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Love it or hate it, humans need to spend around eight hours a day asleep to be at their peak.
Even missing an hour or two a night has shown to have considerable effects on decision making, physical performance, and emotional balance. All of which are things you’re already going to be lacking when pushing yourself outdoors.
That’s why it’s so important to find a quality and comfortable backpacking sleeping pad.
My grandfather always told me that you should never skimp on the things that separate you from the ground just to save some money.
The boots that carry you during the day and your mattress at night will either make or break you. We’ve already covered the best hiking boots, so let’s talk about how we can save your sleep and back when out in the field.
Before we talk about the best sleeping pad for backpacking, let’s talk about what to look for when choosing a pad. If you already know what to look for, you can use the navigation menu below to skip straight to the reviews section.
- Why a Sleeping Pad is so Important
- What to Look for in a Sleeping Pad
- How to Properly Use a Sleeping System
- Types of Sleeping Pads
- Here Are the Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking
- 1. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (Best Overall)
- 2. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite (Best Value)
- 3. USMC Therm-A-Rest Accordion Foam Sleep Pad (Military Grade)
- 4. Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe (Editor’s Choice)
- 5. NeoAir XTherm Ultralight Sleeping Pad (Best for Cold Weather)
- 6. AceCamp Foam Sleeping Pad
- 7. Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite
- 8. Sleeping Camping Sleeping Pad (Very Popular)
- 9. Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI
- 10. TETON Sport ComfortLite
- 11. Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air
- 12. Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad
- 13. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
- 14. KLYMIT Inertia
- 15. Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Camping Matt
- 16. EXPED Synmat UL
- 17. Therm-a-Rest Prolite
- 18. Big Agnes Third Degree
Why a Sleeping Pad is so Important
When you’re in the field and hiking, your body will be exerting itself harder than it’s used to and consuming a crazy amount of calories just to keep itself running. Even the most minimalist outdoorsmen will agree that a proper sleeping pad is a must if you expect to get anything close to adequate rest.
If you take care of your body it will take care of you, and it starts with making sure you maximize your sleep potential.
If you’re anything like me the first time you saw a sleeping pad, you may have assumed that it was simply for comfort. Ask any servicemen or backpacker, and you’ll hear a frequently repeated saying: “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain”.
Each piece of additional gear adds up quickly, so the enterprising outdoorsman will want to maximize their comfort while minimizing any added weight. With such a premium placed on weight, why bother carrying something that adds weight while only making yourself slightly more comfortable?
Sleeping Pads Provide Insulation
The sleeping pad earns its place in my essential gear list not by being a good cushion, but by serving as a critical piece of insulation between you and the ground. To properly describe the necessity of sleeping pads we need to jump into a little science and explain the R-value.
The insulating capability of any material is called its R-value. Consider it as the sleeping pad’s ability to keep your body heat from moving from you and into the ground. Sleeping on the cold ground will ensure that you spend the night shivering while tossing and turning, robbing you of the energy needed for the next day. You burn more calories while cold as well, which is potentially deadly when out in the wilderness and away from help.
By selecting a pad with an appropriate level of insulation for your activity, you can preserve those precious calories while making sure you wake up well-rested (or as well-rested as you can while camping). Whether in combat, field training, or your own backpacking trip, calorie conservation is essential and unnecessary heat loss is a very real threat.
What to Look for in a Sleeping Pad
Before we get into the meat of the review let’s talk about what factors you’re going to want to look for in a sleeping pad. Depending on what activity you’re doing will dictate a lot on what kind of sleeping pad will serve you best. Going on a long overland backpacking trip in an area with cold nights?
You’re going to want to find something with a small packed size that has a high R-value (more on R-values later). If you’re going car camping and won’t be lugging around all your gear on your back then you can afford to go for a heavier, but much more comfortable pad to sleep on.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sleeping pads you’re often going to have to trade precious ounces for other important features. The most comfortable sleeping pads will undoubtedly be heavier, and the lightest sleeping pads will offer little more than a layer of protection from the ground. Balancing the different factors of weight, insulation, and comfort will be important when considering what kind of camping you’re going to be doing.
Comfort may be a secondary consideration for you when it comes to selecting outdoors equipment, but I would recommend spending your money on something that is as comfortable as possible without sacrificing your other weight and space goals. Long days on the trail with a heavy pack will mean that you need the best possible rest and support to keep you recharged and avoid injury. Remember, it doesn’t matter how light your sleeping pad is if you have to cut a trip short because your back gave out on you. Sleeping pads are not inherently the most supportive mattresses out there, but I strongly advise you to listen to your own body and invest in a supportive mattress if you know you are prone to back trouble.
