The biggest concern with backpacking sleeping pads is finding the right balance between comfort and weight. And this balance depends largely on the individual. Ounce-counters may prefer the lightest pad possible, even if it means forgoing some comfort.
However, other backpackers may prefer to give up weight in other areas so they can happily carry a larger, more comfortable sleeping pad.
There are benefits to both approaches, but it’s worth knowing what matters most to you before continuing. We’ve broken down the best backpacking sleeping pads into categories to help you find the right sleeping pad for you.
Our team has collectively tested hundreds of various sleeping pads, with current author and Senior Editor Chris Carter having put over 10 different pads through the wringer in the past year alone. He cuddled up on these lightweight inflatables all over the world, from high alpine shiver bivies on months-long thru-hikes, to wobbly portaledges dangling thousands of feet in the air on big wall climbs. No stone was left unturned in an effort to narrow in on the most deserving pads for this guide.
While testing each model we focused on a number of key metrics. Every pad we blew up had to demonstrate outstanding durability, comfort, and insulation to merit any real estate in this guide, and we paid special attention to pack size, warmth-to-weight ratios, and ease of inflation. Rest assured — we would depend on anything in this roundup for our backcountry beauty sleep.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide and use our comparison chart or FAQ section to help finalize your decision.
Editor’s Note: We refreshed this article on November 28, 2023, adding the new Tensor Extreme Conditions pad from NEMO, additional details about our testing practices, and much more information in the buyer’s guide. We also made sure our product list is up-to-date with current models, colorways, and designs.
The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2023
- Best Overall Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT
- Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Klymit Static V
- Warmest Backpacking Sleeping Pad: NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions
- Best Ultralight Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite
- Most Comfortable Backpacking Sleeping Pad: NEMO Tensor
- Most Indestructible Backpacking Sleeping Pad: NEMO Switchback
- Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad for Side Sleepers: Big Agnes Boundary Deluxe
- Super light for its high R-value
- Comfortable and sturdy
- Durable enough for 2,000+ mile thru-hikes
- Update is 6 times quieter than previous model
- Update adds 1 oz. (but is thicker and warmer)
- Packs small
- Not insulated
- Long-term durability concerns
- Weight 1 lb., 1 oz. (Regular Mummy)
- R-value 8.5
- Thickness 3.5"
- Material 20D and 40D GRS-certified & Bluesign-approved nylon
- Best warmth-to-weight ratio on the market
- Small pack size
- Durable construction despite light weight
- Quick inflation time
- Extremely difficult to fit into stuff sack
- Slippery material
- Not our favorite valve construction
- Extremely light
- Packs down to the size of a soda can
- Not as warm as insulated pads
- Weight 13.8-15 oz.
- R-value 4.2 (insulated), 2.5 (uninsulated)
- Thickness 3"
- Material 100% PCR PU polyester, bluesign certified
- Very comfortable
- Remains quiet when rolling around
- Stable yet plush
- Not the warmest
- Dual-density foam offers plush comfort while still being supportive
- Taller nodes and smaller pack size than other models
- Not as comfortable as inflatable pads
- Bulky pack size
- Weight 1 lb. 9 oz.
- R-value 4.3
- Thickness 4.25″
- Material Soft-touch nylon with stretchy TPU lamination; recycled nylon ripstop bottom
- Super thick
- Extremely comfortable
- Not the lightest available
- Not super packable
- Weight 1 lb. 13.8 oz.
- R-value 4
- Thickness 2.5″
- Material 30D/40D nylon with anti-microbial TPU lamination
- Dual air chambers provide redundancy and allow for custom firmness
- Packs down small
- Not as light as other pads
- Weight 22.9 oz.
- R-value 7.1
- Thickness 3.5″
- Material 20 D recycled ripstop polyester; Oeko-Tex 100 certified
- Super high R-value at a pretty low weight
- Down layer adds superior insulation
- Durable fabric protects against punctures
- On the bulky side
- Weight 1 lb. 6 oz.
