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

The Best Sleeping Pads For Women

Maggie Smith on the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad during a break from biking from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
By Jessica Haist ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday May 12, 2020
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No need to sleep poorly while you camp. We've spent the last 8 years testing over 60 of the best women's sleeping pads, presenting this season's top 11 models available on the market today. We put these pads to the metaphorical grindstone, thru-hiking the entire PCT and the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trail, section-hiking the John Muir Trail and Sierra High Route, and on climbing expeditions in Alaska. We slept, lounged, read, and even did yoga on these mats, testing their warmth and comfort. We inflated and repacked them dozens of times and used them on unforgiving surfaces. Whether you're shopping for an annual camping trip or gearing up for a big thru-hike, we've got you covered.

Related: The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2020

Top 11 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11
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Best Overall Women's Sleeping Pad


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$174.95
at Backcountry
See It

85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 9
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Durability - 10% 6
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Packed Size - 15% 9
Incredibly lightweight
Packs down small
Comfortable
Versatile
Loud
Pricey
Made from delicate material

This pad is our go-to for any time we're carrying our sleeping system on our backs and wins our Editors' Choice award because it is so light and compact. New warmth testing standards have increased this pad's R-value up to a whopping 5.4, sealing the deal for the NeoAir. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's is a great choice for long backpacking or other self-propelled sports where weight and space are at a premium. This NeoAir is the lightest and smallest of all the products in this review. It is also very comfortable and is 2.5 inches of thick cushy air to lie on. Therm-A-Rest 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 of nights. This technology contributes to its small packed size because it doesn't use bulky insulating foam.

Like all things ultralight, the NeoAir XLite is somewhat delicate, and its materials are not the most durable of the bunch. You'll need to treat this product with care, and if you do, you'll get years of use and miles of trails out of this great, lightweight option.

Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's

Best for Comfort


Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated - Women's


Top Pick Award

$189.95
(5% off)
at REI
See It

79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Weight - 25% 8
  • Packed Size - 15% 8
Weight: 15 ounces | R-value: 4.2
Very comfortable
Quiet
Versatile
Warm
Expensive
Heavier than the NeoAir XLite

Every time we lie down on the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT, we're blown away with how comfortable it is. It also has pretty great warmth and weight specifications and packs down small. For all of these reasons, it comes out near the top of the heap and wins our Top Pick Award for Comfort. The Ether has a women's specific shape that is wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders, providing space where we need it. It is a cushy four inches thick and is great for side sleeping.

We also love how stable and quiet the Ether feels, much more so than the NeoAir's loud crunchy sounding materials. It isn't quite as warm or light as the NeoAir, but your tentmate will thank you for the silent sleep, and it may be worth carrying the extra few ounces for a great night of sleep.

Read review: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Women's

Best Value


REI Co-op AirRail Plus - Women's


Best Buy Award

$99.95
at REI
See It

63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Durability - 10% 9
  • Weight - 25% 3
  • Packed Size - 15% 6
Weight: 25 ounces | R-value: 5.2
Comfortable
Good valve system
Warmest of the bunch
Heavy
Bulky

Do you like sleeping on a cloud? We do and think that sleeping on the REI AirRail Plus - Women's is as close as you can get! Along with being comfortable, it has a trimmed down weight and packed size, and retails for a reasonable price. For all these reasons, we've given it our Best Bang for the Buck Award. We are always skeptical of new gimmicks but were pleasantly surprised that it is so comfortable. It is wider than the rest of the products in this review, 23" versus 20" inches, and the rails act like bumpers, cradling your arms in a very comforting way. It is also great for side sleepers as it has a cushy 1" pad, and the "air rails" let you know when you're close to the edge. These rails are not actually big enough to stop you from rolling off the pad if you tried, but they're a gentle, possibly unconscious reminder. We also like the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Short for side sleeping because it is so thick (4.5"!) that there's no way your shoulders will touch the ground.

The REI AirRail's R-value has been slightly downgraded to 3.7, so it's not as warm as we once thought, but we think it is priced really well, and a great choice for car camping and short backpacking trips.

Read review: REI Co-Op AirRail Plus - Women's


The author settling into a cozy night's sleep on the REI AirRail Plus.
The author settling into a cozy night's sleep on the REI AirRail Plus.

Why You Should Trust Us


This review was crafted by outdoor educator and guide Jessica Haist. Jessica holds a Master's Degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College in Arizona. Originally from Canada, Jessica moved to the US from her native Toronto and now resides in Mammoth Lakes, CA, where she avidly engages in a number of outdoor pursuits, including climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, and skiing.

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 11 that are discussed here. We then thought about what was most important in a women's sleeping pad, and made sure to focus on these things during testing - aspects like warmth and comfort, weight, durability, and packed size were key, we decided. We then tested the pads in on a variety of trips, including climbing trips in Alaska, along the Pacific Crest Trail, the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and many trips in the Sierra, including the JMT and the Sierra High Route. The result is a comprehensive review that will set you off on the right foot in your search for a women's sleeping pad.

Related: How We Tested Sleeping Pad for Women

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.

Analysis and Test Results


When it comes to sleeping pads, women have different needs than men. It's not surprising that our anatomy is different, with scientific research that shows 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, providing more insulation. The width of the pads tends to be a little shorter and narrower, for narrower shoulders. Essentially, each is trimmed down, reducing bulk and weight. When a sleeping pad is engineered correctly, it'll offer more comfort with a better fit for most women.

Related: Buying Advice for Sleeping Pad for Women

We love how thick the Ether Light is; unlike the Big Agnes Q Core  you don't feel like you're on a boat  and it's very stable.
We love how thick the Ether Light is; unlike the Big Agnes Q Core, you don't feel like you're on a boat, and it's very stable.