In practice, the higher the R-value, the better the insulation, and the better you’re going to sleep at night. Of course, thermal insulation doesn’t mean much if your sleeping pad just too bulky to bring with you, so size and weight will play an equally important factor in your decision.
You’re also going to want to make sure that the pad you’re going to be sleeping on is comfortable enough to get you through the night. In this review, I break down the types of sleeping pads available and recommend them based on the kinds of activities they’re best suited to.
Many of you may be coming to this site because you’re looking for tactical gear, and while there isn’t anything very “tactical” about an air mattress, a good sleeping pad can make a lot of difference on your performance in the waking hours.
There are many excellent tactical brands out there that produce excellent gear and equipment for those of us who are more military-minded, but I would caution you all to review a product thoroughly before purchasing it simply because it’s branded as tactical.
Most camping gear is available in subdued colors, and the companies that make them are generally better established and reliable than some tactical shops online. In my research for this article, I found more than a few “mil-spec” sleeping pads that did not seem to be any more than a cheap sleeping pad with subdued coloring and branding. This is unfortunately not uncommon when it comes to tactical gear, and can often make it difficult to find the truly quality gear.
I consider the tactical use of gear that I wear and any tools that I use, but for something like a sleeping pad I turn to the civilian outdoors world because they’re the experts in the field. With that being said, if you find an awesome tactical sleeping bag I would love to hear about it too add to my already too big collection.
How to Properly Use a Sleeping System
I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, but I would regret it if I didn’t take an opportunity to talk about how to maximize your use of a sleeping pad and sleeping system in general.
Being in the Marines you spend a lot of time being uncomfortable, and that leads to some pretty creative thinking about how to get more comfortable. I want to pass on a little bit of my own experience in the art of being comfortable. Starting from the ground up we’re going to want to establish some basics to keep ourselves dry, warm, and comfortable.
The surface you plan on sleeping on should be generally clean and free of any debris such as rocks or twigs. If you’re sleeping without a tent or tarp underneath your sleeping pad it will be very important to clear away anything that could possibly cause a puncture in your sleeping pad. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself waking up both cold and stiff with a useless mattress.
Many sleeping pads also have fabric cutouts on their base that allow you the slide your sleeping pad into the bag, ensuring you don’t roll off in the night. At the end of the day it really just comes down to personal preference. I shift a lot in my sleep, so I always tuck my sleeping pad into my bag. If you don’t have a sleeping bag with the cutout, no worries. Most good sleeping pads will be built with non-slip material on their upper surface which will do the same thing.
Picking the proper weight sleeping bag is just as important as picking the right sleeping pad and can make the difference between a comfortable night and a night spent either sweating or shivering. Just like sleeping pads, sleeping bags will be rated for one, three, or four seasons. I recommend picking up a three-season bag first unless you plan on hitting upper Maine in December as your breakout trip.
If you’re sleeping with nothing between you and the stars, I recommend going with a waterproof sleeping bag cover called a bivy sack. I use these whenever I’m in the field because we often go without a tent and I like the insurance against any surprise rain in the night. They are pretty simple and are essentially a lightweight version of a sleeping bag that completely encloses you and protects you from the rain and insects.
They have a mesh screen near your face to allow air to come in and out without fully exposing you to the elements. Once again, a bivy sack is optional but I would recommend one if you opt-out of a tent.
If you really want to get swanky, I highly recommend investing in an inflatable camping pillow. Sure you can just roll up a jacket to use as a pillow, but getting something like one of these will weigh almost nothing and take up minimal space. Besides, the look of jealousy on your friend’s face will be well worth the dollars spent.
Types of Sleeping Pads
There are multiple types of sleeping pads, each with their own sets of positives and negatives. You’re going to want to think over what kind of activities you’ll be doing outdoors before deciding on which type is best for you.
The first type of sleeping pad is the classic foam core sleeping pad. This is generally a very thin piece of foam that is either rolled or folded accordion-style and is mounted on the outside of your pack. The air pad is essentially a thin air mattress with insulated padding on either both or a single side. Because it is inflated, it can be rolled into a very small size which makes carrying it easier than the foam core.
The self-inflating sleeping pad is a bit of a mixture between the foam core and the air pad. Self-inflating pads are designed to expand upon being unrolled, filling up small cavities within the pad with air, though often they require a few additional breaths to fully inflate.
Due to their larger size, I personally don’t recommend a self-inflated sleeping pad for anything other than car camping, however, I do know multiple people who use them for backpacking and will happily vouch for them.
In this review, I will cover the best sleeping pads in each category while considering their R-value (insulation), size, weight, durability, and comfort. You’ll find that many sleeping pads also come in straight or mummy shapes. The mummy shape (also called tapered) will reduce in width near your feet, reducing the overall weight and size of the sleeping pad. I don’t personally have a large preference on the shape, but if you have a larger frame you may want to opt for the roomier straight cut sleeping pads. This is generally not a problem as most popular brands and models will offer both.
