We’re just going to level with you: sleeping outside isn’t as cushy as sleeping inside. But if you’re backpacking or backpacking and trying to stay safe, warm, and as comfortable as possible, you’ll need a sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground.
After checking dozens of review sites and hundreds of customer reviews and considering our own testing experiences we put together a list of top-notch sleeping pads for backpacking.
Looking for the best overall? We recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, a delightful inflatable that delivers mid-range insulation at a low weight cost. Sleep cold, or going somewhere colder?
Our pick for More Insulation is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, only three ounces heavier for nearly double the insulating power. If you’re anxious to get out there but don’t have much to spend, we love the NEMO Switchback for its low price and low weight for a closed-cell foam pad.
- The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
- REI CO-OP FLASH INSULATED
- HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SLEEPING PAD FOR YOU
- WHAT IS THE LIGHTEST SLEEPING PAD?
- What is R-Value in a sleeping pad?
The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad
1. THERM-A-REST NEO AIR XLITE
- R-Value: 4.2 (rated to 20F)
- Weight: 12 oz (6-foot length)
- Inflation: 25-40 breaths or comes with Pumpsack
- Lengths: 47”, 66”, 72”, 72”-wide, 77”
A perennial favorite of backpackers, thru-hikers, and bikepackers alike, no list of best sleeping pads for backpacking would be complete without the inflatable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. This bright yellow beauty is lightweight, with the Regular coming in at 12 ounces, and packs down to about the size of a Nalgene.
It comes in five lengths Small (47”), Women’s (66”), Regular (72”), Regular Wide (72”), and Large (77”), with the Regular Wide and Large, also having a bit more width. Each of the sizes is tapered at the foot to fit into tents that are similarly tapered, and the Regular takes about 25-35 breaths to fill though the newest version can be inflated using a pump sack. In the newest 2020 iteration of the XLite, it comes with TwinLock and WingLock valves that make inflating the pad relatively easy.
At 2.5 inches thick, the XLite is great for back and stomach sleepers, and while the horizontal baffles might make nestling in harder for side sleepers, reviews suggest most side sleepers tend not to “bottom out.” Our own side-sleeping testers haven’t had issues bottoming out, even after thousands of miles and dozens of nights hiking on this pad.
With an R-value of 4.2 or a whopping 5.4 for the Women’s, as female-bodied folks tend to sleep colder most XLites are good to about 20F, according to the manufacturer. Our testers have taken it into the teens on dozens of nights. Although we would’ve preferred the better-insulated XTherm for such conditions, we survived.
While review sites don’t tend to agree on much, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite was a commonality between all the sites we reviewed, receiving much praise. Wirecutter in particular mentioned that the surface of the pad, rather than being slippery and hard to stay on, like some sleeping pad models, was grippy throughout the night, making it easier for slick sleeping bags to find purchase and not slide off.
If we’re being nitpicky, though, Outdoor Gear Lab mentioned that some testers felt the XLite was more narrow than the stated 20 inches, making it less comfortable than it otherwise could be. Our testers agreed when field testing, though our ruler shows the width is exactly 20 inches. To appease these complaints, in 2020, Therm-a-Rest introduced the Regular Wide size, which has a 25-inch width for the 72” model.
The other common issue with the XLite is that of “crinkliness” the material inside the XLite that provides most of its insulation is loud, and sometimes causes light sleepers to wake up when they change positions. Outdoor Gear Lab says that this has changed in more recent iterations. Our testers have put in 30 nights on the most recent model and haven’t noticed crinkling sounds.
Even at its price, the low weight, great insulation, and durability of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite one of which went 12,000 miles’ worth of nights in the backcountry are absolutely worth it.
The Best Sleeping Pad for Cold Sleepers
2. THERM-A-REST NEO AIR XTHERM
- R-Value: 6.9 (rated to -40F)
- Weight: 15 oz (6-foot length)
- Inflation: 25-40 breaths or comes with Pumpsack
- Lengths: 66”, 72”
Almost as popular as the NeoAir XLite, the inflatable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is another top contender for the best backpacking sleeping pad especially if you winter camp or sleep cold. The XTherm is the sleeping pad for cold sleepers we found that has a similar weight and volume specs as 3-season backpacking pads.
At only three ounces heavier than the XLite 15 ounces instead of 12, the XTherm provides a whopping R-value of 6.9, which Therm-a-Rest suggests is good for temperatures down to -40F(!). Plus, it has the same packed size as the XLite about the size of a Nalgene.