Value


At OutdoorGearLab, we do care about the weight of your wallet. While our Editor's Choice and Top Picks don't take into account the price (just the performance), our Best Buy award winners offer the best value. This means that for each dollar you spend, you're getting the best deal. If you're looking to save some money while purchasing a high-quality product, the REI Co-op AirRail Plus - Women's offers the best value. While it's not the lightest of the products out there, it boasts immense comfort and swaddles you with its rail system. The Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite is another to consider with an even lower price, but an even heavier make-up. The REI Co-op Trekker is the least expensive of them all but also proves to be heaviest, so it is suited for car camping more than backpacking. If you're willing to carry a little extra weight on the trail, you can definitely find a great deal!


Not Just for Women Anymore


Men are starting to clue into the fact that women's sleeping pads provide a better bang for the buck regarding weight-to-warmth ratios. All of 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 who prefer to buy the women's version — especially if they're under 5'6 — because of the higher weight-to-warmth ratio. Some tall men 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 with women in mind, 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 the great products that are in the men's/unisex models but carry fewer materials (and weight) around consequently. We've now evaluated all the products that will fit us regardless if they're supposed to be "women's specific" or not. We have noticed this time around that manufacturers are making pads of different shapes than their unisex models and so are more tailored to a typical (if there is such a thing) woman's shape — wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders.

Warmth


The women's pads we tested have R-Values ranging from 2.7 Therm-a-Rest Prolite - Women's to 5.4 (Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's) and are designed for use primarily in three-season conditions — but some can be used in winter temperatures as well.


R-value ratings are based on how well a material insulates. R values were originally 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 affects its R-value. Generally, the thicker the pad, the warmer, and the less air circulation, the better. There are now new R-value testing standards that the outdoor industry has implemented 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 were the NeoAir, bumping up from 3.9 to 5.4, and many of the foam insulated, self-inflating pads took a hit to the negative.

The Women's ProLite Plus is a decent winter camping option  especially when paired with a foam pad for extra insulation.
The Women's ProLite Plus is a decent winter camping option, especially when paired with a foam pad for extra insulation.

Construction Type & Warmth


The women's pads we tested are available in two types of construction. Most of the pads we tested were a 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 Summit Ether Light and UltraLight Insulated as well as the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated. 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 then compress very small.

Comfort


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 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. We also liked the generous shapes of these mattresses, which were all slightly wider than the others and mostly rectangular. We especially loved the REI AirRail's "air rails," tubes on each side that made the mattress wider and gave it a cradling effect for back-sleepers. The Big Agnes Q-Core also has bigger outer tubes that have a similar cradling effect, but it felt slightly less stable and more "boaty" than the AirRail.


We think the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite is also quite comfortable with its 2.5-inch thickness, but it takes a bit of getting used to because it is bouncier and crinklier than the other pads in this review. Overall we had a comfortable bunch this year!

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.

Durability


All of the pads we tested in this review are inflatable, and therefore inherently less durable than closed-cell foam pads that are 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 ranged from 30-75 Denier strength fabrics. The Trail Lite Women's and the AirRail features the strongest materials, and the Synmat UL has the most fragile. 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.


We like Sea to Summit's valve system. It is easy to use and seems durable.
We like Sea to Summit's valve system. It is easy to use and seems durable.

Many of the newer pads on the market have great 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 for the one way valve to be 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 there were complaints of leaky valves in the past.

The Therm-a-Rest ProLite Women's new Wing Lock valve system is greatly improved over the old valve.
The Therm-a-Rest ProLite Women's new Wing Lock valve system is greatly improved over the old valve.

Another durability factor our testers noticed was the color of the top materials. The lighter colored mattresses like the REI Trekker and the Trail Lite Women's showed dirt much easier than darker colored mattresses 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.

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

Weight


For all backpackers, the weight of their gear should be considered. As part of your sleeping system, your pad should be considered part of the big three 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, so all the self-inflating foam mattresses cannot compete with air core constructed mattresses. The lightest women's pad that we tested by far was the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's, weighing in at a slim 12 oz. The Big Agnes Q-Core has similar technology and is much thicker but weighs in at 16.6 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). Ironically, the heaviest was the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI at 34.4 oz, which is 22.6 oz heavier than the NeoAir!

The NeoAir XLite women's is our favorite lightweight backpacking option.
The NeoAir XLite women's is our favorite lightweight backpacking option.

Packed Size


Packed size is another important 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 at 8.27 x 3.94 inches, followed by the Ultralight Insulated at 4 x 9 inches. The Ether Light is close and rings in at 11 x 4.5 in inches. The bulky REI Trekker has the largest packed size at 23.62 x 5.12 inches. Many people have difficulty rolling their inflatable pads up to the original size it came in, and are not able to fit it back into its stuff sack.

Our testing fleet. The REI Trekker and Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI had the largest packed size and the NeoAir has the smallest.
Our testing fleet. The REI Trekker and Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI had the largest packed size and the NeoAir has the smallest.

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 a few more breaths in before closing the valve.

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.

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.

Using the Ultralight's pump sack makes inflation very easy.
Using the Ultralight's pump sack makes inflation very easy.

The the NeoAir Pump Sack allows you to fill up your mattress manually without fainting, and also acts as a stuff sack and it's now included with the pad. Sea to Summit has provided stuff sack pumps with all of its non-self inflating products, which is a bonus! Sea to Summit also includes attachment points for all their mats for their proprietary pillow systems as well.

The rainbow of women's sleeping pads.
The rainbow of women's sleeping pads.

Conclusion


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 info you need to make the right choice for your next trip sleeping out on the ground. Whether it is 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.

Jessica Haist