The Best Sleeping Pad For Women Review
What is the best women's sleeping pad on the market? We spent a spring and summer season testing out these top rated women's specific pads in a variety of conditions from the snowy slopes of Denali National Park to the prickly desert landscapes of the Grand Canyon. We did a lot of sleeping, reading, and generally lounging on these pads in order to properly try them out, and we solicited several different ladies' opinions. We discovered which pad is the most comfortable, which is the most compact, and which is the most durable - and there were some surprises. To find out more about what we thought about these air and foam dream vehicles, read on.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Update Note: April 2015
We have contacted all of the companies and have confirmed any upgrades or changes, with most of the changes being in regards to colors; any changes have been noted in the reviews. A complete review was performed in October 2014.
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Analysis and Test Results
What's the Difference Between a Men's and Women's Pad?
Women have a different anatomy than men (surprise!) and very often have different sleeping requirements than their male counterparts. It has been scientifically proven that typically, women sleep colder than men. Manufacturers of women's pads have realized this, and have created models that are generally warmer with more insulation added in areas that count, like the torso and foot areas. Women are typically shorter and have narrower shoulders than men, and so pads designed for them have been trimmed down to their size – thus reducing the potential bulk and weight from a larger men's specific mattress.
Not Just for Women Anymore
Men are starting to clue into the fact that women's sleeping pads provide a better bang for the buck in terms of weight-to-warmth ratios. All of the women's pads we tested have higher R values than the equivalent men's versions. They are usually the same weight as the men's version, but come in a smaller, more compact packed size. We have spoken to some men who prefer to buy the women's version – especially if they're under 5'6 – because of the higher weight-to-warmth ratio. Some tall men are buying women's pads too, and just putting their backpacks or other gear under their feet for insulation. This is an awesome example of products that have been designed specifically with women in mind, and in turn have become better products.
The women's pads we tested are available in two types of construction. Most of the pads we tested were a self-inflating foam and air construction, where open cell foam is glued to the top and bottom of the pad's interior. These pads are comfortable and hold their shape well, but are not the most compact.
The one exception is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's that uses a structurally insulated air core construction, which is a lot less bulky than foam. It is designed with internal baffles that provide structure and warmth, and then compresses very small.
To learn more about other types of construction used in unisex versions, check out our Best Sleeping Pad Review.
Criteria for Evaluation
The women's pads we tested have R Values ranging from 2.8 (Therm-a-Rest Prolite - Women's) to 4.9 (Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite - Women's) and are designed for use primarily in three season conditions – but some can be used for winter temperatures as well. R value ratings are based on how well a material insulates. R values were originally used by the construction industry to rate home insulation. In the realm of sleeping pads, the R value scale measures how well a pad insulates the sleeper from the cold ground temperature and conserves the convective heat from the sleeper's body warmth. A pad's thickness and the amount of air circulation within affects its R value. Generally, the thicker the pad, the warmer, and the less air circulation the better.
We evaluated the comfort of these pads on how well we slept on various ground surfaces, including rock solid granite slabs and lumpy sand. In our testers' opinions, the most comfortable pads we tested were the REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's and the Therm-A-Rest Trail Lite. Not surprisingly, these were two of the thickest mattresses we tested, making them cushy to lay on, especially for side sleepers. We also liked the generous shapes of these mattresses, which were both slightly wider than the others we tested. We especially loved the REI AirRail's "air rails", tubes on each side that made the mattress wider and gave it a cradling effect for back-sleepers. We think the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite is also quite comfortable with its 2.5 inch thickness, but it takes a bit of getting used to because it is bouncier and crinklier than the other pads in this review.
All of the pads we tested in this review are inflatable, and therefore inherently less durable than closed-cell foam pads that are reviewed in the unisex pad review. We evaluated durability mostly on the toughness of the materials of these pads, which ranged from 30-75 Denier strength fabrics. The Trail Lite Women's features the strongest materials and the NeoAir XLite Women's has the most fragile. That being said, we think the NeoAir XLite is surprisingly durable, and some of our testers have owned this model for many years without incident. Luckily all of the pads we tested are relatively quick and easy to patch.
Another durability factor our testers noticed was the color of the top materials. The lighter colored mattresses like the REI AirRail and the ProLite Women's showed dirt much easier than darker colored mattresses like the ProLite Plus. For the NeoAir this is a non-issue because of its rubbery, cleanable surface. One tester hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail with the women's ProLite, and the bright orange turned an ugly brown by the end. It is also interesting to note that during her 2000+ mile hike she never once had to patch her Prolite pad.
For all backpackers, the weight of their gear should be carefully considered. As part of your sleeping system, your pad should be considered part of the big 3 items (shelter, backpack, and sleeping system) that affects pack weight. Choosing these three items carefully can greatly reduce your pack weight, and therefore boost your hiking enjoyment. Foam weighs more than air, so all the self-inflating foam mattresses can not compete with air core constructed mattresses. Knowing that, the lightest women's pad that we tested by far was the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's, weighing in at a slim 12 oz. The heaviest was the Trail Lite at 27 oz, almost a full pound heavier than the NeoAir.
This is another important factor to consider when trying to slim down your pack size. Again, foam insulated mattresses cannot compete with air core construction. The NeoAir XLite Women's has the smallest packed size at 9x4 inches, followed by the Therm-A-Rest ProLite - Women's at 10x4.25 inches. The bulky Trail Lite has the largest packed size at 10.5x6 inches. Many people have difficulty rolling their inflatable pads up to the original size it came in, and are not able to fit it back into its stuff sack. For more information on how to do this properly, check out our Buying Advice article.
Inflation Method & Accessories
Although many of our reviewed sleeping pads claim to be "self-inflating" some people are disappointed by the amount the pads inflate on their own. Just so we're all on the same page, even the manufacturers don't claim that their pads are able to completely inflate on their own. Instead, they claim they will inflate most of the way, and if people prefer a firmer mattress they can blow a few more breaths in before closing the valve.
For those of us who have chosen to go with a non-self-inflating mattress, like a NeoAir, we may get a bit light headed before our mattresses are full. There are several accessories to aid us with filling our mattresses like the NeoAir Torrent Pump, an electrical pump that will annoy your neighbors while you fill up your mattress; and the NeoAir Pump Sack that allows you to fill up your mattress manually without fainting, and also acts as a stuff sack.
Because women sleep colder than men and have a different anatomy and size as well, manufacturer's have created pads for sleeping specific to these qualities. This review is here to help you find the pad that is the most comfortable, compact, and/or durable, depending on your specific needs. Check out our Buying Advice article to find out why women's models are a great option for both men and women, and how to choose the one that is right for your needs.
— Jessica Haist
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