While the pad is solid for side sleepers, at 2.5 inches thick, and good for back sleepers as well, stomach sleepers might want to take particular note of this pad. Wirecutter suggests that about 50% of a stomach sleeper’s warmth is derived from the R-value of both a compressed sleeping bag’s insulation and the sleeping pad you choose, a higher R-value sleeping pad like the XTherm might help you sleep warmer.
The XTherm requires a similar number of breaths to fill as the XLite (25-35) though the newest version can be inflated using a pump sack. In the 2020 iteration of the XLite, it comes with TwinLock and WingLock valves that make inflating the pad relatively easy. The XTherm comes in two sizes: Regular (20” x 72”) and Long (25” x 77”).
The biggest issue reviewers had with this pad? It’s pricey. It’s the most expensive pad on our list. Still, you get what you pay for, particularly with regard to the R-value and this pad’s durability; as the fabric is heavier than the XLite’s, it’s also better able to take wear and tear.
As ultralight and lightweight backpackers and bikepackers, our other beef with the X-Therm is that it’s not available in a short (47”) version like the X-Lite. But we suspect the number of people who want a short length winter sleeping pad doesn’t justify Therm-a-Rest making a new product for people like us.
If you want more R-value than the X-Lite and the XTherm is out of your budget (or our of your weight range), we’d also recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Women’s model. With an R-value of 5.4, it’s between the X-Lite’s (4.2) and the X-Therm (6.9). It’s priced in between the two models, too. But (warning) the women’s model is noticeably not as warm on chilly nights as the X-Therm.
If you’re looking for a pad for four-season camping or just plain sleep cold, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is a choice that will carry you through season after season to come. If you foresee travel in snowy conditions, like ski tours, winter camping, or even late spring PCT thru-hiking in the Sierra, this is hands-down the sleeping pad you be happy to have.
BEST FOAM SLEEPING PAD
3. NEMO SWITCHBACK
- R-Value: 2
- Weight: 14.5 oz (6-foot length)
- Inflation: n/a
- Lengths: 72”
With so much love for inflatable sleeping pads out there, it’s easy to get sticker shock if you’re not prepared. Closed-cell foam pads are a much cheaper option, and in our humble opinion, the best among them is the NEMO Switchback. It’s 14.5 ounces lighter (and more durable) than the blue foam pad you can find at big box stores. It’s lack of bulk and extra thickness put it ahead of our former foam pick, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol.
Good for back, stomach, and side sleepers, what we love about the NEMO Switchback is that it packs down better than any other foam sleeping pad. The NEMO is actually thicker than other foam pads at 0.9 inches thick vs. our former winner’s 0.75 inches. But the NEMO Switchback is also more space-efficient than other foam pads. We were skeptical, but after purchasing a pad and carrying it for 1200 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, we’re convinced.
The reduced bulk of the NEMO Switchback is a much-desired update to the classic foam pad design. Some backpackers and bikepackers especially don’t like foam sleeping pads because they take up so much room. Often, people strap them to the top or the bottom of their pack because there isn’t enough room for them inside. Foam pads don’t absorb water. But if it’s raining, you’ll have to wipe down your pad before bedtime.
Even when a sleeping pad doesn’t weigh a ton, extra bulk on the outside of the pack can mess with your balance or get caught on low-hanging trees or branches.
The NEMO Switchback has taller closed-cell foam nodes than the Z Lite Sol. Each bubble on the node captures air and warms it against your back, making the pad feel more comfortable. Although NEMO doesn’t provide an R-value, since the pad is thicker, we think it feels warmer than the Z Lite. We think this works fine for most folks in the summer months.
The NEMO Switchback comes in two sizes: Regular (72 x 20 x 0.9 inches) and Short (51 x 20 x 0.9 inches). It can fit into the back panel of a backpack and can provide support if you decide to go frameless. As with all foam pads, if you need something smaller, you have the option of cutting off one or more of the folding panels to lighten up a bit.
Among professional reviewers, this was another well-loved pad well, well-loved-for-closed-cell-foam pad. But closed-cell foam offers some perks over inflatable pads. The primary perk is an inability to fail. While you still wouldn’t want to lay it out over pine cones, closed-cell foam is great for folks who are harsh on gear, as it can take more damage than an inflatable pad and not lose its insulating properties.
As such, it’s for youth, who may or may not see a difference between jumping on an inflatable pad and jumping on a bed. It’s also better for hammock users, who, if they use a pad instead of an underquilt, need it to curve to their bodies to be most comfortable. And if you’re headed out to the desert, where stabby, deflating things abound, or on an international trip where manufacturers can’t reach you with a replacement, it’s nice to have a pad that won’t let you down.