Foam Core Sleeping Pads
The foam core sleeping pad is the rugged adventurer’s best option. This is a multipurpose piece of gear that can be attached to the outside of your pack, saving interior space for other important gear. Foam is inherently lightweight and (mostly) waterproof material that can withstand the elements and keep ongoing. The military issues these pads due to their durable construction and low cost. You won’t find as many high-quality options with foam sleeping pads, but that is mostly because there are only so many possible variations and most people prefer the smaller air pad.
The Foam Sleeping pad can also be used with the other types of sleeping pads on this list which makes it valuable for added comfort and warmth and why I recommend everyone buy one, even if it’s the cheapest option. You’ll be carrying more gear, but the protection between your more expensive air mattress and the ground will be worth the trouble.
When training in the field I would use our issued foam pad and place a thin air mattress over it. The added comfort and warmth were well worth the negative attention I got from my jealous (and much less comfortable) peers.
Advantages of Foam Core Sleeping Pads
The main advantages of foam core pads are that they are durable, puncture-proof, lightweight, waterproof, inexpensive, do not need to be inflated, can be used as a splint in case of emergency, and can double as sit pads.
The air pad is an excellent option if you’re looking for the pad with the smallest form factor once stowed. Depending on which air pad you buy, you’ll find that you can get comfortable while not sacrificing premium storage space inside your pack. You may be worried that a sleeping pad filled only with air would not insulate well, but they generally do very well at keeping you warm while providing you with good cushioning for comfort. Self-inflating sleeping pads will generally cushion you more and are easier to set up but will never be as lightweight or compact as a good air pad. Remember that when you’re on mile fourteen of a twenty-mile day, you will most likely be wishing for a lighter load. If you’re not absolutely set on having a puncture-proof mattress, I recommend this sleeping pad for almost every backpacker.
You will need to take extra care and watch out for sharp objects around your air pad. Unlike the foam and self-inflating sleeping pads, there’s nothing inside an air pad that would provide any insulation or cushioning should it get a puncture. Always be sure to place something between the pad and the ground such as a tarp, tent, or a foam pad to ensure that you’re not going to turn an essential piece of gear into a deflated pancake.
Advantages of the Air Pad
The main advantages of air pads are that they’re lightweight, have a small form factor, have the best R-value for their weight, and are more comfortable than the foam pad.
Here Are the Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking
1. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (Best Overall)
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: You’ll see Therm-a-Rest’s name often in this review, and that’s because the company has deservedly earned a spot as a leader in quality camping equipment.
The NeoAir XLite is their flagship ultralight air pad and was designed to be lightweight and comfortable. I would recommend this pad to someone looking for a 3-season pad that won’t take up too much space or weight in their pack.
The pad rolls up into a surprisingly small size that is easy to contain in an accessory pocket of your pack, reducing the overall load on your back.
You’re going to be making some sacrifices in the name of weight though. The XLite has a lower thickness than most of its competition in its category, meaning the odds of springing a leak will be increased.
This could be seen as a negative, but it’s mostly just a result of its intended ultralight use. If you’re looking for a thicker and more durable pad I would recommend the Sea To Summit Comfort (featured later in this review).
The XLite, like many air pads, will be noisy at first due to the insulation material used inside. However, I noticed that the noisiness stopped after a few nights of wearing in the material. The maximum width of the pad is 25” so if you’re on the larger side or roll around in the night a lot you may want to look elsewhere.
This is one of the lightest air pads you’ll be able to find that still delivers good insulation and to top it off, it rolls up smaller than a water bottle
It’s lightweight and very comfortable, even for side sleepers. The bottom line is, if this pad is within your price range, it’s easily one of the best sleeping pads for backpacking.
Packed Size: 11” x 4.5”
Material: Rip-stop nylon
2. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite (Best Value)
Sleep Pad Type: Foam Core
My Review: Before I get deep into this review, I want to point out that this pad, the ZLite, is very similar to the SOLite reviewed below.
The ZLite differentiates itself from the SOLite by being available in grey and coyote tan which makes it perfect for the tactical sleeper. Outside of purchasing the USMC foam sleeping pad used, this is the best option for someone looking for a more tactical sleeping pad.
The ZLite is almost identical to the SOLite and the USMC issued Therm-a-Rest pad except for a few small differences which are mostly cosmetic. The ZLite does have a slightly lower R-value compared to the SOLite, but given the minute difference, it is doubtful that you would notice any change when using it.
