Believe it or not, your sleeping bag isn’t the only thing keeping you warm and toasty at night. For a good night’s sleep in the bush, sleeping pads are the true unsung heroes.
Not only does a sleeping pad add a layer of heavenly comfort between you and a patch of rocky soil, but it also prevents precious body heat from escaping through the ground. Below, we review the best sleeping pads in 2021.
The Top Sleeping Pads Reviewed
Our winner for the best sleeping pads is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad. It beats the competition in nearly every category as being the lightest, most insulating, and compressible sleeping pad on the market this year.
Best Overall Sleeping Pad
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad is 2021’s best sleeping pad. Whether you’re gearing up for an epic coastal thru-hike or just looking for a few weekends of front-country camping this summer, the UberLite is an excellent choice. It’s recommended for three-season use, but can even handle mild winter climates, as well.
Because it doesn’t use the same reflective materials as other NeoAir models (such as the Topo and Xlite), the UberLite doesn’t suffer from that ‘potato chip’ rustling sound, making it a very quiet pad.
The UberLite offers a spectacular warmth-to-weight ratio. It has an R-Value of 2.3 and weighs between 6 oz (size small) and 12 oz (size large). The face fabric is an abrasion-resistant 15D nylon and, when inflated, has a 2.5” thickness.
Best Runner-Up Sleeping Pad
Coming in a close second, the Sea to Summit UltraLight Mat offers a decent warmth-to-weight ratio, durable fabric, and excellent price. The reason the UltraLight Mat takes second is for its low R-value when compared to the NeoAir UberLite.
Weighing a mere 16 oz (size large), the UltraLight Mat features a light and durable 40D ripstop nylon outer. An R-Value of 1.1 is perfect for summers and warm nights, but you’d be hard-pressed to call this a veritable three-season pad.
That said, for ultralighters looking to shed a few ounces off their summer kit, the UltraLight Mat will do the trick. And, for those on a budget, this is an affordable pad with impressive specs.
- Not super warm
Best Budget Sleeping Pad
Gear junkies routinely watch their income disappear into equipment black holes. But you don’t need a small fortune to comfortably enjoy the great outdoors.
Lightweight, warm, and virtually indestructible, the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite — Small offers excellent value. This highly versatile sleeping pad is good for both ultralighters and glampers on a budget since it weighs a mere 9 oz and is comfortably insulated with an R-Value of 2.8.
- Thoughtful design
- Warmth-to-weight ratio
- Not super packable
Best Ultralight Sleeping Pad
If you seriously want to rock the ultralight ethos, then you’re going to need a Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL. With an R-Value of 2.0 and a weight of just 10 oz, the Z-Lite is the lightest closed-cell foam pad on the market. The accordion shape makes it highly packable, especially in a frameless backpack where it doubles as lumbar support.
Want to take it to the next level of lightness? You’ll need to cut your Z-Lite down to a torso-length pad. Most of your body heat escapes through your back, so ditching the lower half won’t constitute a huge loss of heat. Also, for extra comfort, your emptied-out pack can double as the lower part of your sleeping pad.
Want to go lighter still? Cut your toothbrush in half.
- Seriously ultralight
- Warmth-to-weight ratio
- Less comfortable than inflatables
Best Sleeping Pad for Couples
The ultra-cozy Klymit Insulated Double V Sleeping Pad is ideal for couples. It’s specifically designed to fit most standard two-person tents while offering an ergonomic build that optimizes comfort in any sleep posture.
The pad itself is filled with synthetic loft insulation, making it exceptionally warm. At 3.3 lbs, it’s certainly not the lightest sleeping pad on the market. But, considering this is made for two, it’s nothing to complain about.
With Klymit, there’s no excuse not to cuddle in the woods.
- Cozy for two
- Advanced technology
Best Sleeping Pad for Women
The women’s Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus boasts an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. With an R-value of 3.9, it’s slightly warmer than the men’s. Of course, with such a high R-value, it is on the heavier side at 1 lbs 6 oz.
The ProLite Plus has a comfortable thickness of 1.5” and is self-inflating, which saves you time and effort. The WingLock Valve helps keep air in during the night and makes deflation easier when breaking camp in the morning.
- Very warm
- Highly compressible
Best Sleeping Pad for Backpacking
For extended backpacking trips, you need something lightweight, durable, and versatile. With all the expenses involved in planning such a trip, a low price-point doesn’t hurt, either. For all this, the Sea to Summit UltraLight Self Inflating Mat — Regular fits the bill.
As the name implies, the mat is self-inflating, making it exceptionally easy to set up. Meanwhile, the 30D polyester outer is tough and abrasion-resistant. At just 19oz, it also won’t add much to your pack weight. With an R-Value of 2.6, it’ll also keep you toasty in a wide array of conditions.
Just keep in mind that the mat’s one-inch thickness may not be opulent enough for every type of camper.
- Not very thick
Best Weight-to-Comfort Sleeping Pad
The NeoAir Topo Luxe (Large) takes the classic and beloved NeoAir and makes it even better. With an opulent 4” thickness and a 3.7 R-Value, it remains remarkably packable. When compressed, it’s only slightly larger than a 1L Nalgene bottle. It features a TwinLock Valve, which utilizes separate one-way valves for inflation and deflation. The outer is a highly durable 50D polyester.
As you’d expect with this level of decadent comfort, it is on the heavier side. But, at 1 lbs 13 oz, it’s not as heavy as you might’ve guessed. If you’re looking for an exceptionally comfy pad that offers excellent support, consider the NeoAir Topo Luxe.
