When you hear the word “sleeping pad” what is the image conjured in your mind? Is it a flat blue foam mat from Walmart’s camping section? Maybe you’re thinking of a huge inflatable air bed for guests in the spare bedroom.
Perhaps you’re thinking of one of those fancy self-inflating camping pads…
In this article, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the best camping and backpacking sleeping pads. We’ll talk about what makes a pad great and what considerations you’ll want to take a look at before making a final decision.
Then I will suggest some of the best and most well-loved sleeping pads on the market today. Some are ultralight, others are ultra-durable, still others are the thickest and softest pads and mats on the market.
First, lets take a quick look at the sleeping pads, below are my reviews and then we’ll talk about all the criteria in our guide that you’ll want to analyze to choose the best backpacking and camping sleeping pad.
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Mattress
- Therm-a-Rest ProLite Mattress
- Klymit Static V Lightweight Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- Klymit Inertia X Frame Ultralight Backpacking Pad
Best Sleeping Pads for Camping and Backpacking
Camping and Backpacking Sleeping Pad Reviews
This is an adaptation to the classic Ridge-Rest mattress pad by Therm-a-Rest (a Cascade Designs company). These pads have been well loved and used for years and are by far the most common closed cell foam pad sighting on the trail.
The egg-crate foam design folds along set edges to pack into a small rectangle. The pad its self is still quite bulky, however, and will need to be carried outside of the pack.
One of the down sides of carrying pads outside the pack is getting them torn up if you fall, walk by sharp branches and sticks, or get them dirty in general.
Since it’s closed cell foam, however, it’s inherently waterproof so that’s not too much of a concern.These pads are nearly indestructible and can be cut to any size, length, or shape if you desire a DIY modification to save space or weight.
This is my second pick from Cascade Designs and by far the best sleeping investment I’ve ever made is this amazing pad.
Without a doubt this is one of the most common self-inflating pads on the trail today. The design is simple, lightweight (for a self-inflating pad) and reliable.
Inside the pad, they’ve cut out excess foam to lighten the overall weight of the pad while still maintaining insulation and comfort.
While not as thick as the XLite pad, this pad is a great solution for many looking to balance convenience, reliability, and function.
The nylon outer shell of this pad is much thicker than the XLite so it’ll hold up to a bit more abuse but that’s not an excuse to be careless. The Therm-a-Rest ProLite Mattress might be the best self inflating sleeping pad you can buy.
This blow-up sleeping pad combines multiple baffles and different alignments of baffle angles to help minimize pad roll-off.
That’s my made up technical word for the tendency to roll off of a pad in the middle of the night. Horizontal baffles near the edge help bump you back to the center of the pad as you sleep.
V-shaped pads in the center help to keep the body aligned for back sleeping during the night.
This pad is reasonably light, (about 18 ounces) solves a real problem for many hikers, and has a thick 2.5” inflated loft though it’ll be heavier and bulkier than the XLite.
The Klymit packs in to a small package, 3”x8” and works well as a camping sleeping pad as well.This is an excellent sleeping pad, especially if you have difficulty staying in position when sleeping overnight.
Why are my 3 of my 5 top picks all from the same company? Because Cascade Designs knows how to make some great gear and their brands are some of the best large brands in the industry for quality, design, and customer service.
You’ll have to inflate it yourself as it’s a lung powered inflator but that’s a small negative in my book.
The 2.5” loft is comfy and I sleep better on this pad than I do in my bed. Available in several lengths, the already lightweight 12oz regular size can be found in ¾ or ½ length for smaller and lighter pads.
One main consideration is that the lightweight nylon material can be damaged by careless use. Avoid sleeping on protruding nails on shelter floors or sharp roots, rocks, or pine needles.
All of these should be considered when setting up any inflating sleeping pad to avoid unnecessary damage and repairs.
This sleeping pad has the highest loft of the sleeping pads we reviewed and is the best sleeping pad for side sleepers because you don’t get the pressure points that other pads can have.
Possibly the lightest full length inflatable pad on the market today, this pad has had a niche following for years. The X Frame is based on the idea that less is more as Klymit has removed every part of the pad that’s not absolutely vital.
I’ve tried laying on one before and found it to be uncomfortable because I am more of a side sleeper but many people who sleep on their back find the pad just right.
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t move an inch and can fall asleep on your back with ease – this pad might be for you.
With all the areas of padding that have been removed to pare down the pad, many hikers find that it’s difficult to arrange yourself on the pad without slipping through one of the holes.
If your the type of backpacker who wants the lightest sleeping pad (9 ounces) in a small package, 3″ x 6″ (can fit in a soda can), then the X Frame might be your best bet.This is definitely a lightweight, low bulk option but consider the pros and cons and your sleeping style before ordering!
How to Choose a Sleeping Pad
What is R-Value?
To keep it simple, we’ll take a brief look at something called R-value. This is a measure of how well something insulates, or stops the transfer of heat.
One of the main functions of your sleeping pad is to keep you insulated from the often-cold ground at night. Without insulation, you would often end up dangerously cold throughout a night’s rest.
For our purposes, all you need to know is that all pads should have an R-value and the higher the number, the warmer the pad will be.
One last note – R-values are often massively skewed from manufacturer to manufacturer so it can be difficult to objectively trust the testing of different pads… sad.
