Why Choose a Women's Specific Pad?
Do you want to go lighter and reduce your pack size, while maximizing your weight-to-warmth ratio? 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. We feel the cold differently than men and it usually manifests in cold extremities like 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). 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 for your gender.
A Man Using a Woman's Sleeping Pad??!!
That's right, men are cluing in to the benefits of women's pads as well. For guys who are in that 5'5 range, why wouldn't you get a women's model? 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 may want to consider a 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.
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 will be 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.
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 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.
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's is 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.
Weight and Packed Size
Depending on the activity you want your pad for, weight and packed size may be a concern. If you are participating in self-propelled activities like bike touring or backpacking, every ounce you are carrying counts. In this category, the NeoAir XLite can't be beat. It packs down smaller than a one liter Nalgene bottle and weighs less than a pound (12 oz). If weight and packed size are less of a concern, your main decision factor may be based on comfort. We think the REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's is a very comfortable mattress you can still carry 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.
Your sleeping pad doesn't have to be the warmest, it just depends where and when you will be camping. You will want a pad that will 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 protect you from 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.
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 certain 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).
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 about 3 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 4.6, 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.
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 in to 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 mattress line is not self-inflating, but fear not, Therm-A-Rest offers a number of 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 nice because they prevent moisture from entering your mattress, which is definitely a bonus when you are camping in below freezing temperatures as this can damage your air 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!
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.