To create the best and most thorough review of backpacking sleeping pads that we could, we examined user reviews, researched updated products, and drew on a large body of experience from our gear testers. After compiling a list of the best sleeping pads available, we ordered them online at the retail price and put them through their paces. We meticulously reviewed each pad, looking for strengths and weaknesses. In short, we had some rough nights out, so you won't have to.
To determine the relative comfort of each sleeping pad, there was no substitution for getting out into the wilderness and spending time logging Zs. Spending night after night on different sleeping pads revealed large variations in each pad and which could perform in any given environment. Was there enough padding for side sleeping? Could we feel debris from underneath? Did we feel like we had enough space to shift while we slept? These were all critical questions that became clear throughout the testing process.
Weight and Packed Size
We first measured the weight of each sleeping pad on the same scale and compared each to common items such as coffee mugs or Nalgene bottles to give an idea of the packed size for each pad. Heavy consideration was given to the use of each pad and how the weight was justified or not, depending on the designed uses.
While individual experience is completely subjective, we were able to discern patterns through the utilization of multiple gear testers. If there was a consensus that a given pad was indeed very warm, we felt comfortable giving it a stamp of approval. The R-value given for each pad (when provided) is a solid indicator of a pad's insulative properties and should match your given use for a pad.
Ease of Inflation
While many sleeping pad designs have adopted one-way valves and separate deflate valves, there was significant variation with each pad. We closely examined each valve system and acquired benchmark times for how long it took to unpack and inflate each pad. Generally, pads with an included pump bag were much easier to inflate and also took away any worry of accumulating moisture inside the sleeping pad.
To establish how durable each pad might be, we examined the materials, construction quality, and valve system, looking for weaknesses and strong points. We also threw down on bare ground most nights, not because we recommend treating your equipment this way, but to test what each pad could take.