7 Best Sleeping Pads of 2016
Great trail sleep can be surprisingly tough to come by. You’d think after a long day of hiking, most backpackers would be tired enough to fall asleep face-first in their rehydrated beef stew. But many hikers struggle with getting good sleep in the wilderness, even when their bodies are completely exhausted.
That’s one of the reasons why packing a great sleeping pad is so important. Sleeping pads provide the comfort your body needs for getting a good night's rest. But there’s more to it than that. Sleeping pads are also critical for keeping you warm. They help to insulate your body from the cold ground, which makes them not only important for comfort, but safety as well.
I’ve researched and tested dozens of lightweight sleeping pads to narrow this list down to the very best of the best. I hope this post helps you find the perfect sleeping pad to keep you snoozing soundly in the wilderness for many years to come. Enjoy!
CRITICAL SLEEPING PAD CONSIDERATIONS
COST - Good sleeping pads come in a wide range of prices. You can get an inexpensive foam pad for around $20 or purchase a top-notch air pad for closer to $200. The bottom line is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good pad. That said, many backpackers (myself included) are willing to spend more for a high-quality pad they’ll get a lot of use out of.
WEIGHT - Your sleeping pad will be one of the four heaviest items you carry in your pack (shelter, backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad). So this is a great place to save weight. The lighter your backpack, the more comfortable your hiking trips will be. All of the pads I recommend are light enough to take on a thru-hike or a casual weekend trek.
AIR PADS vs FOAM PADS - The two main types of sleeping pads are air pads and foam pads. Both types can be very light and comfortable. Foam pads are more affordable, quicker to setup, and can be used for multiple purposes - like extra support for a frameless backpack or a seat around camp. The main downsides with foam pads are that they’re bulkier to pack and they compress over time, so they’ll need to be replaced every so often. Air pads are more expensive, but most backpackers find them to be much more comfortable than foam pads. The main downside with air pads is that they can puncture in the field, so you’ll always want to bring repair patches.
REPAIR KIT - If you decide to take an air pad into the wilderness, make sure to pack a small repair kit. Sharp objects (rocks, sticks, cacti, etc.) can puncture air pads, so always look over your sleeping area before setting up shop. If your pad springs a leak and you don’t have way to fix it, you’re going to be one unhappy camper. Literally. Almost all of the air pads listed below come with a repair kit.
WARMTH - Your sleeping pad will help keep you warm at night when the temperature drops. The R-value of a sleeping pad measures how well it will insulate your body from the cold ground. The higher the R-value, the warmer the pad will be. In general, sleeping pads with R-values of 0-1 will be best for warm weather trips. R-values of 1-3 are good for most 3-season backpacking conditions. R-values of 3-5 are good when the temp drops around or below freezing. And you’ll likely want a pad (or combination of pads) with 5+ R-value if you’re winter backpacking where you’ll be sleeping on snow. It’s also important to note that, just like with sleeping bags, this is not an exact science. Some people sleep warmer than others.
BEST USE - The sleeping pads I’m focusing on for this post will be best for 3-season backpacking trips. That’s when most people hit the trail, so these pads will be a good fit for the most common trips. I’ll also recommend the insulated versions of these pads if you’re looking for something warmer. Also, it’s important to remember that if you’re interested in doing some winter camping, you can always combine pads (place a foam pad under an air pad for example) to increase insulation.
LENGTH - Your hips and shoulders are the biggest pressure points for sleeping pads. So it’s important to use a pad that will give you comfort in those areas. Ultralight backpackers often use shorter torso-length pads and let their legs hang off the end of the pad to save weight on thru-hikes. Most casual backpackers prefer the comfort of full-length pads that cushion their heels and keep their feet warm.
THICKNESS - Many times, the thicker the pad is the more comfortable it will be. Thicker air pads will give you more flexibility for finding the perfect firmness for your pad without bottoming out. That said, structure is important with an air pad as well. It’s never fun to feel like you’re sleeping on a pool floatie. The pads I recommend below are all thick enough to be very comfortable while still holding shape.
PACKED SIZE - Having a highly packable sleeping pad is a nice benefit. If your sleeping pad packs down small, it will be easy to fit anywhere in your backpack. If it’s bulky, you’ll probably have to strap it to the outside of your bag. That’s not really a big deal, but it can leave your pad exposed to rain and punctures if you’re not careful. All the pads I recommend are highly packable.
BUYING ONLINE - Check the seller's return policy before you buy, but you can almost always return an unused pad within a certain timeframe after purchasing. I recommend buying your top choice, testing it at home, and returning/exchanging it if it doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve been buying lightweight sleeping pads online for years and I’ve yet to have any problems.
7 BEST SLEEPING PADS OF 2016
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a complete game-changer when it comes to trail sleep. It's a cushy 2.5 inches thick, ridiculously light, and with an R-value of 3.2, it’ll keep your body toasty warm, even on frigid nights. The one downside with the XLite is that it comes at a premium price. For me, this pad has been well worth the investment and then some. I’ve gotten some of the best trail sleep of my life on this pad, so I really can’t sing it’s praises enough. If you’re looking for one of the lightest, warmest, and coziest sleeping pads on the market, look no farther than the NeoAir XLite. This pad is the jam.
The NeoAir XLite is my top pick sleeping pad. For more of my top picks, check out the CleverHiker Top Picks page.
RELATED: The NeoAir XTherm (R-value: 5.7) is a fantastic sleeping pad as well. It’s an insulated 4-season pad that comes at a slight increase in cost and weight. This is my top pick for winter sleeping pads.
