Looking to get the best sleep while you're out on the trail? For over 8 years, we've slept on more than 60 of the best women's sleeping pads; for our 2021 update, we've purchased 11 of the best models and put them to a side-by-side comparison to find the best. We carried these pads with us all over North America on extended backpacking, horse packing, car camping, and mountaineering trips. We've slept on sand, snow, and slabs, measuring their warmth and comfort. We inflated, deflated, and compressed them to test their durability and useability — so you don't have to. Ladies, if you're planning on sleeping on the ground this year, whether it is a glamping trip or a long thru-hike, we've got you covered.Related: Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad of 2021
Best Sleeping Pad For Women of 2021
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|Pros||Very light, super compact, comfortable, versatile, warmer than normal XLite||Comfortable, quiet, lightweight||Lightweight, small packed size, included pump sack||Comfortable, lightweight, small packed size||Comfortable, light, small packed size|
|Cons||Noisy, expensive, delicate materials||Expensive, heavier than the NeoAir XLite||Not as comfortable as Ether Light and same weight, thin||Not very warm, not very durable||Not very warm, can feel boaty, expensive|
|Bottom Line||This super light and compact sleeping pad is a great choice for someone looking to go fast, light, and warm||A versatile sleeping pad that is incredibly comfortable||This lightweight sleeping pad is relatively comfortable, but a Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none||This super comfortable sleeping pad is a great choice for summer backpacking and camping trips||This air mattress inflates to a huge comfy pad but packs down very small|
|Rating Categories||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir...||Sea to Summit Ether...||Sea to Summit Ultra...||Exped SynMat UL||Big Agnes Q-Core SL...|
|Packed Size (15%)|
|Specs||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir...||Sea to Summit Ether...||Sea to Summit Ultra...||Exped SynMat UL||Big Agnes Q-Core SL...|
|Measured Weight||12 oz||15 oz||14.6||14.6 oz||16.6 oz|
|ASTM R Value||5.4||3.5||3.5||2.9||3.2|
|Thickness||2.5 in||4 in||2 in||2.8 in||4.5 in|
|Width||20 in||21.5 in||21.5 in||25.6 in||20 in|
|Packed Size||9 in x 4.1 in||11 x 4.5 in||4 x 9 in||10.4 x 4.3 in||8.27 x 3.94 in|
|Tested Length||66 in||66 in||72 in||77.6 in||66 in|
|Bottom Material||30D rip HT Nylon||40D nylon||40D nylon||20 D polyester||Ripstop nylon|
Best Overall Women's Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad is our go-to for any time we're carrying our sleeping system on our backs for extended periods of time because it is so light and compact. New warmth testing standards have increased this pad's R-value up to a whopping 5.4, sealing the deal for the NeoAir. It is a great choice for long backpacking or other self-propelled sports where weight and space are at a premium. It is also very comfortable and features 2.5 inches of thick cushy air to lie on. It uses patented construction techniques similar to a space blanket to trap radiant heat and deflect cold air from the ground, keeping you warm on the coldest of nights of the year. This technology contributes to its small packed size because it doesn't use bulky insulating foam. Pack it small, sleep warm - it has an unbeatable warmth to weight ratio.
Like all things ultralight, the NeoAir XLite is somewhat delicate, and its materials are not the most durable. You'll need to treat this product with care, and if you do, you'll get years of use and lots of trail miles out of this great, lightweight option.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op AirRail Plus - Women's
Do you like sleeping on a cloud? We do, and we think that sleeping on the REI AirRail Plus - Women's is about as close as you can get. In addition to its comfort, this pad has a trimmed down weight and packed size and a reasonable price tag. It is wider than the rest of the products in this review, 23" versus 20-21.5" inches, and the rails act like bumpers, cradling your whole body in a very comforting way. The side sleepers among us slept comfortably on this pad, and the "air rails" let you know when you're close to the edge.
Unfortunately, the R-value has been slightly downgraded to 3.7, so it's not as warm as we once thought, but we think it is priced well. We recommend the REI AirRail Plus for short backpacking or camping trips in the warmer days of the year.
Read review: REI Co-Op AirRail Plus - Women's
Incredibly Comfortable and Warm
Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated - Women's
Every time we lie down on the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT, we're blown away with our experience of comfort. It has pretty great warmth and weight specifications and packs down very small. Its women's specific shape is wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders, providing space where we need it. At a cushy 4 inches thick, it's great for side sleeping. If you live for creature comforts, you're going to want to consider this deliciously cozy pad that we have a hard time getting off of. It's stable and oh-so-quiet, especially in comparison to the loud crunchy sounding materials of other inflatable and packable pads.
Unfortunately, the Ether Light XT is neither the warmest nor the lightest, but your tentmate will thank you for the silent sleep. If you're seeking a super comfortable pad and are willing to carry a few extra ounces for good quality sleep, this is by far our first recommendation. The Ether Light is a good choice for all your summer backpacking needs.
