The Best Sleeping Pad Review

Which sleeping pad is the best? We enrolled 18 top-tier portable pads in a rigorous testing regime that evaluated warmth, comfort, durability, weight, and packed size. These pads joined us on mobile trips all over the world: the jagged High Sierra, wet and windy Patagonia, remote reaches of frigid Siberia, and even the Iranian desert. Our testing and analysis synthesize the results from dozens of people and aim to find the lightest, most compact, warmest, and most comfortable pad on the market. We also recommend specific pads for certain applications.

If you're 5'6" or shorter check out our Women's Pad Review. If comfort is top priority get yourself a Camping Mattress because they are much more comfortable than any model tested here. For more information on how to choose the right pad for you, reference our Buying Advice article.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Men's Sleeping Pads

Displaying 1 - 5 of 18 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #11 #6 #1 #10 #3
Product Name
Exped DownMat 9
Exped DownMat 9
Read the Review
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core
Read the Review
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
Read the Review
Video video review
Exped SynMat 7
Exped SynMat 7
Read the Review
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season
Read the Review
Editors' Awards      Editors' Choice Award     
Street Price Varies $170 - $239
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $96 - $200
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $150 - $230
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $117 - $149
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $120 - $180
Compare at 5 sellers
Overall Score
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Editors' Rating
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100% recommend it (4/4)
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100% recommend it (8/8)
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100% recommend it (3/3)
Pros Very warm. comfortable.Warm, moderately compact, moderately comfortable.Very warm, lightweight, comfortable, compact, highly versatile.Thick, wider than NeoAir pads.Comfortable, warm, lightweight, compact, versatile, durable.
Cons Very heavy (36 oz.), bulky, can’t be inflated by mouth, built-in pump is heavy and slow."Pot hole" surface is not as comfortable as the mostly flat NeoAir series, slippery surface, bumpy side rails, low quality mesh stuff sack.Edges collapse when weighted, noisy when camped on hard surfaces, expensive.Bouncy, heavy, pump adds weight and is slow to inflate.Edges collapse under load, noisy, heavier than NeoAir XTherm and XLite.
Best Uses Car camping, base camping.Winter use when weight isn't a top concern.All-purpose four-season use.Not recommended.All-purpose four-season use.
Date Reviewed Mar 24, 2015Mar 24, 2015Mar 23, 2015Feb 05, 2012Mar 23, 2015
Weighted Scores Exped DownMat 9 Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Exped SynMat 7 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season
Warmth - 20%  
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10
10
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8
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8
10
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7
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7
Comfort - 25%
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7
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5
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6
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7
Durability - 10%
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7
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7
Weight - 25%
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Packed Size - 20%
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7
Product Specs Exped DownMat 9 Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Exped SynMat 7 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season
Type Air/down Air/ synthetic Air/ baffles Air/ synthetic Air/ baffles
R Value 8 5 5.7 4.9 4.9
Packed Volume (liter) 6 1.6 1.4 3.78 1.85
Weight (oz.) 36 25.5 15 30 19
Length (in) 70 72 72 70 72
Width (in) 20 20 20 20 20
Thickness (in.) 3.5 4 2.5 2.8 2.5


OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Choosing the Right Product


The 18 sleeping pads tested can be divided into six different categories based on their construction.

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The seventeen sleeping pads we tested fall into six construction categories (from left to right): closed cell foam, self-inflating foam, air core, synthetic insulated air core, down filled, and structurally insulated air core.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Closed Cell Foam
They're bulky, but work well regardless if you're on a budget, want to sleep directly on the ground, or simply want the most reliable pad. Everyone from novice backpackers to the world's best Alpinists use closed cell pads. Example: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol

Self-Inflating Foam
Open cell foam is glued to the top and bottom of the pad's interior. These are comfortable, hold their shape well, but are neither the most compact nor lightweight. Example: Nemo Zor

Standard Air Core
Open chambers are filled with air like an inflatable pool mattress. These are cheap but bouncy, slippery, and not warm. Not recommended. Example: Big Agnes Air Core

