best sleeping pad backpacking

Best Sleeping Pad for Backpacking 2020 | Complete Guide

Find the best sleeping pad. No BS, tested performance and value.

Buying a comfortable, lightweight backpacking sleeping pad is critical for every single hiker, bar none. By keeping you warm and comfy at night and reducing weight in your pack, the best sleeping pads will improve your entire hiking experience. And we can’t stress enough how critical a good night’s sleep is to your health and your backpacking trip. With better sleep comes more spring in your step, more alertness on the trail, and wider smiles all day long. Conversely, the wrong sleeping pad will weigh down your pack and decrease your quality of sleep, slowing down your mind and body when you need them most.

In this guide, we will showcase what we believe are the very best backpacking sleeping pads on the market, the ones we use the most. We’ll back up these recommendations with data-based analyses of weight, warmth, and cost as well as extensive field experience in a broad range of conditions. We will provide the information you need to make an informed decision on which sleeping pad is right for you, how sleeping pads are rated, and tips and tricks for how best to use and care for your pad in the field. Sweet dreams!

Information You Won’t Find in Other Guides

In this Guide to Backpacking Sleeping Pads we have Pro Tips you won’t find elsewhere. These tips have key information to help you find the best sleeping pad for you. And they’ll also help you get the best performance and enjoyment out of your sleeping pad — either the sleeping pad you intend to buy or the pad you already own.

Pro Tips

Video | Everything you need to know about backpacking sleeping pads

This is Video is a Deep Dive into sleeping pads that goes into more detail than this post.

5 Quick Picks for Backpacking Sleeping Pads

  1. STAFF PICK: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Women’s.  Therm-a-Rest’s most versatile 3+ season pad. And yeah, it’s the “Women’s” version of the XLite, but our staff and a lot of the men we know use it too.
  2. Best Full-length Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. 6″ longer than the Women’s pad but not quite as warm.
  3. Best pad for cold sleepers: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad. At R 6.9 this is one the warmest pads on the market but only weighs a few oz more than the XLite pads.
  4. Best Ultralight 2+ season Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad. At only 8.8 oz this pad will get you down to near freezing.
  5. Best Value Pad: REI Co-op Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad. A good all-around pad from a trusted source. Around 1/2 the price of the competition, the Flash 3-Season pad had one of the highest scores for value (R/cost).
  6. Budget Pad for Hardy Hikers: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL closed cell foam pad.

Our Go To Sleeping Pad & Sleeping Bag

best sleeping pad backpacking

Warm, comfortable and incredibly light: The 1.9 pound sleep system pictured above allows us to camp most places in the world for 3+ seasons in complete warmth and comfort. It’s light and well mannered and comfortable in mild conditions but can just as easily handle cold. This system when combined with a warm down jacket like the REI Co-op Magma Down Hoodie can handle some truly cold conditions. For instance, Alison and I used this system camping on the Southern Patagonia Ice Shelf.

1.9 Lb Total Weight

Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads

Inclusion Criteria

The pads listed here are our picks for the best on the market. Rather than vague terms like warm and comfortable, we used solid data analysis and field testing to pick these pads. We considered three major attributes for each pad 1) R value/weight (R/weight), 2) R value/cost (R/cost), and 3) field experience with the pads. Both the R/weight and R/cost evaluations are due to the rollout of the new industry standard test (ASTM FF3340) to rate the R values (warmth) of sleeping pads. Until even a few months ago, this type of analysis was not possible since many pad manufacturers had yet to rate the R value of their pads with the new test. Finally, with this backpacking sleeping pad guide, we tried to keep our selections around a pound or less — this seems reasonable since you can get a comfortable, full-length, R6.9 pad (NeoAir Xtherm) for just 15 oz.

backpacking sleeping pad Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad - Women's

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Women’s

HIGHLIGHTS:  Best all-around pad women & many men. Top performance & value

PERFORMANCE: 4.5* R/weight | 3.1* R/cost (value) *see Data Table of Sleeping Pad Spec’s & Performance for explanation

SPECS: R 5.4 | 12 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – baffled chambers & heat reflective film

