The Best Sleeping Pad Review
What is the best sleeping pad? Accepting the challenge to answer this question, we bought and tested 21 of the best pads available on the market. Over the course of one full summer, we put these pads through rigorous tests and backcountry trips while collecting valuable feedback about each pad's comfort from over 50 reviewers. From the wild Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico to the Napali coast of Hawaii, we took our time to find out the strengths and weaknesses of each product so you won't have to. We learned which mats to take on long expeditions and backcountry adventures and which are better used near the car or pack raft. This year, there was a lot of competition in the world of sleeping pads and we're here to name the best.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The reigning Editors' Choice winner, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, has earned top honors in our review of the best sleeping pad for several years in a row. In this updated review, we compiled feedback from over 30 testers who used this pad and we agree that it is the highest performing all-purpose pad on the market. Other than the hefty $200 price tag, there isn't much that we don't love about this pad. It is super lightweight, ultra warm, packs down small, and is impressively durable. If you want one pad to rule over all four seasons in the mountains, this is definitely the pad for you. Its performance continues to be unparalleled. And if you're looking for a larger version of the XTherm, consider the Them-a-rest NeoAir XTherm Max.
Packs down small
Edges aren't as stable as other pads
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture earned our Best Buy Award for its combination of comfort, durability, and low price! It is more comfortable than the XTherm and XLite due to its rectangular shape and more comfortable surface material. Although its durable fabrics make it heavier, this pad is less likely to experience wear and tear. Our testers reach for this pad on extended, remote basecamp trips where the benefit of the extra comfort of using it for many nights exceeds the drawback of carrying its extra weight on the walk in and out. We loved using this pad while guiding backpacking trips where a totally restful night's sleep is more important than a few extra ounces. If you're an outdoor enthusiast looking for a just one affordable pad for car camping and backpacking, then we highly recommend the Venture. Likewise, if you backpack for the sake of luxurious camping in beautiful locations, we think this pad will keep you cozy for years.
Brushed fabric feel snice
More bulky than ultralight pads
Closed cell foam pads offer exceptional durability and cost very little. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL blends durability with a relatively small packed size to create our favorite inexpensive pad. This is ideal both for the budget conscious and for the ultra hardcore: thru-hikers, alpine climbers, and mountaineers all depend on closed cell pads for the most ambitious objectives. Though not as durable as the Ridge Rest SOLite, this pad offers the significant advantage of being compact. As you can see in the photo above, a 1/2 length version takes up very little space on the side of a pack.
Warmer than original Z-Lite
Dimples collect dirt
Foam compresses over time and becomes less comfortable, less warm
Once again, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite wins a Top Pick award for ultralight trips. We love it for its small size, low weight, and comfort. It works fabulously for everything from summer backpacking to fast and light winter trips when supplemented with a foam pad. If you adventure primarily in the summer, this pad will be plenty warm for you. For years, this pad has been a favorite of ours and it continues to earn a place in our packs and under our backs. The Sea to Summit UltraLight nearly won this award because it weighs about the same, is nearly as comfortable, and packs down smaller. However, the XLite ultimately took the lead because it is much warmer. Both are excellent pads and the UltraLight is $60 cheaper! If you don't need as much warmth and want an ultralight pad that will keep your wallet a little heavier, the UltraLight is tough to beat.
Warm for the weight
Edges not as stable as other pad designs
While we were not particularly impressed with the other two Sea to Summit pads that we reviewed, the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated's dual chamber design takes comfort to a whole second level--literally! The ability to independently inflate the top and bottom sections of the pad makes for an uncanny level of adjustability without the fear of bottoming out at your hips. When the top is slightly deflated, we didn't have issues with the pad's lack of a smooth surface. The Air Sprung cells distribute weight evenly and stably without any bounciness found in other pad designs. The winter worthy R-value of 5 kept the cold at bay. Consider this pad if you want warmth and comfort and don't mind carrying a little extra weight. The Comfort Plus pad is also available in a larger rectangular shape in the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Mat.
Dual air chambers are redundant
Stable and supportive
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Analysis and Test Results
After purchasing each model featured in this review, we spent a whole summer sleeping on them. The lead reviewer didn't sleep on a bed for three months while testing these models. We also shared these products with a team of collaborating outdoor enthusiasts to ensure we had a wide range of opinions. Besides taking careful notes during our backcountry experiences with the pads, we also carried out side-by-side tests and took multiple measurements to tease out both major and subtle differences. At the end of the testing period, we used the information gathered to score each model across five unique performance metrics, effectively highlighting each one's strengths and weaknesses. Each metric was also weighted appropriately according to its importance within this product category. Based on the scores in the individual metrics, we calculated an overall performance score from 1-100, as shown in the chart below.
