The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads for 2019
We’re just going to level with you: sleeping outside isn’t as cushy as sleeping inside. (Shocking, we know.) But if you’re backpacking and trying to stay safe, warm, and as comfortable as possible, you’ll need a sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground. After checking dozens of review sites and hundreds of customer reviews - and considering our own experiences - we put together a list of top-notch sleeping pads for backpacking. Looking for the best overall? We recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, a delightful inflatable that delivers mid-range insulation at a low weight cost. Sleep cold, or going somewhere colder? Our pick for More Insulation is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, only three ounces heavier for nearly double the insulating power. If you’re anxious to get out there but don’t have much to spend, we love the Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol for its low price and low weight for a closed-cell foam pad. (We swear we don’t work for Therm-a-Rest, but what they do good, they do good.) Check out our full list, other brands included, here, or take a look at:
How we picked
Gathering the best sleeping pads for your backpacking adventures took some work. We dove into reviews from Adventure Junkies, Clever Hiker, Digital Trends, Outdoor Gear Lab, Section Hiker, Switchback Travel, and Wirecutter. Where these professional reviews overlapped, we checked out Amazon, REI, and Backcountry reviews of those pads, and compared those reviews with our own experiences with them, where we could. While this is a review for backpacking sleeping pads - and you might want something more cushy if you’re going car camping - these will work for either endeavor.
A couple notes, though, before we get into the nitty gritty:
Three out of our five recommended pads are from Therm-a-Rest. Why, you might ask? A couple reasons, and none of them are “they paid us to do it.” Therm-a-Rest pretty much only makes sleepy-time outdoors gear, and it’s best known as a company for its sleeping pads. They take into account what users are saying, and pay attention to things like weight and durability (they even made a couple of pads less crinkly after users complained of being awoken by the loud noise). They even have a limited lifetime warranty on all their products (not including wear and tear), so if your valve fails or you get a leak at a seam, they’ll repair it for you for free. And because of all these qualities, people have put their Therm-a-Rest pads through rough use - and found them to hold up despite it. They top our list for a reason, and we wanted to make sure you knew it.
On the other end of the scale, none of our recommended pads were from Sea to Summit. This isn’t because we hate them as a brand, or we don’t think they make good sleeping pads. Six of the seven sites we surveyed included a Sea to Summit pad on their list - unfortunately, all six chose a different model. So while we’re pretty confident recommending Sea to Summit as a brand for sleeping pads, we weren’t quite sure which one to recommend. We only want to recommend products that will work for our readers and are standout favorites at other review sites; as such, we kept our list shorter rather than taking a wild guess at a model that would work for you.
Lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, our fearless leader Liz Thomas co-wrote the Wirecutter piece. Her picks are corroborated by the other professional reviews, so never fret.
New piece, who dis
I’m Amanda, or Zuul to folks on long-distance backpacking trails. (That’s my trail name, as I’m a bit of a nerd.) I’m not particularly new around these here Treeline Review parts; I write on backpacking gear here, so you might have seen my pieces on Rain Jackets, Water Filters, Backpacking Tents, and/or Hiking Poles before. I’ve also written about going stoveless (and my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike) for Backpacker Magazine, and about being outside for Griots Republic. I’ve got right around 3500 miles under my feet, and I walked 3300 of those miles solo, beholden to nothing but the whims of nature and my on-again off-again hiker hunger. Between those miles and a year as a Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer, I’ve spent nearly a year of my life sleeping on sleeping pads - in deserts and lush valleys, on mountainsides and beachsides. I’m still a Leave No Trace Master Educator, and I now serve on the board of the American Long Distance Hiking Association - West.
How to choose the best sleeping pad for you
Wondering what pad’s gonna give you the best zzz’s? You’re going to make the best choice for you if you ask yourself a few questions first:
While weight is a big consideration - especially for backpacking - how much weight is going to matter to you depends primarily on what you’ll be doing with your sleeping pad. Will you mostly be using it for car camping, with a stretch of backpacking here and there? A slightly heavier pad might not be so much of a bother. Headed out on a thru-hike attempt? You’re going to want something light enough to not be a burden, but comfortable enough that you sleep well for those long days ahead. We’ve chosen a range of sleeping pads between 12 and 16 ounces, so you can find what you’re looking for.
How warm or cold do you sleep?