PRICE: $175

STAFF PICK — one pad does it all: The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Women’s is a near ideal blend of performance and value. It got top marks for R/warmth performance and was near the top for R/cost (value). This is the “Women’s” version of the XLite, but we feel it’s the right size for most weight-conscious backpackers and campers. Alan and a lot of men we know use it — for tall men, as long as the end of the pad hits mid-calf you should be fine (Alan’s 6’5″ hiking partner uses one!). Best of all, at 12 oz and with an R-value of 5.4, it’s warmer and lighter than the unisex XLite. Therm-a-Rest’s most versatile pad, we find its closer to a 3+ season pad (colder shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring) and have happily used it to well below freezing all over the world, even on the Southern Patagonia Ice Shelf.

GREAT FOR: 3+ season use most places in the world. One pad does it all.

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Taller campers who want the extra 6″ of length from a unisex pad, hikers on a tight budget.

Tip | Why a “Women’s” 66 inch pad might work for you

We feel it’s the right size for most weight-conscious backpackers and campers. Alan and a lot of men we know use it — for tall men, as long as the end of the pad hits mid-calf you should be fine (Alan’s 6’5″ hiking partner uses one!). Best of all, at 12 oz and with an R-value of 5.4, it’s warmer and lighter than the unisex XLite. Note that Big Agnes also offers 66″ pads

backpacking sleeping pad

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad [unisex]

HIGHLIGHTS:  Best all-around pad for for taller people (it’s a full 72″)

PERFORMANCE: 3.5 R/weight | 2.3 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 4.2 | 12 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – baffled chambers & heat reflective film

PRICE: $185

Full Length Pad: With good reason the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad is probably Therm-a-Rest’s most popular backpacking pad. It’s nearly identical to the Women’s Pad but it’s 6″ longer to accommodate taller campers. It has only one layer of heat reflective film (vs. 2 for the Women’s) so it’s not quite as toasty (R4.2 vs R5.4). Warm sleepers may not care. Bottom line, it’s light, it’s warm and it works.

GREAT FOR: 3 season use (3+ season for warm sleepers) most places in the world. One pad does it all.

NOT AS GOOD FOR:  Hikers on a budget, or those that need a very warm pad

Tip | You might need a warmer backpacking sleeping pad

The industry standard sleeping pad temperature rating test (ISO 23537/ EN 13537) is done with a very warm pad — R4.8*. Most pads camper’s use are not that warm (R 2 to R 3). For instance the popular NeoAir Z Lite is only R2.0, and the REI Co-op Flash 3-Season R 3.2 What this means is that as the temperature drops your pad might prevent you from sleeping warm at its rated temperature. Buyer beware.

* New ASTM FF3340 Sleeping Pad R-Value Test

backpacking sleeping pad

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad

HIGHLIGHTS:  Incredibly warm & light | Good winter pad, or for cold sleepers

PERFORMANCE: 4.6 R/weight | 3.2 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 6.9 | 15 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – baffled chambers + reflective film

PRICE: $215

Best Pad Cold Sleepers: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad is our pick for hikers that sleep cold or for average hikers in very cold conditions — see more. It has the highest R/weight performance of any pad while also being a great value for R/cost. As such, we also see it as a great upgrade from the XLite for cold sleepers — it’s only 3 oz and a few bucks more than the standard XLite but a whopping amount warmer (R6.9 vs R4.2). So it might be one of the lighter ways to increase the warmth of your sleep system.

GREAT FOR: The lightest pad for 4 season use (also great 3 season for cold sleepers)

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Warm sleepers in 3 season conditions (expensive & overkill), hikers on a budget

We used the R5.4 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad “Women’s” to camp on the Southern Patagonian Ice Shelf.

Which Pad is Right for Which Season?

Use Expected Temperature to Choose a Sleeping Pad

First, we think expected temperature is a better way to choose a pad vs. “seasons” which is the way that the industry traditionally talks about what pad is right for what conditions. For instance winter in Florida is very different than Winter in Maine. Second, we are more conservative and generally choose a pad warmer than is usually recommended. Remember, the standard sleeping bag temperature rating test is done with a very warm sleeping pad — R4.8.

Which Pad R Value for Which Expected Temp?

