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Over 8 years, our experts have conducted rigorous testing on upwards of 44+ sleeping pads. We sort through the best models on the market, purchasing and testing the cream of the crop. This year, we analyzed 17, putting them through the wringer while spending countless evenings under the stars. We've hand-selected a series of metrics to gauge overall performance, such as comfort, warmth, and weight. From the High Sierra to the foothills of Colorado, no matter your budget or preference in objectives or climate, we have a pick for you.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is a competition-crushing machine, that once again wins our Editor's Choice award. This model is lightweight, versatile, and comfortable when it comes to warmth and weight. It's highly durable and packs up to the size of a water bottle. This lightweight contender is a beaut and should seriously be considered for your next backcountry adventure.
While this pad is our favorite, there are budget options that will get the job done at a fraction of its enormous price tag. If you're put off by the narrow profile of the XTherm, check out the wider Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max for a bit more wiggle room.
There are many inexpensive sleeping pads on the market. However, the Klymit Static V2 is the only one we highly recommend. It's light, comfortable, and packs down small. Surprisingly, the Static V2 is much wider than the majority of pads we tested, which makes the low weight and price that much more impressive.
The bargain-basement price does come with a big drawback. The Static V2 has one of the lowest R-values of any pad we tested this year, making it unsuitable for temps below freezing unless you have a burly sleeping bag. For three-season use, it's hard to ignore the price, comfort, and durability of this pad.
The Comfort Plus was the only pad in our review to utilize two separate air chambers. While this gave a huge boost to the pad's durability, it also made for an extremely comfortable model. Having the option for dual-density, think firm on the ground layer, and pillowy soft on top is revolutionary in the camping game.
The Air Sprung cells, coupled with variable density chambers and a high R-value, make for one heck of a sleeping pad. The only real downside of this sleeping pad is its weight relative to our highest rated warm sleeping pads. That said, the Comfort Plus is wider, longer, and overall more comfortable.
Compresses after many uses, losing insulating ability
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL has been on the market since many of our gear testers can remember. This is for a few simple reasons. From those on a tight budget to the most hardcore mountain athletes (sometimes these are the same people) have multiple uses for the Z Lite SOL. The simplicity of lightweight closed-cell foam pads is also attractive to anyone who has experienced a popped inflatable pad in the backcountry.
The high 2.6 R-value can be stacked with other pads, making even those with a lower R-value suitable for cold climates. It also provides an extra layer of protection from potential popping hazards. The accordion design allows you to cut the pad down to any length you want, and each segment weighs almost exactly one ounce.
Once again, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite takes home the Top Pick in the Ultralight category for sleeping pads. This is absolutely not the lightest pad on the market, but we feel it is critical to retain decent insulative properties to be versatile enough for the mountains. The 3.2 R-value was plenty through three seasons of testing.
In an age of fancy new inflatable pad valves and new baffle designs, the XLite is pleasantly simple. The old screw cap air valve, while simple, does restrict airflow both in and out, and it's worth considering how narrow the XLite is if you're around the six foot tall mark.
Two sleeping pad reviewers at a Sierra Nevada test location.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by the sleeping pad testing dream team - aka OutdoorGearLab Senior Review Editors Andy Wellman, Matt Bento and Brian Martin. These three come to the campsite with heavy climbing backgrounds - a pursuit where you learn to appreciate a restorative night's sleep outdoors. Andy has been testing and writing for OutdoorGearLab for over five years and climbing for over 20. He has climbed extensively around the world and has also run a publishing company that put out bouldering guides to the Southwest. He is joined by Matt and Brian, both alumni of Yosemite Search and Rescue, where versatile, reliable, and durable equipment is a necessary part of everyday life.
The quest for the best sleeping pad began by delving deep into what was available in the market, and what products among those were the high performers. We looked at over 70 models before choosing the 17 models discussed here. We then bought these pads retail and disbursed them to our trusty gear testers. These pads went on guided backpacking trips in Colorado and New Mexico, and we brought them along on trips in the Eastern Sierra and Utah. All the while, we paid attention to how well the pads performed in key areas that we identified ahead of time as most important in the function of a sleeping pad — things like weight and packed size, durability, and warmth, in addition to comfort.