The scores represent each model's performance relative to the other contenders in this review. Below, we dissect the methods used to evaluate every product in each metric, as well as highlighting the winners and losers in each category. The scoring metrics we used are comfort, weight and packed size, warmth, ease of inflation, and durability. As with most recreational gear, we recommend you focus on the metrics that are most important for your individual outdoor needs when narrowing down the best product for you.
Here we evaluated how well each pad transformed rocks and roots into plush heavenly clouds. Although comfort is subjective – and one can quickly become inured to pains of the thin, ultralight pad – we've found the following to be true: thicker pads cushion the hips and knees better than thinner pads; flat surfaces are more comfortable for your head than bumpy surfaces; grippier fabrics keep you attached to the pad for longer; and more surface area means more comfort.
The most comfortable pad will depend upon your preferences. Side sleepers almost always prefer thick air construction pads while back sleepers sometimes preferred self-inflating pads. Our comfort scores are based on the feedback of over 50 reviewers who each used one or more of these contenders. Many were first-time campers on guided trips (they typically gave a lower comfort score) and many were seasoned backpackers and guides (they typically ranked pads higher). As always, keep in mind that our scores are relative. A score of nine out of ten means that the pad was among the most comfortable of its competitors, not that it's going to offer the same level of comfort as your Tempur-Pedic at home.
Hands down, the most comfortable pads we snoozed on is the Top Pick for Comfort award-winning Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated that earned a 10/10 for comfort. Our testers preferred sleeping on it over the Best Buy winning Therm-a-Rest Venture and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper which both received a comfort score of 9/10. Our reviewers loved the rectangular shape of the Venture and loved the feel of the material on the outside, but the Comfort Plus Insulated took things to a whole other level thanks to its dual chamber design that lets you fine-tune your comfort level.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, Nemo Astro Insulated, and Therm-a-Rest EvoLite all received a score of 7/10. It's worth noting that each of these pads has a relatively smooth surface. Several outliers thought that the REI AirRail 1.5 was the most comfortable, but most of our testers preferred the other pads listed above because of their thickness. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL is a closed cell foam pad and was not surprisingly the least comfortable pad we reviewed earning a score of 1/10. Foam pads just don't convert grass lumps into clouds as well as inflatable pads.
Weight and Packed Size
The human powered nature of outdoor sports keeps weight at the forefront of gear purchasing decisions. As with any sport, the lightest gear is usually the most expensive. If you're planning on tackling a first ascent in the Himalayas or if you just want every performance edge money can buy, you'll do well considering weight a key metric. If the nature of your objectives tend to be more casual, weight probably isn't as important of a metric as it's marketed to be. To clarify, we're not saying weight isn't important, we're just saying that other variables might be worth sacrificing a few ounces here and there. In our tests, we have found that many people would rather carry a few extra ounces if it means a comfortable and/or warm night's sleep.
Typically, the three heaviest necessities in backpacking are your shelter, sleep system, and backpack. The more miles or elevation you travel in day determines the importance of added weight. Generally speaking, foam pads are lightweight, but aren't comfortable. Meanwhile, self-inflating pads tend to be much heavier than their air core counterparts. In our tests, we found air construction pads provide the highest weight-to-performance ratio of any pad type. Most pads we reviewed weigh between 12 and 26 ounces. If you're only hiking a couple miles to setup camp, or are going to base camp for a week in the same location, that 14 ounce difference will go unnoticed compared with gains other metrics like comfort and warmth. Contrastly, if you're trekking the Appalachian Trail, the extra effort of carrying 14 ounces is significant. The more strenuous your journey, the more important weight becomes.
The weight of the pads we tested ranged from 9.1 ounces (Klymit Inertia X Frame) to 30 ounces (Exped SynMat 7). Remember to check the warmth score of a lightweight pad before purchasing it to make sure that it will meet your needs in that category. Finally, many pads are available in multiple sizes and some of our testers minimize weight by taking short torso-length pads and using a backpack, boots, or other gear under their legs. Our favorite pad for ultralight backpacking is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Twelve ounces give you an R-value of 3.2, a packed size roughly equal to a liter water bottle, and a lot of comfort to boot.
Depending on the model, a self-inflating pad may or may not pack down small enough to fit inside your backpack. Older designs are usually bulky and don't pack down much smaller than foam pads. Newer designs use less foam and can pack down relatively small. The updated Therm-a-Rest ProLite, for example, is a super compressible self-inflating mats. The Therm-a-Rest EvoLite fits somewhere between the typical design of self-inflating mats and air construction mats. It achieves the thickness of many air construction pads while still providing some self-inflation.