Whether you toss the covers to the floor the second you fall asleep, or wake up in the morning as a blanket burrito, chances are you know how warm or cold you sleep. Even if it’s warm outside, and even if you’re in a sleeping bag, contact between you and the ground is going to pull the heat from your body through conductive heat loss. Maybe that’s okay in the warmest of climates for the warmest of sleepers, but what if the conditions are something less than perfect? What if, say, you’re a cold sleeper looking to do some winter camping? Nearly everyone wants some amount of insulation between them and the ground, but how much you need is going to depend on the weather in addition to how warm you sleep.
Selecting a sleeping pad with an eye not only to comfort but also to insulation rating will make sure you get the night of sleep that you’re looking for. Insulation is measured in R-value, with higher numbers meaning more insulation. All of our top picks have R-values that range from 2.6 to 5.7. If you sleep warm, and you’re headed out in warm weather, lower R-values work just fine. If you sleep cold even through the summer months, you might want to look for R-values in at least the 3-4 range. To learn more about the science behind R-values, check out this blogpost and story from Outside that explain how they’re calculated and why it’s important. See our comparison chart to see a side-by-side comparison of the r-values of the sleeping bags we considered.
What position do you sleep in?
While some folks can sleep in any position - and we here at Treeline desperately envy them that - the rest of us have to deal with the position our body finds most comfortable. But the best pad for side sleepers may not be the best pad for back sleepers, and even stomach and back sleepers may not get the same comfort out of the same pad. Side sleepers in particular run the risk of “bottoming out,” or ending up with their hips and shoulders touching the ground through even an inflatable pad. If you’re a side sleeper that wants to avoid this at all costs, we generally recommend inflatable pads that are at least 2.5 inches thick. We’ve made sure our sleeping pads cover the full range of sleep positions so that stomach, back, and side sleepers can all be comfy cozy as they drift off to sleep.
What’s your budget?
As much as we’d love to have the sleeping pad of our dreams, expense is, unfortunately, a consideration. And when only one of our picks is under $100, with the rest in the $100-200 range, a sleeping pad can seem like a barrier to sleeping outside and doing the things you love. One thing to remember, however, is that how well you sleep often determines how well you hike, bike, climb, or adventure the following day. We feel a good sleeping pad is worth the weight it lifts out of your bank account, but ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you and your budget.
Criteria to consider (aside from price):
Okay, okay - you really want to know what the best sleeping pad for backpacking is? Well, we’d love to tell you flat out, here it is, this is the one - but we can’t. We don’t know what makes you comfortable and gives you a good night’s rest. We’ve chosen five sleeping pads that will serve most folks well, but below are things to consider when you’re choosing from among them.
When you’re looking to go backpacking, chances are you’re not looking to haul around that queen-sized, two-feet-thick air mattress from ye olde box store that works like a charm for car camping. But if you’re like most folks, you’re also not looking to sleep on a ⅛-inch thick piece of foam that’s little better than sleeping in the dirt just to save a few ounces. A reasonable backpacking sleeping pad will weigh a pound or less; all of the sleeping pads on our list fit that bill.
Yes, yes, we rambled on about R-value in the How to Choose section, but it really is an important consideration in a sleeping pad. Whether you toss the covers to the floor the second you fall asleep, or wake up in the morning as a blanket burrito, chances are you know how warm or cold you sleep. Selecting a sleeping pad with an eye not only to comfort but also to insulation rating will make sure you get the night of sleep that you’re looking for. If you sleep warm, and are going out in the warm, low R-values are fine; if you sleep cold, even in the summertime, you’re likely going to want to look for something in the 3-4 range. The R-values of sleeping pads on our list range from 2.6 to 5.7.
A good sleeping pad helps you get the best night’s sleep possible, and part of a good night’s sleep is feeling comfortable. There are generally two types of sleeping pads: closed-cell foam sleeping pads, which are thinner and more utilitarian in nature, and inflatable sleeping pads, which are thicker and loft you off the ground. Inflatable sleeping pads tend to be more comfortable and have a higher R-value than closed-cell foam pads, but the latter can also be used as sit pads during the day - and they’re significantly cheaper and more durable than inflatables. No sleeping pad will feel as comfortable as a bed, but it’s worth considering how far from that bed-like experience you want to get.
Ease of use
When you’re rolling into camp after a long, hard day, how much work do you want to have ahead of you to set up your sleeping place? Is your brain not functioning as usual, and you need the shortest distance between two points (upright and horizontal)? You might want the ease of just laying out a closed-cell foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol. If you’re willing to spend more than just a hot second constructing your nighttime burrow, then an inflatable might do just fine. But know thyself: which is best for you?
