Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2022

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Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2022

Updated Sep 2, 2022 2:32 PM It only takes one fitful night of sleep after a long day of hiking—hips bruis

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Updated Sep 2, 2022 2:32 PM

It only takes one fitful night of sleep after a long day of hiking—hips bruised, lower back throbbing, cricked neck—to realize the importance of a great backpacking sleeping pad. But adding a quality pad also adds significant weight and cost to your kit, so it’s essential to get the right pad the first time. After testing 15 different backpacking sleeping pads from seven different manufacturers, these are my top picks for the best backpacking sleeping pads for every adventure. 

Two rows of backpacking sleeping bag stuff sacks
Ten pads from our test, ranked by size. From upper left: the Klymit Klymaloft, Exped Dura 5R Duo, Exped Dura 5R, Sea to Summit Ether Light XT, Big Agnes Q-Core, Big Agnes Air Core, Big Agnes, Rapid SL, Exped Ultra 3R, Klymit Static V2, UST Freestyle. Laura Lancaster

Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad

Inflatable vs. Closed-Cell Foam

The choice between an inflatable sleeping pad versus closed-cell foam is one of performance vs. reliability. Inflatable pads are warmer, lighter, fit easily into your pack, and are almost always more comfortable. However, closed-cell foam pads double as a seat during breaks and never unexpectedly deflate overnight. This review focuses on inflatable backpacking sleeping pads, as their smaller packed profile, higher R value, and increased comfort makes them a better choice for most backpackers. 

Material

The exterior of inflatable backpacking sleeping pads is typically constructed from either polyester or nylon at varying thicknesses, which is measured in denier (D). Most backpacking sleeping pads are between 20D, the thinnest material, typically used for ultralight pads, to 75D in thickness, which approaches the thickness typically seen on car camping pads. Nylon is generally a stronger material than polyester, but laminates (which can make a pad more airtight) apply better to polyester than to nylon. 

Weight

Most of the best backpacking sleeping pads weigh between one and two pounds, with the heavier end of the spectrum providing greater comfort and the lighter end of the spectrum typically running quite narrow. It’s hard to put a value on a great night of sleep when you’re facing ten plus miles of hiking in the morning, so we recommend erring on the side of caution. One way to save weight, for some backpackers, is to choose a short sleeping pad, and then tuck your backpack under your feet at night. This way, your hips and shoulders get the benefit for a fraction of the ounces. 

Size

There are two sizes that you should be concerned with—the size of the pad packed into your backpack or strapped to the outside, and the size of the pad when it’s inflated. Most pads today come in sizes ranging from short to tall, regular to wide; however, in our experience even the “wide” size—typically 25 inches—is not all that wide. Two exceptions to this are the Klymit, which has a wide size of 29 inches, and the Big Agnes Q Core Deluxe, which goes out to 30 inches. 

Shape

Most sleeping pads are one of two shapes: rectangular or mummy. The idea behind the mummy-shaped pads is simple—your body isn’t rectangular, so why should your pad be? This design also shaves off a few ounces. But plenty of backpackers, especially side sleepers, find that the mummy-shaped pads are easier to roll off of, and prefer a rectangular pad for that reason. 

R Rating

As anyone who has been backpacking during a shoulder season knows, the cold from the ground will suck out your body heat faster than cold air, leaving you shivering inside of your 20-degree bag. The R value measures how well the pad insulates (or “resists,” hence the R) the cold, with 1 being the lowest rating (suitable for lowland backpacking at the height of summer) all the way up to 10 (typically only needed in extreme conditions). Where sleeping pad manufacturers once conducted their own testing (or in some cases simply guessed) as of 2020, R ratings are standardized by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Pro tip if you sleep cold: women’s pads are typically rated a slightly higher R value than the corresponding men’s pads. 

Key Features

  • Size range: S (21.5 inches x 66 inches) to L (25 inches x 79 inches)
  • Weight: 19.2 ounces for a regular mummy (includes air bag stuff sack)
  • Height: 4 inches 
  • R rating: 3.2
  • Fabric: 30D/40D nylon 

Why It Made the Cut

The Etherlight XT is warm enough for alpine adventures and comfortable enough for a full night’s sleep. This pad was also the easiest to inflate of anything we tried. 