Read review: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is crafted by outdoor educator and guide Jessica Haist. Jessica holds a Master's Degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College in Arizona. Originally from Canada, Jessica moved to the US from her native Toronto and now resides in Mammoth Lakes, CA, where she avidly engages in several outdoor pursuits, including climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, and skiing.
Reviewing women's sleeping pads began with understanding what was available, and more specifically, what was worth testing. We combed through many products during the selection of the top 11 that are discussed here. We then thought about what was most important in a women's sleeping pad and made sure to focus on these things during testing. Aspects such as warmth and comfort, weight, durability, and packed size were key. We then tested the pads in varied terrain and environments, on various trips, including climbing and mountaineering expeditions, extended backpacking trips, and car camping extravaganzas. The result is a comprehensive review that will set you off on the right foot in your search for a women's sleeping pad.
Related: How We Tested Sleeping Pad for Women
Analysis and Test Results
When it comes to sleeping pads, women have different needs than men. It's not surprising that our anatomy is different and scientific research shows that women typically sleep colder than men. Outdoor gear suppliers have noticed this and created sleeping pads specifically for women. There's extra padding in the torso and foot areas, providing more insulation. The width of the pads also tends to be a little shorter and narrower for shoulders that aren't as wide. Essentially, each is trimmed down, reducing bulk and weight. When a sleeping pad is engineered correctly, it'll offer more comfort with a better fit for most women, or shorter, curvy folks in general.
At OutdoorGearLab, we do care about the weight of your wallet. As a result, we wanted to highlight some pads that offer exceptional value. These are options that do all things it needs to without spending an arm and a leg. The REI Co-op AirRail Plus offers the best value overall. While it's not the lightest of the products out there, it boasts immense comfort and swaddles you with its rail system. It's light and packable enough to take on your next backpacking adventure. The Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite is a great value option for car camping or if you don't mind carrying a little extra weight in your backpack. Notably, the Sea to Summit Ultralight is a high-scoring product for a relatively low price. It is very lightweight and relatively comfy at a reasonable price point. In general, there's a trade-off of weight and packability to save a few extra bucks. If you're okay with this trade-off, you can find some excellent deals.
Not Just for Women
People of all genders are starting to clue into the fact that women's sleeping pads provide a better bang for the buck regarding weight-to-warmth ratios. All of the women's pads we tested have higher R-values than the equivalent men's versions. They are usually the same weight as the men's version but come in a smaller, more compact packed size. We have spoken to some men who prefer to buy the women's version — especially if they're under 5'6" — because of the higher weight-to-warmth ratio. Some tall people are buying women's pads too, and just putting their backpacks or other gear under their feet for insulation. This is a remarkable example of products that have been designed specifically for women, and in turn, have become better products.All that said, this time around, we've searched for more options for us ladies and smaller people in general. We sifted through all sleeping bag manufacturers' sites to see who makes pads in smaller sizes, specifically in the 64-66 inch length that is a great size for a woman around 5'3" to 5'6". That way, we can still get the great products that are in the men's/unisex models but carry fewer materials (and weight) around consequently. We've now evaluated all the products that will fit us regardless of whether they're supposed to be "women's specific" or not. We have noticed this time around that manufacturers are making pads of different shapes than their unisex models and are more tailored to a typical (if there is such a thing) woman's shape — wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders.
The women's pads we tested have R-Values ranging from 2.7 (Therm-a-Rest Prolite - Women's) to 6.3 (Sea to Summit Ether Light Extreme) and are designed for use primarily in three-season conditions — but some can be used in winter temperatures as well.
R-value ratings are based on how well a material insulates. R values were originally used by the construction industry to rate home insulation. In the realm of sleeping pads, the R-value scale measures how well a pad insulates the sleeper from the cold ground temperature and conserves the convective heat from the sleeper's body warmth. A pad's thickness and the amount of air circulation within affects its R-value. Generally, the thicker the pad, the warmer, and the less air circulation, the better. There are now new R-value testing standards that the outdoor industry has implemented in the US, called the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards, and all manufacturers in this test have gotten on board. These standards have shaken things up by significantly bumping up some pads' R-values and decreasing others. The most affected was the NeoAir, bumping up from 3.9 to 5.4, while many of the foam-insulated, self-inflating pads took a hit to the negative.
Construction Type and Warmth
The women's pads we tested are available in two types of construction. Most of the pads we tested are self-inflating foam and air construction, where open cell foam is glued to the top and bottom of the pad's interior. These pads are comfortable and hold their shape well but are not the most compact. Several newer pads use a thin layer of synthetic insulation that is lighter and more compact for a higher warmth ratio than the open cell foam. These are the Sea to Summit Ether Light, UltraLight Insulated, and Ether Light Xtreme as well as the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated. We suspect that this compressible, light synthetic insulation is the way of the future. The one exception that does not use foam or synthetic insulation is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's that uses a structurally insulated air core construction, which is a lot less bulky than foam but can be very noisy. It is designed with internal baffles that provide structure and warmth and then compress very small.