A fantastic sleeping pad for backpacking is not only characterized by its ability to pack up into a small package, but the comfort and warmth it provides while you sleep. We looked at a variety of sleeping pads, ranging from thick to thin, all with different insulative values from a variety of brands. After purchasing them, we took them out and slept on each for months on end. In the end, we identified pads that are best for different scenarios. For example, which is best for sleeping in the car for the night (or the month), and which are best for multinight missions? To judge the best, we look at five key metrics that we use to comparatively evaluate each product. We provide a summary of our results and the "whys" for how some of these products got their scores.
Frigid desert night on hardpacked ground? No problem. If you're on a supported adventure and don't have to haul the Synmat XP 9 on your back, it is amazingly comfortable.
As pads can range in price and value, it's important to pick one that fits your needs. We've highlighted Top Picks, which include niche pads for specific purposes, as well as Best Buy winners. In this review, we have multiple Best Buy winners because each one excels in a different application. For example, the Klymit Static V2 is a lightweight pad for a fantastic price. It offers superior comfort and boasts an exceptional packed weight. If you're seriously on a budget, consider the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, which is a classic foam pad that'll do the work to keep you elevated and relatively warm while you sleep. Don't let high prices on sleeping pads keep you out of the backcountry. If you're on a tight budget, a heavier pad may be inconvenient, but you'll have more fun in the woods after a good night of sleep. Also, pay attention to the versatility of these pads. A slightly heavier, warmer pad that will work for most of the year is a better value than a lightweight summertime pad with no insulating properties.
The XTherm is a fantastic marriage of warmth, comfort, and weight savings. Coupled with a four-season tent and warm sleeping bag, this pad is ready for any adventure.
Here we evaluated how well each pad transformed rocks and roots into plush clouds. Although comfort is subjective, thicker pads cushion hips and knees better than thinner pads. Flat surfaces are more comfortable for your head than bumpy surfaces. Grippier fabrics keep you from falling off of the pad. More surface area means more comfort. Several of our testers noted that after years of sleeping outside, their priorities are leaning more towards comfort than having the absolute lightest pad money can buy.
The most comfortable pad will depend on your preferences. Our comfort scores come from a host of reviewers who each used one or more of these contenders. Many were first-time campers on guided trips (they typically gave a lower comfort score), and many were seasoned backpackers (they ranked pads higher). Side sleepers preferred a wider pad with minimal collapse around the edges, while back sleepers could sleep better on a narrow pad. Keep in mind that our ratings are relative. A score of 9/10 means that the pad was among the most comfortable competitors, not that it's going to offer the same level of comfort as your Tempur-Pedic.
Testing the Static V2 in the Sierra Nevada.
Hands down the most comfortable pads we snoozed on were the Top Pick for Comfort award-winning Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated and the Exped Synmat 9. Our testers preferred sleeping on it over the NEMO Tensor Insulated, which received high comfort ratings. Our reviewers loved the rectangular shapes of these pads, but the Comfort Plus Insulated took things to a whole other level, thanks to its dual-chamber design that lets you fine-tune comfort level. The REI Co-Op Flash All-Season Insulated earned a high score, thanks to its supportive quilt-like baffles that reduce bounciness. This is one of the lightest pads to get such a high comfort rating and also is less noisy than most of its competition.
While the majority of our testers preferred horizontal baffles to those that run the length of a pad, everyone agreed the quilted Comfort Plus was the most comfortable.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, Nemo Astro Insulated, and Therm-a-Rest EvoLite all received good scores. Note that each of these pads has a smooth surface. Most of our testers preferred the pads listed above because of their thickness. The Synmat 9 and the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air both received high scores due to their rectangular shapes that provide more room to sprawl, at the cost of increased weight. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL is a closed-cell foam pad and was the least comfortable pad reviewed. Foam pads don't convert grass lumps into clouds as well as inflatable pads.
If you're looking for an extremely warm and comfortable pad for expedition base camp, the Exped Synmat XP 9 was one of the plushest pads we tested. It's also significantly wider and longer than any other pad in our lineup. If an extra pound of weight on top of other winter pads doesn't bother you, this is an excellent long term sleeper.