R2 to R3.5 | Nightime temps above freezing: When nighttime temperatures are above freezing (with possibly a light morning frost) average to hardy sleepers will want a pad around R2 to R2.5. Colder sleepers will likely want an R3 to R3.5 pad.

R3.5 to R5.4 | Good portion of nightime temps below freezing: When a good portion of nighttime temperatures are below freezing (with possibly a very hard morning frost) average to hardy sleepers will want a pad around R3.5 to R4.5. Colder sleepers will likely want an R4.5 to R5.4 pad. For most folks in the northern part of the country or in the high mountains Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad “Women’s” is a great pad for the shoulder seasons of late fall or early spring when snow and temps falling well below freezing are a real possibility.

R5.4 to R7 | All of night time temps below freezing: When temperatures are already below freezing before you go to bad (with possibly of morning temps dropping below 20F) average to hardy sleepers will want a pad around R5.4. Colder sleepers will likely want an R6.5 to R7 pad. Both campers might consider adding foam torso kicker-pad to increase warmth in the critical upper body area.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad

HIGHLIGHTS:  Lightest full sized pad with 3 season warmth | compact

PERFORMANCE: 2.6 R/weight | 1.2 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 2.3 | 8.8 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – baffled chambers (no reflective film)

PRICE: $195

Lightest 2+ Season Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad | At only 1/2 pound for a size regular (72″ long) the Uberlite is the lightest full sized pad with 2+ season warmth Of course the lighter fabric is a bit more prone to damage and will cost you more than an X-Lite. But we’re stoked there’s a 25″ version of this pad. Some folks find that a 20″ pad is not quite wide enough. That is there’s room for you and one arm but not both. At 12 oz in a 25″ width the Size Large solves that problem without a weight penalty. Second, with an R 2.3 we find this pad warm and comfortable to around freezing.

GREAT FOR: For those seeking the very lightest pad to get the job done for 2+ season (average person will likely find this a summer pad, but hardier folks can get 3 season use out of it)

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Cold sleepers, 3+ season use, those that are hard on gear, hikers on a budget

ASTM FF3340 sleeping pad test

Tip | New Sleeping Pad R Value Test

Why you should be excited about it!

The new ASTM FF3340 Sleeping Pad R-Value Test is a good thing for consumers. It creates a level playing field where all sleeping pad manufacturers rate their sleeping pads the same way using a common industry standard test. Now one manufacturer’s R2.0 means exactly the same thing as another manufacturer’s 2.0 (until a year ago this was nowhere near true!). This new standardized test is relatively inexpensive and easy to do allowing all sleeping pad manufacturers access to the test. This is what allowed us to do real comparisons between sleeping pad performance for R/weight and R/cost. As of this writing most pad manufacturers have tested their pads for R values. Woot!

REI Co-op Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad

HIGHLIGHTS:  1/2 cost of similar pads without giving up much

PERFORMANCE: 2.0 R/weight | 3.2 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 3.2 | 16 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – synthetic + reflective barrier

PRICE: $100

Value Pad: REI Co-op Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad

A good all-around pad from a trusted source. Around 1/2 the price of the competition, the Flash 3-Season pad had one of the highest scores for value (R/cost). At only 2″ thick it is not as thick as most of the other air pads in this guide so it bottoms out sooner and it won’t handle a lumpy campsite as well. That being said, it’s R 3.2 value is competitive with many thicker (non-XLite/XTherm) pads in this guide.

GREAT FOR: A low cost, light and comfortable, 3 season pad from a trusted source

NOT AS GOOD FOR: People who need a pad warmer than R3.2, those looking for the lightest pad

how to pack sleeping pad

The best way to pack your pad

Tip | How to Prevent Pad Punctures

The new breed of air inflated pads are useless if they leak (altho they can be field repaired*). As such, you need to take care to not to puncture, abrade or otherwise abuse them. Make sure you clean your campsite (and tent floor) of all pointy and sharp objects, rocks, pinecones, sharp sticks, thorns, cactus spines etc. If not in a tent, a good ground cloth between your pad and the bare ground is always good. And finally, we do not recommend you tightly fold and roll-up your pad in the supplied stuff sack. This creates undue folding stresses to the fabric that in time can result in distributed micro punctures that manifest in slow leaks. If your pad is deflating over 2-6 hours, this is likely the cause. Instead, loosely roll your pad up without folding it — no need to get it super tight. Then make a gentile bend in it so you can fit it in your pack. Again, make sure it is not rubbing against sharp things in your pack. [see picture]