Another option is to combine the NEMO Switchback with a second pad ideally a short, inflatable, lightweight, low R-Value pad. Three great options are the Therm-a-Rest ProLite, the Sea To Summit Ultralight Air Mat (the non-insulated version), and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite.
All three offer torso length versions, which is all you need with the NEMO Switchback underneath. The R-values of two pads are additive, so combining one of these lower R-value pads with the NEMO Switchback results in a 3-season pad. And the threat of puncturing your inflatable pad is greatly reduced with the foam pad underneath.
The issues? As with any foam pad, the dimples on the pad’s surface can collect dirt, dust, and snow. Also, closed-cell foam eventually compresses, reducing both comfort and R-value. Ultimately, though, these drawbacks don’t diminish the NEMO Switchback in our eyes as a budget pad, a trying-out-backpacking-for-the-first-time pad, or a pad for a youngling.
Best Sleeping Pad for Side Sleepers
4. SEA TO SUMMIT ULTRALIGHT INSULATED AIR
- R-Value: 3.1
- Weight: 16.9 oz (6-foot length)
- Inflation: 3 breaths or comes with Pumpsack
- Lengths: 50”, 66”, 72”, 78”
Side sleepers often find inflatable sleeping pads don’t offer enough padding for a comfortable night of sleep in the backcountry. The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air has a pocketed design which makes it more comfortable for side sleepers.
Similarly priced to other inflatable pads, it has an R-value of 3.1. The Ultralight Insulated Air comes with a stuff sack / Airstream Pump combination which allows you to inflate the pad with one breath. While other brands are replicating this stuff sack pump, Sea to Summit’s system still is the most efficient and reliable.
We figured we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Sea To Summit, as the brand has quite the following: nearly all of the professional review sites we visited had a Sea To Summit’s pad on their list. Trouble is, none of them agreed on which the Sea To Summit pad was best, which is why the brand didn’t make our 2019 list of best sleeping pads.
Since then, we have purchased Ultralight Insulated Air for testing on the Arizona Trail. In our Arizona Trail Gear List, we explain why we chose this model as the best for backpacking. Still, we had confusion in deciding which size and width of the Sea to Summit Ultralight pad to use on the Arizona Trail.
We bought the Sea to Summit Ultralight Full Length but later noticed the women’s version of Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad is less expensive, has better insulation, and weighs less almost the same as our current Overall Pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite.
In our Long Term Reviews: Arizona Trail Gear story, we found a lot to like with the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated. With an R-value of 3.1, it was definitely warm enough even on below-freezing nights. It was fairly easy to inflate and deflate, using a single valve for both. The fabric is quiet and didn’t bother us while turning over during the night.
Thanks to the cellular design I never rolled off my pad. As side sleepers who find the NeoAir XLite to be too uncomfortable for quality sleep in the backcountry (“unusable”), this was revelatory. At the end of the night, only requiring one breath to inflate the Ultralight Insulated Air was a game-changer.
Unfortunately, although this pad is better for side sleepers than the XLite or other horizontal baffled pads, as a side sleeper, our hips still bottomed out which caused some pain during the night. We also had some durability issues. It popped after only 7 nights on the trail. We were able to patch it and it was fine for the rest of the trip and has lived on for hundreds of miles of trips on other long-distance trails.
In earlier versions of this story, the REI Flash was our Side Sleeper Winner. But we’ve had too many durability issues with that pad to recommend it. Customer reviews echo repeated flaws in the design. Readers also reported similar issues with the REI Flash popping on the first night. We can no longer recommend it.
Another warning is to stay clear of the similar-looking Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad. This pad has the pocketed advantages of the Ultralight Insulated but doesn’t have an R-value. Sure, it won a National Geographic Gear of the Year award and Best New Gear Award from Gear Institute. But it has an R-value of 1, which isn’t enough for spring or fall travel and won’t be enough for most people backpacking at altitude in the mountains in summer.
While this pad works for side sleepers better than anything we’ve found, our main beef remains the weight. It runs at 16.9 ounces, not including the stuff sack / Airstream Pump.
Still, if you’re a side sleeper who is willing to pay in both dollars and weight to finally have a comfortable night’s sleep in the backcountry, you might want to take a look at the Sea To Summit Ultralight Insulated Air.
