The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How to Choose a Sleeping Pad for Women

The rainbow of women's sleeping pads.
By Jessica Haist ⋅ Review Editor
Saturday June 2, 2018

Women's specific products are becoming a norm in the outdoor industry, and we're happy to say that manufacturers are no longer using the "shrink it and pink it" strategy when creating women's products. When designed with intention, we think women's products are a brilliant choice and can help you become the best outdoor person you can be. Women's sleeping pads are a great addition to the outdoor market and will help you have a warm and comfortable night's sleep. Recently we've discovered that manufacturers are making their unisex products in smaller, women's specific sizes, so we have a broader range of products to choose from. To find out what we thought about all the women's specific pads we tested, check out our Women's Sleeping Pad Review.

Why Choose a Women's Specific Pad?


Do you want to maximize your weight-to-warmth ratio while going lighter and reducing your pack size? Why wouldn't you? Choosing a woman's specific product is a smart and easy way to maximize your gear without increasing the weight of your pack. Women are physiologically different from men; often, we feel the cold differently than men, and it usually manifests in cold hands and feet. Sleeping pad manufacturers have taken this into account when designing pads specifically for women and have made them smaller to fit the average woman's frame (about 5'5 or 66 inches). They have added extra insulation in areas where we get colder, specifically the foot and torso areas. Want to up your game even more? Check out our Women's Sleeping Bag Review to get yourself a high performing sleeping bag tailored to your gender.

This time around we dabbled in unisex pads that are sized for the average woman, 66 inches, which will save us weight and increase our choices if we're interested in something that isn't a "woman's specific pad".

A Man Using a Woman's Sleeping Pad??!!


For guys who are in that 5'5 range, why wouldn't you get a women's model? That's right; men are cluing into the benefits of women's pads as well. They fit small frames better, have a smaller packed size, and are almost always warmer than the equivalent men's version. Even men who are taller are looking twice at woman's version for these same reasons. It is easy to supplement the length of a pad by putting items like backpacks or ropes at your feet for insulation from the ground.

The Basics


Sleeping pads can be used for any type of sleeping on the ground, from kids' sleepovers to Denali expeditions. The women's pads we reviewed are designed specifically for camping and backpacking purposes. If you are strictly car camping, you may want to check out our Car Camping Mattress Review for plusher and more comfortable models. If you are a taller lady, or you just want to shop around a little more, check out our unisex review. Below we will tell you what you need to know to choose the right pad for you.

The Q-Core SLX is a comfortable choice for side sleepers. You will be three inches higher than your tentmate.
The Q-Core SLX is a comfortable choice for side sleepers. You will be three inches higher than your tentmate.

Construction Types


Most sleeping pad manufacturers use some combination of air and foam or other insulating materials to create their mattresses. The models in this review had two basic construction types. The majority were self-inflating, where the open-cell foam is glued to the interior of the pad. That can be quite warm, but the more foam in the pad, the bulkier and heavier it becomes. Pads of this type can be very comfortable, warm, and even be inexpensive.

The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's air mattress is the only sleeping pad we tested that uses a structurally insulated air core system with an intricate baffle system used to deflect the cold air from the ground and reflect back the body heat.
The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's air mattress is the only sleeping pad we tested that uses a structurally insulated air core system with an intricate baffle system used to deflect the cold air from the ground and reflect back the body heat.
The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's is one of the only pad we tested that uses a structurally insulated air core system. This features an intricate baffle system used to deflect the cold air from the ground and reflect back the body heat. This construction allows the pad to compress very small and be very lightweight. Pads of this style are best for extended trips where weight really matters. There are more products emerging use a thin layer of synthetic insulation for warmth. These products pack down quite small considering how warm they are.