Some of the most obvious criteria for choosing a pad might be packed-size, weight, or effectiveness in keeping you warm. These are all great ideas and there are several other considerations we’ll talk about such as:
Types of Sleeping Pads
In general, there are three main types of sleeping pads for backpacking and camping. These are self-inflating pads, blow-up pads, and closed cell foam pads. Each of these has its own pros and cons and I’ll take you through the deciding factors of each.
Closed Cell Foam Pads
These pads are inexpensive, durable, and hassle-free. Closed cell foam has a great insulation rating (R-value) for its weight and size and does an excellent job at trapping dead air space (the primary function of insulation).
One of the biggest drawbacks is these pads are usually thin and can lack enough padding to create a comfortable sleep surface for many people, they also do not pack down well (compress) and therefore are often bulky and must be carried on the outside of the pack.
These pads must be inflated with air in order to use them and they do not have their own inflation method. Some of these pads have external battery powered inflators or a pump kit, but using extra goodies to pump them up really defeats their two main purposes: lightweight and low bulk.
These pads, when inflated using your own lung power, can be some of the lightest and least bulky pads to own. I personally love these pads for their exceptionally light weight, low bulk, relatively high R-value, and thick cushion to provide a great night’s rest.
These pads are some of the heaviest and bulkiest pads available. Why would anyone choose them, then? Because all you have to do is open a small valve, cook dinner, and the pad will inflate its self for you!
This is a huge convenience factor and these pads have been the most popular pad on the market for years. People love easy!
These pads can come in any thickness as size to meet your needs. Generally speaking, these pads are simply a nylon sandwich with open cell foam inside.
Open the valve and the foam begins to expand and inflate the mattress. Simply squeeze the air out of the pad and roll it up in the morning to pack it away.
Anything you choose to carry around all day hiking, backpacking, or camping is going to add up. Sometimes these differences are more noticeable: like the difference between a lightweight titanium cooking pot versus hauling a cast iron skillet.
Often, however, the differences are smaller but they all add up – like your checking account balance.
When it comes to weight you’ll find that lightweight usually comes at a price. One exception, however, is closed cell foam pads which are cheap, relatively light, but bulky.
Some of the most advanced and lightweight premium sleeping pads can run well upwards of $100. Here are the different types of pads rated by their weight (generally):
- Self-inflating pads (heaviest)
- Closed Cell Foam Pads
- Blow-up Pads (lightest)
Of course, we can get drastically varying weight depending on the maker, model, and variations to any specific product. For instance a ¾ length closed cell foam pad might actually be lighter than a blow-up pad such as the NeoAir xLite.
There are always different ways to find a combination of factors which creates the best balance of weight and function for your own personal needs.
Some people just hate having to huff and puff with their lungs to fill up a blow-up sleeping pad and won’t consider one because it’s a hassle. That’s totally fine.
Others find it inconvenient to have to strap a bulky close cell foam pad to the outside of their pack. Still others don’t want to take the time to deflate, compress, and roll up a self-inflating mattress every morning.
These are factors you’ll have to consider for yourself and at the most basic level a closed cell foam pad such as the z-lite might be the overall least hassle choice of any sleeping pad.
One of the biggest hassle factors might be a broken or deflated air mattress that has to be fixed on the fly – closed cell foam pads can’t be popped and won’t deflate so that’s always a nice reassurance.
Every sleeping pad has a specific thickness or loft. Some, like thin closed cell foam mats, are no more than 1/8” thick. Others can be 3” thick or more and feel a lot like sleeping at a hotel in the woods.
Personally, I like to use thicker sleeping pads for a more comfortable night’s sleep. While I have slept on closed cell foam pads such as the Ridge-Rest, I find them uncomfortable and they prevent me from getting a great night’s sleep.
Loft can be largely a personal preference and you may not know until you sleep on a few different ones for a full night. So see what the return policies are before you buy one. The ones reviewed here are all available on Amazon, so you can return them.
Marching hand in hand with loft, you’ll want to consider your sleeping style when purchasing a pad. Back sleepers may be comfortable on a thin closed cell foam pad while side sleepers may want a blow-up mattress with more loft.
Generally, side sleepers will find thicker pads more comfortable and restful to prevent pressure points and pain on the hips and shoulders. If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll be able to get away with a much broader range of pads with comfort.
I personally find that an under-inflated blow-up pad is my perfect happy place for a comfortable, warm, and restful night’s sleep at the lightest and least bulky size.
If you’re looking for the lightest pad with the lowest bulk at the expense of all else, then the Klymit X Frame is your pad.
At under 10 oz it’s one of the lightest and most comfortable inflatable pads available. If you’re looking for maximum comfort – weight ratio, then the NeoAir XLite is your pad. Tipping the scales at just over 12oz for a full length size, this pad is a beefy 2.5” thick and warm, it’s my main sleeping pad.
Other options abound and many will find the inexpensive, durable, and easily modifiable closed cell foam pads to be the best value for their money.
Ultimately your choice of pad is up to you. Try camping with a friend at first and borrowing pads to test which style, length, and thickness of pad is the best choice for you.
Remember that saving weight some secondary to getting a good night’s sleep because sleep deprivation on a backpacking trip can really beat you up.