Pros

  • Comfortable in a wide range of sleeping positions
  • Easy to inflate and deflate
  • Good balance of durability with weight and R value

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than other pads in our test
Three side-by-side best backpacking sleeping pads
Different baffle styles can affect the sleep experience. Left to right: Klymit Static V2, Big Agnes AirCore, Sea to Summit Ether Light XT. The dimpled texture of the Sea to Summit most closely mimicked the feel of a mattress. Laura Lancaster

Product Description

This was the easiest pad to inflate of everything we tested. It uses a pump sack that’s integrated into the stuff sack for the sleeping pad, a thoughtful touch that worked exceptionally well. After connecting the nozzle to the inflate plug, you hold the bag about a foot from your face and blow air at it to inflate the bag, then you squeeze the air from the bag into the pad. It only took six rounds with the pump sack to inflate the Ether Light XT on my first try—less than a minute. I also like that the inflate plug and the deflate plug use the same opening, as this reduces the number of fail points for the pad. 

The dimpled structure of the baffling on the Ether Light XT made it easier to find a comfortable position on than pads that had vertical, horizontal, or honeycomb baffling, and the 4-inch height meant my hips were well protected from the ground when sleeping on my side. 

The 3.2R rating of the Ether Light XT is ideal for backpackers looking to start their trips in late spring and make their last trip of the year  when the leaves fall. 30D and 40D nylon strands are woven together to make this pad more robust than our lightweight picks, although backpackers should still be sure to protect it from the ground with a lightweight tarp if they aren’t using a tent. 

Best Overall Closed-Cell Foam Pad: NEMO Switchback

The NEMO Switchback is the best overall closed-cell foam pad.

Why It Made the Cut

The Switchback is a comfortable and forgiving pad with a nice weight to R value ratio. It packs down small and traps body heat thanks to its unique hexagonal nodes pattern.

Key Features

  • Size range: Short (20 x 51 inches) and Regular: (20 x 72 inches)
  • Weight: 14.5 ounces for a regular
  • R rating: 2
  • Low-emissivity film

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Insulated coating
  • Packs down to 5 inches

Cons

Hiking WRHR with NEMO Switchback pad.
Closed-cell foam pads are strapped to the outside of your pack, taking up no room inside your backpack but increasing the risk of wear and tear. Brady Evans

Product Description
I have used the short version of this pad for eight months now, so I was excited to see how it measured up to its competitors. The hexagonal node pattern is part of what makes this pad the most comfortable in all sleeping positions. Instead of a traditional egg carton pattern, the nodes are more spread out, taking away the pokey feeling other pads have. This unique design is also what makes the Switchback pack down compactly and stay so warm. I recently slept like a baby in the low 40s using this pad alone. I supplement it with a backpacking pillow and add an inflatable pad for winter excursions. However, if you’re guilty of thrashing your gear (like I am), then this pad could be quick to show signs of wear. While the dual-density foam offers a cushy top layer and supportive bottom layer for improved comfort, that supple top layer can be easily shredded by branches and rocks. Unlike the Therm-a-rest Z lite, however, the insulated coating is protected by the accordion fold. This pad is meant to be slept on silver side down, because the orange foam layer acts as a heat trap, catching the warmth of your body that’s being reflected back to you via the low-emissivity film. -Ashley Thess

Key Features

  • Available sizes: R (20 inches x 72 inches) to LW (25 inches x 76 inches)
  • Weight: 14 ounces for a regular uninsulated mummy bag with velcro strap, 15.6 ounces for insulated
  • Height: 2.5 inches
  • R rating: 2.5 (non insulated), 4.2 (insulated)
  • Fabric: 20D polyester

Why It Made the Cut

Experienced backpackers looking to shave off a few ounces from their kit (at the expense of durability) will appreciate the comfort and features of the Tensor. 