A pad's ability to insulate you from the cold below is a crucial concern, especially in winter when the temperature difference between your body and the ground can exceed 60 degrees. That's a very high temperature gradient going on in what is often less than an inch! Thermal conductivity in pads is a very complicated issue with a multitude of variables, but let's discuss the basics. First, cold is nothing more than the absence of heat and heat is just movement of energy from warmer objects to colder ones. Second, we lose heat via three mechanisms: conduction, convection, and radiation. If you sleep on the ground without a sleeping mat, the ground can conduct heat away from you up to 160 times faster than the air around you. The products in this review are designed to lift you off of the ground thus preventing very much heat to be lost through conduction.
Within the pad itself, you will lose lots of heat through convection when air moves around inside the pad. Generally, the most important variables for a pad are its thickness (thicker is warmer), insulation, and air circulation (more circulation equates to less warmth). Sleeping pads are usually given a warmth number called an R-value that relates to a its resistance to heat loss. Although home insulation uses the same R-value system, unfortunately, there is no outdoor industry standard for measuring R-values in sleeping mats since there are many more variations in these pads compared to home insulation. Our warmth variable reflects our experience while testing the pads, which was generally on par with the differences between the R-Values. In our comparison table above and in each individual review, we report the R-value that is advertised by the manufacturer. Without diving into complicated engineering jargon, when comparing R-values, know that the measurement is fairly linear: a pad with an R-value of 5.0 is five times warmer than a pad with an R-value of 1.0. Thus, the warmest pad we tested (Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm) has a stated R-value of 5.7 and is subsequently about 5.7 times warmer than the Sea to Summit UltraLight that has an R-Value of about 1.
If you're a summer hiker, warmth isn't nearly as important for you as it is for winter wanderers. Unless you are a cold sleeper, most of the pads in this review will be plenty warm if you only like recreating in temperate climates. If you camp in the heat, you don't want a warm pad! The Sea to Summit UltraLight is a great pick for this because it is has an R-value of 0.7, is lightweight, packs ridiculously small, and doesn't break the bank. If you're frequently cold when camping, upgrading the R-value of your sleeping pad is recommended but often comes at the expense of added weight and bulk. We think that our Editors' Choice Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm supplies an unmatched level of warmth for its weight and packed size.
Ease of Inflation
In this 2016 update of our sleeping pad review, we've decided to include ease of inflation into our metrics. With the difficulty of inflation being one of the main drawbacks of air construction mats, manufacturers have come up with a wide array of new valve styles to help alleviate this issue. One way inflation valves and quick deflation methods can really make live a little bit simpler in the backcountry. The Therm-a-Rest XLite Max SV has the most innovative valve system that uses parlor-trick-style physics to maximize the effect of your breath for rapid inflation. The one way valves on the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated and other S2S pads are supremely easy to use and make the chore of inflation less than the traditional twist valves found on pads like the Therm-a-Rest All Season.
Of course, self inflating pads have been on the market for decades and make the task of inflating quite simple. The downside of self inflating pads is that they are generally less comfortable, more bulky, and/or heavier than air construction sleeping pads. The REI AirRail 1.5 is the highest scoring self inflating mat.
Significant advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads, such as the NeoAir XTherm, fairly durable. We were very impressed by the amount of abuse our inflatable pads handled without tearing or delaminating. Over the years, we have used inflatable pads for extensive 40-day backpacking trips without any durability issues. Take care of your pad and it will take care of you. That said, we do always recommend traveling with a mini repair kit, such as the Therm-a-Rest Repair Kit or Gear Aid Seam Grip Field Repair Kit in case of punctures. If you want to add even more durability to your pad, you can use Tyvek as an inexpensive ground cloth. Few other materials add as much protection for their weight.
The least durable pad we tested was the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite. Unfortunately, this was the only pad we reviewed that came back with holes in it after a summer of use. Thankfully, inflatable pads are easily patched and most come with patch kits. The most durable pads we tested were the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL and Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite because they are both made of foam and are virtually indestructible in comparison with inflatable pads. The most durable inflatable pads were the Therm-a-Rest Venture and the Nemo Astro Insulated that are both constructed with 75 denier polyester on the top and bottom.
Best Pads for Specific Applications
Another option for a small portable way to inflate your pad is to use the Therm-A-Rest AirTap Pump Kit. It allows you to turn any bag or stuff sack into a pump for your pad.
With all inflatable pads there is always a chance that the pad could get punctured or the valve could malfunction. To protect yourself in these situations we recommend the Therm-a-Rest Instant Field Repair Kit and the Therm-A-Rest Valve Repair Kit.
Be sure to also watch this video on how to make a back pad for an ultralight backpack using a sleeping pad.
With so many choices out there, it can be more complex than you'd expect to select the right pad for your needs. We hope that you've found our ratings and tests helpful to narrow down to the right pad, or a few top contenders, that meet your needs. If you're still feeling uncertain, you may want to take a look at our companion Buying Advice article.
— Jeremy Bauman
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