The ZLite uses dimpled padding to assist in heat retention. The dimpled surface allows the sleeping pad to fold thinner than it otherwise would which is a pretty ingenious idea from Therm-a-Rest.
The bottom line is Therm-a-Rest’s foam sleeping pads are all pretty similar. You’re going to get a quality product whichever route you pick.
I’ll go more in-depth about their pads below in other reviews.
Weight: 14 oz
Packed Size: 5.5” x 20”
Material: Dual density molded foam. Its Dimpled surface allows the pad to fold thin.
3. USMC Therm-A-Rest Accordion Foam Sleep Pad (Military Grade)
Sleep Pad Type: Foam Core
Important Note: Only available on Amazon in used condition, which is the reason it doesn’t have better reviews.
My Review: No sleeping pad list would be complete without giving a mention to the USMC Therm-A-Rest accordion sleeping pad.
This is the very same sleeping pad that is standard issued to every Marine, so I can assure you that when paired with a good sleeping system you’ll be warm enough for whatever the night throws at you.
The pad is very similar to most other foam sleeping pads. It unfolds like an accordion and is held in place by two elastic bands on either side. Color options range between Coyote tan and Coyote tan so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one that matches your style.
Therm-A-Rest doesn’t publicly provide the R-value for this product, but I have never had an issue getting too cold at night. The pad is designed to be attached to the base of your main pack, freeing up space within. You likely won’t be able to find this sleeping pad brand new, but if you’re willing to purchase one used you’ll find a great and inexpensive sleeping pad that is tough and gets the job done.
Therm-a-Rest is a well-trusted company, so with a little research, it will be hard to go wrong with any of their equipment. I was surprised to find that they were actually the developers of this sleeping pad. After all those nights in the field, I had never realized it was the same brand as one of my own sleeping pads!
This pad is near and dear to many hearts, mine included. It’s gotten me through countless nights in the field just as well as some of the more expensive options on this list. To all you Marines out there looking to replace their CIF issued ISO mat before gear inspection, this is the one to buy.
Bottom line: I’m disappointed this pad is difficult to find brand new. So long as you can find one in decent condition, it’s one of the best backpacking sleeping pads out there and will not let you down.
Weight: 21 oz
Packed size: 25” x 5”
R-value: Unstated, but good for every clime and place
Material: Water repellent foam
4. Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe (Editor’s Choice)
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The Q-Core is personally my favorite sleeping pad after having used multiple times.
Big Agnes is a brand that you’re going to see a lot in this article and the larger camping world in general, and that’s because Big Agnes has consistently sold sturdy and reliable gear.
The Q-Core Deluxe is considered a three-season sleeping pad, so you’re going to struggle if you take it below the 32°F that Big Agnes rates it to. Still, I have found the heat insulation to be more than adequate when paired with a solid sleeping bag. The sleeping pad is made from a durable fabric on the exterior with a polyurethane layer underneath for durability. Like most air pads, you’ll spend a while inflating it manually, but the result is well worth the lightheadedness.
The pad is a bit narrow though, so if you find yourself on the larger side, I would recommend trying it out in a store before committing. The exterior material of the pad is soft and comfortable enough to sleep on while also staying quiet, something many sleeping pads struggle to do.
If you’re concerned about warmth in lower temperatures with this pad (or really any pad) you should look into one of the foam sleeping pads as a surface to place your air pad on top of. I generally combine my Q-Core with a cheap foam pad I have unless I happen to be sleeping on sand or inside a tent. That way I get a bit more structure and cushioning while reducing any fears about a puncture developing.
Packed size: 4.5” x 8.5”
R-value: Unspecified, but Big Agnes rates the pad to 32°.
Material: Stretch Fabric on top of Primaloft Silver synthetic insulation
Bottom line: This is a comfortable and supportive pad that deflates quickly and has a relatively small packed size.
5. NeoAir XTherm Ultralight Sleeping Pad (Best for Cold Weather)
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is the warmest, lightest air mattress available. With an R-value of 5.7 you’ll be able to take this air pad anywhere and everywhere, regardless of how cold it gets.
The XTherm uses Therm-a-Rest’s proprietary Thermacapture to radiate heat back into your body to prevent heat loss. The padding inside the air pad works in conjunction with the Thermacapture layer to create a warm, comfortable pad that is also lightweight and compact.
The 2.5-inch thick pad provides a good deal of support and stability as well, meaning you really are getting the best of every world with the NeoAir XTherm. While the price point is high, you’re absolutely getting your money’s worth.
You’re going to have to pay top dollar for high quality, and the XTherm is just that.
It’s comfortable in any sleeping position and is definitely in the running for the best sleeping pad for side sleepers.