A solid sleeping pad will run you at least $45, so it’s worth talking about how long they’ll last. More-expensive inflatable pads will last a long time, with good care - we know of folks who have spent over 12,000 miles with one Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, for example. Closed-cell foam pads get compressed over time, losing their squish over the course of a couple of seasons. While pad compression doesn’t necessarily mean that the insulation is shot, it does make the pad a lot less comfortable to sleep on. (Just because it’s still usable doesn’t mean you still want to use it.) To our mind, the expense of the inflatables is justified over the life of the pads, but a closed-cell foam pad is great for starters and kids - and, after it’s too compressed to sleep on, can be cut smaller and used as pads for sitting on through its twilight days.
Other tips and sleeping pad tricks
If you choose an inflatable, always check to make sure there aren’t any leaks before you leave
There’s nothing like getting out on the trail, having a spectacular day, and noticing entirely too late that your inflatable sleeping pad has a leak in it. Check for leaks before you leave by filling a tub, dunking the inflated pad with the valve closed, and watching for bubbles to appear. Adding some soap to the water can help make the bubbles more apparent. To check for leaks in the field, you can do the same in a pond or a lake - but don’t put soap, even biodegradable soap, into natural water sources. To help prevent leaks while in storage, always store your inflatable pad with the valve open, to allow air to escape as necessary. This helps prevent seam leaks, which are harder to fix.
If you choose an inflatable, carry the repair kit
Or at least a portion of the repair kit, like the glue (which has multiple uses, for folks with ultralight aspirations). If you don’t want to wait for the glue to dry before you pack it away, bring a decent-sized patch. Like we said, your inflatable sleeping pad can’t do its job very well if the air doesn’t stay on the inside. We think it’s a small price to pay for more comfort.
Even if you don’t choose an inflatable, be choosy about where you set up
Sweep the area with your foot to make sure there aren’t any pokey-proddys underneath where you’d like to sleep. If the ground is on a slant, most people prefer their head to be on the higher side, so it doesn’t feel like all the blood in your body is pooling in your head. And always try to follow Leave No Trace Principle 2, and find a durable surface to camp on - whether that’s grass in an open meadow, bare dirt, or rock beneath a sturdy tree.
Clean it (we guess?)
The nice thing about sleeping pads is that they perform well whether they’re dirty or not - but your sleeping bag might pick up some of the grime, which, over time, can decrease the warmth of your bag. Sleeping pads can be cleaned with a damp rag, or with alcohol wipes for things like pine tree sap.
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad For Most Folks
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
A perennial favorite of backpackers and thru-hikers alike, no list of best sleeping pads for backpacking would be complete without the inflatable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. This bright yellow beaut is lightweight, with the Regular coming in at 12 ounces, and packs down to about the size of a Nalgene.
It comes in four lengths - Small (47”), Women’s (66”), Regular (72”), and Large (77”), with the Large also having a bit more width (25” vs. 20” for the other models). Each of the sizes is tapered at the foot to fit into tents that are similarly tapered, and the Regular takes about 25-35 breaths to fill.
At 2.5 inches thick, the XLite is great for back and stomach sleepers, and while the horizontal baffles might make nestling in harder for side sleepers, reviews suggest most side sleepers tend not to “bottom out.” With an R-value of 3.2 - or 3.9 for the Women’s, as female-bodied folks tend to sleep colder - most XLites are good to about 20F, according to the manufacturer.
While review sites don’t tend to agree on much, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite was a commonality between all the sites we reviewed, receiving much praise. Wirecutter in particular mentioned that the surface of the pad, rather than being slippery and hard to stay on, like some sleeping pad models, was grippy throughout the night, making it easier for slick sleeping bags to find purchase and not slide off.
If we’re being nitpicky, though, Outdoor Gear Lab mentioned that some testers felt the XLite was more narrow than the stated 20 inches, making it less comfortable than it otherwise could be. The other common issue with the XLite is that of “crinkliness” - the material inside the XLite that provides most of its insulation is loud, and sometimes causes light sleepers to wake up when they change positions. While Outdoor Gear Lab says that this has changed in more recent iterations, folks looking to get the best price on the normally-$170 XLite should keep this in mind.
Therm-a-rest neoair xlite
Best 4-Season Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Almost as popular as the NeoAir XLite, the inflatable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is another top contender for best backpacking sleeping pad - especially if you like winter camping. At only three ounces heavier than the XLite - 15 ounces instead of 12 - the XTherm provides a whopping R-value of 5.7, which Therm-a-Rest suggests is good for temperatures down to -40F(!). Plus, it has the same packed size as the XLite - about the size of a Nalgene - and requires a similar number of breaths to fill (25-35). The XTherm comes in two sizes: Small (20” x 72”) and Large (25” x 77”).
