Our backpacking experts have tested over 70 of the best backpacking sleeping pads over the last decade. This 2020 update features 12 of the market's best, pitted against each other in a side-by-side comparison to find the best products for your needs. We don't just order them at retail prices, but our experts actually test them in the field. Over at least three months, we use them while guiding, hiking, and exploring while on bikes, boats, and self-propelled missions. These pads have been tested around the USA. Whether you seek the warmest or most packable pad our there, we've got you covered.Related: Best Sleeping Pad For Women
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad of 2020
Best Overall Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is an absolute beast that balances remarkable warmth (6.9 R-value) with a packable and lightweight design. No other pad on the market offer this amount of warmth and comfort while maintaining versatile features. With a new and greatly improved valve system, we didn't have any hesitation crowning the XTherm as our favorite pad once again.
While this pad is our favorite, there are budget options that will get the job done at a fraction of its enormous price tag. If you're put off by the narrow profile of the XTherm, check out the wider Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max for a bit more wiggle room.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Best Bang for the Buck
Klymit Static V2
There are many inexpensive sleeping pads on the market. However, the Klymit Static V2 is the only one we highly recommend. It's light, comfortable, and packs down small. Surprisingly, the Static V2 is much wider than the majority of pads we tested, which makes the low weight and price that much more impressive.
The bargain-basement price does come with a big drawback. The Static V2 has one of the lowest R-values of any pad we tested, making it unsuitable for temps below freezing unless you have a burly sleeping bag. For three-season use, it's hard to ignore the price, comfort, and durability of this pad.
Read review: Klymit Static V2
Best for Ultralight
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Once again, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite takes home accolades in the ultralight category for sleeping pads. This is absolutely not the lightest pad on the market, but we feel it is critical to retain decent insulative properties to be versatile enough for the mountains. The 4.2 R-value settles the XLite firmly in the three-season category, making it comfortable even for fall days in the desert when you wake up with a bit of frost on your bivy.
The dimensions are a bit tight for larger individuals. Consider checking out the wider option if you're over 6ft tall with shoulders to match. The newest update of this pad did gain some extra warmth, a cool new valve system, and unfortunately, a few ounces. If weight is a top priority, the "Uberlight" pad is likely quite good if our experience with the XLite is any indicator.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Best for Comfort
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus is the only pad in our review to utilize two separate air chambers. This gave a huge boost to the pad's durability and makes it an extremely comfortable model. Its dual-density density design is firm on the ground layer and pillowy soft on top. You won't be sliding around on this pad, and its wider design makes it optimal for those with wide shoulders. Its top shelf comfort is revolutionary in the camping game.
The Air Sprung cells, coupled with variable density chambers and a high R-value, make for one heck of a sleeping pad. The only real downside of is its weight relative to our highest rated warm sleeping pads. Its not one we'd recommend for those that love to save on the ounces. If you seek lavish comfort, this is the pad to buy, but it comes at the cost of packability and weight.
Read review: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
Best Pad on a Budget
Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL has been on the market since our gear testers can remember, and for good reason. Its versatility is attractive for people from all walks of life. Its composed of a simple lightweight closed-cell foam pad. This pad offers reliability in the background that's hard to beat. While most other contenders can pop the inflatable design, you don't have to worry about thrashing this highly durable contender around on the ground. Its a favorite for those that like to use it outside of the tent as a small butt pad. In addition, the accordion design allows you to cut the pad down to any length you want, and each segment weighs almost exactly one ounce. Also, the high 2.6 R-value can be stacked with other pads, making even those with a lower R-value suitable for cold climates. Overall, the reliable and durable design at a low cost is one that's hard to beat.
Unforuntately, while it is durable and reliable and relatively lightweight, its not that packable. Unlike other pads that can be rolled up into packages just a little smaller or larger than a Nalgene bottle, this pad needs to either be stored on the outside of your pack, or it'll take up some room. Its also not as a thick or comfortable as many inflatable pad options. If you're seeking high value, great durability, and reliability on the trail, this is an excellent choice.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL
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, Matt Bento and Brian Martin. These three 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 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 and Brian, both alumni of Yosemite Search and Rescue, where versatile, reliable, and durable equipment is a necessary part of everyday life.
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 12 models discussed here. We then bought these pads retail and disbursed them to our trusty gear 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. 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.
Related: How We Tested Sleeping Pads
Analysis and Test Results
Our sleeping pad review offers recommendations for all folks out there. We take the time to sleep in each one, with a variety of different shaped people - women, men, children, and all in between. We assess key metrics like comfort, packed size, weight, warmth, ease of inflation, and durability. Using these metrics as an anchor point for assessment, we rate each product based on performance. While there are many high performers, there are also many that have specific niches that shouldn't be missed.
Related: Buying Advice for Sleeping Pads
Value can mean many different things to different people. We aren't just looking at the price of a sleeping pad, we're looking at how well it performs across a range of metrics, and if the price is justified by this performance. The Therm-a-Rest pads we tested were incredibly expensive but are indeed quite good value as they offer durable construction and some mind-blowingly good performance. There are many high value options in this review, but we'd like to point out a few that won't break the bank, but will provide a great deal. If you want the creme de la creme, be ready to shell out a few extra clams. In general, the lower the price, the lighter and less warm the pads tend to be.