Weight: 15 oz
Packed Size: 9” x 4”
Material: 30D/70D HT nylon
Note: This is the warmest air pad per ounce available on the market
6. AceCamp Foam Sleeping Pad
Sleep Pad Type: Foam Core
My Review: For the ultimate penny-pinchers out there, the AceCamp foam sleeping pad will give you an entry-level pad for the lowest cost.
At only $20 you’re surprisingly not going to be missing out on too much of what makes the other foam pads more expensive. AceCamp does not provide any insulation or temperature ratings for its sleeping pad, but it consistently ranks as one of the best budget sleeping pads in consumer reviews.
The accordion-style pad folds into a portable size that can be easily mounted on the exterior of your pack. Ace Camp hasn’t built quite the reputation for itself as some of the other name brands, but for only $20 the Ace Camp sleeping pad is a perfect pad for a beginner just getting into backpacking.
If you’re looking for a foam pad to place underneath an air pad then I would recommend this pad due to its low price point. The combination of foam and air pad will keep you well off the ground and protect your air pad from punctures which would seriously ruin your night.
Weight: 11 oz
Packed Size: 6” x 20”
Material: Lightweight Foam
Bottom line: This pad is durable, has a simple design, and its thermal insulation is more than adequate when matched with the proper sleeping system
7. Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite
Sleep Pad Type: Foam Core
My Review: I would recommend this sleeping pad to someone who wants the benefits of a foam pad at a lower price point.
Therm-a-Rest has built a name for itself as a creator of high quality outdoors sleeping gear made here in the USA.
The RidgeRest SOLite is a lightweight and cheap sleeping pad that will do everything you need it to and not much else. The manufacturer labels the sleeping pad as a four-season pad but given its R-value of 2.8, I would recommend trying it out during a warmer month first before doing any arctic camping.
The benefit of a cheap foam sleeping pad is that it can be cut if necessary, should you want to use it for another purpose or if you don’t need as much space.
You won’t be winning any style points with this sleeping bag, but in a world of flashy outdoors gear, the SOLite humbly does its job. If you’re a smaller size or willing to let your feet hang off the edge of the pad, you can get this sleeping pad for as little as $20 for its smallest size. I would be hard-pressed to find any other name brand sleeping pad at that price brand new.
Weight: 14 oz
Packed size: 8” x 20”
Material: Crosslinked Polyethylene with aluminized exterior for heat reflection
Bottom line: Does everything it is designed to do and will keep you warm
8. Sleeping Camping Sleeping Pad (Very Popular)
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: Sleepingo is a mostly unheard company but is rising in popularity and may very well be a common name in camping gear soon.
Their Camping Mat uses a dimpled air pocket design to trap heat from your body. At only 14 oz, it’s a very lightweight option given the price point, and it packs down into a very compact size. At only $40 I was expecting to find a low quality and disappointing air pad, but I was pleasantly surprised by this sleeping pad.
Sleepingo is able to keep costs low by sticking to a simple but reliable construction method. Both sides of the Sleepingo sleeping pad are made of 20 denier thickness rip stop nylon. It’s not the heaviest material on this list, but should be more than enough as long as you take care to watch where you’re placing it.
The Sleepingo pad isn’t the best review on this list but given its extremely low price, I highly recommend it for a beginner in warmer camping environments. This pad is extremely good quality for the price range
Weight: 14 oz
Packed Size: 8” x 3.5”
Material: Rip stop nylon
9. Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The Seat to Summit Comfort Plus SI combines the durable design and material of Sea to Summits’s NeoAir XLite with the convenience of a self-inflating air pad.
The pad provides three inches of foam for a generous amount of support when fully unrolled and inflated. Like all the self-inflating sleeping pads on this list, you’re going to sacrifice size for the added comfort and convenience of a self-inflating pad. The Comfort Plus SI comes in at 7.5″ x 12″ when packed, smaller than other self-inflating pads but still enough to make storing gear more difficult.
This pad will serve you well if weight and space are not large factors and you value the added comfort of foam and air. Users have also complained about the size of the stuff sack that comes with the Comfort Plus, meaning you may spend more time and energy you like rolling and storing the pad after use.
Your experience with storing the pad will depend entirely on how tightly you roll it and if you even decide to keep the stuff sack. Keep in mind that many people happily use small bungee cords to reduce space and keep their gear tightly stowed.
Weight: 2lb 8 oz
Packed Size: 6.5” x 11”
Material: Polyester with anti-slip print over a polyurethane core
10. TETON Sport ComfortLite
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The TETON Sport ComfortLite family of sleeping pads are perfect for the casual family of car campers. TETON builds all of their sleeping pads to be easily attached together for shared sleeping spaces and also sells junior versions of all their equipment.