- R-value 3.3
- Thickness 2″
- Material 100% Recycled PU Polyester, Bluesign Approved
- Foam durability and padding
- Plus air pad comfort
- Heavier/bulkier than some other options
- Not super thick
- Weight 24.3 oz.
- R-value 5.5
- Thickness 3.1"
- Material 20D Recycled Polyester outer fabric with internal TPU coating
- Oversized outer chambers keep you centered
- Solid heat retention
- Soft outer fabric with grip tape to hold sleeping bag/pillow
- Valve makes it a bit hard to inflate by mouth
- Not as light as some other pads
- Weight 15 oz.
- R-value 3.8
- Thickness 4″
- Material 30D/40 D nylon with liquid-extruded TPU lamination
- Packs small
- Super durable
- Not quite as comfortable as inflatable pads
- Bulky pack size
Backpacking Sleeping Pad Comparison Chart
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir |
|$200-240||13 oz.||4.5||3″||30D rip HT nylon|
|Klymit Static V||$65||18.6 oz.||1.3||2.5″||Polyester|
|NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions||$250||17 oz.||8.5||3.5″||20D and 40D GRS-certified & Bluesign-approved nylon|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir |
|$230-260||8.8 oz.||2||2.5″||15D nylon|
|NEMO Tensor||$200-230||13.8-15 oz.||4.2 (insulated), |
|3″||100% PCR PU polyester, Bluesign certified|
|NEMO Switchback||$45-55||14.5 oz.||2||0.9″||PE foam|
|Big Agnes Boundary |
|$180-280||1 lb., 9 oz.||4.3||4.25″||Soft-touch nylon with stretchy TPU lamination; recycled nylon ripstop bottom|
|Sea to Summit Comfort |
|$229-249||1 lb., 13.8 oz.||4||2.5″||30D/40D nylon with anti-microbial TPU lamination|
|Exped Ultra 7R||$240||22.9 oz.||7.1|
|20D recycled ripstop polyester; |
Oeko-Tex 100 certified
|NEMO Flyer||$140-160||1 lb., 6 oz.||3.3||2″||100% recycled PU polyester, Bluesign approved|
|Rab Ionosphere 5.5||$200-230||24.3 oz.||5.5||3.1″||20D recycled polyester outer fabric with internal TPU coating|
|Therm-a-Rest ProLite |
|$115-145||1 lb., 7 oz.||3.2||1.5″||Polyester & polyurethane|
|Sea to Summit Ether |
|$189-219||15 oz.||3.8||4″||30D/40 D nylon with liquid-extruded TPU lamination|
|Therm–a-Rest Z |
How We Tested Backpacking Sleeping Pads
From weekend warriors to fast and light thru-hikers, the GearJunkie team is made up of avid backpackers. We’ve spent hundreds of hours blowing air into sleeping pad nozzles, and we’ve repeatedly experienced the sadness of a mysterious midnight deflation. We tested the pads on this list while backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness, the Appalachian hills, and the Rocky Mountains. Simply put, we’ve logged our fair share of nights on glorified balloons.
Staff Writers Mallory Paige and Austin Beck-Doss led the charge in the creation of this guide back in May 2021 accruing our initial selection of 10 sleeping pads. Seasoned pros in the backpacking realm, both authors have paid their dues on rough backcountry trails, and are intimately familiar with the necessity of sound sleep on any demanding adventure.
Senior Editor Chris Carter took over this guide in August 2022, and has been rummaging through his gear closet, bugging the pros, and combing the interwebs ever since to bring you the streamlined selection of 14 pads you see today. Chris has significant experience sleeping atop various inflatables, having thru-hiked the Triple Crown of long trails in the United States: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. He knows the importance of consistent Zs on trail and is meticulously choosy about the portable beds he picks for the wild. A solid pad can truly make or break a backcountry adventure and is key to having enough energy to keep pushing day after day.