While the pad is solid for side sleepers, at 2.5 inches thick, and good for back sleepers as well, stomach sleepers might want to take particular note of this pad. As Wirecutter suggests that about 50% of a stomach sleeper’s warmth is derived from the R-value of both a compressed sleeping bag’s insulation (generally negligible) and the sleeping pad you choose, a higher R-value sleeping pad like the XTherm might help you sleep warmer.
The biggest issue reviewers had with this pad? It’s pricey. At $200, it’s the most expensive pad on our list. Still, you get what you pay for, particularly with regard to the R-value and this pad’s durability; as the fabric is heavier than the $170 XLite's, it’s also better able to take wear and tear. If you’re looking for a pad for four-season camping, and you can afford it, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is a choice that will carry you through season after season to come.
therm-a-rest neoair xtherm
Best Foam Pad
Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol
With so much love for inflatable sleeping pads out there, it’s easy to get sticker shock if you’re not prepared. (See: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm.) Closed-cell foam pads are a much cheaper option, and in our humble opinion the best among them is the Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol. It’s 14 ounces - lighter (and more durable) than the blue foam pad you can find at big box stores - and usually only slightly more expensive, at $45 for a regular length.
Good for back, stomach, and side sleepers, it packs down to about the dimensions of the back panel of a backpack (20” x 5” x 5.5”) and can provide support if you decide to go frameless, and has an R-value of 2.6 - about 37F, which works just fine for most folks for the summer months. The ZLite Sol also comes in two sizes: Small (20” x 51”) and Regular (20” x 72”). If you need something smaller or in-between, you have the option of cutting off one or more of the folding panels to lighten up a bit.
Among professional reviewers, this was another well-loved pad - well, well-loved-for-closed-cell-foam pad. But closed-cell foam offers some perks over inflatable pads. The primary perk is an inability to fail. While you still wouldn’t want to lay it out over pinecones, a closed-cell foam is great for folks who are harsh on gear, as it can take more damage than an inflatable pad and not lose its insulating properties. As such, it’s for youth, who may or may not see a difference between jumping on an inflatable pad and jumping on a bed. It’s also better for hammock users, who, if they use a pad instead of an underquilt, need it to curve to their bodies to be most comfortable. And if you’re headed out to the desert, where stabby, deflating things abound, or on an international trip where Therm-a-Rest can’t reach you with a replacement, it’s nice to have a pad that won’t let you down.
The issues? The dimples in the pad’s surface can collect dirt, dust, and snow. Also, closed-cell foam eventually compresses, reducing both comfort and R-value. Ultimately, though, these drawbacks don’t diminish the Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol in our eyes as a budget pad, a trying-out-backpacking-for-the-first-time pad, or a pad for a youngling.
THERM-A-REST ZLITE SOL
Best Value Insulated Pad
REI Co-Op Flash Insulated
If the Therm-a-Rest ZLite Sol just isn’t comfortable enough for you, but you’re trying to keep costs down, have a look at the REI Co-op Flash Insulated. The Flash Insulated is fairly comparable to our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, in a few ways. It comes in four sizes, with two lengths (Long, 78”, and Regular, 72”), and two widths (standard, 20”, and Wide, 25”) - and it’s worth noting that the Long and Wide measurements are larger than industry standard. At $100 for the standard Regular size, it has a relatively reasonable price tag for what you get.
In a few areas, its specs aren’t quite as good as the XLite. Its packed size is slightly larger, it’s a bit heavier than the XLite at 15 ounces, and it’s slightly thinner at 2 inches thick.
That thickness, in particular, means less versatility: the half-inch difference between the Flash Insulated and the XLite means reports of “bottoming out” among some side sleepers. Other side sleepers, however, report better sleep than the XLite, due to the pocketed air baffles on the Flash Insulated.
However, our main concern with the Flash is the numerous customer complaints about quality and reliability. Our staff have purchased this pad only to have it fail on its first trip. REI was kind enough to replace it, but the replacement failed, too. With this pad, it seems like you get what you pay for. And we think it’s better to worth paying for a pad that is more reliable.