- Lavishly comfortable
Best Wide-Size Sleeping Pad
Large folks and the restless will both appreciate Quasar 3D Insulated Sleeping Pad - Long Wide by NEMO Equipment. Besides its ample surface area, the Quasar is also quite comfortable thanks to NEMO’s body-mapped 3D baffling technology and slightly elevated head baffle. The 30D polyester fabric offers lightweight durability.
While the Quasar 3D is ideal for car camping or front-country camping, it can also be packed down small enough to be transported in your backpack. With a packed weight of 2 lbs 4 oz, however, you might opt for something lighter on extended trips.
- Elevated head
Best Sleeping Pad for Winter Camping
The Exped DownMat HL Winter Down Insulated Sleeping Mat is a highly durable and insulated pad, perfect for winter camping, mountaineering, and alpinism. It features a 75D polyester outer and comfortable 9 cm thickness.
At 23.45 oz, the DownMat HL is just under pound-and-a-half—unbelievably light for a sleeping mattress with an R-Value of 7.0. Yep, it’s rated for temperatures as inhumanely cold as -32°C (-25.6 F).
Obviously, a sleeping pad of this calibre is a small investment. The use-case is for those embarking on a wintry adventure with (1) funds to spare and (2) a disposition towards the ultralight.
- Exceptionally warm
- Surprisingly lightweight
- Highly packable
Remember our best sleeping pad for couples? Well, for those of you who liked our pick but prefer to sleep solo, check out the Klymit Insulated Static V Ultralite Sleeping Pad. It offers the same advanced technology and ergonomic V-shaped baffles while boasting a weight of just 15.2 oz.
Our choice for the best ultralight sleeping pad went to the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite since it’s an absolute classic. But another ultralight option for those who prefer an inflatable pad is the Tensor Insulated Small Tapered Sleeping Pad from NEMO Equipment.
This shorty pad (torso length) underwent a makeover in 2019; it now weighs a mere 9 oz and features a durable 20D face fabric with two layers of Thermal Mirror for added insulation.
What to look for when buying a sleeping pad
In your search for the perfect wilderness mattress, consider the following:
When we think of comfort two things come to mind: softness and support. You want a sleeping pad that feels as if it was designed for you. If you want to feel like you’re on a cloud, a thick, inflatable pad is a good choice. For those seeking something more rigid, a closed-cell foam pad offers a firmer feel.
R-value is a measure of a barrier’s absolute thermal resistance. In other words, how effectively does a layer resist heat flow or, conversely, how well does a layer trap heat. The higher the R-value, the greater the resistance to heat loss. In 2018, ASTM International set a new standard for lab testing R-values which has become consistent across brands.
There is no precise rule for which R-value is best; it all depends on your own temperature regulation, gender, and body mass. If you already own a sleeping pad, check its R-value and ask yourself if you’d prefer something warmer.
When purchasing a sleeping pad in-person, it’s common to test it out before buying it. But when it comes to shopping online, many of us simply read reviews to see which offers the most comfort for the least weight. Unfortunately, we often forget about size.
Always check the dimensions of a sleeping pad and compare them to your own physical measurements. You want something slightly longer and wider than you to account for displacement.
Finding the right dimensions isn’t just important for tall folks; you don’t want to end up with a pad that’s unnecessarily long either, adding useless weight and volume to your pack.
The average sleeping pad can range from less than a pound to more than four. While weight isn’t a necessary consideration for car campers or front-country campers, hikers should opt for something light.
For winter sleeping pads, give priority to R-value before narrowing in on a lightweight option.
Most sleeping pads come with their own stuff sack, which not only protects the pad from tears and deformations, but allows for maximum compression. Depending on things like R-value and the material construction of the pad, packability will vary.
For most, a good rule of thumb is to choose a pad that is roughly the size of a 1L Nalgene. For ultralighters, something the size of a Coke can is ideal, but will inevitably have a lower R-value. As for car campers, just make sure it fits in your trunk!
FAQs for sleeping pads
Do you need a sleeping pad for camping?
Even cowboy campers and ultralighters rely on their sleeping pads for a good night’s rest. A sleeping pad is as necessary as a sleeping bag.
Does a camping sleeping pad have to be your height?
Roughing it in the woods is quite distinct from suffering in the woods. Given the spartan nature of camping, you’re going to want to maximize your comfort with the items you have. That’s why having gear that meets your needs is essential—especially since it’s a small investment.
Of course, ultralighters may disagree. A Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite cut to torso-length is common among them; however, their emptied-out backpack usually substitutes as the second half of their pad.
Not having a long enough pad means precious heat will escape; having too long a pad means unnecessary ounces. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, best advice is to stick with the bed that’s just right.
Does the sleeping pad go inside the sleeping bag?
Because of its size, your sleeping bag likely won’t accommodate you plus a sleeping pad. If you’re tempted to try it, remember that putting a layer between the ground and your pad can reduce its R-value.
For the frustrated tossers and turners out there: If you want to keep your bag fastened to your pad, purchase some adjustable straps that can be sewn to the outside of your sleeping bag. When you’re ready to hunker down, simply buckle them around the sleeping pad et voilà. Or, check out the Big Agnes System, an innovative way to attach a sleeping bag to a sleeping pad using an integrated sleeve.
Can a sleeping pad be too warm?
Just like a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad can be too warm. That said, it won’t cause the same discomfort that a sleeping bag will. The bigger issue with a too-toasty pad is that you’re paying extra for a feature you won’t use and adding more weight to your pack.
Remember that your sleeping pad is just as important as your sleeping bag when it comes to keeping warm. For its lightweight design, warmth, and packability, we recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite, a highly versatile three-season pad. Check it out, and any other of our best sleeping pads above for the best night’s sleep outdoors!