Thickness of your sleeping pad can affect its comfort. From top to bottom: Therm-a-Rest's ProLite  ProLite Plus  Trail Lite  REI Trekker  Sea to Summit Comfort Plus  Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite  Big Agnes Q-Core SLX.
Thickness of your sleeping pad can affect its comfort. From top to bottom: Therm-a-Rest's ProLite, ProLite Plus, Trail Lite, REI Trekker, Sea to Summit Comfort Plus, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, Big Agnes Q-Core SLX.

Weight and Packed Size


If you are participating in self-propelled activities like bike touring or backpacking, every ounce you are carrying counts and should be a major consideration of your purchase. In this category, the NeoAir XLite can't be beaten. It packs down smaller than a one liter Nalgene bottle and weighs less than a pound (12 oz). The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Petite is almost as small, but definitely not as warm as the NeoAir. If weight and packed size are less of a concern, comfort will be a high priority. We think the REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's is a very comfortable mattress you can still carry this model around for short stints. Self-inflating mattresses tend to be slightly more durable, so if you're looking for something you can do yoga on in the mornings outside of your tent (although we do not recommend this!) you may want to go with a high denier fabric like the the one found on the Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite - Women's.

Our two smallest pads in this review the NeoAir and the Q-Core with a Nalgene for comparison.
Our two smallest pads in this review the NeoAir and the Q-Core with a Nalgene for comparison.

Warmth


Your sleeping pad doesn't have to be the warmest; it just depends where and when you will be using it. The most important duty of your pad is to insulate you from the ground. If you are sleeping on snow or out in late fall, the ground will be colder, and you will want a one that can insulate you from these colder temperatures. This is where R-value comes in. The higher the R-value, the warmer the pad. If your R-value is not necessarily high enough for winter camping on its own, you could purchase a closed-cell foam pad like the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol to use underneath your inflatable pad to up your R-value for 4 season camping.

Women's pads generally have a higher R-value because we are known to be colder sleepers. Most manufacturers will up the amount of foam or insulation in the foot and torso areas, where we get the coldest. If you're choosing a unisex pad that is sized for a woman (66 inches), be sure to check out how warm it i, as it may not be as warm as you're used to.

McKenzie took the NeoAir XLite with her on a climbing trip to the Alaska Range. Here she tests its warmth at basecamp with Mt. Frances and Denali looming in the background. Pair this pad with a foam pad and it works great for cold weather  high altitude  and/or snow camping.
McKenzie took the NeoAir XLite with her on a climbing trip to the Alaska Range. Here she tests its warmth at basecamp with Mt. Frances and Denali looming in the background. Pair this pad with a foam pad and it works great for cold weather, high altitude, and/or snow camping.

Deconstructing R-Value

R-value is a term originally used in the construction business and is related to home insulation ratings. It calculates how much heat will move through a particular wall area depending on the temperature difference between the indoor and outdoor air. In this case, it calculates how much heat will be lost to the ground, or how much cold will move up through the pad to the sleeper.

Manufacturer's ratings are always based on a fully inflated pad and will benefit side sleepers less because their weight is not distributed evenly on the pad (although with a woman's pad there is more insulation in the torso area, which will help compensate for this). The pad with the highest R-Value of 5 in this review is the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated.

The Comfort Plus Insulated is a top choice for your 4-season needs.
The Comfort Plus Insulated is a top choice for your 4-season needs.

We have found that manufacturers are hesitant to make a strict correlation between R-values and outside temperatures and will instead give a range of temperatures for comfort levels for each R-value rating (see the diagram below). However, from the personal experience of our testers, pads with R-values below around three are recommended for 3-season use only. Depending on your cold tolerance and if you're sleeping on snow, the higher the R-value, the better. For example, we would like a set up like the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus - Women's with an R-value of 4.2, paired with a foam pad, R-value 2.6, when we are winter camping. For reference, a pad with an R-value of 5.0 is five times warmer than a pad with an R-value of 1.0.

We've come across manufacturers who are not assigning an R-Value (Big Agnes and Nemo) to their pad and instead are just giving it a temperature rating. We find this somewhat frustrating as it's harder to compare these pads to ones that do have an R-value assigned.