REI CO-OP FLASH INSULATED
Best Hybrid Sleeping Pad
Big Agnes Q-Core SLX
If you’re doing a lot of car camping and beginning to explore the weight-laden wonders of backpacking, we recommend the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX. Six of the seven sites we reviewed mentioned the Q-Core SLX, and with good reason. With six different sizes to this rectangular pad, the Q-Core SLX is one of the most body-diverse inflatable pads out there, with heights ranging from 66-78 inches and widths from 20-40 inches.
At $160, it’s slightly less than the price of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, though with the Regular size at 16 ounces, it’s the heaviest sleeping pad on our list. Why the weight? The Q-Core SLX is a whopping 3.5 inches thick in the middle, with 4.25-inch rails along the long edges, to keep sleepers centered at night.
All the baffles, rails included, are vertical, making this pad a dream for side sleepers. And while Big Agnes doesn’t test for R-value, they suggest the pad is good down to 32F.
If you decide to start backpacking more frequently, you might want to make the switch to a lighter pad, but if you’re looking for comfort at both drive up and walk-in campsites, the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is a great choice.
Big Agnes q-Core slx
So while we’re satisfied with our picks, we thought we’d throw in some notable contenders to talk about pads that seem to be pretty popular - and why they didn’t make our cut.
Klymit Static Insulated V-Lite
The inflatable Klymit Static Insulated V-Lite came up a couple of times in our review of popular reviews - particularly for its slightly-thicker side rails and v-shaped baffles that are ostensibly more comfortable for side sleepers. With a 23-inch width, an R-value of 4.4, and a $95 price tag, there’s a lot to like about this pad. The tradeoff? It’s loud and crinkly, it’s less durable than other pads, it doesn’t taper (so it’s harder to fit into tapered tents), and weighs a whopping 19.9 ounces - nearly a quarter of a pound more than our heaviest pick. We recommend the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX if you’re looking for something similar, but if you want an inflatable and are tight on funds, the Klymit Static Insulated V-Lite might be what you’re looking for.
Exped SynMat HL
Think the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, but with vertical baffles, and you’re halfway to imagining the Exped SynMat HL. They’re comparable in a lot of ways: pricing ($180 for the SynMat vs. $170 for the XLite), R-value (3.3 for the SynMat vs. 3.2 for the XLite), thickness (2.8 inches for the SynMat vs. 2.5 inches for the XLite), and packed size (the SynMat is nominally smaller). The SynMat is, however, a quarter of a pound heavier at 15.5 ounces (vs. 12 for the XLite) - and the valve, rather than being a twist-lock valve that sticks out, is flush with the pad, making it harder to inflate by mouth. It does come with a “pumpsack” - a stuff sack designed to help you blow up the SynMat - but that comes at the cost of an extra 2.1 ounces, putting the total system at 17.6 ounces. We recommend the XLite if you’re looking for something similar, but if you’re a side sleeper for whom the XLite just won’t do, consider the SynMat instead.
Klymit Inertia X-Frame
The oddball among sleeping pads, the inflatable Klymit Inertia X-Frame kind of looks like the skeleton of a sleeping pad. While it has support for head, shoulders, hips and feet, the spaces in between are riddled with intentional gaps, to keep this sleeping pad as light as possible. And it does a phenomenal job - the X-Frame is the lightest full-length inflatable pad we know of, at 8.5 ounces. It’s pretty light on the pocketbook, too, at a cool $70. Thing is, because of of all the gaps, R-value can’t really be measured, so this is more of a warm-weather pad than the ones we recommend above. That said, one of our number here at Treeline carried one for over 3,000 miles and loved it to seam failure - and she’s sending it back for repairs. So while we recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite for three-season backpacking, if you’re looking for a summer inflatable that won’t run you much more than the ZLite Sol, consider the X-Frame instead.
Sea To Summit Ultralight Insulated
We figured we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Sea To Summit, as the brand has quite the following: nearly all of the professional review sites we visited had a Sea To Summit’s pad on their list. Trouble is, none of them agreed on which Sea To Summit pad was best, though we’ve heard good things about the Ultralight Insulated. It’s in the general price range of our inflatable pads ($130), has an R-value of 3.3, and its pocketed (rather than baffled) design makes it more comfortable for side sleepers.
Our main beef? The weight, which runs at 16.9 ounces not including the stuffsack that acts as a pump for the flat valve. This seems like overkill when pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite are only 12 ounces, or more insulated pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm are only 15 ounces for 1.5 times the R-value. Still, if you’re a side sleeper who is willing to pay in both dollars and weight, you might want to take a look at the Sea To Summit Ultralight Insulated.