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Looking to get the best sleep while you're out on the trail? For over 10 years, we've slept on more than 60 of the best women's sleeping pads; for our review update, we purchased 9 of the best models and put each one through our rigorous side-by-side comparison tests. We carried these pads with us all over North America on extended backpacking, horse packing, car camping, and mountaineering trips. We've slept on sand, snow, and slabs, measuring their warmth and comfort. We also inflated, deflated, and compressed them to test their durability and usability — so you don't have to.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad is our top choice when carrying our kit on our backs for extended periods of time. It is the lightest and most compact model we've tested. New warmth testing standards have increased this pad's R-value to a whopping 5.4, sealing the deal for the NeoAir. It is an excellent choice for extended backpacking or other self-propelled sports where weight and space are at a premium. It is also very comfortable and features 2.5 inches of thick cushy air. It uses patented construction techniques similar to a space blanket to trap radiant heat and deflect cold air from the ground, keeping you warm on the coldest nights of the year. This technology contributes to its small packed size because it doesn't use bulky insulating foam. Pack it small, sleep warm - it has an unbeatable warmth-to-weight ratio.
Like all things ultralight, the NeoAir XLite is somewhat delicate, and its materials are not the most durable. You'll need to treat this product with care, and if you do, you'll get years of use and lots of trail miles out of this great, lightweight option.
Every time we lie down on the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT, we're blown away with our experience of comfort. It has pretty great warmth and weight specifications and packs down very small. Its women's specific shape is wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders, providing space where we need it. At a cushy four inches of thickness, it's great for side sleeping. If you live for creature comforts, you'll want to consider this deliciously cozy pad that we have a hard time getting off of. It's stable and oh-so-quiet, especially in comparison to the loud crunchy sounding materials of other inflatable and packable pads.
Unfortunately, the Ether Light XT is neither the warmest nor the lightest, but your tentmate will thank you for the silent sleep. This is our first recommendation if you're seeking a super comfortable pad and are willing to carry a few extra ounces for good quality sleep. The Ether Light is a good choice for all your summer backpacking needs.
Reviewing women's sleeping pads began with understanding what was available, and more specifically, what was worth testing. We combed through many products during the selection of the top 9 that are discussed here. We considered the most important elements of a women's sleeping pad and focused on these aspects during testing. Factors such as warmth, comfort, weight, durability, and packed size are key. We then tested the pads in varied terrain and environments, on various trips, including climbing and mountaineering expeditions, extended backpacking trips, and car camping extravaganzas. The result is a comprehensive review that will set you off on the right foot in your search for a women's sleeping pad.
Our sleeping pad testing is divided across five rating metrics:
When it comes to sleeping pads, women have different needs than men. It's not surprising that our anatomy is different and scientific research shows that women typically sleep colder than men. Outdoor gear suppliers have noticed this and created sleeping pads specifically for women. There's extra padding in the torso and foot areas, which provides more insulation. The width of the pads also tends to be a little shorter and narrower for shoulders that aren't as wide. Essentially, each is trimmed down, reducing bulk and weight. When a sleeping pad is engineered correctly, it offers more comfort alongside a better fit — this is true for most women, or shorter, curvy folks in general.
At GearLab, we do care about the weight of your wallet. As a result, we wanted to highlight some pads that offer exceptional value. These pads perform offer excellent performance at a reasonable price. The Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus - Women's provides the best value overall. While it's not the lightest of the products out there, it's quite comfortable, and it is lightweight and packable enough to take on your next backpacking adventure. The Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite is a great value option for car camping or if you don't mind carrying a little extra weight in your backpack. Notably, the Sea to Summit Ultralight is a high-scoring product for a relatively low price. It is very lightweight and rather comfy at a reasonable price point. In general, there's a trade-off of weight and packability to save a few extra bucks. You can find some excellent deals if you're okay with this trade-off.
Not Just for Women
People of all genders are starting to clue into the fact that women's sleeping pads provide a better bang for the buck regarding weight-to-warmth ratios. 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 and non-binary folks who prefer to buy women's products — especially if they're under 5'6" — because of the higher weight-to-warmth ratio. Some tall people are buying women's pads too, and just putting their backpacks or other gear under their feet for insulation. This is a remarkable example of products that have been designed specifically for women, and in turn, have become better products.
All that said, this time around, we've searched for more options for us ladies and smaller people in general. We sifted through all sleeping bag manufacturers' sites to see who makes pads in smaller sizes, specifically in the 64-66 inch length that is a great size for a woman around 5'3" to 5'6". That way, we can still get great products that are in the men's/unisex models but carry fewer materials (and weight) around. We've now evaluated all the products that will fit us regardless of whether they're supposed to be "women's specific" or not. We have noticed that manufacturers are making pads of different shapes than their unisex models and are more tailored to a typical (if there is such a thing) woman's shape — wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders.