Therm-A-Rest's R value rating chart for the ProLite Plus Women's model. They do not assign a specific temperature  instead give a range of comfort.
Therm-A-Rest's R value rating chart for the ProLite Plus Women's model. They do not assign a specific temperature, instead give a range of comfort.

Durability


If you have an air mattress, one thing you don't want is for it to get a leak in it! There is a spectrum of durability in the products we tested. The NeoAir's materials are delicate but had stood the test of years of use. The tougher denier material of most of the self-inflating pads we tested are quite durable, and we're not too concerned about those. The higher the Denier number generally, the tougher the material will be (and heavier). The Comfort Plus has a unique durability feature. It has two separate air chambers so if one gets a leak the other will still keep you off the ground. We think this is a great feature in places where you don't want to be laying on the ground, like snow camping.

Our furry friend helped us test the ProLite Plus' durability.
Our furry friend helped us test the ProLite Plus' durability.

Inflation Method


Most of the pads we tested are "self-inflating". All this means is that when you lay out your sleeping pad and open the valve, a certain amount of air will eventually be sucked into the pad. It will by no means inflate it to maximum capacity. Manufacturers acknowledge this and make no claims to the contrary. If you want your self-inflating pad to be completely rigid and full, you will need to add a certain number of breaths to make it so. We like to fill our pads all the way up, lay down on them, and then let a certain amount of air out of the valve until it feels comfortable for us.

The NeoAir XLite is a great choice for long and strenuous backpacking trips like the Sierra High Route. Jessica Haist blows up hers in the Bear Lakes Basin.
The NeoAir XLite is a great choice for long and strenuous backpacking trips like the Sierra High Route. Jessica Haist blows up hers in the Bear Lakes Basin.

The NeoAir mattress line is not self-inflating, but fear not, Therm-A-Rest offers some products that will help you inflate your mattress and prevent any light-headedness. The more annoying inflation methods are the high-pitch whining, battery-powered air pumps like the NeoAir Mini Pump. A less annoying, more practical inflation aid is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Pump Sack that is dual purpose as a stuff sack and an air pump. These inflation methods are helpful because they prevent moisture from entering your mattress, which is a bonus when you are camping in below freezing temperatures (as this can damage your air mattress).

About to inflate the Comfort Plus on the wall.
About to inflate the Comfort Plus on the wall.

Several of the pads we tested have large valves for inflating and deflating quickly. The Sea To Summit Comfort Plus comes with a dual purpose stuff sack and 'pump' to easily inflate the mattress.

Packing It Up


A common struggle with all air mattresses is getting it to pack down to the size it came in or getting it into its original stuff sack. We have discovered the trick to this.
  • 1. Fold your mattress in half lengthwise with the valve open and squeeze as much air out as you can.
  • 2. Start rolling from the bottom towards the valve. Once you have completely rolled it up, close the valve.
  • 3. Repeat step 2 and completely roll your mattress again, with the valve closed.
  • 4. There should be additional air that gets pushed up to the top near the valve — quickly open the valve and roll out the remaining air. This should result in a tightly rolled air mattress with no remaining air in it!

Now pads are coming with gaping valve openings that will help you deflate and re-pack your mattress easily. The Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is a huge boat of a pad that packs down to very small with little effort.

The Trail Lite's top and bottom are made from a durable 75 denier polyester material  making it one of the more durable sleeping pads in this review along with the REI AirRail.
The Trail Lite's top and bottom are made from a durable 75 denier polyester material, making it one of the more durable sleeping pads in this review along with the REI AirRail.

Storing Your Pad


If you are not using your pad for a while (even a few days), it will increase its longevity if you store it properly. Therm-A-Rest recommends spreading out your mattress as much as you can and storing it with the valve open so that any moisture can escape and dry out. Check out the videos below for Therm-A-Rest care instructions and storing advice.


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