2017's Top Sleeping Pads for Backpacking and Camping
To find that elusive optimal sleeping pad, we researched 70 top options and then purchased and tested 21 of the best. After 160 hours of side-by-side sleep tests, we awarded the best overall pad as well as the most comfortable and lightest. Whether you have $30 or $200, we've got your budget covered. Because comfort is so subjective, 50 different testers rated each pad. We also recommend models based on your style of sleeping and camping whether you're a side sleeper who uses a protective ground tarp to a back sleeper who wants to throw the pad anywhere and not worry about punctures. There are more pad designs and options than ever: we decipher what meets your needs and what is too expensive and not durable enough. If you're not backpacking, save money and gain comfort by checking out our Camping Mattress Review.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
We take a fresh look at sleeping pads for the spring of 2017. While Therm-a-Rest continues to dominate, some of their newest innovations like the Max SV system, failed to win awards. At the same time, Sea to Summit and Big Agnes now have models in the top 5 that may be the best options for some sleepers. Each of our individual reviews notes if there were any changes whether major redesigns or minor color changes. The competition in comfort continues to grow.
Best Overall Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
Despite more competitors in the market, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm continues its reign on top. Yeah, it's almost painfully expensive, but no other pad combines the comfort and durability in a lighter package. It's ultra warm, packs down small, and is more puncture proof than appears possible. It's the one pad to rule over all four seasons in the mountains. 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
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Best Bang for the Buck
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture
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 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, basecamp trips where the benefit of extra comfort on many nights outweighs the drawback of carrying its extra weight in and out. We loved using this pad while guiding trips where sound sleep is more important than a few extra ounces. If you're an outdoor enthusiast looking for just one affordable pad for car camping and backpacking, we highly recommend the Venture. Likewise, if you backpack for luxurious camping in beautiful locations, we think this pad will keep you cozy for years.
Brushed fabric feel nice
Bulkier than ultralight pads
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture
Best Pad on a Budget
Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL blends durability with a relatively small packed size to create our favorite inexpensive pad. It's ideal for the budget conscious as well as the hardcore: thru-hikers, alpine climbers, and mountaineers who prefer the light simplicity of closed-cell foam. Though not as durable as the Ridge Rest SOLite, this pad is much more compact. As you can see in the photo above, a 1/2 length version takes up little space on the side of a pack. Setup takes seconds.
Warmer than original Z-Lite
Dimples collect dirt
Foam compresses over time and becomes less comfortable, less warm
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL
Top Pick for Ultralight
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
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 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 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 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
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Top Pick for Comfort
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
While we were not particularly impressed with the other two Sea to Summit pads reviewed, the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated's dual chamber design takes comfort to a second level--literally! The ability to independently inflate its top and bottom sections 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 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 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
Read full review: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
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Analysis and Test Results
After purchasing each model featured, we spent a summer sleeping on them. The lead reviewer didn't sleep on a bed for three months during testing. We shared these products with a team of collaborating outdoor enthusiasts to ensure we had a wide range of opinions. Besides taking notes during our backcountry experiences, we also carried out side-by-side tests and took measurements to tease out both major and minor differences. At the end of testing, we used the information gathered to score each model across five performance metrics, highlighting each pad's strengths and weaknesses. Each metric was 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 table below.
The scores represent each model's performance relative to the other contenders reviewed. Below, we dissect the methods used to evaluate each metric and highlight the winners and losers in each category. The scoring metrics 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 important for your outdoor needs when finding the best product for you.
Here we evaluated how well each pad transformed rocks and roots into plush clouds. Although comfort is subjective — and one can become inured to pains of the thin, ultralight pad — we've found the following to be true: thicker pads cushion 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; and more surface area means more comfort.
The most comfortable pad will depend on your preferences. Side sleepers usually prefer thick air construction pads while back sleepers sometimes prefer 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 (they typically ranked pads higher). Keep in mind that our scores are relative. A score of 9/10 means that the pad was among the most comfortable competitors, not that it's going to offer the same level of comfort as your Tempur-Pedic.
Hands down the most comfortable pad we snoozed on was 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 the feel of the material, but the Comfort Plus Insulated took things to a whole other level, thanks to its dual chamber design that lets you fine-tune 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 smooth surface. Several outliers thought that the REI AirRail 1.5 was the most comfortable, but most of our testers preferred the pads listed above because of their thickness. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL is a closed cell foam pad and was the least comfortable pad 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 Himalayan first ascent or if you want every performance edge money can buy, you should consider weight a key metric. If your objectives tend to be more casual, weight probably isn't as important as it's marketed to be. 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. 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 determines the importance of added weight. Generally speaking, foam pads are lightweight but aren't comfortable. Meanwhile, self-inflating pads tend to be heavier than their air core counterparts. We found air construction pads provide the highest weight-to-performance ratio of any pad type. Most pads reviewed weighed between 12 and 26 ounces. If you're hiking a couple miles to setup camp or going to basecamp for a week in the same location, that 14-ounce difference will go unnoticed compared with gains from other metrics like comfort and warmth. But 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 tested ranged from 9.1 ounces (Klymit Inertia X Frame) to 30 ounces (Exped SynMat 7). Check the warmth score of a lightweight pad before purchasing it to make sure it will meet your needs. Finally, many pads are available in multiple sizes and some 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 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 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 compressible self-inflating mat. The Therm-a-Rest EvoLite fits between the typical design of self-inflating mats and air construction mats. It achieves the thickness of air construction pads while still providing some self-inflation.
A pad's ability to insulate from 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 high temperature gradient going on in what is often less than an inch! Thermal conductivity in pads is a complicated issue with many variables, but let's discuss the basics. First, cold is nothing more than the absence of heat, and heat is 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, preventing heat from being lost through conduction.
Within the pad itself, you will lose 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 means less warmth). Sleeping pads are usually given a warmth number, called an R-value, that relates to its resistance to heat loss. Although home insulation uses the same R-value system, 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 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 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 with an R-Value of about 1.
If you're a summer hiker, warmth isn't nearly as important as it is for winter wanderers. Unless you are a cold sleeper, most of the pads in this review will be 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 small, and doesn't break the bank. If you're cold when camping, upgrading the R-value of your sleeping pad is recommended but often comes at the expense of added weight and bulk. 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 review, we've included ease of inflation in our metrics. With the difficulty of inflation being one of the main drawbacks of air construction mats, manufacturers have come up with an array of valve styles to help alleviate this issue. The Therm-a-Rest XLite Max SV has the most innovative valve system, using parlor-trick physics to maximize your breath for rapid inflation. The one-way valves on the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated and other S2S pads are easy to use and make the chore of inflation easier 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 simple. The downside of self inflating pads is that they are generally less comfortable, more bulky, and heavier than air construction pads. The REI AirRail 1.5 is the highest scoring self inflating mat.
Advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads, such as the NeoAir XTherm, durable. We were impressed by the amount of abuse our inflatable pads handled without tearing or delaminating. We have used inflatable pads for 40-day backpacking trips without any durability issues. Take care of your pad and it will take care of you. That said, we 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 tested was the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite. Unfortunately, this was the only pad reviewed that came back with holes after a summer of use. Thankfully, inflatable pads are easily patched and most come with patch kits. The most durable pads 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 top and bottom.
Best Pads for Specific Applications
Another option for a 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 pad pump.
With inflatable pads there is always a chance that the pad will get punctured or the valve will malfunction. To protect yourself from this, we recommend the Therm-a-Rest Instant Field Repair Kit and the Therm-A-Rest Valve Repair Kit.
Be sure to 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 in narrowing down the choices, 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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