Our primary considerations while testing are packed size, comfort, warmth, and ease of use. When backpacking, the ratio between weight and comfort is all-important, so we paid extra attention when examining these two specs. Secondarily, we looked at durability and value. These pads were carefully inspected and repeatedly slept on inside tents and directly under the stars.
Buyer’s Guide: The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
A restful night’s sleep sets you up for success on a full day of backpacking adventures. In the past, people rightfully assumed sleeping on a pad on the ground could simply never match the comfort of a real bed.
However, in recent years, sleeping pads have improved significantly. Now, with advancements in cell design and baffling, many high-quality sleeping pads offer exceptional warmth and comfort.
While comfort standards have increased, packed size and weight have also dropped, and the resulting pads are light, easy to use, and wonderful to sleep on.
Because there are so many great pads on the market, it can be difficult to make a selection. In this guide, we break down some of the most important considerations for purchasing the perfect sleeping pad.
From weight and thickness to durability and price, we hope to answer all of your sleeping pad-related questions in this buyer’s guide.
Types of Sleeping Pads: Foam, Self-Inflating, and Air Pads
There are three types of backpacking sleeping pads: air pads, foam pads, and self-inflating pads. Each category has its own list of pros and cons, and it’s important to understand the differences between them.
Air pads are the lightest and most compact type of sleeping pad. When not in use, these pads are deflated and able to pack down into a small stuff sack about the size of a water bottle. Because most of their insulation comes trapped in air, they can become quite thick without excess weight or bulk.
Compared to other categories, air pads are the most vulnerable to punctures and air valve issues. Usually, punctures are fixable with the proper supplies, but some people stay away from air pads due to the puncture risk.
Most pads come with their own repair kits for punctures or tears, but our testers have had good luck with trusty Tenacious Tape in a pinch, or even super glue for fixing issues around the valve.
Self-inflating pads have been around for many decades. Most pads in this category combine inflation with open-cell foam to decrease puncture risk and increase durability.
However, self-inflating pads do not pack down as small as air pads, and they tend to be a bit heavier. If these pads do puncture or deflate, you’ll still have some padding between you and the ground, but it won’t be a super comfortable night’s sleep.
Closed-cell foam pads are the original backpacking sleep system technology. Although these tend to be the least comfortable pad style, they are extremely reliable and can last for decades if treated with care.
On a foam pad, you can sleep soundly without worrying about punctures. Usually, foam pads fold or roll to pack away, but they take up far more space in your pack than other types of pads and often have to be strapped to the outside.
For backpacking, the goal is always to minimize the total weight of your pack, particularly when hiking with ultralight backpacks. These days, thick and comfortable pads that are also lightweight offer an ideal solution for backpackers.
Some single-person pads can be as light as half a pound, while heftier options may weigh 2 full pounds. For a good balance between weight and durability, consider a pad that weighs around 14-18 ounces.
Truly ultralight fiends will often carry a torso-length pad, and use their backpack or foam back panel as the insulation for their legs. This greatly cuts base weight but can be a gamble in chilly conditions. Figure out your threshold of comfort, and dial in on a comfort-to-weight ratio that allows you to cruise the miles with ease while getting a full night’s rest when the sun goes down.
On uneven or rocky ground, a thin pad will feel only slightly better than lying on the bare earth. As a general rule, thicker pads are more comfortable. However, thickness does add weight and bulk, so we suggest you aim to find a happy medium.
If you are a back sleeper, your weight will be a bit more evenly distributed and you may be able to get by with a thinner pad. Side sleepers tend to prefer thicker pads, such as the Big Agnes Boundary Deluxe.
Any inflatable pad over 3.5 inches thick will be on the more plush side, whereas most foam pads are less than 1 inch thick.
Generally, pads made for backpacking will be less plush than pads made for car-based camping. Because backpackers aim to minimize weight, pure comfort is not the priority.
Still, many modern pads offer a generous combination of insulation, padding, and sleeping area all in a lightweight package. For some backpackers, a bit of extra weight is a small price to pay for added comfort.
