Everybody knows the value of a good night’s sleep, especially travellers. In our guide to the 7 best sleeping pads for backpackers, we’ve gathered some of the best sleeping pads out there to help you get comfortable, even in the toughest conditions.
Sleeping pads are important not only for comfort, but for warmth, especially in cooler temperatures. A good sleeping pad will see you through the most exciting adventures – whether you’re exploring the northern coast of California or discovering the wonderful Iceberg Lake Trail, you’ll need to prioritise your sleeping arrangements.
In this article, we’ll be looking at:
- Things to look out for when choosing a sleeping pad
- 7 of the best sleeping pads out there, including their features and pros and cons
- Our conclusion – which sleeping pad we think is the best, and why
7 Best Sleeping Pads for Backpackers – an Overview
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the essential information about all the sleeping pads we’ll cover in this article:
What to Look for When Choosing a Sleeping Pad
Air or Foam?
There are 2 main types of sleeping pads – air and foam. They both have their advantages, but come with some drawbacks, too.
Foam pads tend to be more affordable. They can be used for different purposes,, for example, as a makeshift seat or to add some padding around a backpack. The downside of foam pads is that they’re harder to pack, and they wear out quicker, due to compression over time.
Air pads are a little more expensive, but most people find them a little more comfortable, and they can be folded down very small. The downside is, of course, the puncture risk – so people travelling with an air pad will need to bring a puncture repair kit with them.
- Four 1 in / 3cm circular grey patches
- Four 1.5 in / 4cm square grey patches
- Two replacement silicone one-way valve flaps
Size and Shape
Sleeping pads come in different sizes and shapes. Torso-length pads are available if you want to let your legs hang off the end to save precious weight and packing space, but many people prefer having a full-length pad for comfort. Mummy sleeping pads cut out the corner sections of the mattress, again, saving space and weight, but if you move around a lot when you sleep, you might prefer the standard rectangular pads.
Of course, weight is a big consideration. Sleeping pads are on the heavier side when it comes to travel equipment, so if you can find a lightweight model, you’ll be getting a big advantage when it comes to the weight of your backpack.
Thicker pads are not necessarily the most comfortable – but if you go too thin, you’ll feel every bump on the ground. If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll want to go for a thicker pad if possible.
A good sleeping pad will help you to keep warm at night even when the temperature drops. The amount of insulation a sleeping pad can provide from the ground is known as the ‘R-value’. The higher the number, the warmer it will be. 0-2 is good for warm destinations, while 2-4 are good for most seasons. 4-6 is perfect if the temperature drops below freezing.
Of course, price is a consideration. You can expect to spend anywhere from $20 up to $200 for a sleeping pad – but they’re an item we would recommend investing money into if you can.
Finally, you’ll want to consider how big the sleeping pad will be when it’s deflated or folded down. It’s always best to store an air pad safely inside your backpack if possible, to protect it from the elements. Space is at a premium once you’ve packed food, a water bottle, and clothes, so if you can save a few inches of room here and there, it all adds up.
NEMO Tensor Insulated – Best Quiet Sleeping Pad
- Weight (Regular): 15oz (425g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 20 x 3in (183 x 51 x 7.5cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 3 x 8in (7.5 x 20cm)
- R-Value: 3.5
- Variations Available: Short Mummy, Regular Mummy, Regular, Regular-Wide, Long
- Lifetime warranty
For an inflatable pad, the NEMO Tensor Insulated is pretty quiet. It still makes a bit of noise, but it’s quiet compared to other models, due to the lack of thermal layer on the top. If you’re a light sleeper, this could be a good choice for you.
Comfort-wise, it’s very supportive, at 3 inches (7.62cm) thick. Even if you’re a side-sleeper, you should be able to get comfortable with this one. The surface fabric is soft, making it feel more like your bed from home.
The Tensor Insulated is easy to inflate, thanks to the valve that allows you to adjust the air pressure. The dump-valve allows you to deflate the pad quickly, allowing you to get going as soon as you wake up. It’s a little heavier and bulkier than others on this list, but you might think the comfort is worth it.
In terms of variations, there’s a lot to choose from, which makes it a great choice if you’re looking for something specifically suited to you. Short and regular mummy-style pads allow you to cut some weight out if you need to, but you can still pick up a regular, regular-wide, or regular-long rectangular pad for extra comfort.
The Tensor Insulated will cost a little more than other sleeping bags on the market, but it does come with a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship and materials (with proof of purchase). You can see the latest price for the NEMO Tensor Insulated here.