BEST HYBRID backpacking camping SLEEPING PAD
5. BIG AGNES Q-CORE SLX
- R-Value: 3.2 (32F)
- Weight: 16 oz (6-foot length)
- Inflation: 30-50+, comes with Inflation Sack (use it!)
- Lengths: 66”, 72”, 78”
If you’re doing a lot of car camping and beginning to explore the weight-laden wonders of backpacking, we recommend the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX. Six of the seven sites we reviewed mentioned the Q-Core SLX, and with good reason.
With six different sizes to this rectangular pad, the Q-Core SLX is one of the most body-diverse inflatable pads out there, with heights ranging from 66-78 inches and widths from 20-40 inches. It’s the closest backpacking pad we’ve seen to feeling like a camping mattress, which makes it an excellent pick if you have trouble sleeping outside.
The Regular size is 16 ounces making it’s the heaviest sleeping pad on our list. Why the weight? The Q-Core SLX is a whopping 3.5 inches thick in the middle, with 4.25-inch rails along the long edges, to keep sleepers centered at night.
All the baffles, rails included, are vertical, making this pad a dream for side sleepers. And while Big Agnes doesn’t test for R-value, they suggest the pad is good down to 32F.
If you decide to start backpacking more frequently, you might want to make the switch to a lighter pad, but if you’re looking for comfort at both drive-up and walk-in campsites, the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is a great choice.
While we’re satisfied with our picks, we thought we’d throw in some notable contenders to talk about pads that seem to be pretty popular and why they didn’t make our cut. In some cases, the pads mentioned here are former winners.
Other pads may be great for certain use case scenarios or types of backpackers and bikepackers, but not best for most people. The following sleeping pads made our shortlist, meeting our requirements for being highly recommended by outdoor media and everyday users.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
The lightest full-length inflatable sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite. There’s been significant fanfare about this pad enough that we wrote a whole section on What is the Lightest Sleeping Pad?
In this section, we also explain some of the issues with the Uberlite, mainly that durability is an issue. The Uberlite was updated for 2020 to address some of these issues and we’re looking forward to testing that model.
REI CO-OP FLASH INSULATED
If the NEMO Switchback just isn’t comfortable enough for you, but you’re trying to keep costs down, have a look at the REI Co-op Flash Insulated. The Flash Insulated is fairly comparable to our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, in a few ways.
It comes in four sizes, with two lengths, and two widths and it’s worth noting that the Long and Wide measurements are larger than the industry standard. At $100 for the standard Regular size, it has a relatively reasonable price tag for what you get.
That thickness, in particular, means less versatility: the half-inch difference between the Flash Insulated and the XLite means reports of “bottoming out” among some side sleepers. Other side sleepers, however, report better sleep than the XLite, due to the pocketed air baffles on the Flash Insulated.
However, our main concern with the Flash is the numerous customer complaints about quality and reliability. Our staff has purchased this pad only to have it fail on its first trip. REI was kind enough to replace it, but the replacement failed, too. With this pad, it seems like you get what you pay for. And we think it’s better paying for a pad that is more reliable.
Many of the reviews on REI mention the failure of the waffle weld points. We have a similar experience with multiple leaks at the weld points which are hard to fix. The leaks have happened on both the top and bottom of the pad which makes us think that it is a manufacturing problem rather than a hole poked by a prickly thing.
On the other hand, we found the REI Flash to be off-the-charts comfortable. As side sleepers, we had no issues with hip pain. We also had no problems with sliding off the pad in the middle of the night.
If you have an REI nearby, it’s worth going in to test out the Flash Insulated; otherwise, you can always take advantage of REI’s generous return policy to see if the REI Co-op Flash Insulated is right for you.
KLYMIT STATIC INSULATED V-LITE
The inflatable Klymit Static Insulated V-Lite came up a couple of times in our review of popular reviews particularly for its slightly-thicker side rails and v-shaped baffles that are ostensibly more comfortable for side sleepers.
With a 23-inch width, an R-value of 4.4, and a $95 price tag, there’s a lot to like about this pad. The tradeoff? It’s loud and crinkly, it’s less durable than other pads, it doesn’t taper, and weighs a whopping 19.9 ounces nearly a quarter of a pound more than our heaviest pick.
We recommend the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX if you’re looking for something similar, but if you want an inflatable and are tight on funds, the Klymit Static Insulated V-Lite might be what you’re looking for.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SLEEPING PAD FOR YOU
Wondering what pad’s gonna give you the best zzz’s? You’re going to make the best choice for you if you ask yourself a few questions first:
While weight is a big consideration especially for backpacking how much weight is going to matter to you depends primarily on what you’ll be doing with your sleeping pad. Will you mostly be using it for car camping, with a stretch of backpacking here and there?
