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
- Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
- Inclusion Criteria
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Women’s
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad [unisex]
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad
- Which Pad is Right for Which Season?
- REI Co-op Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad
- Tip | How to Prevent Pad Punctures
- Foam Sleeping Pads
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL
- Tip | Did the “new” Therm-a-Rest pads get warmer or colder?
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.
- Table of backpacking sleeping pad performance | R-value/weight (warmth) & R-value/cost ($ value)
- Why a “Women’s” 66-inch pad might work for you
- Your sleeping pad may not be warm enough
- “Which Pad is Right for Which Season?” is not the right question
- How to Prevent Pad Punctures & Field Repair Punctures
- New ASTM FF3340 Sleeping Pad R-Value Test. Why you should be excited about it.
- Did the “new” Therm-a-Rest pads get warmer?
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
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.
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
STAFF PICK — one pad does it all: The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad Women’s is a nearly 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 site, 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 it closer to a 3+ season pad (colder shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring) and have happily used it too 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. 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
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad [unisex]
HIGHLIGHTS: A best all-around pad 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
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. The 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 is 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.
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
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. 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 seasons 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 nighttime 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 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 the night time temps below freezing: When temperatures are already below freezing before you go to bad 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 a foam torso kicker-pad to increase warmth in the critical upper body area.
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
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
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 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.
Foam Sleeping Pads
Cheap and Durable
While they aren’t the lightest or warmest pads out there, foam pads have several 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 nonslippery. 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
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 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 airs 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) its 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 want 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 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 the T-Rests old test. See examples below:
NeoAir XLite Example | Air Inflated Pads
The old test value was based on 80% of the fully advertised 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 a 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!
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