers who want a comfortable night’s sleep no matter where they break for camp.

How much will it cost: $140-$220

Why we picked the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX:

With most air mattresses, you have to choose between comfort and weight, but that is not the case with the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX sleeping pad. Not only does the mattress offer a whopping 4.25 inches of air-inflated comfort, but it also weighs in at a very respectable 16 ounces (regular size). If you are looking for a good all around 3-season performer, you can’t beat the combination of comfort and weight found in the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX.

The Q-Core SLX also ships with a handful of smaller, but useful features that you don’t realize how vital they are until you use them. The pad has a soft outer layer much like a sheet and large outer baffles that help keep you cradled in the center of the pad when you are sleeping. There’s also a high volume valve for easy inflation and super fast deflation and an antimicrobial layer on the inside of the pad to prevent bacterial growth that results when you use your moisture-filled breath to inflate the pad.

The best car camping sleeping pad

Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI

Why should you buy this: The Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI offers a lush 4-inches of comfort that guarantees you’ll get a good night’s sleep.

Who’s it for: Car campers or base camp adventurers who want warmth, extra comfort, and convenience in a sleeping pad but don’t mind a little extra weight.

How much will it cost: $170-300

Why we picked the Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI:

The Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI is the Cadillac of sleeping pads, delivering a lush 4-inches of air cushion comfort and a roomy 25-inches of width. Unlike the form-fitting ultralight pads, the Comfort Deluxe SI gives you plenty of room to sprawl.

The Comfort Deluxe S is not only roomy but also warm. With an R-value of 5.2, the sleeping pad handles even the lowest temperatures you’ll encounter on a three-season camping trip. It may even hold you over into the early spring and late fall shoulder seasons if you’re a warm sleeper witha decent sleeping bag.

The best double sleeping pad

Exped Sim Comfort Duo 7.5

best sleeping pads exped sim comfort duo 7 5 lifestyle

Why should you buy this: The Exped Sim Comfort Duo 7.5 is big enough for one person to sleep like a king or for couples to sleep comfortably side-by-side.

Who’s it for: Couples who enjoy venturing into the backcountry together.

How much will it cost: $269

Why we picked the Sim Comfort Duo:

The Exped Sim Comfort Duo 7.5 is comfortable and lightweight with six and a half feet of air-cored foam that’s over four feet wide — more than enough to comfortably sleep two people.This luxurious, self-inflating sleeping pad is fitted with hook and loop strips which allow you to fold it in half when using it solo, essentially offering you two pads for the price of one. It’s constructed with sturdy FlatValves which provide quick inflation and deflation, and it even comes with a bonus mini-pump, as well.

The packsack features a height-adjustable roll top bag with a convenient carry strap that doubles as a shoulder bag. When fully inflated, the pad reaches about2.5 inches in thickness. Since it’s meant for two people, the Comfort Duo pushes the limits on weight, clocking in at a hefty 7 pounds, 7 ounces. It’s barely a packable size, making it impractical for backpacking. However, if you’re car camping or on a base camp excursion, you can’t go wrong with this model.

The best hammock sleeping pad

Klymit Hammock V

Why should you buy this: The Hammock V sleeping pad from Klymit is designed to fit securely in your hammock and won’t slip out like a traditional sleeping pad.

Who’s it for: The Klymit Hammock is a must-have for hammock campers looking to add a layer of insulation to a hammock.

How much will it cost: $140

Why we picked the Klymit Hammock V:

Hammocks are incredibly comfortable for sleeping, but they suffer from a fatal flaw: When you snuggle up in your sleeping bag and lay down in your hammock, all your weight shifts to your back. This compresses the sleeping bag in the area, preventing it from trapping the warm air necessary to keep you warm. As a result, hammock campers feel an annoying draft. The best way to remedy this situation is with a thin sleeping pad that provides a layer of insulation.

Most sleeping pads are designed to be used on the ground and don’t fit well in a hammock. The Klymit Hammock V gets rid of this issue with no-slip zones that grip and a unique shape designed to fit perfectly in any standard single or double hammock. The pad not only fits underneath you but it also has wings that wrap around, keeping you warm on the side.

To prevent a cold draft on your back, the Hammock V has deep welds which allow the sleeping bag to loft beneath you. It’s also compact, measuring 4 inches by 8 inches and weighing 27 ounces when packed. Best of all, its streamlined shape takes only 15 to 20 breaths to inflate, making it quick and easy to set up at camp.

How We Test

When possible, our sleeping pad recommendations have been field tested across a variety of terrains and weather conditions. We try to test each pad under typical conditions. When testing a sleeping pad is not possible, we look at the features of the pad and compare it to existing models in our arsenal of gear. We examine how the pad has changed and what improvements, if any, were made for the current year. We also comb through product specifications, and both manufacturer and retailer videos, for insight into any new technology advances that were developed for these latest and greatest sleeping pads.

Helpful Advice and Key Terms

What type of sleeping pad should I buy?

Sleeping pads are essential for a good night’s sleep, providing both warmth and comfort in the backcountry. Before you start shopping, you should decide what type of sleeping pad you need for your next outdoor adventure. Unlike other categories of gear which have a myriad of choices, there are only three major types of sleeping pad styles on the market — self-inflatable, air inflatable and closed cell foam. Each style is very different and has features that make them suitable for specific backpacking situations.

Self-inflatable

Self-inflatable pads use an open cell foam insulation and combine it with air. These pads are a scaled-down version of an air mattress and work like a sponge, decreasing in size when compacted and expanding when the valve opens. The pads deliver exceptional warmth like closed cell foam but tend to be more comfortable than their closed cell counterparts because of inflation. They can also be rolled or folded to make them compact enough to fit inside or on the outside of a backpack. They are perfect for use in the backcountry when you need warmth and want extra comfort.

Closed Cell Foam

Closed cell foam is a popular choice for sleeping because it’s affordable and durable. These foam pads cost as little as $15 and won’t develop a leak because they use a solid foam — as opposed to air chambers — in their construction. Because they don’t require inflation, you can use them immediately without any additional steps. They’re also very effective at insulating your body from the cold. So what’s the problem? They tend to be very thin and provide almost no cushioning from the ground. Because they’re made from solid foam, they also don’t compress down very quickly and must be rolled or folded for transport. Despite the extra bulk, backpackers love closed cell foam pads for their reliability — since they won’t leak,they’re easy to rely on.

Inflatable Air

Inflatable air sleeping pads work just as the name implies: They utilize a layer of thin material that’s inflatable using air, providing a very comfortable platform for sleeping. They typically offer minimal protection from the cold, but some models are lined with insulation to provide additional warmth when sleeping on the ground. The best part about the inflatable pads is their pack size, which is extremely small and lightweight. Because they offer lightweight warmth, these inflatable air sleeping pads tend to be on the expensive side.

What is an R-value and why does it matter?

The R-value is a measurement of a sleeping pad’s ability to resist the transfer of heat. A sleeping pad with a higher R-value protects you better from cold, allowing you to sleep more comfortablyduring cold conditions. For example, a sleeping pad with an R-value of 3.5 to 4.0 provides warmth down to 15-degrees Fahrenheit, while a pad with a 2.0 to 2.5 value is warm down to roughly 30-degrees. You should select a pad with an R-value that matches the conditions in which you backpack. Winter campers should look for a high-value sleeping pad, while summer-only hikers can shave weight by choosing a pad with less insulation and a lower R-value.


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