Let me warn you, this pad is not meant for the backpacker who carries all of their gear with them. I would never dream of taking anything this large or heavy farther than the parking lot, but it is unmatched as a piece of gear for base camping. You can’t take your actual mattress with you when you go camping, but you can definitely bring your ComfortLite.
As long as you don’t plan on carrying the pad anywhere, the ComfotLite is a great addition to any camping gear loadout. I would combine this pad with a cot if available for maximum comfort in a more established campground. When rolled, the sleeping pad will be larger than many folded foam sleeping pads, meaning you’re definitely not going to be lugging it very far.
Lack of portability aside, the ComfortLite tests and reviews incredibly well and is consistently ranked as one of the most comfortable self-inflating sleeping pads. Due to not needing to use expensive lightweight material for construction, the ComfortLite also manages to be one of the cheapest options on this list.
Weight: 3.4 lbs
Packed Size: 6” x 26”
Material: Microfiber top with non-slip bottom
Bottom Line: One of the most comfortable sleeping pads you’ll find. It’s easy to set up and low cost.
11. Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My review: If your only goal today was to come to this website and order the best air pad available, then you’ve already accomplished everything you set out to do. Big Agnes pulls no punches when developing their products, and the AXL is evidence of their work ethic.
This pad will run you more than most, but that’s generally the price you pay when you want the best of the best. The pad is designed for ultralight backpackers in mind but makes no sacrifices in durability by reducing its weight. The outer material is made of random pattern rip-stop nylon to reduce chances of tearing.
Keep in mind that the sleeping pad is still only rated for three seasons, so it won’t be what you’re looking for if you have plans for camping in sub-freezing temperatures. This pad will keep you comfortable and warm through most nights. It will struggle to keep up on cold nights, but that will be the case with all ultralight sleeping pads.
Weight: 11.9 oz
Rolled Size: 4” x 6.5”
R-value: Unspecified, but Big Agnes rates the pad to 32°F.
Material: Rip-stop nylon on top of Primaloft Silver synthetic insulation. Its rip-stop nylon allows for a highly durable, but lightweight pad.
12. Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: If you enjoy camping but hate the part where you’re actually outside and uncomfortable then this is the air pad for you. The Sea to Summit pad was designed to be as comfortable as possible, and it shows.
The pad utilizes multiple layers of air cells to increase comfort and distribute your weight evenly, allowing you to sleep comfortably even on your side. The distribution of air cells throughout the pad was designed to mirror a spring mattress, to ensure adequate support for your body. After a long day of outdoor activity, you’ll be grateful for deciding to invest in this sleeping pad. Sea to Summit didn’t sacrifice function and durability in the name of comfort either. The pad features rip-stop nylon on the exterior to protect against tears and snags and has a TPU laminate film underneath the surface to maximize heat retention.
The Comfort Light will weigh a bit more than most backpacking pad but depending on what you’re looking for the extra comfort and warmth will be well worth the extra weight. The pad also comes with a pump sack which allows for rapid inflation. By themselves, pump sacks will generally run you over $20 so the inclusion of it is worth noting.
Sea to Summit, an Australian company out of Perth began developing their lightweight gear in 1983 for personal use.
It was not until the founder, Roland Tyson, was hired to create gear for an unprecedented ascent of Mt. Everest from sea level. The success of the expedition led to the creation of the brand Sea to Summit and decades later they’re still producing some really solid equipment.
Weight: 1lb 10.6 oz
Packed Size: 4.5” x 10”
Material: Rip stop nylon exterior covering multiple air cell layers
Bottom line: This is the most comfortable backpacking sleeping pad you’ll find that you can fit in your pack. It also provides good insulation and is durable.
13. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The UberLite is by far one of the lightest options on this list at a whopping 8.8 oz. The NeoAir UberLite is the ultralight edition of the NeoAir XLite covered earlier in this article.
The UberLite, weighing barely over half of a pound and shrinking down to the size of a water bottle will be virtually forgotten inside of your pack. The incredibly low weight means that insulation will suffer, and the UberLite has an R-value rating of 2.0.
The low R-value is mostly a factor of the low weight and the UberLite actually has the best R-value for any air pad under 10 oz. With an inflated thickness of 2.5 inches, the UberLite offers a surprising level of padding for such a low weight.
While insulation may suffer from such a low weight, the UberLite is still made out of the durable rip-stop nylon that Therm-a-Rest uses in their other sleeping pads meaning that you won’t have to worry about your gear bursting a whole because it’s so light.
The UberLite will serve you well in the summer months, but it is a bit narrow with a slippery surface meaning you might find yourself sliding right off the top in the night if you shift a lot in your sleep. The deflated UberLite feels almost like a kitchen trash bag due to how thin it is, but don’t let its construction fool you.