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable baffling
  • Option to use velcro strap (.2 ounce) or stuff sack (.6 ounce)
  • Optional pump sack (1.9 ounces)

Cons

  • Less durable than other pads

Product Description

Backpackers who like the baffling of the Sea to Summit Ether Light but are tempted by the low weight of the Thermarest NeoAir XLite will find some middle ground with the Tensor Ultralight series. I also like that the Tensor comes with a lightweight optional pump sack, so that backpackers can choose, trip to trip, between a couple of ounces of weight savings and the convenience of rapid inflation when they reach camp. 

For another couple of extra ounces, there is also the option to increase the R value of the non-insulated pad (appropriate for lower elevation summer treks only) to an R value that will get you out to the shoulder seasons and up to alpine terrain. This amount of customization makes the Tensor stand out from the other best backpacking sleeping pad, and it’s something that backpackers who oscillate between casual weekend trips and big-mile days and week-long treks will appreciate.

The thinness of the fabric means that you’ll need to take special care to ensure the Tensor doesn’t develop a leak. New backpackers should go with the Best Overall or Best Budget pick for their higher durability. 

The Therm-a-rest Z Lite SOL is the best lightweight closed-cell foam pad.

Why It Made the Cut

The Z Lite Sol is lightweight with a respectable R value. This pad will work for most backpackers no matter their motive to buy a closed-cell foam pad.

Key Features

  • Size range: Small (20 inches x 47 inches) and Regular (20 inches x 72 inches)
  • Weight: 14 ounces for a regular
  • R rating: 2
  • Reflective ThermaCapture coating

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Insulated coating

Cons

  • Packs down to 6 inches thick
  • Doesn’t include a box for storage
Compare the closed-cell foam pads by packed size.
The Therm-a-rest Z Lite SOL packed down the largest of the closed-cell foam pads. Ashley Thess

Product Description 

Therm-a-rest advises Z Lite sleepers to keep the shiny silver side of the mat up to reflect body heat. However, this means that the insulation is exposed when the pad is folded. Any closed-cell foam pad is at risk of being thrashed a bit while bushwhacking or dropping your pack because they are strapped to the outside of your backpack. I would rather the insulation fold inward so that it isn’t being compromised by abrasive sticks and rocks. The reflective coating still gives the SOL an edge on the FlexMats. What makes this pad great is the weight and R value, but the inefficient accordion fold makes this pad pack down rather large for its .75 inch thickness. While not as comfortable as the FlexMat Plus or the Switchback, it is more comfortable than the FlexMat. This middle-of-the-road pad is best for layering but can effectively be used on its own. -Ashley Thess

Key Features

  • Available sizes: S (20 inches x 47 inches) to RW (25 inches x 77 inches)
  • Weight: 12.5 ounces for a regular (8.3 ounces for a small)
  • Height: 2.5 inches
  • R rating: 4.2
  • Fabric: 30D ripstop HT nylon

Why It Made the Cut

The NeoAir XLite strips away the convenience and features of other pads, while retaining a high R value and staying comfortable, to make it one of the lightest pads available.

Pros

  • Comfortable enough to cushion hips on even rocky terrain 
  • Very lightweight compared to other pads with a similar R value
  • Surprisingly durable for its fabric thickness

Cons

  • Confusing valve, no included pump sack
  • Crinkles loudly when you shift your weight

Product Description

I’ve successfully used the NeoAir XLite for hundreds of miles on multiple thru-hikes. It’s the perfect combination of light weight and comfort, with an R rating that will see you through alpine adventures and shoulder-season excursions alike. 

Despite the relatively thin material, the only mishap I’ve experienced with the NeoAir XLite was when I inadvertently slept on top of an especially pointy rock (the 4-inch stack height ensured I didn’t even notice it was there), which resulted in a deflated mattress by morning. Fortunately, I was able to patch the pad with the repair kit the next day. 

The newest model of the NeoAir XLite incorporates a different air valve design than previous years, so if you’re buying a replacement pad this is something to watch out for. The idea behind the new valve design is that it prevents air from escaping the mattress while you are inflating it. I found this valve less intuitive to use than previous iterations—it’s worth practicing at home before taking it out on a multi-night trek. 

Key Features

  • Available sizes: S (20 inches x 48 inches) to XL (25 inches x 78 inches) and a double-wide (50 inches x 78 inches)
  • Weight: 22 ounces 
  • Height: 3.25 inches
  • R rating: 4.5
  • Fabric: 40D ripstop nylon

Why It Made the Cut

This is a quality air mattress at an affordable price that works great for shoulder season backpacking. The classic rectangular design makes it feel larger than it actually is. 

