The Best Sleeping Pad Review
If you've ever spent a restless night on the cold hard ground, you know just how big of a difference a good sleeping pad makes. We're here to help! In this review, we tested 23 of the best pads on the market. Over the course of the summer, we put these pads through rigorous tests and collected valuable feedback about each pad's comfort from over 50 reviewers. From the wild Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico to the Nepali 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
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Analysis and Test Results
As camping and backpacking continue to grow in popularity, more and more people are realizing that a good pad to sleep on is key to snoozing well in the backcountry. Gear manufacturers design pads for nearly every niche and price point. Understanding the differences between these products will help you pick the best mat for your needs.
Types of Sleeping Pads
In this review, we classify our mats based on three basic construction types: closed cell foam (often referred to as CCF), self-inflating, and air construction.
Closed Cell Foam
These are the simplest pads made. They are little more than a piece of foam between you and the cold ground. Most are less than half an inch thick and aren't comfortable. They rely on tiny air pockets within the foam to protect you from the ground's heat-zapping convective powers.
Pros: Durable, inexpensive, lightweight
Cons: Bulky, uncomfortable, often difficult to brush off snow and dirt
These products use an open celled foam (like a sponge) sandwiched between two pieces of fabric. When the valve is open, the foam expands and inflates the pad. The foam also traps air and retains heat.
Pros: Supportive, easy to inflate, decently comfortable, less bulky than foam
Cons: Less durable than foam, less comfortable than air construction, can be fairly bulky
These are the latest craze in the evolution of sleeping pads. They are similar in construction to inflatable pool toys except that they are much warmer, lighter, and more durable. The downside to air construction pads is that they take a long time to inflate compared to self-inflating pads. Once inflated, they provide about 2 inches of cushion between you and the ground. This type of pad relies on either synthetic, down, or baffled structures to provide insulation. Generally, air construction pads are the lightest weight and most compact pads available. We think that air construction pads are the best choice for most outdoor sleepers.
Pros: Often super comfortable, thickness makes lumpy ground less of an issue, can pack down crazy small
Cons: Not as durable as foam, take longer to inflate, sometimes feel bouncy
For a detailed discussion about the differences between different types of mats and how they keep us comfortable, reading our buying advice article to choose the best model.
Criteria for Evaluation
We evaluated each pad based on the following criteria.
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 prefered 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 and Nemo Zor are both 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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