We checked out 70 of the best backpacking sleeping pads for 2019, picked and purchased the top 20 and had more than 30 people check them out over a period of months. Our side-by-side research took place on trips from California to Utah, Colorado to New Mexico and points in between. If you are looking for a backpacking sleeping pad, what's your main objective? Do you want it light or cheap or comfortable or all of the above? No matter what, we have you covered.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm finishes first as a lightweight, comfortable and versatile sleeping pad. The XTherm is expensive, but no other pad combines the comfort and durability in a lighter package. The 70 denier nylon bottom is nearly puncture-proof, plus the included air pump doubles as a stuff sack.
It's the one pad to dominate over all four seasons in the mountains. It's our favorite, but many of the others may work better for your budget, specifically the wallet-friendly REI Co-op Flash Insulated All-Season Air. For a larger version of the XTherm, consider the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max.
Of all the many inexpensive pads, the Static V2 is the only one we highly recommend. It's light, comfortable and packs down small. It's not the lightest pad, but it's much wider than most ultralight pads (keep that in mind when comparing specs).
This model has one of the lowest R-values of any pad we tested. If you camp in temps below freezing, you probably want to look elsewhere. That said, most people camp with nighttime temps above 30 degrees which this pad handles just fine. The super old school inflation valve raised eyebrows, but it does work. It's one of the best pads for the money, but if you want a little more comfort and durability, see the Venture below. If you want a superlight pad that doesn't break the bank, this is it.
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. Its durable fabrics increase weight, but this pad is less likely to suffer from wear and tear. Our testers favored it on extended base camp trips where extra comfort outweighs the drawback of extra weight.
We loved having this pad when sound sleep was 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 recommend the Venture. Likewise, if you backpack for luxurious camping in beautiful locations, we think this pad will keep you cozy for years.
The Flash All-Season Insulated Air gives the NeoAir XTherm a proper run for its money. The main advantage of the XTherm is its amazing 5.7 R-value, and the Flash All-Season is warmer than the three-season version of the Flash with just a five-ounce weight increase.
The Flash All-Season is an excellent choice for winter camping, rivaling the NeoAir XTherm for versatility. Some testers even thought that the Flash was more comfortable. The XTherm is lighter and warmer than the Flash, but the Flash is a mega-bargain; significantly less than the XTherm.
Compresses after many uses, losing insulating ability
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 a little pricier than the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite, this pad is much more compact and quick to store. As much as inflatable pads have evolved, they still pop. You won't have that issue with the Z Lite.
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 four ounces and a little bulk.
Once again, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite wins a Top Pick award for ultralight trips. It combines small size, low weight and comfort. This 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 still is.
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 prevailed because it is much warmer. The UltraLight is significantly cheaper so if you don't need as much warmth and want an ultralight pad for less, the UltraLight is tough to beat.
This pad'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.
Two sleeping pad reviewers at a Sierra Nevada test location.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by the sleeping pad testing dream team - aka OutdoorGearLab Senior Review Editors Andy Wellman and Matt Bento. Both come to the campsite with heavy climbing backgrounds - a pursuit where you learn to appreciate a restorative night's sleep outdoors. Andy has been testing and writing about gear for OutdoorGearLab for over five years and climbing for over 20. He has climbed extensively around the world and has also run a publishing company that put out bouldering guides to the Southwest. He is joined by Matt, who has been a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue since 2016 and previously spent 10 years on the road going to climbing destinations throughout the US.
The quest for the best sleeping pad began by delving deep into what was available in the market, and what products among those were the high performers. We looked at over 70 models before choosing the 20+ models discussed here. We then bought these pads and disbursed them to an extended group of over 50 testers. These pads went on guided backpacking trips in Colorado and New Mexico, and we brought them along on trips in the Eastern Sierra and Utah. For the duration of the review (months), our lead tester opted for these test pads over a real bed. All the while, we paid attention to how well the pads performed in key areas that we identified ahead of time as most important in the function of a sleeping pad — things like weight and packed size, durability and warmth, in addition to comfort.
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.
From top to bottom: The Exped DownMat 9, Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight, Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air, REI Co-op Flash Insulated All-Season, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm, Therm-a-Rest All-Season SV
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. If you do lots of car camping or are a very finicky sleeper, ere on the side of comfort, selecting a pad that will help you sleep well and enjoy your waking hours more. For multiday climbing missions with long approaches, we're willing to sacrifice comfort for weight savings, choosing a foam pad for its light weight and durability. Winter camping on snow or cold surfaces is more comfortable on a pad with a high R-value. Our Editors' Choice, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, possesses the best balance of all the metrics, but don't hesitate to check out a pad with strengths most in line with your needs.
We used this pad side-by-side with the others in this review. Our testers consistently raved about the Venture's high level of comfort.
As pads can range in price and value, it's important to pick one that fits your needs. At OutdoorGearLab, we choose a variety of award winners, such as our Editors' Choice, which highlights our favorite pad overall. We've also highlighted Top Picks, which include niche pads for specific purposes, as well as Best Buy winners. In this review, we have three Best Buy winners because each one excels in a different application. We have a favorite rigid foam pad and two favorite inflatable models that are will appeal to the weight-conscious backpacker on a budget.
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 from falling off of 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 All-Season Insulated scored 8/10 thanks to its supportive quilt-like baffles that reduce bounciness. This is the lightest pad to get such a high comfort rating and also is less noisy than most of its competition. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All-Season SV sounds like hundreds of plastic bags rustling in the wind whenever you roll on it. It's annoying for you, and much more annoying for your tent mate. The noise is dampened somewhat by a sleeping bag, but in warm weather when you're outside your bag or using a quilt, it'll be a noisy night.