A slightly heavier pad might not be so much of a bother. Headed out on a thru-hike attempt? You’re going to want something light enough to not be a burden, but comfortable enough that you sleep well for those long days ahead. We’ve chosen a range of sleeping pads between 12 and 16 ounces, so you can find what you’re looking for.
HOW WARM OR COLD DO YOU SLEEP?
Whether you toss the covers to the floor the second you fall asleep or wake up in the morning as a blanket burrito, chances are you know how warm or cold you sleep. Even if it’s warm outside, and even if you’re in a sleeping bag, contact between you and the ground is going to pull the heat from your body through conductive heat loss.
Maybe that’s okay in the warmest of climates for the warmest of sleepers, but what if the conditions are something less than perfect? What if, say, you’re a cold sleeper looking to do some winter camping? Nearly everyone wants some amount of insulation between them and the ground, but how much you need is going to depend on the weather in addition to how warm you sleep.
WHAT POSITION DO YOU SLEEP IN?
While some folks can sleep in any position and we here at Treeline desperately envy them that the rest of us have to deal with the position our body finds most comfortable.
But the best pad for side sleepers may not be the best pad for back sleepers, and even stomach and back sleepers may not get the same comfort out of the same pad. Side sleepers in particular run the risk of “bottoming out,” or ending up with their hips and shoulders touching the ground through even an inflatable pad.
If you’re a side sleeper that wants to avoid this at all costs, we generally recommend inflatable pads that are at least 2.5 inches thick. We’ve made sure our sleeping pads cover the full range of sleep positions so that stomach, back, and side sleepers can all be comfy cozy as they drift off to sleep.
WHAT’S YOUR BUDGET?
As much as we’d love to have the sleeping pad of our dreams, the expense is, unfortunately, a consideration. And when only one of our picks is under $100, with the rest in the $100-250 range, a sleeping pad can seem like a barrier to sleeping outside and doing the things you love.
One thing to remember, however, is that how well you sleep often determines how well you hike, bike, climb, or adventure the following day. We feel a good sleeping pad is worth the weight it lifts out of your bank account, but ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you and your budget.
WHAT IS THE LIGHTEST SLEEPING PAD?
The lightest full-length sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite. The little brother of our winner for the best sleeping pad, the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite, the Uberlite weighs 8.8 oz for a 6-feet long pad. It’s not as warm as the NeoAir XLite the R-Value is 2.3 vs 4.1. But the UberLite is less expensive than the NeoAir XLite, which we appreciated.
Unfortunately, the UberLite, so far, has not lived up to the fanfare. It has almost as many 1 and 2 star reviews as 5-star reviews at REI. Most of the 5 stars are from individuals who had taken the pad out for a single night. In our experience, customer review numbers are highly skewed towards 5s. It’s rare to see a bell curve of complaints and is a red flag that the UberLite has problems.
We analyzed the negative reviews on the UberLite. As expected, the overwhelming complaint about this pad is the lack of durability. One person had it develop 5 holes within a day. Others reported a hole within the first hour of use. In particular, many complained about slow leaks.
The UberLite also doesn’t have the noise issues reported on the site, but customers still complain about the noise. When a person tosses or turns onto the XLite, the mylar inside can sometimes make it sound like a crinkly potato chip bag. The UberLite lacks that mylar, but many customers complained about how noisy it still is. Users also complained that the pad is more slippery than the XLite.
What is R-Value in a sleeping pad?
Selecting a sleeping pad with an eye not only to comfort but also to insulation rating will make sure you get the night of sleep that you’re looking for. Insulation is measured in R-value, with higher numbers meaning more insulation. All of our top picks have R-values that range from 2.6 to 5.7.
If you sleep warm, and you’re headed out in warm weather, lower R-values work just fine. If you sleep cold even through the summer months, you might want to look for R-values in at least the 3-4 range.
Did R-Values Change in 2020?
As of 2020, sleeping pad manufacturers who wish to sell at certain retailers must use independent third party testers to determine R-Value. You may have noticed that some models of sleeping pads are now reporting R-values higher than past models. Did anything change?
The ASTM R-Value standard is an international methodology used to test sleeping pads side-by-side to determine their insulating factor. To learn more about the science behind R-values, check out this blogpost and story from Outside that explains how they’re calculated and why it’s important.