The Synmat was longer, wider, and thicker than any other pad we tested. It was also heavier than the others but there are certainly applications where this ultra-comfortable pad is useful.
Weight and Packed Size
Weight is an omnipresent factor when selecting and using outdoor equipment. If all things were held constant and one item weighs less than another, you should absolutely select the lighter item.
Unfortunately, there are always tradeoffs when using ultralight equipment, be it durability, warmth, or amount pad footprint. More important than weight is making sure whatever you end up with satisfies your specific needs rather than just selecting whatever is lightest.
Even compared to the largest inflatable mat we tested, the Exped Synmat 9, the Z Lite is cumbersome.
The weight of the pads tested ranged from 8.8 ounces (Therm-a-rest Uberlite) to over 35 ounces (Exped Synmat XP 9). Check the warmth score of a lightweight pad before purchasing it to make sure it will meet your needs. Many pads are available in multiple sizes, and some testers minimize weight by taking short, torso-length pads and using a backpack, boots, or other gear under their legs. The Therm-a-Rest Uberlite is an excellent choice for ultralight backpacking in the warmer months, weighing in at 8.8 ounces, but it's not warm enough for winter camping.
Our favorite pad for ultralight backpacking is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Twelve ounces give you an R-value of 3.2, a packed size roughly equal to a liter bottle, and a lot of comfort to boot. The Nemo Tensor Insulated boasts similar specs but edges past the XLite in comfort thanks to a rectangular design, box baffles, and less "crinkly" materials for a quieter night's sleep. The Klymit Static V2 was not the absolute lightest, but it was one of the lightest wider pads. Keep in mind that most of the pads under 17 ounces are also usually pretty narrow and achieve part of their weight savings by reducing the sleeping area. If you toss and turn a bit, a wider pad like the Static V2 may be worth a few extra ounces.
With a standard 12oz coffee mug for scale, these pads represent the spectrum of sizes. The Static V2 on the far left is a similar packed size to other light weight award winners such as the XLite and XTherm. The far right, Exped Synmat 9, was extremely comfortable for long periods and ultra warm but has a large packed size.
Depending on the model, a self-inflating pad may or may not pack down small enough to fit inside your backpack. Older designs are bulky and don't pack down much smaller than foam pads. Newer designs use less foam and can pack down relatively small. While we didn't have any self-inflating pads in our pad update this go-around, they are still on the market and fill a niche for those who want a super comfortable sleep without all the fiddling.
Layering the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm on top of the ZLite Sol will give you a cozy R-value of over 8.
A pad's ability to insulate from the cold below is an important concern, especially in winter, when the temperature difference between your body and the ground can exceed 60 degrees. That's a high-temperature gradient going on in what is often less than an inch!
Thermal conductivity in pads is a complicated issue with many variables, but let's discuss the basics. First, cold is nothing more than the absence of heat, and heat is the movement of energy from warmer objects to colder ones. Second, we lose heat via three mechanisms: conduction, convection, and radiation. If you sleep on the ground without a sleeping mat, the ground can conduct heat away from you up to 160 times faster than the air around you. The products in this review are designed to lift you off of the ground, preventing heat from being lost through conduction.
The XLite certainly isn't as warm as the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus but it is significantly lighter and can still see you through a cold night or two with your life intact.
If you're a summer hiker, warmth isn't nearly as important as it is for winter wanderers. Unless you are a cold sleeper, most of the pads in this review will be warm if you only like recreating in temperate climates. If you camp in the heat, you probably don't want a warm pad. The Outdoorsman Lab UltraLight is an excellent pick for this because it has an R-value of 1.3, is lightweight, packs small, and is a great value. If you're cold when camping, upgrading the R-value of your sleeping pad is recommended but often comes at the expense of added weight and bulk. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm supplies an unmatched level of warmth for its weight and packed size.
Ease of Inflation
In this review, we've included ease of inflation in our metrics. With the difficulty of inflation being one of the main drawbacks of air construction mats, manufacturers have come up with an array of valve styles to help alleviate this issue. Therm-a-Rest now includes a stuff sack with a small hole that fits over the twist valve on the NeoAir Xtherm and the Uberlite, though this solution isn't perfect.