Tip | How to Field Repair Pad Punctures

* Finding and Repairing Punctures in the Field | We’ve had good results cleaning the damaged area with alcohol and applying manufacturers supplied repair kit patch, or Tenacious Tape even for a good sized puncture. To find a puncture you can put your pad in a stream or lake and look for bubbles. Barring that, pouring water over your pad and spreading it out with your hand will also work. You can even put your ear to the pad to listen for a puncture. Once located, use a pen to draw a circle around the hole and thoroughly clean and dry the area — a bit of sunlight does wonders for drying. If you have an alcohol stove fuel or an alcohol wipe in your first aid kit, you can use them to get the area really clean and improve patch adhesion.

NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad

HIGHLIGHTS:  Quiet, good balance comfort, warmth and weight

PERFORMANCE: 2.3 R/weight | 2.3 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 3.5 | 15 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – 2 reflective films

PRICE: $160

The Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad is worth a look for those that want a cushy and quiet pad. And at R 3.5 $160 it’s a decent value for a comfortable pad. This is the closest competitor to Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. It has the advantage of being thicker 3.0″ nominal vs. 2.5″ for the XLite — and it’s lack of foot taper will be welcome to restless sleepers. It has a nice valve system and comes with an inflation sack at no extra cost. The Tensor comes in a number of sizes including a rare 25″ width in the standard (medium size) and it’s less noisier than the XLite. The price for cushion and quiet is that it’s heavier and bulkier than the XLite and has a lower R Value. And it’s 20D shell fabric is a bit more delicate.

GREAT FOR: Good combo of high cushion comfort, quieter, low weight, good R value

NOT AS GOOD FOR: People who abuse their pads, those looking for the very lightest pads

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad

HIGHLIGHTS:  Cushiest of the ultralight pads

PERFORMANCE: 2.0 R/weight | 2.0 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 3.2 | 16 oz | Air Pad | Insulation – PrimaLoft + reflective films

PRICE: $150

UL Comfort Pad: At 3.5″ thick, the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad is the thickest pad in this guide. We chose it over the slightly lighter Big Agnes Insulated AXL because it’s warmer, and if you’re going comfy you might as well go all the way. The Insulated Q-Core SLX is 3.5′ thick with 4.25′ high sides to keep you centered on the pad — and it’s lack of foot taper will be welcome to restless sleepers — on the downside it’s a bit on the narrow side. It has a nice valve system. The Insulated Q-Core SLX comes in a number of sizes including a rare 25″ width in the standard (medium size). Again, the price for all that cushion is that it’s heavier and bulkier than the XLite and has a lower R Value.

Note: this pad also has an option for a 66″ length, same as the NeoAir XLite “Women’s”

GREAT FOR: Folks looking for the cushiest UL sleeping pad, decent durability for a UL pad

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Those looking for the very lightest pads, those with small lungs (it takes a while to inflate)

Foam Sleeping Pads

Cheap and Durable

While they aren’t the lightest or warmest pads out there, foam pads have a number of advantages over the air inflating pads above. Foam pads are cheap, about 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of similar air inflated pads. They require almost no care or maintenance, and can’t puncture. Foam pads are quiet and non slippery.  And finally, you don’t have to spend a ton of time inflating and deflating them.

Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL

HIGHLIGHTS:  Excellent value (R/cost), compact for a foam pad

PERFORMANCE: 1.4 R/weight | 4.4 R/cost (value)

SPECS: R 2.0 | 14 oz | Foam Pad | Insulation – closed cell foam

PRICE: $45

Budget Pad:  With the highest R/cost (value) of folding pads, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL is the budget backpacker’s choice. Time tested by through hikers on the ADT, PCT, CDT, and JMT (most young hikers with tough bodies!) this pad does the job at 1/4 the cost of many air inflated pads. It folds reasonably compact to fit on the top or bottom of most packs. And of course it can’t puncture or leak and requires no inflation or deflation. It makes a great sit pad for lunch or in camp. The main downsides are 1) it’s R 2.0 rating relegates it to summer use for most people and 2) it’s lack of cushion making it more suited to tough bodies and non-lumpy campsites.