- Inflates and deflates quickly
- Fairly quiet
- Feels soft and comfortable
- Pump sack is included
- On the pricier side
- Bulky and weighs slightly more than others on the market
Klymit Static V2 – Best on a Budget
- Weight (Regular): 16.6oz (470g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 23 x 2.5in (183 x 59 x 6.5cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 8 x 3in (20 x 7.5cm)
- R-Value: 1.3
- Variations Available: Regular
- Lifetime warranty
The Klymit Static V2 is about average when it comes to noise, so if you’re a light sleeper, it might not be the best choice.
However, it’s comfortable (especially given the price). With special body mapping technology, the V-shaped design gives you support in any sleeping position. The side rails center you on the pad, and the deep weld patterning helps the pad to stay inflated under your weight. It’s been designed to give you maximum comfort on a lower budget.
As far as inflation goes, it inflates quickly – Klymit says it takes as little as ten breaths. It opens wide for quick deflation and deflates to the size of a soda can.
It doesn’t come with many variations, which is a shame – it’s a one-size kind of deal.
However, the price is a bonus, especially if you’re on a tight budget. You also get a lifetime guarantee, a stuff sack, and emergency GearAid patch tape which will enable you to easily repair any rips to your sleeping bag.
You can see the latest price for the Klymit Static V2 here.
- Durable Outdoor Camping Mat: This lightweight inflatable mattress is made with durable 75D polyester fabric and designed to stand up to any surface you decide to place it on; Includes stuff sack and patch
- V-Shaped Comfort: This camping mattress features an innovative V-chamber that work together to limit air movement and heat loss for all-night support and comfort
- Compact Camping Bed: Our portable bed is 12% lighter than the Static V at only 16.33 oz and easily compresses down to 3 by 8 inches when deflated; Throw our camping sleeping pads into your backpack and go
- Relaxing Design: With an inflated size of 72 by 23 by 2.5 inches and body-mapping technology that delivers support and comfort for side-, stomach- and back-sleepers, this sleeping pad inflates in just 10-15 breaths, so you can get to sleep faster
- Sleep Outside with Klymit: Our award-winning products are designed to help you sleep outside as comfortably as you do in your own bed
- Inflates quickly
- Very budget-friendly
- Deflates to the size of a soda can
- Low weight
- No variations
- Not as thick as some of the others on this list
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX – Best for Side Sleepers
- Weight (Regular): 16oz (453g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 20 x 4.25in (183 x 51 x 11.5cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 4.5 x 2.8in (11.5 x 7cm)
- R-Value: N/A
- Variations Available: Regular, Wide, Wide Regular, Double Wide, Petite, Wide Long
- Lifetime warranty
The Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX is about average when it comes to noise levels, but it’s very durable thanks to the heavy insulated materials.
The main selling point of this pad is the comfort. Designed for those who want extra-cushioning (like side-sleepers), it’s one of the thickest pads on the market – thicker than any of the others on this list. It’s very comfortable to lie on, even if you toss and turn in the night. It also has high side-rails to stop you from rolling off. Although they don’t give an R-value, users suggest it is comparable to 2/3 R-level sleeping pads.
When it comes to inflation, the valve system is excellent. It inflates well and allows for micro-adjusting (but the inflation will take longer, thanks to the thickness). It also deflates very quickly thanks to the dump-valve. It is, however, a little bulkier than others on this list (which you might expect thanks to the thickness).
It also comes with a lot of variations – the wide options cost quite a bit more, however.
Price-wise, it’s reasonable given how comfortable it is. However, if you want a bit of extra comfort on your travels, we’d say it’s a good investment. It also comes with a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. You can see the latest price for the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX here.
- Very comfortable
- Heavy insulated materials means it’s less likely to tear or puncture
- Lots of variations available
- A bit bulky
- Takes longer to deflate
Nemo Switchback – Best Foam Pad
- Weight (Regular): 14.5oz (411g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 20 x .9in (183 x 51 x 2.5cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 20 x 5.5 x 5in (51 x 14 x 13cm)
- R-Value: N/A
- Variations Available: Short
- Lifetime warranty
If you’re after a foam pad, the Nemo Switchback is a good choice. It’s nice and quiet, but durable – the underside is coated with a silver film to protect it from the elements.
It’s a comfier choice as far as foam pads are concerned. Compared to air pads, it’s certainly not as cosy. However, it does have the big advantage of being versatile. It can be used to sit on, to add another level of cushioning under another sleeping pad, and it can be cut to different sizes if required. It doesn’t have an R-value, but the manufacturers say that it can be used down to 20-35°F (-6 – 0 Degrees Celsius).