Of them all, the Klymit Static V2 offers excellent comfort and warmth at a lower price. If you're seeking packable and light, the Sea to Summit Ultralight needs to be looked at, but its not as warm as the Klymit Static V2. Another super low-priced (and high value) option is the classic Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol. While it scores low in the metrics, its the most reliable pad option as there as its made of foam and won't pop in the backcountry. If car camping is your dig, be sure to look at the Nemo Astro Insulated which offers exceptional warmth, but it a bit too large and bulky for backcountry carry.
Here we evaluate how well each pad transforms 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 sliding off of the pad, especially when you have to set up on ground that isn't entirely flat. More surface area means more comfort. Several of our testers noted that after years of sleeping outside, their priorities are leaning more towards comfort than having the absolute lightest pad money can buy. Maybe this is due to life's natural course of trending towards feeling like the tin man needing oil, but it is undeniable. A plush air pad offers significantly better sleep than the shoulder crushing closed-cell pads we all started backpacking with in the 90s.
Hands down the most comfortable pads we snoozed on is the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated and the Exped Synmat 9. These pads both offer an excellent footprint and a nice variability in firmness while keeping you well cushioned from a rocky surface below. The comfort plus is quite special as the dual inflation zones can be inflated to different pressures giving a nice pillow top with a firm under construction.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm both offers excellent comfort at a fraction of the weight as the most comfortable pads. They are significantly narrower than the more comfortable and heavy offerings on the market but retain the necessary features to get a good night's sleep.
Weight and Packed Size
Weight is an omnipresent factor when selecting and using outdoor equipment. If all things are held constant and one item weighs less than another, you should absolutely select the lighter item. Unfortunately, there are always tradeoffs when using ultralight equipment, be it durability, warmth, or size of the pads footprint. More important than weight is making sure whatever you end up with something that satisfies your specific needs rather than just selecting whatever is lightest.
The weight of the pads tested range from 8.8 ounces (Therm-a-rest Uberlite) to over 35 ounces (Exped Synmat XP 9). Check the warmth score of a lightweight pad before purchasing it to make sure it will meet your needs. 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 Therm-a-Rest Uberlite is an excellent choice for ultralight backpacking in the warmer months, weighing in at 8.8 ounces, but it's not warm enough for winter camping.
Our favorite pad for ultralight backpacking is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. 16-ounces give you an R-value of 4.2, a packed size roughly equal to a liter bottle, and a lot of comfort to boot. The Nemo Tensor Insulated 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 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 achieve 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 the few extra ounces.
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. While we didn't have any self-inflating pads in our pad update this go-around, they are still on the market and fill a niche for those who want a super comfortable sleep without all the fiddling.
A pad's ability to insulate from the cold below is an important 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!
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 probably don't want a warm pad. 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. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm supplies an unmatched level of warmth for its weight and packed size. While it isn't ultralight, the 6.9 R-Value is mind-blowing considering the pad packs down small and barely weighs over a pound.
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 newest design in the vast sea of valve/sack options is the winglock valve fixed to the XLite and XTherm. We were skeptical but hopeful when we found out the extremely dated Therm-a-rest valves were being updated. The Winglock isn't perfect, but it is a massive upgrade to these pads, allowing air in and out exponentially faster and easier than the past.
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 Nemo Tensor employs a similarly effective design. 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 keep the pad inflated, with the valve open, to allow moisture out.
While some pump bags can be frustrating, the introduction of the Exped Schnozzel pump sack was a pleasant surprise. The extremely lightweight fabric and generic nozzle made for easy inflation with nearly every pad we tested that was equipped with modern valves. The included Therm-a-Rest pump bag was made from heavy material that resisted poofing up effortlessly like the Schnozzel.
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, bulkier, and heavier than air construction pads. While these self-inflating pads have their cult following among hardcore wilderness Luddites, the new sleeping pad technologies are certainly getting lighter, warmer, and even more comfortable, which makes these self-inflating pads a bit less attractive.
Advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads, durable. We have used inflatable pads for 40-day backpacking trips without any durability issues and are impressed by the amount of abuse our inflatable pads handled without tearing or delaminating. Take care of your pad, and it will take care of you. That said, we always recommend traveling with a mini repair kit
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 are the Synmat 9, Comfort Plus, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, and the Nemo Astro Insulated that all utilize thicker materials and even dual air chambers in the case of the Comfort Plus.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite is constructed from a 15 denier nylon that feels alarmingly thin, while the Nemo Tensor uses a slightly thicker 20D nylon. We never punctured these pads during our testing, but would never leave home without a patch kit while hiking with these pads. If you're seeking the most durable and reliable pad option out there and don't want to carry a patch kit, consider the less comfortable, but highly reliable Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol that utilized close-cell technology.
Every year we get one year older. The ground seems to become harder, and gravity stronger. Having a plush, pillowy pad beneath the meat vehicle, and terra firma is critical for getting the most out of any adventure. We once again tested a wide variety of pads in all the conditions we could so you could make a choice that matches your needs before getting out there. We evaluated the overall performance and value of these pads down to give you an idea of how they might perform for you. It might not be a surprise, but with the new updates to overall warmth and ease of inflation/deflation with Therm-a-Rest pads, they ran away with some serious bling when we were divvying up awards.
— Brian Martin, Matt Bento, & Andy Wellman