Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking 2017

A good night’s sleep is essential if you want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the trails. Cold ground and the lumps and bumps that Mother Nature presents can make it a challenge to bed down in comfort when you’re backpacking. Choosing the best sleeping pad for backpacking can ensure a decent night's sleep in the backcountry.

Unless you have a team of sherpas carrying your kit you’re probably not going to be able to bring your comforter and memory foam pillow with you.

If you’re anything like me then your already too-full pack may have just enough space left to squeeze in a sleeping pad and that’s it.

Quick Look at Our Top Picks:

Sleeping Pad

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Our Rating

Thermarest NeoAir XLite

Best overall

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core

Top Pick for cold-weather

Klymit Static Lightweight

Best Budget Buy

*Below, you'll find our detailed reviews and a buyer's guide, but you can also click the links above to see current prices of our top choices or read customer reviews on Amazon.

While it may not provide the comforts of home, buying the best sleeping pad for your budget can still have you waking up with a song in your heart rather than a crick in your back.

We’ve reviewed the top 10 best sleeping pads on the market and have also put together a buying guide so you’ll know what to look out for when buying yours.

best sleeping pads for backpacking

Sleeping Pad Buyer's Guide


When buying a sleeping pad for backpacking you want something that is going to be comfortable, warm, easy to use and easy to store.

Sleeping pads come in three main types:

  • Air Pad
  • Self-inflating
  • Closed-cell foam (CCF)

The majority of sleeping pads are of the air pad, or inflatable mattress type.

Some backpackers may prefer the closed-cell foam (CCF) mattress pads for their compact size and lightweight properties while others will be prepared to pay more for the convenience and performance you get from the self-inflating pads.

Air Pad, Self-inflating or Closed-Cell Foam?


Air Pad

Air pads require manual inflation so you’ll need to either blow air into the mattress with your mouth or use a pump to inflate it.

inflatable sleeping pad

Normally it shouldn’t take more than around 15 to 20 breaths the get it inflated. The higher the altitude, the tougher this is going to be.

You can use a pump but the added weight to your pack really doesn’t justify the bit of effort it saves you.

Some sleeping pads will have their stuff sack double as a pump sack. To use one of these:

  • Open the stuff sack and scoop air into it
  • Roll up the open end to seal it - leaving you with a bag full of air
  • Connect the stuff-sack via a valve to the valve on the mattress
  • Press down on the sack to push that air into the sleeping pad - voila! 

It’s a clever way of giving you the convenience of a pump without having to carry one. It’s more hygienic too.

When you inflate the pad by blowing air in with your mouth you also end up blowing moist air into the pad.

This moist air reduces the isolating properties of the air in it and can lead to the development of bacteria in the sleeping pad.

  • Pros: lightweight, comfortable, compact storage
  • Cons: can puncture easily

Self-inflating Sleeping Pads

Self-inflating sleeping pads have foam inserts that expand when the pad is unrolled. As the foam inserts expand they open up cells in the pad creating a vacuum.

With the valve open the vacuum draws air into the cells to inflate the pad. The benefit of this is that it saves you a whole lot of huffing and puffing.

Simply unfurl the pad, open the valve and come back after dinner to a fully inflated pad. A few breaths may be required to get the pressure just right.

Self-inflating pads are usually made from more durable material and provide great insulation. They do tend to be more expensive than foam pads or air pads and don’t store as compactly.

  • Pros: easy to deploy, great insulation, comfortable
  • Cons: not as lightweight as air pads, more expensive, less compact storage

Closed-cell Foam

The closed-cell foam pads, or CCF, are made of little closed air cells in a dense foam.

closed cell foam sleeping pad

These pads either roll up or fold like an accordion. They are a lot more durable because they can’t be punctured and will also cost less than the air pad or self-inflating pads.

They are lightweight but can be bulky. Despite the bulk they store easily on the outside of your pack without having to worry too much about damaging them.

They aren’t the most comfortable though so make sure you’ve got a flat, even space to lie yours on. These are a good option as a stand-alone sleeping pad or as an additional insulating layer under an air pad.

  • Pros: lightweight, cheaper, more durable than other two options
  • Cons: less comfortable

Each of these types will have their fans but for the majority of backpacking applications we’d suggest getting a good inflatable air pad.

Sleeping Pad Shape

Sleeping pads will come in either a rectangular or a tapered wedge shape.

The tapered shape is sometimes referred to as a mummy shape. The main benefit of the mummy shape versus the rectangle sleeping pad is that it uses less material which shave a few ounces from your pack weight.

The mummy shape also takes up less space which could be an issue if there are two of you trying to fit into a small shelter.

These are a great option if you’re a side sleeper because you won’t miss the reduced width along your torso or at your feet as long as you don’t draw your knees up while sleeping.

If you sleep on your back or stomach then these may not be the best choice. The tapered shape could result in your hands and feet falling off the edges.