Obviously, as this is a foam pad, it doesn’t need to be deflated. The issue with some foam pads is that they tend to compress and become wrinkled over time. Due to the layers of foam, this doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem with the Switchback.
It comes with a short variation, so if you do go for the regular version, it can be cut down to size.
It’s also pretty good in terms of pricing. If you’re on a tight budget, it could be a really good choice for you. It comes with a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects, too. You can see the latest price for the Nemo Switchback here.
- THE REFINED CLASSIC - Nemo’s Switchback is the new champion of plushness and packability; Warm, comfy, and designed for lightning-fast setup and packing, this high-tech pad helps you catch restful Zs night after night, whether you’re mountaineering, thru-hiking, or car camping
- BACKCOUNTRY COMFORT - The Switchback conforms to your body in a perfect balance of comfort and support; With a minimalist 0.9 in of thickness, Axiotomic dual-density foam is optimized for well-balanced compression and abrasion resistance
- METALIZED INSULATION - The switchback leverages a metalized thermal film layer to reflect heat back to the camper’s body, helping keep campers warm down to 20F - 35F; Taller nodes create more space for uncompressed sleeping bag insulation, trapping more warmth around your body
- ULTRALIGHT & PACKABLE - More precise tooling eliminates wasted space between folded layers, enabling taller nodes to nest tighter for a smaller packed size; The Regular model packs down to 20 x 5 x 5.5 in and weighs only 14.5 oz; The Short model packs down to 20 x 5 x 4 in and weighs only 10.5 oz
- Fairly comfortable for a foam mattress
- Can be cut down to size
- Some people don’t find foam pads as comfortable as air pads
- Doesn’t fold up as small as some of the others on this list
Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat – Most Versatile
- Weight (Regular): 16.9oz (479g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 21.6in (183 x 55cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 4 x 9in (10 x 23cm)
- R-Value: 3.1
- Variations Available: Small, Regular, Women’s Regular, Large, Women’s Large
- Lifetime warranty
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat has the slight disadvantage of being noisier than some of the others on this list. Thanks to the rubbery surface, it makes a bit of noise, so if you’re a particularly fidgety sleeper, it might not be the best choice for you.
With that being said, it’s very comfortable. Users report that this model is so comfortable thanks to the air sprung cells that it almost feels like a normal mattress. The only disadvantage is that it can ‘bottom out’ (meaning you may touch the ground when sitting or propping yourself up). Lying down is very comfortable. It’s designed to be used in a wide range of places, keeping you warm even in cooler conditions, and comfortable on warmer nights.
It inflates and deflates very efficiently thanks to the valve system, only taking 2 to 3 cycles of air using their optional Air Stream Pump. It can be adjusted slightly to your preference once inflated, and it deflates quickly. It is a little bulkier than some of the other pads on this list.
Plus, it comes with a lot of variations – so you should be able to find one that suits your size.
It’s a little on the pricier side, although you can use it in a variety of conditions which is great. You can see the latest price for the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat here.
- Very comfortable
- Inflates and deflates quickly
- Feels/sounds a little rubbery
- Slightly bulkier than others on this list
- A little on the pricier side
- Can bottom out at times
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite – Best for Summer Trips
- Weight (Regular): 8.8oz (249g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 20 x 2.5in (183 x 55 x 6.5cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 6 x 3.5in (15.5 x 9cm)
- R-Value: 2
- Variations Available: Small, Regular, Large
- Lifetime warranty
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite is perfect for hot weather. If you know you’re going to a warm location, you can cut down on weight by packing a lighter sleeping pad. One huge bonus of this one is that it’s quiet – quieter than a lot of other sleeping pads, in fact.
It’s not as thick as others on this list. This makes sense, as it’s not designed for cooler temperatures. It’s designed to be very transportable, to save room in your backpack. It’s not as durable as some of the others on this list, so it’s not going to last forever. However, it’s comfortable, especially given the thickness.
The valve design isn’t as advanced as others on this list. It takes a little longer to deflate for that reason – you’ll have to squeeze the air out of it by leaning on it. However, it doesn’t take very long to inflate. The bonus of this model is that it folds up extremely small, making it a good choice if you’re tight on space.
It has 3 variations – small, regular, and large.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite is on the pricey side. They do offer a lifetime warranty, and the quality of the product is excellent – so you might find it worth the extra cost. You can see the latest price for the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite here.