With cold hands or gloves maneuvering the plastic gusset over the inflation valve, it requires about as much concentration as getting the Apollo 13 astronauts home safely did. We opted to leave the pump sack being as it is quite heavy and difficult to use.
You can inflate the pad by opening the stuff sack, so it fills with air, then folding it closed and pushing the trapped air through the valve and into the pad. The Nemo Tensor employs a similarly effective design. The upside, other than speeding inflation, is that no moisture from your breath enters that pad. While moisture accumulation in pads is not a major deal, it is something to keep an eye on. After a trip, you should keep the pad inflated, with the valve open, to allow moisture out.
While some pump bags can be frustrating, the introduction of the Exped Schnozzel pump sack was a pleasant surprise. The extremely lightweight fabric and generic nozzle made for easy inflation with nearly every pad we tested that was equipped with modern valves. The included Therm-a-Rest pump bag was made from heavy material that resisted poofing up effortlessly like the Schnozzel.
The one-way valves on the Sea to Summit pads, Outdoorsmanlab Ultralight, REI Flash All-Season Insulated Air, and Big Agnes insulated AXL Air are easy to use and make the chore of inflation easier than the traditional twist valves found on pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm. One caveat; the flutter on all these one-way valves are more prone to accidental leakage than traditional twist valves.
Of course, self-inflating pads have been on the market for decades and make the task of inflating easier. The downside of self-inflating pads is that they are less comfortable, more bulky, and heavier than air construction pads. While these self-inflating pads definitely have their cult following among hardcore wilderness Luddites, the new sleeping pad technologies are certainly getting lighter, warmer, and even more comfortable, which makes these self-inflating pads a bit less attractive.
Filling up a sleeping pad the old fashioned way can be pretty exhausting. While pumpbags may seem gimmicky, they are incredibly useful both for keeping moisture out of your pad as well as speeding up the process.
Advances in textile development make lightweight inflatable pads, such as the NeoAir XTherm, or Sea to Summit Comfort Plus, durable. We have used inflatable pads for 40-day backpacking trips without any durability issues and are impressed by the amount of abuse our inflatable pads handled without tearing or delaminating. Take care of your pad, and it will take care of you. That said, we always recommend traveling with a mini repair kit, such as the Therm-a-Rest Repair Kit or Gear Aid Seam Grip Field Repair Kit in case of punctures.
Even the most durable pads can be punctured with a sharp thorn, a rock, or are a shard of glass. It only takes a tiny hole to render a pad completely useless, and this can be a potentially dangerous scenario in colder temperatures. A small repair kit weighs a few ounces at most, and most repairs are pretty easy in the field. If you want to add even more durability to your pad, you can use Tyvek as an inexpensive ground cloth. Few other materials add as much protection for their weight.
Thankfully, inflatable pads are easily patched, and most come with patch kits. The most durable pads tested were the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL, and Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest SOLite because they are made of foam and are virtually indestructible in comparison with inflatable pads. The most durable inflatable pads were the Synmat 9, Comfort Plus, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, and the Nemo Astro Insulated that all utilize thicker materials and even dual air chambers in the case of the Comfort Plus.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite is constructed from a 15 denier nylon that feels alarmingly thin, while the Nemo Tensor uses a slightly thicker 20D nylon. We never punctured these pads during our testing, but would never leave home without a patch kit while hiking with these pads.
Year after year, we have poured through sleeping pad reviews, articles, and innovations looking for the best of what the industry has to offer. This year revealed some progress and innovation, but also time has revealed that quality equipment is sometimes difficult to improve upon. The Xtherm has been one of the top sleeping pads for years; this is simply because its performance is going to take some serious innovation to improve. All of our testing and information gathering will hopefully illuminate each pad's strengths, weaknesses, and overall value and allow you to insightfully choose a new pad for your next adventure.
The Therm-a-Rest XLite is a highly versatile sleeping pad that can carry you through three seasons easily. It is a bit outgunned in during the frigid times of year, however.