Sleeping Pad Warmth & "R-Values"

While you’ll be relying on your sleeping bag for the majority of your warmth, having the best sleeping pad will make a big difference to how cold you’ll get.

The reason for this is that, even in summer, your body heat is lost to the ground you’re sleeping on. The more you insulate your body from the ground, the more you’ll be able to retain that body heat.

The air in the sleeping pad will provide some insulation but good quality sleeping pads will also have at least one layer of synthetic insulating materials.

best sleeping pad

The ability of each sleeping pad to be able to resist heat flow is measured and is given an R-value. The higher the R-value, the better the sleeping pad is at insulating you from the cold floor.

Most sleeping pads will have R-values that range between 1 and about 6.

Don’t be tempted to buy the sleeping pad with the highest R-value.

In order to add more insulation the manufacturer generally has to add thicker material and you end up with a heavier pad.

Decide beforehand what the coldest temperatures will be that you expect to encounter on your backpacking trips and then choose the R-value you need accordingly.

Here’s a rough R-value guide:


  • Summer: 1-2
  • Spring and Fall: 3-4
  • Winter: 5+

If you’re trying to decide between two sleeping pads with similar R-values then check out their respective weights.

The warmth-to-weight ratio will give you a good idea of which one uses smarter design and better materials to achieve the required insulation.


Some sleeping pads use smart layering and special materials to capture radiant heat from your body to help keep you warm.

They may also use specially designed channels between the cells to reduce the loss of heat by convection. If you’re going to be backpacking in really cold weather then you need to take all of these into consideration.

If you’re only ever going to be heading out in summer then focus more on weight and comfort.

Sleeping Pad Reviews

We’ve reviewed some of the best sleeping pads for the money. Here are our 10 favorites:​


With an R-value of 3 this air pad is a great choice for cooler backpacking in spring or fall but works fine for summer or mild winters too.

At 1 lbs 8 oz it isn’t the lightest sleeping pad but it’s still fairly lightweight when you consider the durability, comfort and insulation it provides.

The SpeedValve is a great feature if you like setting up and setting off in double quick time.

What We Like

  • More than 100 isolated cells distribute air evenly for great stability
  • ThermaCapture layers help to retain body heat and gives this pad an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
  • SpeedValve halves inflation time and deflates almost instantly
  • 75D polyester bottom and 50D (75D on the newer model) top fabric provide good durability

What We Don't Like

  • Not as light as we’d like
  • A little noisy when adjusting sleeping position

Sleeping pads that are warm enough for winter backpacking often have a lot of extra weight from the insulation materials.

This sleeping pad has an R-value of 5.7 which makes it great for cold temperatures but even the large size only weighs in at 1.4 pounds.

The smart ThermaCapture layers allows them to dispense with additional insulation material and the tapered mummy shape also allows for a reduction in weight.

The tapered shape is quite pronounced and will best suit side sleepers.

What We Like

  • ThermaCapture layers give great insulation without adding too much weight
  • Baffled internal cells give good stability when moving around
  • Packs down compactly to the size of a water bottle
  • Stuff sack doubles as a pump sack for easier inflation

What We Don't Like

  • It’s a little narrow. Get a size up if you want your arms to stay on it.
  • Makes a bit of noise when moving

If you’re looking for a budget friendly sleeping pad then this is a great choice.

With an R-value of 1.3 it’s only really suitable for summer backpacking.

For the price you get a very comfortable sleeping pad that weighs in under 19 ounces and packs up into a bag the size of a water bottle.

The 75D polyester material exhibits good durability and it comes with a lifetime warranty.

What We Like

  • Good comfort at a great budget price
  • Easy to inflate (10 to 15 breaths) and deflate
  • Side rail cells keep you from rolling off

What We Don't Like

  • If you’re a side sleeper and a little heavy then you’re going to feel the ground when you roll over.

If you want an ultralight sleeping pad that still performs in cooler spring / fall conditions then this is a good option.

The internal construction and ThermaCapture layers result in an R-value of 3.2 at an impressive low weight of only 12 ounces for the regular size.

The 2.5” thickness and soft-touch fabric make for a very comfortable sleeping pad.

What We Like

  • Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio makes this a good 3-season sleeping pad.
  • Baffled internal structure provides excellent support and stability
  • Really light and packs down to the size of a water bottle
  • Very comfortable

What We Don't Like

  • A little noisy at first but it quiets down with use
  • Takes a little longer to inflate than we’d like

If you’re looking for a really warm sleeping pad then this rectangular air pad with an R-value of 5 is a top quality choice.

At 3.5 inches thick it’s also going to be one of the most comfortable sleeping pads you’ll ever own.

It takes a bit of huff and puff to get it fully inflated but the quality of materials and level of comfort you get make this a great winter sleeping pad choice.

What We Like

  • High-loft synthetic insulation provides great insulation
  • Antimicrobial treatment prevents microorganism growth inside the pad
  • Cell layout provides good support and keeps you cradled on the pad
  • High durability material

What We Don't Like

  • A bit difficult to blow up

If absolute comfort is your top priority then this air pad ticks all the right boxes. The individual air cells allow for excellent weight distribution even when adjusting your position.