R-value ratings are based on how well a material insulates. Originally, R values were 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 affect its R-value. Generally, the thicker the pad, the warmer, and the less air circulation, the better. The outdoor industry has implemented new R-value testing standards in the US, called the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards, and all manufacturers in this test have gotten on board. These standards have shaken things up by significantly bumping up some pads' R-values and decreasing others. The most affected was the NeoAir, bumping up from 3.9 to 5.4, while many foam-insulated, self-inflating pads took a hit in the negative.
Construction Type and Warmth
The women's pads we tested are available in two types of construction. Most of the pads we tested are 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. Several newer pads use a thin layer of synthetic insulation that is lighter and more compact for a higher warmth ratio than the open cell foam. These are the Sea to SummitEther Light, UltraLight Insulated, Comfort Light Insulated, and Ether Light Xtreme. We suspect that this compressible, light synthetic insulation is the way of the future. The one exception that does not use foam or synthetic insulation 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 but can be very noisy. It is designed with internal baffles that provide structure and warmth and compress very small.
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 Sea to Summit Ether Light LX, Sea to Summit Ether Light Xtreme, and the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI. Not surprisingly, these were three of the thickest mattresses we tested, making them cushy to lie on, especially for side sleepers, and they felt more stable than other products we tested. We also liked the generous shapes of these mattresses, which were all slightly wider than the others and mostly rectangular.
We think the 2.5-inch thickness of the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite is also quite comfortable, but it takes a bit of getting used to because it is bouncier and crinklier than many pads we tested. Thankfully there has been a movement towards more comfort over the years we've been testing.
For all backpackers, the weight of their gear should be considered. As part of your sleeping system, your pad is part of the three big items (shelter, backpack, and sleeping system) that affects pack weight. Carefully choosing these three items can significantly reduce your pack weight and therefore boost your hiking enjoyment.
Foam weighs more than air; thus, all the self-inflating foam mattresses cannot compete with air core constructed mattresses. The lightest women's pad we tested is the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's, weighing in at 12 ounces. Two of the Sea to Summit models are nipping at the NeoAir's heels, the Ether Light (15 ounces) and the Ultralight Insulated (14.6 ounces). Conversely, the heaviest was the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI at 34.4 ounces, which is 22.6 ounces heavier than the NeoAir. Many of these pads now include pump sacks, which add additional weight to your kit. If you're looking to save weight, consider leaving them at home.
Packed size is another essential factor to consider when trying to slim down your pack size. Again, foam insulated mattresses cannot compete with air core construction or thin layers of synthetic insulation.
The NeoAir XLite Women's and the Q-Core are tied for the smallest packed size, followed by the Ultralight Insulated, and are all in the range of 8-9"x4-5". The Ether Light is close and rings in at 11 x 4.5 inches. Many people have difficulty rolling their inflatable pads up to the original size they came in and are not able to fit them back into their stuff sacks; this may take more than one go at rolling and squeezing all the air out.
All of the pads we tested in this review are inflatable. Therefore they are inherently less durable than closed-cell foam pads reviewed in the unisex pad review because they can be punctured.
We evaluated durability mostly on the toughness of the materials of these pads, which range from 30-75 Denier strength fabrics. The Trail Lite Women's features some of the most robust materials. That said, 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.
Many of the newer pads on the market have excellent valve technology that seems more durable and easy to use than older models that twist shut. Sea to Summit's valves have burly openings and tabs that allow the one-way valve to open or the whole thing to open up for easy deflation. These models also all come with patches and extra valve pieces. All of Therm-a-Rest's models got new one-way valves that increased their durability since, in the past, there were complaints of leaky valves.
Another durability factor our testers noticed was the color of the top materials. The lighter-colored pads, like the Trail Lite, showed dirt much easier than darker-colored mats like the ProLite Plus. For the NeoAir and other rubber surfaced pads like the Q-Core, this is a non-issue because of its smooth, 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.
Inflation Method and 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 can 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 in a few more breaths 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 pads are full. Several accessories aid us in filling our pads, like the NeoAir Torrent Pump, which is an electrical pump.
Since most women sleep colder than men and have different anatomy, manufacturers have created pads specific to these qualities, sometimes calling a product "women's" and sometimes creating a product that comes in a variety of sizes, one being the most ideal for the average woman. This review is here to help you find the pad that is the most comfortable, light, compact, and/or durable, depending on your specific needs. We want you to have all the necessary information to make the right choice for your next trip sleeping out on the ground. Whether ice fishing in the Yukon or sleeping on the beach in Baja, you'll find the best option in one of these products we've reviewed.
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