While stack height isn’t the only determining factor in how comfortable a pad is, it plays a large role. The pads on this list range from under one inch, to four inches thick. Thicker pads obviously land on the heavier, bulkier fringe of the spectrum, but offer plush comfort compared to thinner pads, which bottom out easily. This is particularly true if you are a chronic side sleeper.
The R-value of a pad describes the amount of insulation between the user and the ground. Insulation prevents your body heat from escaping into the earth below. Without a well-insulated pad, sleeping on the ground is very chilly, even when the air temperature is reasonably warm.
In warmer conditions, a sleeping pad with an R-value of less than 3 should be sufficient. However, if you plan to backpack in the shoulder seasons, you’ll be better off with a higher rating (between 3 and 5). For winter camping or mountaineering, an R-value of at least 5, (like the Xped Ultra 7R) is the way to go.
Higher R-values are attained in a number of different ways depending on the design, but generally involve suspending various layers of reflective film within the pad on vertical “trusses” (flexible supports within the pad). These sheets reflect body heat back at the user, and guard against radiant heat loss — all while deflecting cold seeping in from the ground.
As insulation technology develops, manufacturers are able to attain better and better warmth-to-weight ratios, and dial in on impressively high R-values while keeping weight to a minimum. NEMO’s new Tensor Extreme Conditions is a prime example of this. Boasting an absurdly high 8.5 R-value, it has a modest minimum trail weight of 17 ounces. Models like these allow backpackers to maintain an ultralight loadout while adventuring in truly arctic conditions.
While most backpackers won’t need such high R-values for their backpacking trips, it can be nice to have for the occasional winter excursion, or stretches of chilly, high-altitude, trail on longer journeys like thru-hikes.
Sleeping Pad Dimensions
Sleeping pads typically come in various sizes, and users can choose the option that best suits their body and preferences. Common sizes include regular, which is usually around 6 feet long, and large, which tends to be closer to 80 inches. Pad width also varies, but anywhere between 18 and 26 inches is fairly standard.
When deciding on the best width for your needs, consider how voluminous your sleeping bag is, and if you tend to wear bulky cold-weather clothes while sleeping. Trying to balance on a narrow pad while bundled up in a bulky cocoon can result in a poor night of rest.
Most backpacking pads are semi-rectangular in shape, and some taper down and become more narrow toward the feet. Two-person sleeping pads are also available, but they’re quite cumbersome and generally not ideal for backpacking. If you are consistently hiking with a partner, however, they can be a feasible, streamlined option, if one partner carries most of the weight of your two-person tent, and the other carries the two-person pad. Whatever pad you decide to go with, make sure it fits comfortably inside your backpacking tent.
A pad’s packed size depends on construction, materials, and the amount of insulation. Air pads with minimal additional built-in insulation tend to pack down smaller than all other types of pads. Most air pads fit easily into a backpacking pack — some are no larger than a football.
Packed size can be an issue for foam and self-inflating pads. Once fully rolled, these pads can be quite cumbersome, and they often have to be carried on the outside of your backpacking backpack.
Inflation and Deflation
While foam pads do not require inflation to use, all other pad types are built with an integrated air valve. Historically, valves have been the weak point of sleeping pads, and they can be difficult to replace once broken.
But now, high-quality backpacking pads come with reliable valves that are airtight and offer quick and easy inflation and deflation.
Most air pads have flat valves, which include an internal flap that prevents air from escaping in between inflation breaths. These valves are simple and durable, and most pads with flat valves can be inflated with somewhere between 10 and 25 breaths. These types of valves will also often include the ability to make micro-adjustments to the amount of air in your pad, even while fully weighted. This can be nice if you decide you want a bit of a cushier feel mid-sleep.
Self-inflating pads are designed to fill up on their own once the valve is open, but they usually need some regular inflation breaths to fully pump up and become firm.
With proper maintenance, a good backpacking pad can last for many years with regular use. Foam pads can take lots of abuse and last forever, but inflatable pads are fragile and must be handled with care.