Pros

  • Comparatively low price
  • Thick enough for side sleepers to sleep comfortably
  • High R value for the price point

Cons

  • Wide baffles make for a bumpier sleeping surface
  • Difficult to put back into its small stuff sack
  • Heaviest pump sack I tested was also the hardest to use (but still better than blowing into the valve myself)

Product Description

After you’ve shelled out major dollars for a backpack, a tent, and a sleeping bag, there isn’t always a lot leftover for a sleeping pad. But the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra is an affordable option that is warm enough to take you up into the alpine and into the shoulder seasons and comfortable enough to ensure you’re actually glad to be out there. 

The Air Core Ultra uses vertical baffles that are substantially wider than others on the market—for the 20 inches x 72 inches size, the Big Agnes had six baffles, while the Exped Ultra 3R had eight. This meant that when I was resting on my back, I could feel the individual baffles underneath me. It’s not uncomfortable, per say, but it is distracting. That said, side sleepers will find the thickness of this mattress quite cushy. 

At 3.9 ounces, the pump sack for the Air Core Ultra was easily the heaviest we weighed (although props to Big Agnes for making it out of upcycled pad material) and took noticeably longer to use than the versions from Exped, Sea to Summit, Nemo, or UST. 

Best Budget Closed-Cell Foam Pad: Exped FlexMat

The Exped FlexMat is the best budget closed-cell-foam pad.

Why It Made the Cut

At just $35, this is an ideal minimalist mat or a good base layer to protect and beef up the R value of your inflatable pad for a low price point.

Key Features

  • Size range: S (20.5 inches x 47.2 inches) to LW (25.6 inches x 77.6 inches)
  • Weight: 11.5 ounces for a medium
  • R rating: 1.5
  • Thickness: .75 inches

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Packs down to just 4.5 inches thick
  • Resilient

Cons

  • Low R value, even for closed-cell foam pads

Product Description 

The FlexMat is the thinnest foam pad I tested. While not the most comfortable on its own, it is low-profile and lightweight for ultralighters or as the base for an inflatable pad. Ideal for layering, this slim piece of foam could be the difference between a punctured inflatable pad and just 11.5 extra ounces. It is most certainly more comfortable than sleeping on the ground and it is relatively durable when branches and rocks inevitably scratch it. The nodes on this pad are also the most resilient of all the closed-cell foam pads in this test. They don’t show any obvious signs of flattening out and they quickly recover after being squashed by sleeping or sitting. It’s a versatile and worthy addition to your pack for an all-in-one butt pad, hot pad, sled, insulator, and sleeping pad at a low price point and minimal additional weight. -Ashley Thess

A green and grey best backpacking sleeping pad

Key Features

  • Available sizes: R (72 inches x 23 inches) to XL (78 inches x 29 inches) and a double (78 inches x 53 inches)
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 4.5 ounces
  • Height: 2.5 inches (the XL and the double are 5 inches)
  • R rating: 2.1
  • Fabric: 75D polyester

Why It Made the Cut

This sleeping pad was so comfortable and luxurious that we’re willing to overlook its weight for casual weekend trips or short treks to a basecamp. 

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Surprisingly small packed size for a pad with a foam topper

Cons

Product Description

If you want one pad for car camping and low-key backpacking trips, look no further. The Klymaloft has a foam topper above the inflatable air chambers, which makes it feel closer to an actual mattress than anything we tried—including traditional car camping pads. You could almost forget you weren’t at home in your own bed.

One thing we noticed during testing was that the construction of the valve is different from standard backpacking sleeping pads—some of our testers thought at first that it needed a pump to inflate—but it works the same as a regular air valve once you get the hang of it. Two tie-down straps make this one more of a chore to pack down than other backpacking pads, but once I had it cinched in, its packed volume was surprisingly close to other pads in the test. 

While the Klymaloft is unacceptably heavy by lightweight backpacking standards, the extra weight is worth the good night’s sleep is worth the extra weight, at least on low-mileage trips. 

