Having trouble choosing the right sleeping pad? We've done our homework so you don't have to lose any sleep. We analyzed over 70 models before purchasing and testing the top 28 pads side-by-side for months. Our experts spent over 180 hours packing, unpacking, backpacking, camping, inflating, and deflating these pads from California to Utah and beyond. We've identified the best pad for ounce-counting thru-hikers, winter campers, and dirtbag alpinists, and identified the most versatile and least expensive pads. 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.
The Best Sleeping Pads of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
As we move into the warm spring and summer weather, a new sleeping pad may top your shopping list. Our experts slept on snow, rock, pine needles and desert sand to test warmth and durability. We blew up pads until we were dizzy, counting breaths and paying special attention to the ease of inflation. Nighttime comfort is subjective and everyone has their own special sleep style, so to increase our accuracy, we had dozens of different testers rate each pad's perceived comfort to establish an average. The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air shines as great choice for ultralight backpacking. Weighing a scant 12.9 oz, this is the perfect pad for anyone looking to shed some weight off their kit this summer without sacrificing comfort. Also, the REI Co-op Flash All-Season ups the R-Value from 3.7 in the 3 season version to a toasty 5.2, making it one of the most versatile pads on the market, while the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm remains our favorite sleeping pad of all time.
Best Overall Model
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
For most human powered adventures, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm reigns supreme as a lightweight, comfortable and versatile pad. The XTherm may be rough on your bank account, but no other pad combines the comfort and durability in a lighter package. The 70 denier nylon bottom is nearly puncture-proof, and we loved the included air pump that doubles as a stuff sack.
It's the one pad to dominate 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, specifically the wallet-friendly REI Co-op Flash Insulated All-Season Air. If you're looking for a larger version of the XTherm, consider the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max.
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.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture
Best Combination of Versatility and Value
REI Co-op Flash All-Season Insulated Air
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 3 season version of the Flash with just a five-ounce weight increase.
This makes the Flash All-Season a good choice for winter camping, rivaling the NeoAir XTherm in terms of versatility, and a few of our testers even thought that the Flash was more comfortable. The XTherm stays ahead of the game by being lighter and warmer than the Flash, but the Flash is a mega-bargain, $70 less than the XTherm.
Read review: REI Co-op Flash All-Season 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.
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.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Top Pick for Comfort
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
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.
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. 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 inline with your needs.
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. The chart we've included below shows which products offer the highest bang for your buck and can be found toward the bottom right.
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 the 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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite, and the Exped Hypersleep Winter 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
- Alpine climbing: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL cut in half or Medium , exped Hypersleep Winter NeoAir XTherm or Neoair XLite
- Base-camp / casual backpacking: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated, Exped DownMat 9
- Big wall climbing: Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite, Exped Hypersleep Winter
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. Remember, sleep is important! If you are awake and alert during the day, you'll be safer and have more fun in the backcountry.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.