Despite the fact backpacking takes people from the comforts of their home and onto a trail for days on end, this pastime doesn’t have to be synonymous with sleeping uncomfortably on the ground. Instead of waking up with an aching back and worrying about every last stone or tree root while setting up camp, a proper sleeping pad offers backpackers a better way to catch a few Zs.
By focusing on the perfect harmony of comfort, warmth, and packability, today’s backpacking sleeping pads are capable of making anyone forget about their typical at-home bed — no matter how far into the woods their adventure takes them. As the evolution of air pads advances, sleeping in the backcountry becomes more and more luxurious. Here are our top picks for the best backpacking sleeping pads you can buy, so that you can wake up in the woods feeling like you just rolled out of bed (well, almost).
The best overall
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm ($200)
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm boasts the best warmth to weight ratio on the market, ideal for 4-season backpacking. The XTherm features the trademark NeoAir internal baffling in addition to powerful ThermaCapture technology. Similar to many closed-cell foam pads, bivy sacks, and emergency blankets, a silver lining reflects your body heat, making for an insanely warm 5.7 R-Value.
When inflated, this pad measures 2.5 inches in width, providing plenty of comfort and back support. The regular length packs down to a small size, weighing just 15 ounces — this also includes a repair kit and stuff sack. Even after weeks of continuous use on uneven ground, this pad showed no signs of puncturing, making for high durability marks in addition to comfort, warmth, and weight. If you can cough up the change for the warmest and most luxurious backpacking-appropriate pad available, the XTherm is the way to go.
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The best pick for ultralight backpacking
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite ($130)
Just because you’re counting ounces doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort. The NeoAir XLite is baffled and includes a heat-reflective layer similar to the XTherm but lacks just slightly in terms of warmth, boasting an R-value of 3.2. Still ideal for three-season backpacking and coveted by minimalists on thru-hikes, this pad packs down to an incredibly small size and weighs just 12 ounces.
When inflated, the XLite measures 2.5 inches in length — like its XTherm kin — ensuring you’ll sleep soundly. However, this pad trails the competition in terms of its durability. The 30-denier bottom is prone to puncturing if you’re not careful where you lay it down — though this does tend to be standard practice among ultralight gear. The good news? A repair kit is included, as well as a stuff sack.
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The best on the budget (inflatable)
REI Co-op Flash Insulated ($100)
If you’re on a budget but insist on investing in an air pad, the REI Co-op Flash is incredibly comfortable, warm, and packable for its affordable price tag — true to REI style. This pad features 2-inch thick baffling combined with a Mylar reflective layer which keeps you warm all night. It’s 3.7 R-Value makes it warmer than our ultralight pick and its tapered mummy shape is desirable, matching that of most backpacking sleeping bags while also cutting down on weight and volume.
The best feature? The Flash is extremely easy to inflate and deflate compared to its competitors, offering two dedicated flat valves. At 15 ounces, it’s also lightweight and packable. Durability is this pad’s biggest downside, however, highlighted by 30-denier fabric that’s prone to puncturing. Be sure to purchase a repair kit, as one is not included. Also, with just two inches of total thickness, the Flash is slightly less comfortable than the Therm-a-Rest models above but for its price and features, this product is hard to beat.
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The best on the budget (closed-cell foam)
Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite ($30)
While the explosion of inflatable air pads completely changed the backcountry experience, some backpackers still prefer closed-cell foam — and it remains the most affordable version to buy. If you’re a fan of simplicity, you can’t get more basic than the Ridge Rest. A pattern of ridges and valleys helps trap and keep warm air close to your body while an aluminized surface reflects body heat back to you.
An R-Value of 2.8 makes this pad suitable for three-season backpacking conditions. The primary advantage of closed-cell foam is durability — you don’t have to worry about a rock or a stick poking a hole and popping your pad. At 0.62 inches in width, the Ridge Rest won’t be as comfortable as an inflatable air pad but it’s still plenty warm, durable, and affordable. At 14 ounces, it’s also extremely lightweight.
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The most comfortable sleeping pad
Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Pad ($130)
If you want to sleep luxuriously, spend a night on the Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Pad. Simply put, no detail was overlooked as this pick boasts a double layer of Air Sprung technology in the torso and a single layer in the head and legs. The Exkin Platinum non-woven layer reflects back body heat while the Thermolite insulation prevents any heat loss, ramping this pad’s R-Value up to 4.2.