The air pad is still ranked as one of the most comfortable air pads available among all sleeping pads, not just the ultralight ones! You’ll be spending a bit more than average on this pad, but you absolutely won’t be throwing your money away.
Due to its lighter weight, I would absolutely encourage you to bring along a patch kit that you’re familiar with using. Most sleeping pads will come with a basic kit, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to acquaint yourself with the process. The UberLite wouldn’t be on this review if it was highly prone to breaking, but any piece of ultralight gear will carry some additional risk due to its construction.
Weight: 8.8 oz
Packed Size: 3.5”x 6”
Material: Ripstop nylon
Bottom line: This pad is incredibly low weight, offers a high level of thickness for the weight, and is made of a from durable material.
14. KLYMIT Inertia
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The KLYMIT inertia almost shouldn’t even be on this list. I don’t know that I can honestly call it a sleeping pad, but people are raving about this strange skeleton shaped inflatable pad so I felt it deserves a spot on this list.
KLYMIT reinvented the wheel with the Inertia by providing enough support and cushioning for your body, and nothing else. The inflatable tubing that makes up the structure of this pad can be fully inflated in a quick 3-4 breaths leaving you with what looks like a ladder crossed with a pool toy.
The extreme minimalist approach to the Inertia seeks to provide padding across your body while minimizing unneeded material. Side sleepers will want to avoid this pad due to the gaps between the padding, but depending on your sleeping style the Inertia can provide a comfortable and extremely lightweight surface to sleep on.
The Inertia is very lightweight and can roll up smaller than the size of a soda can. The Inertia, unfortunately, sacrifices nearly all of its insulating capability due to its structure. You won’t want to use this sleeping pad for anything but warm summer nights, and even then only with a blanket nearby.
The inertia is perfect for people who fit it perfectly. It’s incredibly low cost for an air pad means that people who are drawn to it won’t have to break the bank for a unique piece of gear.
The KLYMIT Inertia is perfect for specific people, and pretty much useless for others. It will all depend on your sleeping position and size. I would recommend taking a look at one in person at a place like REI before purchasing online. You’ll save some money by testing it in the shop and buying online to avoid the store markup.
KLYMIT is also one of the few companies that also make their sleeping pads in tactical coyote tan. The tan will be a lot less noticeable than the vibrant neon green of the civilian counterpart. The tactical color will cost you though, as most of their products seem to have a $20 markup for the color choice.
Weight: 9.1 oz
Packed Size: 3” x 6”
Material: Polyester top and bottom
Note: This pad has the smallest packed size and is incredibly lightweight. Due to its design, if you’re a side sleeper, I do not recommend this product
15. Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Camping Matt
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap offers a warmer, albeit heavier alternative to the ComfortLite for car camping. Therm-a-Rest continues its tradition of excellence with the LuxuryMap.
You won’t want to carry this pad too far but given that it’s specialized for extreme cold its unlikely that thought ever entered your mind. The LuxryMap has an R-value of 6.8 meaning you’re going to be comfortable and warm in any environment with its 3 inches of cushioning.
Therm-a-Rest debuted their pressure mapping pattern technology with the LuxuryMap meaning that the padding has varying levels of firmness throughout the sleeping pad to better conform to your body.
The LuxuryMap uses less dense foam in the areas where your body will place the most pressure on the pad. Because of this, you’ll find that you sink comfortably into the mattress. I would compare this mattress very closely to the Comfort Plus SI and actually recommend it over it if you were planning on camping in colder environments.
The body mapping ensures padding is firm and soft where your body needs it. It’s warm enough to keep you warm in all but the most extreme cold environment
Weight: 4lbs 3oz
Packed Size: 6.4” x 26”
Material: Polyester knit exterior over urethane foam
16. EXPED Synmat UL
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The EXPED Synmat UL is one of the best options on the market for someone looking for a lightweight air pad that is rated for colder temperatures.
The insulation of the Synmat is rated to 28.4 degrees F, allowing for camping in cooler seasons and environments. The 2.5 inches of thickness provided by this pad is not common among other pads of similar weight and size.
The Synmat also includes a pump sack which allows for quick and easy inflation. Using a pump sack will also increase the longevity of an air pad compared to breath inflation which introduces humidity and bacteria to the inside of the air pad.
The non-slip surface of the pad will ensure that you won’t slide all over the pad while shifting in your sleep, an issue present in other pads.
EXPED is one of the lesser-known brands included in this review, but that doesn’t mean their sleeping pads are of any less quality than the bigger names you have probably heard of. The Synmat UL isn’t a self-inflating pad, but it does have some internal insulating material.
The mattress is built with synthetic microfiber filling in both the upper and lower surfaces which add extra padding and separation between your sleeping bag and the bulk of the mattress. A regular sleeping pad will push against your sleeping bag, flattening the insulation in your bag and increasing heat loss.