The two separate inflation layers allow you to inflate the bottom layer fully for maximum isolation from the ground while reducing the upper layer inflation for a softer sleep.

This pad is also available in a rectangular format for back sleepers.

At 1.6 pounds it’s certainly not the lightest sleeping pad but once you lie down on it you’ll forgive it the few extra ounces.

What We Like

  • 548 air sprung cells distribute the air evenly for good support and stability
  • Two independently pressurized layers allow for fine tuning inflation for optimum comfort
  • Antimicrobial treatment prevents internal bacterial growth
  • Good durability with extruded TPU layer that prevents delamination
  • Near instantaneous deflation

What We Don't Like

  • A little heavier than we’d like

If you weigh and measure all of your kit but still insist on a good night’s sleep then this ultralight, compact sleeping pad will do the trick.

It’s only 3 inches thick but the layout of the baffles and non-stretch material make it very comfy.

The insulation is good for temperatures down to around 30 to 40 degrees.

It comes in either a 20 or 25 inch width and weighs in at a very light 13.5 ounces for the 20 inch regular size. The 20 inch felt a little narrow so we’d rather go for the 25 inch pad.

What We Like

  • Non-stretch fabric and baffles provide excellent point-deflection resistance - no bottoming out with elbows or hips.
  • Primaloft insulation and Aluminized film provide great insulation and radiant heat retention
  • Side baffles provide good support when you roll towards the edge
  • Compact and ultralight

What We Don't Like

  • The 20 inch size is too narrow

This sleeping pad is ideal if you’re looking for a lightweight summer pad at a low price.

With an R-value of 1.3 you’re not going to take this out in winter but even without insulation the way the air channels have been designed allow for decent warmth.

The big valve makes it easy to inflate and deflate and it packs very compactly.

It’s only 2 inches thick but the cell arrangement provides good support and comfort.

What We Like

  • Ultralight and packs down compactly
  • Easy to inflate - 10 to 15 breaths
  • Very durable - Ripstop 20D Nylon fabric with TPU coating
  • Air cell layout provides good comfort and support
  • Price

What We Don't Like

  • Bottoms out at the hips a little if you’re on the heavy side

If you’re looking for a lightweight CCF pad for summer or an extra layer of insulation under your air pad for winter then this is a good option.

With an R-value of 2.6 it’ll do a good job in even fairly cool conditions. It folds out easily and lays flat immediately. Folding it up is just as easy.

The rectangular shape makes it a little bulky so you’re going to have to stash it outside your pack.

The dimple design and thermal design elements make this pad more comfortable and warmer than a lot of others we’ve seen.

What We Like

  • Heat trapping dimples and ThermaCapture coating provide good warmth
  • Very light and compact
  • Hard dimples underneath for durability and softer upper dimples for comfort
  • Very durable

What We Don't Like

  • A bit bulky so it has to be stashed on outside of pack

With an R-value of 3.4 this pad is warm enough to use in cold winter conditions but at 1.4 pounds it’s light enough to rival some summer sleeping pads.

The convenience of being self-inflating doesn’t compromise the weight too much.

In fact, the isolating properties of the expanding foam inserts are part of the reason this pad performs so well in winter conditions.

At 1.5 inches thick this pad combines good cold temperature performance in a lightweight and compact form factor.


This closed-cell foam mattress is one of the lightest and most compact that we’ve seen.

  • Self inflating allows for easy deployment
  • Great compressibility for compact stowage
  • Diagonal-cut foam inserts provide excellent warmth
  • Very light for a self-inflating pad
  • Really quiet
  • After self-inflating it still needs a few breaths to fully inflate

These are all great products but if you made use choose just one it would come down to these two:


Our Favorite

We just loved the Thermarest NeoAir XLite Mattress. Its clever thermal design elements make it ideal for all but the coldest conditions.

The cell layout, baffles and the feel of the fabric make it super comfortable. These qualities combined with a super low weight make it a standout choice.


Best For Budget

If we were counting pennies and still wanted a good sleeping pad then we’d have to go with the Klymit Static V Lightweight sleeping pad.

If we were only doing summer backpacking then this pad would even make us think twice about buying a more expensive sleeping pad.

The quality fabric, comfortable and smart cell design and the lightweight compact storage makes this a great choice if you’re on a budget.


Conclusion


A comfortable sleeping position is such a personal thing so there’s not one solution that is going to suit every backpacker.

Each one of the products above are great choices but it’s important to give some thought to the conditions you expect as well as your sleeping position and weight tolerance before making your choice.

Weight is important but don’t sacrifice comfort so that you can brag about the 2 ounces you shaved off your pack weight.

This is not a purchase you want to make in a hurry. Buying the best sleeping pad for your budget will have you waking up refreshed and ready to take on whatever challenges the next day brings.

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