- Featherlight (8.8 ounces) insulated air mattress with 2.5 inches of luxurious cushion for minimalist camping and backpacking
- Triangular Core Matrix construction offers double stacked triangular baffles creating a stable surface while minimizing heat loss; R-Value 2.0
- Tapered design reduces weight without compromising warmth
- Inflates in less than two minutes by blowing into valve, and packs to the size smaller than a one-liter water bottle
- Regular measures 72 x 20 x 2.5 inches inflated, packs to 6 x 3.5 inches, and weighs 8.8 ounces; stuff sack and repair kit included; made in the USA
- Lightweight and folds up small
- No dump valve – so takes longer to deflate
- On the pricey side
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol – Best Foam Pad for Summer Use
- Weight (Regular): 14oz (396g)
- Size (Regular): 72 x 20 x 0.75in (183 x 55 x 2cm)
- Size Packed (Regular): 20 x 5 x 5.5 (51 x 13 x 14cm)
- R-Value: 2
- Variations Available: Small, Regular
- Lifetime warranty
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol makes a little noise, but not as much as some of the air pads on this list.
You’re going to want to look for softer ground if you’re using this pad. It may not be suited for rocky terrain, for example, as it’s so thin (0.75in / 2cm). Despite this, it makes for a fairly comfortable night’s sleep. The pad is softer on the top and denser on the bottom, and it has clever heat-trapping technology which makes it 20 percent warmer.
Obviously, it doesn’t need to be inflated or deflated. It can be folded accordion-style, so it takes up little room. Of course, it can be used as a makeshift seat, and it can be put underneath other sleeping pads to make them thicker.
It only comes with 2 variations – small and regular – so may not work if you’re on the taller side.
Price-wise, it’s pretty good. Overall, we’d say it’s a solid choice if you’re heading somewhere warm and you want to save money and space. You can check out the latest price of the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol here.
- Lightweight and compact closed-cell foam camping mattress is a durable, dependable, and economical option for sleeping on the ground
- Trusted by mountaineers and backpackers for generations, the classic pad features folding accordion-style construction that is compact and easily packable
- Reflective ThermaCapture coating and heat-trapping dimples capture radiant heat, increasing overall warmth by 20 percent for an extra cozy night’s sleep (R-Value 2.0)
- Sleeping pad foam is softer on the top for comfort, and denser on the bottom for extra insulation, durability, and protection from the ground
- Molded foam mattress measures 72 x 20 inches (20 x 5 x 5.5 inches folded) and weighs 14 ounces; manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty; made in the USA
- Doesn’t take up much room
- Only suitable for softer ground
- Not many variations in size
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about the best sleeping pads for backpackers:
Are sleeping pads necessary?
We think so, yes. Not only are they important for comfort reasons, they’re also important because they keep you warm, which is vital when the temperature drops at night.
How long do sleeping pads take to inflate?
Depending on the model, it can take anywhere from a few minutes up to 30 minutes to fully inflate a sleeping pad.
What is a dump valve?
A dump valve quickly releases air from a sleeping pad, allowing it to deflate in moments. Without a dump valve, you’ll be forced to squeeze the air out manually by leaning on it and squashing it.
What should I put under a sleeping pad?
You could put a foam pad under your sleeping pad for extra comfort.
Conclusion – Which are the Best Sleeping Pads for Backpackers?
What you require will depend on your individual needs. For lighter pads, we’d recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir or the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol – these are really designed for warmer temperatures and give you a big advantage in terms of space-saving. They’re very lightweight, too. In fact, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol would make a great ‘booster’ pad to go underneath another sleeping pad, if you need extra comfort – but this would obviously take up more space.
Every sleeping pad in this article has its merits. Although, if we had to pick our favorite from this list, we’d go for the NEMO Tensor Insulated. It’s quiet, comfortable (even if you’re a side-sleeper), and soft, and it’s really easy to inflate and deflate. Although it takes up a little more room than some of the lighter options, and it costs a little more, we think it’s worth it for the comfortable home away from home feeling. Plus, it comes in so many variations, you should be able to find the right size and shape for you.
We hope this has helped you to decide which sleeping pad is right for you. A comfortable night’s sleep is vital, so a good sleeping pad is key! If you’re looking for more advice and tips on the best gear out there, you might also enjoy our guide on the 7 Best Lightweight Rain Jackets for Travel, or our guide on the Best Sling Bags for Travel.