We evaluated the comfort of these pads on how well we slept on various ground surfaces, including rock-solid granite slabs and lumpy sand. In our testers' opinions, the most comfortable pads we tested were the Sea to Summit Ether Light LX, Sea to Summit Ether Light Xtreme, and the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI. Not surprisingly, these were three of the thickest mattresses we tested, making them cushy to lie on, especially for side sleepers, and they felt more stable than other products we tested. We also liked the generous shapes of these mattresses, which were all slightly wider than the others and mostly rectangular. We especially loved the REI AirRail's "air rails," tubes on each side that made the mattress wider and gave it a cradling effect for back-sleepers. The Big Agnes Q-Core also has bigger outer tubes that have a similar cradling effect, but it felt slightly less stable and more "boaty" than the AirRail.
We think the 2.5-inch thickness of the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite is also quite comfortable, but it takes a bit of getting used to because it is bouncier and crinklier than many pads we tested. Thankfully there has been a movement towards more comfort over the years we've been testing.
All of the pads we tested in this review are inflatable. Therefore they are inherently less durable than closed-cell foam pads reviewed in the unisex pad review because they can be punctured.
We evaluated durability mostly on the toughness of the materials of these pads, which ranged from 30-75 Denier strength fabrics. The Trail Lite Women's and the AirRail feature the strongest materials, and the Synmat UL has the most fragile. That said, the NeoAir XLite is surprisingly durable, and some of our testers have owned this model for many years without incident. Luckily all of the pads we tested are relatively quick and easy to patch.
Many of the newer pads on the market have excellent valve technology that seems more durable and easy to use than older models that twist shut. Sea to Summit's valves have burly openings and tabs that allow for the one-way valve to be open or the whole thing to open up for easy deflation. These models also all come with patches and extra valve pieces. All of Therm-a-Rest's models got new one-way valves that increased their durability since, in the past, there were complaints of leaky valves.
Another durability factor our testers noticed was the color of the top materials. The lighter-colored pads like the REI Trail Lite showed dirt much easier than darker-colored mats like the ProLite Plus. For the NeoAir and other rubber surfaced pads like the Q-Core, this is a non-issue because of its smooth, cleanable surface. One tester hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail with the women's ProLite, and the bright orange turned an ugly brown by the end. It is also interesting to note that during her 2000+ mile hike, she never once had to patch her ProLite pad.
For all backpackers, the weight of their gear should be considered. As part of your sleeping system, your pad is part of the big three items (shelter, backpack, and sleeping system) that affects pack weight. Carefully choosing these three items can significantly reduce your pack weight and therefore boost your hiking enjoyment.
Foam weighs more than air; thus, all the self-inflating foam mattresses cannot compete with air core constructed mattresses. The lightest women's pad that we tested by far was the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's, weighing in at a slim 12 ounces. The Big Agnes Q-Core has similar technology and is much thicker but weighs in at 16.6 ounces. Two of the Sea to Summit models are nipping at the NeoAir's heels, the Ether Light (15 ounces) and the Ultralight Insulated (14.6 ounces). Conversely, the heaviest was the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI at 34.4 ounces, which is 22.6 ounces heavier than the NeoAir. Many of these pads now include "pump sacks", which can add additional weight to your kit as well. Consider leaving them at home.
Packed size is another essential factor to consider when trying to slim down your pack size. Again, foam insulated mattresses cannot compete with air core construction or thin layers of synthetic insulation.
The NeoAir XLite Women's, the Q-Core, and the Exped Synmat UL are tied for the smallest packed size, followed by the Ultralight Insulated, and are all in the range of 8-9"x4-5". The Ether Light is close and rings in at 11 x 4.5 inches. Many people have difficulty rolling their inflatable pads up to the original size they came in and are not able to fit them back into their stuff sacks; this may take more than one go at rolling and squeezing all the air out.
Inflation Method and Accessories
Although many of our reviewed sleeping pads claim to be "self-inflating," some people are disappointed by the amount the pads inflate on their own. Just so we're all on the same page, even the manufacturers don't claim that their pads can completely inflate on their own. Instead, they claim they will inflate most of the way, and if people prefer a firmer mattress, they can blow in a few more breaths before closing the valve.
For those of us who have chosen to go with a non-self-inflating mattress, like a NeoAir, we may get a bit light-headed before our pads are full. Several accessories aid us in filling our pads, like the NeoAir Torrent Pump, which is an electrical pump.
The the NeoAir Pump Sack allows you to fill up your mattress manually without fainting, and also acts as a stuff sack, and it's now included with the pad. Sea to Summit has provided stuff sack pumps with all of its non-self-inflating products, which is a bonus. Sea to Summit also includes attachment points for all their mats for their proprietary pillow systems.
Since most women sleep colder than men and have different anatomy, manufacturers have created pads specific to these qualities, sometimes calling a product "women's" and sometimes creating a product that comes in a variety of sizes, one being the most ideal for the average woman. This review is here to help you find the pad that is the most comfortable, light, compact, and/or durable, depending on your specific needs. We want you to have all the info you need to make the right choice for your next trip sleeping out on the ground. Whether it is ice fishing in the Yukon or sleeping on the beach in Baja, you'll find the best option in one of these products we've reviewed.
— Jessica Haist
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