Best Closed-Cell Foam Pad for Side Sleepers: Exped FlexMat Plus

The ExPed FlexMat Plus is the best closed-cell foam pad for side sleepers.

Why It Made the Cut

The FlexMat Plus is a whopping 1.5 inches thick thanks to an aggressive egg carton pattern. This provides extra warmth and comfort without adding too much weight.

Key Features

  • Size range: S (20.5 inches x 47.2 inches) to LW (25.6 inches x 77.6 inches)
  • Weight: 16.9 ounces for a medium
  • R rating: 2.2
  • Thickness: 1.5 inches

Pros

Cons

  • Packs down to 7 inches thick
  • Not good for stomach sleepers

Product Description
If you’re a slide sleeper that wants to give closed-cell foam pads a chance, this is the best backpacking sleeping pad for you. The FlexMat Plus is comfortable on its own for summer trips and adds a significant 2.2 bump in R value to an inflatable pad for colder temperatures. This allows you to spend less on an inflatable pad, because you won’t need to shell out for a higher R value. This system also allows you to skip the extra ounces of an additional pad when the weather is warm while staying comfortable. However, if you’re a stomach sleeper, this might not be the pad for you. I found the extreme egg carton pattern of the closed-cell foam to be uncomfortable when turned onto my stomach. However, when lying on my back or side, this pad was plush. -Ashley Thess

Key Features

  • Available sizes: M (72 inches x 41.3 inches) to LW (77.6 inches x 51.2 inches)
  • Weight: 29.3 ounces 
  • Height: 3 inches
  • R rating: 2.9
  • Fabric: 20D ripstop polyester

Why It Made the Cut

A comfortable, lightweight double-width pad, suitable for summer adventuring. The included air sack made this easy to inflate.

Pros

  • Great pump sack
  • Lightweight for its size

Cons

  • Lower R rating than other double-wide pads available

Product Description

Whether you are looking to share a pad with a significant other, or just want the extra space for your own comfort, the Ultra 3R Duo is a great choice. Its simple vertical baffles were comfortable to lie on in multiple positions—back, side, stomach—and the tapered foot design mirrors the shape of a number of backpacking tents on the market.

Four deflated best backpacking sleeping pads
The Sea to Summit (top right) pump sack was easiest for beginners, while the Exped (lower right) was the fastest to use once we got the hang of it. Laura Lancaster

Couples will like that the baffles for each side of the mat are inflated separately, which reduces the likelihood that your partner will wake you up in the middle of the night, while individuals using the Ultra 3R Duo will appreciate that they roll through seamlessly, avoiding an uncomfortable spot in the middle of the mat. 

During testing, I found that the large pump sack captured a surprising amount of air (I was able to inflate the entire air mattress in four rounds), but that I had to watch the neck of the pump sack to make sure it didn’t get twisted. While not as intuitive to use as the Sea to Summit pump sack, the roll-top design made this one more efficient with practice. 

A blue best backpacking sleeping pad

Key Features

  • Available sizes: M (72 inches x 41.3 inches) to LW (77.6 inches x 51.2 inches)
  • Weight: 21 ounces
  • Height: 2.7 inches
  • R rating: 1.7
  • Fabric: 20D nylon (bottom) and 30D polyester (top)

Why It Made the Cut

The small profile, ease of use, and low cost make the UST Freestyle the perfect entry point for anyone wondering if it’s time to switch from closed cell-foam.

Pros

  • Roll-top closure made this the easiest pad to put away of any that we tested
  • Fun design
  • Integrated pump sack 
  • Low price

Cons

  • Low R value is only appropriate for summer trips (but equivalent to closed cell-foam)
  • Strange baffling design can be difficult to get comfortable on for back sleepers

Product Description

If you or someone you know thinks that inflatable air pads just aren’t worth the hassle—too hard to inflate or deflate, not worth the price, no need for that much comfort in the backcountry anyhow—this is the best backpacking sleeping pad to convert them. While the bold color choices here are what grabbed our attention at first, it was the unique integrated stuff sack and pump sack that made the UST Freestyle stand out: with this sleeping pad, you put the deflated, rolled-up sleeping pad directly into the stuff sack and then use the roll top to cinch down to a smaller size—no need to roll and then reroll your pad to get every square inch of air back out. Genius. 