The Exped SynMat Hyperlite is one of the only pads in the same weight, warmth, and thickness class as the NeoAir XLite, which is a huge compliment. It differentiates itself from the XLite with a vertical baffle design, which some prefer for keeping centered on the pad. Personally, I'm not a big fan vertical baffle pad support. The downsides with this pad are that it comes at a high cost, is built with thinner materials than the XLite, has a worse valve design for deflation (in my opinion), and only comes with a 2-year warranty (compared to Therm-a-Rest’s lifetime limited warranty). All that said, if you’re looking for one of the lightest, warmest, and cushiest pads on the market, the list is very small, and this pad is squarely among the best.
RELATED: The SynMat Winterlite (R-value: 4.9) is an insulated version of this pad that comes at a slight increase in weight and cost.
The Sea to Summit UltraLight Mat has an innovative new design called “Air Sprung Cells.” That may sound like a bunch of nonsense, but this is hands-down one of the most comfortable sleeping pads I’ve ever used. The little cells do a surprisingly good job of mimicking the feel of a home mattress. I also think this pad has one of the very best inflation/deflation valves on the market. It’s easy to inflate, fine-tune, and deflate very quickly. This pad also come at a more reasonable price. The main downside with this pad is that it has a low R-value, making it a poor choice if you’re going camping in chilly weather.
RELATED: The UltraLight Insulated Mat (R-value: 3.3) is an insulated version of this pad that comes at a slight increase in weight and cost.
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is a long-time favorite pad of ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers. And with very good reason. It’s a lightweight, affordable option that won’t rupture in the field and can serve many uses - like additional support for a frameless backpack or a seat around camp. The Z Lite Sol is surprisingly comfortable and warm for a foam pad, but it’s not nearly as comfortable as the air pads I recommend. Also, it will compress with a lot of use and eventually need to be replaced. Still, as a multi-use, nearly indestructible budget buy, this pad is a great option.
The Therm-a-Rest ProLite is a tried-and-true classic air pad model that combines comfort with functionality at an affordable price. This is a self-inflating pad, which means you won’t have to use your lungs as much to blow it up. It’s not as thick or comfortable as pads like the NeoAir XLite, but it has a good firm feel and won’t slide around underneath you at night. It’s also built with more durable materials than many lightweight pads. The main downsides with this pad are that it won’t compress as much when packed, it isn’t very thick, and it doesn’t come with a repair kit.
RELATED: For an extra half inch of thickness and more warmth, spring for the ProLite Plus (R-value: 3.4), which weighs and costs a little more.
The Klymit Static V2 is a solid budget-buy sleeping pad. It has a unique “body mapped v-shape” design, which makes it more stable than vertical-tube pads. I wouldn’t exactly say this pad is mapped to fit my body, but it is pretty comfortable. It's also 3-inches wider than the standard sleeping pad size. I prefer the weight, warmth, and comfort of the NeoAir XLite over this pad, but this one is a heck of a lot cheaper. If you’re looking to keep costs to a minimum without sacrificing much weight or comfort, this pad is a solid option.
RELATED: This pad also comes in a cheaper but heavier Static V classic model. The Static V2 and Static V both have very little insulation, so if you’re planning to backpack in chilly weather, consider the Static V Insulated model (R-value: 4.4).
R-VALUE: N/A (rated to 35-45 fahrenheit)
The Nemo Astro Air Lite 20R is a comfortable, lightweight air pad that comes at a competitive price. The most unique feature of this pad is it’s built-in pillow. I really like the idea of the pillow, but it’s a little too small to make much of a difference for me. Nemo managed to keep the weight of this pad ridiculously low and still have three-inches of thickness with a rectangular shape, which is great. The downside is that this pad is built with some of the thinnest materials of any backpacking pad. This pad also has a low insulation value, so it’s not great for colder weather trips.
RELATED: The Astro Insulated Lite is an insulated version of this pad that comes at a slight increase in weight and cost.
I haven’t had the chance to get one of these bad boys on the trail yet, but the new speed valve technology looks fantastic. These pads have the fastest fill and deflate times by a landslide when compared to other pads. The XLite SV model has the same R-value (3.2) and thickness (2.5in) as the XLite with a 4oz increase in total weight (16oz).
This pad is heavier (26oz) and bulkier than the pads I prefer to backpack with. That said, it’s 3-inches wider than standard pads, has side rails to keep you centered, is pretty warm (R-value: 4.2), and is self inflating. It’s also built with durable materials and comes at a reasonable cost. So, if you’re not as concerned with weight and bulk, this could be a good option.
This is a solid lightweight pad (16oz in mummy shape) that delivers on warmth (R-value: 4.5). It also packs down small and blows up thick (3.5in). The main problem for me with this pad is that I don’t find the pocked surface to be very comfortable. It also seems more slippery than other pads, so I tend to slide off it during the night.
For an easier way to inflate your pad, consider picking up a pump sack. Pump sacks are essentially stuff sacks with an air nozzle in the bottom. You hook the nozzle up to your pad’s inflation valve, fill the sack with air, and then squeeze the air from the sack into your pad. They make blowing up air pads easy and efficient.
A pump sack will double as a stuff sack, and some of them can be used as a dry bag as well. A dry bag pump sack is a great place to store your sleeping bag for extra weather protection. Pump sacks are also good for keeping moisture from your breath out of your sleeping pad. That’s especially important during winter trips when moisture from your breath can freeze and reduce the insulation value of your pad.
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