One way to add comfort to any pad, especially a firm foam pad, is to add a 1/2 inch layer of soft foam. A 20" x 36" piece only weighs 4 oz, adds comfort, and can be used to line a backpack back panel for extra support.
Our testers prefer the shallow horizontal baffles found on the NeoAir pads over the long vertically oriented baffles found on the Exped DownMat 9.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, Nemo Astro Insulated, and Therm-a-Rest EvoLite all received good scores. Note that each of these pads has a smooth surface. Most of our testers preferred the pads listed above because of their thickness. The Therm-a-rest NeoAir All Season SV and the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air both received an 8 due to their rectangular shapes that provide more room to sprawl, at the cost of increased weight. 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.
While other pads eliminate weight by removing foam or using lightweight materials, the X Frame takes an aggressive weight savings approach by eliminating portions of the pad itself.
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 set up 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.
We used the UltraLight as much as possible during our two months of testing. It is lightweight, packs small, and is pretty comfortable. We just wish it was a little warmer.
The weight of the pads tested ranged from 9.1 ounces (Klymit Inertia X Frame) to 35.7 ounces (Exped DownMat 9). 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. The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air is a great choice for ultralight backpacking in the warmer months, weighing in at 12.9oz, but it's not warm enough for winter camping. 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 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. The [Klymit Static V2 | Best Buy Winning Static V2] was not the absolute lightest, but it was one of the lightest wider pads. Keep in mind that most of the pads under 17 ounces are also usually pretty narrow and that they achie part of their weight savings by reducing the sleeping area. If you toss and turn a bit, a wider pad like the Static V2 may be worth a few extra ounces.
From left to right: The Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight, Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season SV, REI Co-op Flash All Season Insulated, Exped DownMat 9, Exped Hypersleep Winter.
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. The Exped DownMat 9 takes up about as much space in a pack as a sleeping bag. This is impressive considering that the DownMat has an R-value of 8, but overkill for most backpackers, especially when the NeoAir Xtherm packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle with a respectable R-value of 5.7.
Layering the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm on top of the ZLite Sol will give you a cozy R-value of over 8.
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 (the Exped DownMat 9) has a stated R-value of 8 and is subsequently about 8 times toastier than the Sea to Summit UltraLight with an R-Value of about 1.
The Exped DownMat 9 has a high R-value of 8 and is insulated with 700 down. We consider it overkill for all but the coldest conditions.
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 Outdoorsman Lab UltraLight is a great pick for this because it has an R-value of 1.3, is lightweight, packs small, and is a great value. 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. The Exped DownMat 9 is insulated with 700 fill down, and has a mega R-Value of 8. While it's heavy and bulky, it still fits in a pack (or dogsled) with room to spare, though we feel it's more than most hikers will ever need or want to carry.
The NeoAir All-Season SV takes advantage of the same physics involved in flight to push more air into the pad at a faster rate... but most of our testers felt it wasn't fast enough to warrant the extra weight and preferred the old Therm-a-Rest pads.
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 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, Outdoorsmanlab Ultralight, REI Flash All-Season Insulated Air, and Big Agnes insulated AXL Air are easy to use and make the chore of inflation easier than the traditional twist valves found on pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm or Nemo Tensor. One caveat: the flutter on all these one-way valves are more prone to accidental leakage than traditional twist pads.
The down-filled Exped DownMat 9 features a built-in pump to inflate the pad since vapor from your breath can hinder the insulation properties of the down. The pump uses expanding foam to fill an air chamber and then you can press down on the foam to push the air into the rest of the pad. The result is a heavy yet effective way of inflating the pad without blowing. Therm-a-Rest now includes a stuff sack with a small hole that fits over the twist valve on the NeoAir Xtherm. You can inflate the pad by opening the stuff sack so it fills with air, then folding it closed and pushing the trapped air through the valve and into the pad. The upside, other than speeding inflation, is that no moisture from your breath enters that pad. While moisture accumulation in pads is not a major deal, it is something to keep an eye on. After a trip, you should follow these steps on storing your pad to get any moisture out.
The Exped DownMat 9 employs an integrated hand pump so that the down doesn't lose its loft due to vapor from your breath.
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 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 useful for giant camping mattress pads that take hundreds of breaths to inflate like the Exped MegaMat 10. But for backpacking sleeping pads that have a much lower volume, this feature is much less useful.
The 75 denier nylon shell on this pad makes it tough enough to sleep on the open ground, but we always recommend a ground tarp to help protect the pad from sharp sticks and rocks. A popped pad is no fun on a long backpacking trip.
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. Even the most durable pads can be punctured with a sharp thorn, a rock, or are a shard of glass. It only takes a tiny hole to render a pad completely useless, and this can be a potentially dangerous scenario in colder temperatures. A small repair kit weighs a few ounces at most and most repairs are pretty easy in the field. 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 made of foam and are virtually indestructible in comparison with inflatable pads. The most durable inflatable pads were the Therm-a-Rest Venture, The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm and the Nemo Astro Insulated that are both constructed with 75 denier polyester on top and bottom.
Best Pads for Specific Applications
Ultralight backpacking: Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air, and Sea to Summit UltraLight
Winter trips where weight matters: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Base-camp / casual backpacking: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated, Exped DownMat 9
Big wall climbing: Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite
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.
TIP: a sleeping pad can make a great back pad for ultralight backpacks.
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. Remember, sleep is important! If you are awake and alert during the day, you'll be safer and have more fun in the backcountry.
The 2011 version of 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.