NOTE: We give the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL a slight edge over the newer, competing NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad due to the Z lite’s slighter higher R/weight value and its extensive use and vetting by thru-hikers. Both are great foam pads.

GREAT FOR: Hardy folks on a tight budget, who value durability and low maintenance, and no need for huge lungs!

NOT AS GOOD FOR: Those looking for a warm pad, who wan’t a compact pad to fit in their pack, and of course need a comfortable pad (this one ain’t)

Tip | Did the “new” Therm-a-Rest pads actually get warmer or colder?

The answer is that they did not get warmer or colder. The pads are just as warm as they ever were! It’s just that the new ASTM FF3340 Sleeping Pad R-Value Test is run slightly differently than T-Rests old test. See examples below:

NeoAir XLite Example | Air Inflated Pads

The old test value was based on 80% of fully advertized inflated thickness of 2.5” — Therm-a-Rest was being conservative. But in reality the pad fully inflated was 2.75”. The Math works fairly linear here. Old Test 2.5” x 80% = 2.0 inches and New Test 2.75” fully inflated is about 35% higher. That’s very close to the 31% increase in R Value from R3.2 to R4.2. And the average increase in R value for T-Rest Air Inflated pads is 30%.

ZLite Sol Example | Foam Pads

Compared to the old test, the new test puts more weight on a smaller area on foam pads. And foam pads are less able to distribute that pressure. More pressure in a smaller area translates to more pad thinning than the old test. A thinner pad has less thermal resistance, or lower R value. This accounts for the approx. 25% decrease in R value for foam pads. Again, in the field these pad sleep just as warm as they ever were!

Change in Therm-a-Rest R Values

Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

Lead photo credit: Sammy Spence | Therm-a-Rest

11 replies
  1. Alan Thompson
    Alan Thompson says:

    I have found the Klymit works well for me. It 23″ wide and works well for a restless sleeper.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Alan, I’m glad it works for you. And I can certainly understand that a 20″ pad is likely too narrow for some folks. The main downside is that 23″ Klymit ain’t light. Best, -alan

      Reply
  2. Mike G.
    Mike G. says:

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for the article! Based on the above, it sounds like you usually DON’T use a stuff sack for your pad when packing it in your pack, is that correct? Is there a certain denier where you would recommend using a stuff sack in addition to you roll and loosely fold method?

    I’m thinking that method is good for the XTherm and probably XLite as they’re more durable materials, but the Uberlite is pretty thin…maybe it should have extra protection.

    Thanks as always for the great information!

    Reply
  3. Matt
    Matt says:

    I’m a big fan of the newish xt line from sea to summit. 4inches thick means I can set up on roots, which you’ll find in most camp sites here in Maine, and not feel a thing.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yes, Matt, thickness does have it’s advantages. We liked a similarly thick pad, the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad which is a bit lighter. but the Sea to Summit ETHER LIGHT XT AIR SLEEPING MAT is another good choice.Sleep warm! Best, -alan & alison

      Reply
  4. Heather
    Heather says:

    Thanks for a great guide on sleeping pads! I have both the women’s Neoair and the Nemo Tensor. I definitely sleep better on the Tensor (restless side sleeper here!), so I wondered what the differences in warmth were and what temperatures my Nemo would be comfortable down to. Thanks again!

    Reply
  5. John
    John says:

    Another great guide. Thank you, Alan.

    I appreciate the roll and fold tip; I am going to start doing that. I’d also add that inflatables should be stored semi-inflated when not in use.

    Reply
      • David
        David says:

        Valve open only works for the older self-inflating styles. If the valve is opened on these newer inflatables, there is nothing to keep them inflated at all.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Nice to hear from you David. We find that if we inflate the pad, then lay it on a shelf, and then open the valve — that there is enough open air space in the pad for good storage. Sleep warm! Best, -alan & alison

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