Synthetic Insulated Air Core
Synthetic insulation is glued to the underside of the sleep surface. Above average comfort and warmth, moderate priced. A good budget winter pad. Example: Exped SynMat 7

Down Filled Air Core
Down is stuffed inside the pad for insulation. These are comfortable, very warm, but very heavy; they are best for winter basecamping. Example Exped DownMat 9

Structurally Insulated Air Core
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir series has internal baffles that provide structure and warmth. Their construction is the most technologically advanced available; it offers the highest performance for multi-day mobile trips where weight, comfort, and warmth are top concerns. No other company has developed anything that matches the NeoAir series' performance.

More information on how to choose a pad is found in our Buying Advice article.

Criteria for Evaluation


We evaluated each pad based on the following criteria:

Comfort


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: thicker pads cushion the hips and knees better than thinner pads; flat surfaces are more comfortable for putting your head on than bumpy surfaces; grippier fabrics keep you attached to the pad for longer; the more surface area the warmer and more comfortable, and the NeoAir's horizontal air chambers are more comfortable than competing companies' vertical chambers. Vertical chambers are generally larger and bumpier, have little internal structure, and feel bouncier. The most comfortable pad will depend upon your preferences. Top contenders are the Exped DownMat 9, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper, and Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus. Our testers found the Klymit Intertia X Frame to be the least comfortable pad.

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In Greenland chilling in the Hilleberg Saitaris with the Feathered Friends Peregrine, Sea to Summit Alp II, and Sierra Designs -25 BTU sleeping bags. Pads, left to right: NeoAir AllSeason, Big Agnes Q-Core, and NeoAir XTherm.
Credit: Eric Guth

Warmth


A pad's ability to insulate you from the cold below is a crucial concern for winter when the temperature difference between your body and the ground can exceed 60 degrees. Two main factors influence warmth: a pad's thickness (thicker is warmer) and air circulation (more reduces warmth). Winter sleeping pads aim to prevent the warm air at the top of a pad from mixing with the cold air at the bottom of a pad. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for measuring R-Values. Our warmth variable reflects our experience testing the pads on ice and snow. The R-Value column presented above, and in each individual review, shows either the value from the manufacturer or from independent testing done by Backpacking Light. When comparing R-values know that the measurement is linear: a pad with an R-value of 5.0 is five times warmer than a pad with an R-value of 1.0. The warmest pad we tested was the Exped DownMat 9 followed by the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm.

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Brad Miller poses on the Therm-aRest NeoAir XTherm and ZLite Sol while wearing Patagonia's Super Pluma and R1 Hoody. Alaska.
Credit: Clayton Kimmi

Weight


The weight of the pads we tested ranged from 9.1 oz. (Klymit Intertia X Frame) to 36 oz. (Exped DownMat 9). Many pads are available in multiple sizes and some of our testers that want to minimize weight take shorter pads and use a backpack, boots, or other things under their legs.

Packed Size


Closed cell foam pads are the bulkiest type of pad. Their large size generally prevents them from fitting inside your pack, which makes them a poor choice for bushwacking through dense vegetation. The smallest pad we tested was the Klymit Interia X Frame, which can fit in your pants pocket. The next smallest was the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite.

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L to R: NeoAir AllSeason (19 oz.), Xtherm (15 oz.), XLite (12 oz.) XLite Women's (11 oz.), and Zlite Sol (14 oz.). The AllSeason and XTherm have a more durable bottom material and the AllSeason is square, not tapered, and thus rolls up more evenly.
Credit: Max Neale

Durability


Significant advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads, such as the NeoAir XLite, highly durable. We have been very impressed by the amount of abuse inflatable pads can handle before they tear or delaminate (read the NeoAir XTherm review for examples of when and why some of our pads have failed). Therefore for, we recommend an inflatable pad to anyone that is not sleeping directly on bare ground. Inflatable pads are often very easy to patch. We found the Nemo Zor to be the least durable pad tested.

The Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Classic and SOLite are the most durable pads tested. Their closed cell foam resists extended use and abuse and allows the pads to serve purposes other than sleeping, such as sitting, standing, and stretching.

The light, easy and inexpensive way to add durability to your pad is to use Tyvek as a ground cloth. Few other materials add as much protection for their weight.

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Our extensive testing has shown that Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pads are exceptionally durable. Daniel and Donna rode their bikes from Ireland to China with our NeoAir All-Season. Here's Donna in the Iranian desert.
Credit: Daniel Tubridy
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Closed cell pads are great for sleeping directly on the ground, lining haul bags for big wall climbing, and add warmth when camping on snow and ice. Shown under the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II shelter.
Credit: Max Neale

Inflation Method


You breath contains water vapor that can damage a sleeping pad over time. In warm weather vapor from your lungs enters the pad when you inflate it and leaves the pad when you deflate it. In cold weather, however, water vapor condenses into liquid form and remains inside the pad even after deflation. On trips that are consistently below freezing that water can freeze inside the pad and occasionally the pad will break when you try to inflate it.
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Moisture vapor from your breathe enters sleeping pads. It's important to inflate a pad with dry air when it's consistently below freezing.
Credit: Max Neale
Therefore, some committed winter adventurers never inflate pads by mouth. Select winter pads, such as the NeoAir All-Season and XTherm, include stuff sacks that can be used for inflation. Other pads, such as the Exped SynMat and DownMat, have built-in hand pumps. But neither of these options is particularly easy or lightweight. On extended cold weather trips where the temperature is generally below freezing our testers like to use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Pump Sack to inflate pads. Though we dislike carrying something extra we appreciate that it doubles as a big stuff sack or stool. If you are going to use your pad car camping, we recommend using a pump like the Kwik Tek Airhead Hand Pump or the Kwik Tek Airhead 12V Air Pump. They only cost about $15 and will save your breath while keeping water vapor/moisture out of your pad.

Accessories



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.

For added comfort we recommend trying out the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Pillow.

Editors' Choice Award: The Best Pad


The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is the highest performance all-purpose pad on the market. It's not only small, lightweight, and comfortable, but also very warm. The XTherm transforms cold snow and ice into a soft and supple air bed fit for a queen. This is our testers' top choose for winter trips. If we were to have one single pad we'd choose the XTherm.

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The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm below northern Maine's Mt. Katahdin. Tom is 6'3" and slept on snow with the XTherm at -10 degrees F.
Credit: Max Neale

Top Pick Award: Best Pad for Ultralight


Over the last two years the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite has become our testers most used pad due to its small size, low weight, and astonishing comfort. It works fabulously for everything from summer backpacking to fast and light winter trips. It's so warm for its weight some of our testers choose this pad over the XTherm for winter trips. if saving weight is your #1 priority this pad is the best available option regardless of the time of year. The pad's remarkable comfort cushions hips, knees, and sore bodies. Lounging on the pad on rest days or tent-bound days is great.

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Maggie Smith on the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad during a break from biking from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Credit: Max Neale

Top Pick Award: Best Pad for Extra Comfort


The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper is slightly more comfort than the XTherm and Xlite due to its rectangular shape. It's more durable fabrics also make it heavier. 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 believe this pad is too heavy for hiking inspired backpacking, but if you value comfort more than weight savings, it might be right for you. We recommend the Camper in size Large (25" x 78") because the extra length and width over Regular (20" x 72") significantly increases comfort.

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Wendy Pollock psyched to crash on the size Large Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper. Copper Lake, North Cascades National Park, WA.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Best Buy Award: Best Value Pad


Closed cell foam pads offer exceptional durability and cost very little. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL blends anti-pop, use directly on the ground, durability with a 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 below, a 1/2 length version takes up very little space on the side of a pack.