While the baffling design of the Freestyle made it one of the least comfortable pads in our test, it’s still miles better than closed-cell foam pads or—and we know you wouldn’t do this—sleeping directly on the ground. Its stacked height is more than enough to protect your hips from hard rock surfaces, and the 1.7 R rating provides respectable insulation from the cold ground in the summer months.

One note on the weight: this pad came in at 9 ounces heavier on my scale than it states on the website. 

FAQs

Q: How much do backpacking sleeping pads cost?

A quality backpacking sleeping pad typically runs $100 to $200, with those suitable for winter camping upwards of $250. (Closed cell-foam pads are closer to $50.) 

Q: Do I need a sleeping pad for backpacking?

If you’re young and only planning to summer backpack for a night or two in a forest with a cushioned, pine-needle floor (I’m looking at you, Oregon), then maybe—maybe—you can get away without a sleeping pad. But we wouldn’t recommend it. For shoulder season or winter travel, or any travel at altitude, the warmth provided by a backpacking sleeping pad is essential, not only to your comfort, but also to your safety. 

Q: What R value should I look for on a sleeping pad?

Like with sleeping bags, this can be a personal question, as different people run different temperatures naturally. For summer adventures through the foothills, you can disregard this number, as almost any R value will do. For shoulder season backpacking, or if you plan to spend significant time in the alpine, an R value of 3 to 5 is best. Anyone planning on a backpacking trip where subzero temperatures are a possibility needs to have a pad rated to at least 6. Adjust as needed if you sleep cold or run hot. Backpackers who use quilts, as opposed to traditional sleeping bags, should choose a pad with an R value that is slightly higher than they think they need. 

Q: Are self-inflating pads a good choice for backpacking?

No. There are three main reasons to avoid them: First, the hassle and muscle power required to force the pad back into its stuff sack the next morning outweighs the convenience. Next, these pads are typically much thinner for the same weight, which means you are more likely to feel the hard ground underneath your back or hips. Finally, the pump sacks provided by (or even integrated into) a number of the above picks completely eliminates the light-headedness that you might remember from blowing up sleeping pads in the past. Only a few light breaths (less than you would use to blow out a candle) are needed to inflate these sacks. 

Three best backpacking sleeping pads of various thickness stacked on top of each other
Top to bottom, the Thermarest Prolite (a best-in-class self-inflating pad), UST Freestyle, and the Big Agnes Air Core. Laura Lancaster

Methodology

I’ve trekked for thousands of miles (sleeping hundreds of nights in the backcountry) and used that experience to evaluate these sleeping pads on the factors that are the most important to backpackers: comfort, ease of inflation/deflation, packed size, and an important vector I’m going to call stay-on-ness—i.e., how easy was it to wiggle off the side when I tossed and turned in a standard sleeping bag. Weight and stack height were checked against manufacturer specifications, and the stack height and weight figures published in this review were taken from our own measurements. Stack height measurements were taken in the middle of the pad, and based on the maximum inflation I was able to achieve using the accompanying pump sack (or blowing into the pad itself if one wasn’t provided). As such, some measurements may vary from the manufacturer websites.

Durability was evaluated based on the fabric type used, but we’ll be sending the top pads out into the field with backpackers this summer to better evaluate how various fail points (seams, valves) hold up to the rigors of the trail. We’ll continue to update our review as the season progresses. 

A woman blowing up a yellow sleeping pad
Inflating an older version of the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite on the PCT. Adam Tycaster

Final Thoughts

Though not considered one of the “Big 3,” choosing the best backpacking sleeping pad for your sleep style and the temperatures you plan to trek out into is essential for avoiding the dreaded Type 3 fun. I sometimes skimped on pads when I was younger. But with more experience, I learned that a good sleeping pad makes it a lot easier to get a good night’s sleep, and that in turn makes the next day’s adventure all the more fun. I recommend thinking about your sleeping pad, sleeping bag or quilt, and, ideally, a pillow, as a complete system and budget your funds and ounces accordingly. 

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