Punctures are the main threat to air pads. As with all outdoor gear, abrasion resistance, and fabric thickness are measured with a denier rating. Thick fabric is more resistant to punctures. Air pad denier ratings vary widely, from around 15-denier to 80-denier.
As a rule, always clear away any potentially sharp objects from underneath your sleeping surface before setting up your tent. When sleeping on your pad, the use of a tent footprint creates an extra barrier between your pad and the ground. It’s also wise to keep your pad away from fires that may spit sparks and bits of hot ash.
As the standard has moved toward lightweight backpacking pads, many companies are using thin and potentially vulnerable materials. As with all ultralight gear, durability is not the priority. The lifespan of a lightweight pad will depend on how well it is cared for, and the precautions you take when setting up camp.
Caring For and Storing Sleeping Pads
Best practices for storing a pad depend on the type of pad you own. Self-inflating pads should be stored unrolled with the valve open to maintain the loft of the insulation. Air pads can be stored rolled up, but always keep them in a stuff sack and make sure they are fully deflated.
For foam pad storage, avoid leaving heavy items on top of the pad. Also, if you store a foam pad rolled up, it may be difficult to get it to lay flat in the future, though the z-pad design prevents this.
While you are rolling your pad up in the morning, make sure to wipe any leaves, twigs, or dirt off your pad. Storing a tightly rolled pad with debris in it could cause small abrasions in the face fabric, and even holes in extreme cases, as the pad jostles around inside your backpack or car.
Also, using a pump sack to inflate your pad will help prolong its life, by reducing the amount of moisture buildup in the pad from your breath. If you can, try and use the often included pump sack to inflate your pad each night instead of your mouth.
Pump Sacks: Do They Work?
Some air pads come with pump sacks that allow you to pump up your pad without breathing into a valve. Pump sacks decrease inflation time and prevent breath moisture from getting inside your pad (which can lead to a variety of problems). It also helps you avoid getting light-headed by having to blow it up with your mouth after a long hot day in the sun. Also, many pump sacks double as stuff sacks, and they generally don’t add much weight to your setup. Some of our testers like to fill them with spare clothes and use them as makeshift pillows.
Pump sacks come in all different shapes and sizes, and some are better than others. During testing, we found the sacks that come with the Rab Ionosphere and NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions to be the most efficient, easiest-to-use models for swiftly inflating your pad.
However, many backpackers feel pump sacks have solved a problem that didn’t exist in the first place. While some people swear by them, they are not a necessary item in most instances. You can prolong the life of your pad by using a pump sack though, particularly with pads like the Exped Ultra 7R, which has a down filling that could be damaged by excessive moisture buildup.
Women’s-Specific Sleeping Pads
Some sleeping pads have a women’s version or are designed specifically for women. They often look quite similar to their unisex cousins, but there are some differences that many female adventurers may appreciate.
For starters, they will sometimes be wider and more cushioned at the hips, and will often have a greater R-value overall than the unisex version. Many are also made a little shorter. While these are minor changes, they could provide a significant comfort boost for certain people.
The price of a good sleeping pad varies from less than $50 to well over $200. Foam pads are the cheapest, and lightweight air pads are usually the most expensive.
As you determine your sleeping pad budget, remember your pad is an important piece of gear that will affect your quality of rest after a long day on the trail.
Different backpackers have different comfort preferences. The most comfortable pad is the one that allows you to sleep soundly after a full day of hiking. Before you purchase a pad, make sure that it meets your criteria for size, thickness, materials, price, and above all else, comfort.
On the low end, lightweight air pads can be as little as 8 ounces. Heavy foam pads may weigh well over a pound. A four-season pad will contain more material and insulation, and a total weight between 12 and 18 ounces is normal.
Side sleepers will want a thicker pad than back sleepers. If you consistently sleep on your side, consider purchasing an air pad that is at least 3 inches thick. The Big Agnes Boundary Deluxe scored high marks from our side sleepers.