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Matt Wilhelm smears his way across the The High Sierra's Evolution Traverse, a link-up of nine 13k ft. peaks, with the Hyperlite Moutain Gear Windrider pack and Them-a-Rest Z Lite Sol pad.
Credit: Max Neale

Best Pads for Specific Applications


History


To understand the evolution of the pad, it is helpful to get a glimpse into the history of mattresses. Interestingly, we have gone from sleeping on the ground to sleeping on raised beds to sleeping on the ground again. Albeit, the evolution of our sleeping modes have not always related to outdoor recreation, it has had a significant influence on how sleeping pads have developed.

Over 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, people slept in caves on primitive beds that may have consisted of duff, animal hides, or forest matter. The Egyptians Pharaohs were the first to raise their beds off the ground with platforms of pallets; the common people slept on boughs of palm trees. During the Renaissance, mattresses consisted of straw or feathers stuffed into bags. In the late 18th century, cotton mattresses were fabricated and placed on cast iron bed frames; this new way to sleep on a specific bed frame segregated the vermin from the bed, which had been typical while sleeping on the ground. From here on out, it became commonplace to sleep above the ground, not on it. Even futon mattresses, which are popular throughout Asian countries and North America, were raised off the ground by a frame.

Hundreds of years later, campers, mountaineers, military personnel, and travelers still rested atop tree branches of all variety. The first resemblance of a modern sleeping pad was in Australia. During the 19th century, men would travel throughout the continent in search of work. Due to the constant movement, they needed a sleeping system that would accommodate their on-the-go lifestyle. The swag is a bedroll that could easily be carried on ones back. The bedding included a blanket or two and a mattress made of foam. The foam mattress was the first pad. (Present day swags resemble bivy bags with bed rolls incorporated into the system).

In the 1880s, Pneumatic Mattress & Cushion Company in Massachusetts invented the first air mattress. It was specifically designed for use on ocean liners because of its ability to be inflated, deflated, and stored on a regular basis. Not long after, people began taking air mattresses camping. It became apparent that the air mattresses were not built to endure the outdoor elements as they were easily punctured. For nearly a century, the air mattress would go unchanged.

In the 1970s, engineers John Burroughs, Jim Lea, and Neil Anderson, founded Therm-a-Rest. Their goal was to design a lightweight, durable pad that was also comfortable. Jim noticed how air escaped his foam gardening pad and this prompted the first open-cell foam pad that was secured within an airtight casing. This ingenious idea to combine air and foam in a pad offered unparalleled insulation and self-inflation. In 1972, after years of field-testing and adjustment, Therm-a-Rest applied for patents for their unique hybrid design. The company experienced international growth as a result of the air and foam combination pad. In 1986, they reinvented the closed cell foam pad that initially sparked their engineering of camping pads; a ridged foam pad, the RidgeRest mattress, was born. Three years later, the Z Lite mattress was made.

Pacific Outdoor Equipment incorporated brass valves on their self-inflating mattresses out of need for durability. In 1986, they designed an eco-friendly, CFC-free foam pad. For the next 5 years they experimented with PU (polyurethane) coating for lighter weight, waterproofing, airtight characteristics, and softer pads.

In 1994, Therm-a-Rest developed the first integrated system for sleeping bags and pads.

In 1998, Pacific Outdoor Equipment developed matrix die cuts that lowered the total weight of the pad while still providing great insulation.

In 2002, Exped introduced the DownMat sleeping pad that was filled with down feathers and inflated with air. In the same year, the ComfortfoamMat was also introduced; it had foam insulation and air inflation. In 2006, the SynMat was brought to market as an alternative to the DownMat; it offered a synthetic option for extreme environments, while remaining lightweight and comfortable. Exped released different inflation systems over the course of a decade, ranging from foot pumps to integrated pumps to self-inflating pads to FlatValve Technology.

From their start in the 70s to 2009, Therm-a-Rest introduced diverse mattress cuts, pressure mapping technology, and women's specific pads. In 2009, the NeoAir was released; its design combined patent pending technologies for better insulation and thermal regulation in a lightweight pad.

Pads are continually evolving to offer lighter weights, packability, durability, better insulation, and most importantly, comfort.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale