Our backpacking experts have tested over 50 of the best backpacking sleeping pads over the last decade. This 2021 update features 13 of the market's top models, pitted against each other in a side-by-side comparison to find the best products for your needs. We don't just order them at retail prices, but our experts thoroughly test them in the field. These pads have been hauled around the world, put to the test while guiding, hiking, and exploring on bikes, boats, and self-propelled missions. Whether you seek the warmest or most packable option out there, we've got you covered.Related: Best Sleeping Pad For Women of 2021
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad of 2021
|Price||Check Price at REI|
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|Pros||Lightweight, takes up very little space in your pack||Lightweight, ultra packable, design feels more stable than other air construction designs, best air valve||Large sleeping area, comfortable||Lightweight, affordable, great warmth adding supplement||Inexpensive, lightweight, great insulation adjunct|
|Cons||Not very durable, not very warm||Not warm, dimples get dirty, not as plush as other designs||Expensive||Breaks down over time, dimples gather dirt and moisture||Bulky, loses suppleness over time|
|Bottom Line||This is one of the lightest and most compact inflatable pads on the market||Lightweight and portable, this pad is ideal for three season extended backpacking trips||A good pad for the seasoned hiker that doesn't mind carrying a little extra for a great night of sleep||An effective sleeping pad that offers decent three season warmth in a very lightweight package||If sleeping on ultra-firm surfaces doesn't keep you up at night this is a solid option that won't pop|
|Rating Categories||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir...||Sea to Summit Ultra...||NEMO Tensor Insulated||Therm-A-Rest Z Lite...||NEMO Switchback|
|Weight And Packed Size (30%)|
|Ease Of Inflation (10%)|
|Specs||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir...||Sea to Summit Ultra...||NEMO Tensor Insulated||Therm-A-Rest Z Lite...||NEMO Switchback|
|Weight||8.8 oz||12.5 oz||15 oz||14 oz||14.5 oz|
|Thickness||2.5 in||2 in||3 in||0.75 in||0.9 in|
|Claimed R Value||2||0.7||Unknown||2.6||2|
|Length||72 in||72 in||72 in||72 in||72 in|
|Width||20 in||20 in||20 in||20 in||20 in|
|Packed Volume (L)||0.9 L||0.8 L||1.2 L||1.8 L||8.9 L|
|Breaths to Inflate||18-20||15-19||20 - 30||0||0|
|Type||Air Construction||Air Construction/AirSprung Cells||Air Construction/Synthetic Insulation||Closed-cell foam||Closed-cell foam|
Best Overall Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is an absolute beast that balances remarkable warmth (6.9 R-value) with a packable and lightweight design. We can't find a single comparable pad on the market that balances warmth and comfort with versatile features. We're fans of the pad's newly improved valve system and had no hesitation crowning the XTherm, our favorite pad.
Yes, the XTherm wins our highest honors, but that doesn't mean some of the more wallet-friendly options won't get the job done in a similar fashion. If the narrow profile of the XTherm puts you off, check out the wider Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max for a bit more wiggle room.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Best for Ultralight Adventures
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Once again, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite takes home our highest honors in the ultralight category. While there is always a temptation to utilize the lightest equipment on the market, this isn't always the most pragmatic. The XLite is extremely light but just as important is the performance packed into that tiny mass. We feel it is critical to retain decent insulative properties to be versatile enough for the mountains. The 4.2 R-value settles the XLite firmly in the three-season category, making it comfortable even for fall days in the desert when you wake up with a bit of frost on your bivy.
The dimensions are a bit tight for larger individuals. Consider checking out the wider option if you're over six feet tall — with shoulders to match. The newest update of this pad did gain some extra warmth, a cool new valve system, and, unfortunately, a few ounces.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Best Bang for the Buck
Klymit Static V2
There are many inexpensive sleeping pads on the market. However, the Klymit Static V2 is one we highly recommend. It's light, comfortable, and packs down small. Surprisingly, the Static V2 is much wider than most pads we tested, making the low weight and price that much more impressive. Even in 2021, the value of the Static V2 holds strong. We introduced pads in direct competition, but like Floyd Mayweather, this thing just won't go down.
The bargain-basement price does come with a big drawback. The Static V2 has one of the lowest R-values of any pad we tested, making it unsuitable for temps below freezing unless you have a burly sleeping bag or a closed-cell foam pad to boost the insulation. For three-season use, it's hard to ignore this pad's price, comfort, and durability.
Read review: Klymit Static V2
An Excellent Level of Comfort
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus is the only pad in our review to utilize two separate air chambers allowing for different pressure and density for fine-tuning one's sleep surface. Even sleeping pads offering four inches of cushion just don't have the same adjustability and ultra-high level of comfort you can achieve with this pad.
The Air Sprung cells, coupled with variable density chambers and a high R-value, make for one heck of a sleeping pad. The only real downside is its weight relative to our highest-rated warm sleeping pads. It's not one we'd recommend for the gram counters out there. If you seek lavish comfort while backpacking, this is the pad to buy, but it comes at the cost of packability and weight.
Read review: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated
Budget Pick for Basic Performance
Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL has seemingly been on the market since the Stone Age. Likely anyone who has had some exposure to the outdoors will be familiar with this pad or one extremely similar to it. While the Z Lite simply does not offer the high level of comfort most air pads do, it has some redeeming features that shouldn't be ignored. The Z Lite is an excellent choice for those wanting to add a bit of versatility to their arsenal of camping equipment.
However, it is one of the least packable pads we have tested and is miserably uncomfortable on hard surfaces. The closed-cell foam definitely won't pop, but it also takes up a lot of space for how little comfort it actually provides. If you're seeking high value, outstanding durability, and reliability on the trail, this is an excellent choice.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by the sleeping pad testing dream team, aka OutdoorGearLab Senior Review Editors Andy Wellman, Matt Bento and Brian Martin. These three come to the campsite with heavy climbing backgrounds — a pursuit where you learn to appreciate a restorative night's sleep outdoors. Andy has been testing and writing for OutdoorGearLab for over five years and climbing for over 20. He has climbed extensively worldwide and has also run a publishing company that put out bouldering guides to the Southwest. He is joined by Matt and Brian, both alumni of Yosemite Search and Rescue, where versatile, reliable, and durable equipment is a necessary part of everyday life.
The quest for the best sleeping pad began by delving deep into what was available in the market and what products among those were the high performers. We analyzed over 70 models before choosing the models discussed here. We then bought these pads at retail and disbursed them to our trusty gear testers. These pads went on guided backpacking trips in Colorado and New Mexico, and we brought them along on trips in the Eastern Sierra and Utah. All the while, we paid attention to how well the pads performed in key areas that we identified ahead of time as most important in the function of a sleeping pad — things like weight and packed size, durability, and warmth, in addition to comfort.
Related: How We Tested Sleeping Pads
Analysis and Test Results
Our sleeping pad review quite literally has something for everyone. We sent out folks of all different sizes equipped with each pad to do a deep dive into critical features such as comfort, packed size, warmth, ease of inflation, and durability. Using these metrics as an anchor point for assessment, we rate each product based on performance. While there are many high performers, many have specific niches that shouldn't be missed.
Related: Buying Advice for Sleeping Pads
Value can mean many different things to different people. We aren't just looking at the price of a sleeping pad — we're looking at how well it performs across a range of metrics and if this performance justifies the price. The Therm-a-Rest pads we tested were incredibly expensive but are indeed quite good value as they offer durable construction and some mind-blowingly good performance. This review has many high-value options, but we'd like to point out a few that perform well without breaking the bank. If you want the creme de la creme, be ready to shell out a few extra clams. In general, the lower the price, the lighter and less warm the pads tend to be.
Of them all, the Klymit Static V2, one of our award winners, offers excellent comfort and warmth at a lower price. If you're seeking packable and light, the Sea to Summit Ultralight should be considered, but it's not as warm as the Klymit Static V2. Another super low-priced (and high value) option is the classic Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol. While it scores low in the metrics, it's one of the most reliable pad options out there, as it's made of foam and won't pop in the backcountry. If car camping is your dig, be sure to look at the Nemo Astro Insulated, which offers exceptional warmth but is a bit too large and bulky for backcountry carry.
If you're anything like our testers, your first sleeping pad may well be a closed-cell foam pad, and rightfully so. These pads are an excellent choice for those getting into backpacking because they are lightweight and super affordable. When you realize how hard on your body they can be, you don't have to chuck it, just save it for an extra layer of warmth during winter camping. That's value.
With Nemo's release of the Switchback, we now have two solid options for supplemental or standalone foam sleeping pads that offer decent performance. Many others on the market also seem similar but haven't yet been put through their paces with our testers. Both the Z Lite Sol and Switchback offer a versatile layer of insulation one could use for winter warmth or rip it in half and have an uber light solution for fastpacking. If you want us to split hairs (which we expect is why you're here), the Switchback has a better feel on the ground, taller dimples, and seems to offer slightly more comfort. The Switchback is a few bucks more expensive.
Here we evaluate how well each pad can handle the various lumpy miseries of the landscape, things that typically disrupt a nice night out under the stars, such as roots, rocks, and reggae. Well, actually, the pads didn't help much with the reggae, but some amazing pads kept us elevated above lumps and bumps and others that didn't have such stellar performance. Many of our testers have noticed their priorities shifting through the years from going ultralight and minimalist to looking more towards comfort. Maybe this is due to life's natural course of trending towards feeling like the tin man needing oil, but it is undeniable. A plush air pad offers significantly better sleep than the shoulder-crushing closed-cell pads from decades past.
Hands down, the most comfortable pads we snoozed on are the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated and the Exped Synmat 9. These pads both offer an excellent footprint and a nice variability in firmness while keeping you well-cushioned from a rocky surface below. The comfort plus is quite special, as the dual inflation zones can be inflated to different pressures giving a nice pillow top with a firm under construction. While this does bump the overall weight of the pad up, the ability to have dual-density creates a uniquely comfortable pad.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm offer excellent comfort at a fraction of the weight as the most comfortable pads. They are significantly narrower than the more comfortable and heavy offerings on the market but retain the necessary features to get a good night's sleep. Sea to Summit threw down with the Ether Light XT as a pad offering a high level of comfort without piling on the weight. We found this pad to be extremely comfortable — more so than our award-winning Therm-a-Rest pads, actually.
Weight and Packed Size
Weight is an omnipresent factor when selecting and using outdoor equipment. If all things are held constant, and one item weighs less than another, you should absolutely select the lighter item. Unfortunately, there are always trade-offs when using ultralight equipment, whether durability, warmth, or size of the pad's footprint. More important than weight is making sure whatever you end up with is something that satisfies your specific needs rather than just selecting whatever is lightest.
The weight of the pads tested ranges from 8.8 ounces, like the Therm-a-rest Uberlite, to over 25 ounces, the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus. Check the warmth score of a lightweight pad before purchasing it to make sure it will meet your needs. Many pads are available in multiple sizes, and some testers minimize weight by taking short, torso-length pads and using a backpack, boots, or other gear under their legs. The Therm-a-Rest Uberlite is an excellent choice for ultralight backpacking in the warmer months, weighing in at 8.8 ounces, but it's not warm enough for winter camping and feels shockingly fragile; use with caution!
Our favorite pad for ultralight backpacking is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Sixteen ounces give you an R-value of 4.2 — a packed size roughly equal to a liter bottle and a lot of plush comfort to boot. The Nemo Tensor Insulated boasts similar specs but edges past the XLite in comfort thanks to a rectangular design, box baffles, and less "crinkly" materials for a quieter night's sleep. The Klymit Static V2 was not the absolute lightest, but it was one of the lightest wider pads. Keep in mind that most of the options under 17 ounces are usually pretty narrow and achieve part of their weight savings by reducing the sleeping area. A wider pad like the Static V2 may be worth the few extra ounces if you toss and turn a bit.
If you're like us, you go backpacking and camping for enjoyment and return to nature — not to rattle your fillings out shivering through the night only to run back to your car for the heat! Anyone who has suffered through a bone-chilling night out knows the value of a solid insulation layer between you and the frozen tundra you're sleeping on. We spent nights with teeth chattering, so hopefully, you won't have to. There is a new standardized insulation testing metric across brands. Keep an eye out for updated ASTM R-values as many previous models have differing claimed values that have now shifted with this new standard.
Warmth isn't nearly as important for summer hikers as it is for winter wanderers. Unless you are a cold sleeper, most of the pads in this review will be warm if you only like recreating in temperate climates. If you camp in the heat, you probably don't want a warm pad. If you're cold when camping, upgrading the R-value of your sleeping pad is recommended but often comes at the expense of added weight and bulk. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm supplied an unmatched level of warmth for its weight and packed size. While it isn't ultralight, the 6.9 R-Value is mind-blowing, considering the pad packs down small and barely weighs over a pound.
If having some customization with your kit is crucial, consider utilizing an inflatable pad with an added closed-cell foam pad during frigid days out. This will add a significant amount of insulation to your sleeping pad. The Z Lite Sol offers an additional 2.0, while the slightly more comfortable Switchback also provides an additional 2.0. Either way, adding one of these pads to your system will give you the versatility to take either pad alone or in combination to combat the cold.
Ease of Inflation
In this review, we've included ease of inflation in our metrics. With the difficulty of inflation being one of the main drawbacks of air construction mats, manufacturers have developed an array of valve styles to help alleviate this issue.
The newest design in the vast sea of valve/sack options is the Winglock valve fixed to the XLite and XTherm (and Uberlite). We were skeptical but hopeful when we found out the dated Therm-a-Rest valves were being updated. The Winglock isn't perfect, but it is a massive upgrade to these pads, allowing air in and out exponentially faster and easier than in the past.
You can inflate the pad by opening the stuff sack, so it fills with air, then folding it closed and pushing the trapped air through the valve and into the pad. The Nemo Tensor employs a similarly effective design. The upside, other than speeding inflation, is that no moisture from your breath enters that pad. While moisture accumulation in pads is not a major deal, it is something to keep an eye on. After a trip, you should keep the pad inflated, with the valve open, to allow moisture out.
While some pump bags can be frustrating, the introduction of the Exped Schnozzel pump sack was a pleasant surprise. The extremely lightweight fabric and generic nozzle made for easy inflation with nearly every pad we tested that was equipped with a modern valve. The included Therm-a-Rest pump bag was made from heavy material that resisted poofing up effortlessly like the Schnozzel.
Self-inflating pads have been on the market for decades and make the task of inflating easier. However, the downside of self-inflating pads is that they are less comfortable, bulkier, and heavier than air-construction pads. While these pads have their cult following among hardcore wilderness Luddites, the new sleeping pad technologies are certainly getting lighter, warmer, and even more comfortable, making these self-inflating pads a bit less attractive.
Advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads durable. We have used inflatable pads for 40-day backpacking trips without any durability issues and are impressed by the amount of abuse our inflatable pads handled without tearing or delaminating. Take care of your pad, and it will take care of you. That said, we always recommend traveling with a mini repair kit.
Thankfully, inflatable pads are usually easy to patch if the leak isn't too minute and not emanating from the pad's valve system. Additionally, most pads do come with patch kits. The most durable pads tested were the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL and Nemo Switchback because they are made of foam and are virtually indestructible compared to inflatable pads. Even when they rip or break down, they still function as a barrier between you and the ground.
For those who want to go ultralight and fast, give some serious time and consideration to both the Switchback and Z Lite, as they can be cut down to shave off more weight and will virtually never completely fall apart. An important note with closed-cell pads, they do crush over time, losing valuable millimeters of loft. The most durable inflatable pads are the MegaMat Lite, Comfort Plus, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, and the Nemo Astro Insulated that all utilize thicker materials and even dual air chambers in the case of the Comfort Plus.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite is constructed from a 15 denier nylon that feels alarmingly thin, while the Nemo Tensor uses a slightly thicker 20D nylon. We never punctured these pads during our testing but would never leave home without a patch kit while hiking with these pads. If you're seeking the most durable and reliable pad option out there and don't want to carry a patch kit, consider the less comfortable but highly reliable Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol that utilized close-cell technology.
As our main sleeping pad tester ages and starts to lose bone mass, his interest in overall sleeping pad comfort has only increased. Having a plush, pillowy pad betwixt the meat vehicle and terra firma is critical for getting the most out of any adventure. We continue to add the best and most promising sleeping pads into this category in hopes of finding a pad so comfortable we refuse to hand it over when someone asks if they can see it. While we haven't found that pad just yet, we're hoping it's out there, and we will continue our search.
— Brian Martin, Matt Bento, & Andy Wellman