Struggling to pick a sleeping pad? We did the research and analysis for you. We looked at 70+ models before buying and testing the best 23 pads head-to-head for months. Our experts spent over 180 hours packing, unpacking, backpacking, camping, inflating, and deflating these pads from Colorado to New Mexico. Nights were spent sleeping on snow to test warmth, and the number of inflation breaths were counted. Nighttime comfort is subjective, so to increase our accuracy, we had dozens of different testers rate each pad's perceived comfort to establish an average. There are tons of options available, but not all fit your individual needs. This comprehensive review is your guide to your right model, whether you're seeking the lightest, the cheapest, the most comfortable, or a mix of all the best features. See also our Women's Sleeping Pad Review.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
February 2018 Update
The REI Flash Insulated emerges as a new Top Pick winner for sleeping pads. It's one of the lighter pads that is easy to inflate, comfortable and costs much less than most competitors. It's the 4th highest scoring product and is the best option for a large group of backpackers that wants to travel light on a budget.
Best Overall Model
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
While the NeoAir XTherm remains on top, the competition is closing in. The XTherm is 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. It's our favorite pad, but many of the other pads below may work better for your budget and backpacking needs. And if you're looking for a larger version of the XTherm, consider the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm Max.
Useful in many situations
Less stable edges
High price tag
Read 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's more comfortable than the XTherm and XLite due to its rectangular shape and surface material. Although its durable fabrics increase weight, this pad is less likely to experience wear and tear. Our testers grabbed it on extended, base camp 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 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.
Great comfort and nice fabric
On the heavy and bulky side
Not a warm layer
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture
Best Combination of Weight and Value
REI Co-op Flash Insulated
The Flash is the best option for many people and balances the best qualities of the two award winners above. It's only an ounce over the X-Therm but is $100 less expensive, more comfortable and quicker to inflate. The main advantage of the Xtherm is its amazing 5.7 R-value. But if you're not winter camping, then the Flash's 3.7 R-value is more than adequate. Lighter pads usually have a much lower R-Value. Compared to the NeoAir Venture, it's not quite as comfortable but is warmer, faster to inflate and only $30 more expensive. The NeoAir XLite is still the weight shaving king, but it costs $30 more, is less comfortable and harder to inflate. If you want to travel light on a budget, get the Flash.
Fantastic combo of lightweight, warmth, and value
Faster inflation than most Therma-a-rest pads
Not the highest durability score
Can only be purchased through REI
Read review: REI Co-op Flash Insulated
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 and $15 more than the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite, this pad is much more compact and quick to store. A 1/2 length version takes up little space on the side of a pack. Setup takes seconds. While both the Ridge Rest and Z Lite score low for comfort, there is a cheap and easy fix: buy a sheet of 1/2 inch foam and cut it down to 36 inches (roughly your hips to head span). This adds comfort, some extra insulation and only add 4 ounces and a little bulk.
Compact for closed-cell foam
The price is right
Gets dirty easily
Loses comfort and insulating ability over time
Read 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, it's been a favorite, 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 almost 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 for less, the UltraLight is tough to beat.
Super low weight yet still acceptably warm
Lacks stability in edges
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Top Pick for Comfort
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
This pads 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.
Redundant air chambers
Solid warmth score
Read review: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
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. Because comfort is so subjective, we queried and compared results from over 50 reviewers with varying experience levels: from guided beginners to guides themselves. 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 above.
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, 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. 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 come from 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 ranked pads higher). Keep in mind that our ratings 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, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper, and NEMO Tensor Insulated, which all received high comfort ratings. Our reviewers loved the rectangular shapes of these pads, 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 new REI Co-Op Flash Insulated scored 8/10 thanks to its supportive quilt-like baffles that reduced bounciness. This is the lightest pad to get such a high comfort rating and also is less noisy than the most of its competition. Some of the lightest pads crinkle like a bag of chips when you shift. It's annoying for you, and much more annoying for your neighbor.
One way to add comfort to any pad, especially a firm foam pad, is to add a 1/2 inch layer of soft foam as shown below. A 20" x 36" piece only weighs 4 oz, adds a lot of comfort, and can be used to line a backpack back panel for extra support.
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 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. Many people prefer to carry a few extra ounces if it means a comfortable and 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 of miles to setup camp or going to base camp for a week in the same location, a 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 considerable 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. The new Nemo Tensor Insulated 20R boasts similar specs but edges past the XLite in comfort thanks to a rectangular design, box baffles, and less "crinkly" materials for a quieter night's sleep.
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. For example, the updated Therm-a-Rest ProLite 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 the 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. The most critical 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 each 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 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 toastier 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 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. That said, we are not big fans of the SV system as it adds weight, cost, and doesn't inflate THAT much faster than other brands. We also had trouble keeping SV pads inflated (we detail this in the individual reviews). The one-way valves on the Sea to Summit pads, Exped Synmat Hyperlite, REI Flash Insulated, and Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated 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 or Nemo Tensor. One caveat: the flutter on all these one-way valves are more prone to accidental leakage than traditional twist pads. Thankfully, this issue is quickly remedied by pressing the valve and letting itself adjust!
Of course, self-inflating pads have been on the market for decades and make the task of inflating easier. The downside of self-inflating pads is that they are less comfortable, more bulky, and heavier than air construction pads. The REI AirRail 1.5 is the highest scoring self-inflating mat. The Therm-a-Rest EvoLite employs a hybrid design that mostly self-inflates to a 2in thickness. Keep in mind that the term "self-inflating" may set expectations too high. You need to unroll the pad and wait about 10 minutes for the internal foam to expand and draw air in. Even after 10 minutes, the pad will only be about 60% inflated and you have to do the rest. "Self-inflation" is much more usful for giant camping mattress pads that take hundreds of breaths to inflate. But for backpacking sleeping pads that have a much lower volumne, this feature is much less useful.
Advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads, such as the NeoAir XTherm, or Sea to Summit Comfort Plus, 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.
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.
— Jeremy Bauman
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.