40-denier ripstop nylon serves for a bit of durability but the Comfort Light is not as puncture-resistant as our top pick, so you’ll have to treat it with care. The Comfort Light measures 2.5 inches in thickness and weighs 21 ounces. While you’ll have to carry more weight, the trade-off for a blissful night’s sleep in the backcountry is worth every ounce — and every dollar of its price tag.
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The best self-inflating pad
Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro ($100)
For those who like the convenience and comfort of a self-inflating pad, Therm-a-Rest has redesigned one of its favorites to be light enough for backpacking. Integrated air cushions maintain the pad’s four-season warmth while shaving weight. Lightweight foam makes for added comfort without decreasing packability and is coupled with two inches of supportive loft, offering a total R-Value of 4.
The best part about a self-inflating pad is that after you set up your tent, you can just toss in your sleeping pad and by the time you’re ready for bed it’s nearly inflated, requiring just a few breaths of air to top it off. While most self-inflating pads are too heavy and bulky for backpacking, this one makes our list as it weighs in at just 26 ounces.
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Things to consider
Our list includes at least one example of the three primary types of sleeping pads: Closed-cell foam, self-inflating, and air construction. Although air pads have taken the industry by storm, each type still has their respective place.
There are three primary types of sleeping pads: Closed-cell foam, self-inflating, and air construction.
Closed cell foam pads are the simplest pads on the market and while they’re not as packable, warm, or comfortable as the more technologically advanced pads, they’re durable and reliable — often favored by thru-hikers who can’t risk an unrepairable puncture. Closed cell foam pads are also the most affordable.
Self-inflating pads utilize open cell foam and air inflation properties layered between two pieces of fabric. They are relatively warm and more durable than air construction pads but the addition of foam makes them less packable.
Air pads are the lightest of the three options and also compress down to the smallest size. They can be extremely warm due to the thickness provided by the baffles but take much longer to inflate. If an air pad punctures in the middle of the night, you’ll be left with nothing to sleep on but most models do come with a repair kit.
When you think about warmth while backpacking, a sleeping bag is usually the first piece of equipment that comes to mind. However, a surprising amount of warmth is provided by your sleeping pad, which serves as your first line of defense between the cold ground and your body (other than your shelter, if applicable). The R-Value indicates the amount of insulation provided by your sleeping pad. By definition, R-Value means “the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow”.
Consider the kind of conditions you’re likely to encounter while backpacking so you can determine what kind of R-Value your pad requires.
An important consideration here is the type of surface you’ll be sleeping on. Dirt or grass feels much warmer than rock or ice and snow often feels warmer than rock. If you’re backpacking in winter and sleeping on ice, snow, or cold rock, you’ll want to pick out a sleeping pad with a high R-Value. R-Values range from about 1 to 9.5, with 9.5 being the most insulated.
If you’re a cold sleeper, you’ll want to consider a pad with a higher R-Value, as well. Some manufacturers also give a temperature range for their products but R-Value is the standard measurement you need to understand. A general rule of thumb: An R-Value of 3 or higher is generally sufficient for three-season backpacking while dedicated winter campers should look for a pad with an R-Value of 5 or higher.
Not everyone is the same height, therefore sleeping pads are typically available in different lengths. Regular indicates roughly 72 inches in length, Long (made for taller people) measures around 78 inches, and Short models are about 48 inches.
Note: The Short version isn’t just for shorter people but designed as a method to save weight. It’s intended for use as a quarter-length pad, spanning from the shoulders to below the waist. Clothing or other accessories are meant to be used to cradle your legs while you sleep.
Patch kits are an essential accessory if you’re going to be backpacking with an air pad, in the unfortunate occurrence of a puncture or rip. Most air construction pads come with a repair kit but sometimes you’ll have to purchase one separately — such as with the REI Flash. You do not want to set out on a backpacking expedition without a patch kit or you could risk sleeping on cold ground for an extended period of time.
If you dislike the process of inflating a sleeping pad, you can also consider purchasing a hand pump but remember, you’ll have to carry the extra weight. The innovative Therm-A-Rest AirTap Pump Kit is a handy alternative as it turns a bag or stuff sack into its own air pump.