The Synmat UL negates the loss of loft with its insulating material which allows your sleeping bag to more fully expand and trap your body heat. The fact that EXPED was able to include the additional insulation while still keeping the mattress lightweight and compact is a testament to their engineering and design skill.
Pros: Includes pump sack, Non-slip surface, Excellent customer service
Weight: 21 oz
Packed Size: 4.3” x 10.6”
Material: Polyester over a TPU laminate film and microfiber insulation
Note: Includes pump sack and excellent customer service
17. Therm-a-Rest Prolite
Sleep Pad Type: Air Pad
My Review: The Therm-a-Rest Prolite is perhaps the best option available to the backpacker looking for a self-inflating pad that doesn’t sacrifice too much in the way of size or weight.
The Prolite manages to pack away into a small size rivaling many of the pure air pads while still maintaining convenience. Therm-a-Rest claims that the Prolite is the lightest and smallest self-inflating sleeping pad available, and I am inclined to agree with them.
I have yet to find a self-inflating sleeping pad that I would be happier to carry with me. Like all the self-inflating sleeping pads on this list, the Prolite will self-inflate most of the way and allow the user to further inflate it to their desired firmness.
You won’t have to worry about getting too lightheaded from blowing with this pack while on the trail, and your camping setup routine will go that much faster. The Prolite has an R-value of 2.4, meaning you’re going to be limited to the good 3 seasons unless you’re willing to double up with a foam pad underneath.
Weight: 1lb 2 oz
Packed Size: 4.1” x 11”
Material: Rip-stop polyester on a Urethane Foam base
Bottom Line: Ultralight self-inflating sleeping pad with a durable exterior. Best in class for weight and packed size
18. Big Agnes Third Degree
Sleep Pad Type: Foam Core
My Review: Rounding out our list of foam sleeping pads is the Big Agnes Third Degree Foam Pad. This pad will provide the much-needed insulation and separation from that ground that you need while still being portable. Unlike the other foam options out there, the third degree rolls up instead of folding like an accordion.
There won’t be any difference in thermal performance because of this, but you may find that it is more difficult to pack tightly due to it naturally wanting to unroll. The shape and method of packing ultimately just comes down to personal preference, and I’ve personally never had any issue with it unrolling on me.
One benefit of a rolled foam pad generally unavailable with accordion-style pads is their ability to be cut and shaped as necessary. Many backpackers opt to cut off the pad below knee length to reduce weight while still maintaining thermal insulation in the torso. I have used plenty of mats like it in the past and can vouch for their effectiveness. The third degree offers everything you need in a nice, affordable option.
Big Agnes is another company that I believe earns a little spotlight. I am unashamed to recommend their tent line to anyone I speak to because they make some seriously tough and lightweight equipment. Big Agnes was founded twenty years ago out of Colorado and have since done very well for themselves. I love to support small businesses in my hobbies, especially ones that provide good employment for people right here in the USA.
Weight: 12 oz
Packed Size: 6” x 20”
Material: Closed-cell foam in two layers. It’s Lightweight for its class and can be cut to further reduce weight.
Wrapping it Up
I hope by now we’ve established why you really need to include a sleeping pad in your gear kit. With any luck, you’ll have an idea of what kind of sleeping pad will work best for your needs.
Take it from me, two in the morning is just about the worst time to learn these lessons when you’re on your first night out. At worst, a sleeping pad will keep a layer of separation between you and the ground, and at its best, it could very well save your life.
Sleeping pads aren’t the most exciting piece of gear in my pack, but I wouldn’t think of heading outdoors without such an important piece of gear.
We’ve also discussed some companies of exceptional quality. Most of them sell a large selection of other outdoors gear that ranges in importance from convenient to potentially life-saving.
In general, you can trust all of the companies in this review to carry their high quality into their other products as well. Big Agnes makes excellent tents, and almost all of my stuff sacks are from Sea to Summit. You’ll find that the world of outdoors gear isn’t too saturated and the options that are available are generally well made. I
Most of the pads included in this review come in well under $200, meaning you won’t be breaking the bank just to outfit yourself with some high-quality equipment.
There are some cheaper alternatives on the market, but when dealing with an air pad capable of being rendered useless with the smallest hole you’re going to want to invest in a durable pad of high quality.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop them below. I will respond as quickly as possible.
Lieutenant Wells is a lifelong outdoorsman who has spent time camping and backpacking around the world. He is also a rock climbing hobbyist and is planning a summit of Mount Hood for his next trip with his fiancée. He is passionate about aviation outside of the Marine Corps and first became licensed as a private pilot in 2015.