The best backpacking sleeping pad is more important than a sleeping bag in many ways, however, not all campers use them or know why these pads are essential. After spending a few cold nights in the backcountry, a camper will often blame their sleeping bag for the lack of warmth, failing to recognize that the lack of a sleeping pad is the real reason behind their discomfort. If you’ve never used a sleeping pad before, then you may have a difficult time choosing between the different styles, types, and sizes.
Fortunately, I’ve done my research and have tested out several of the best-selling pads that many experienced campers swear by. I’ve also created a buyer’s guide, which lists all of the must-have features while going in-depth concerning how these pads work, why you should never go hiking without them, and the many benefits they have to offer. Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that lists each of the six hiking pads that made it onto my best of the best list, the features they offer, and how each pad rated.
Backpacking Sleeping Pad Comparison Chart
Sleepingo Camping Sleeping Pad
This two-inch thick sleeping pad is supportive, features impressive insulating power, and weighs just a little over fourteen ounces. It can easily be packed down to the size of a water bottle, so you won’t have to worry about it taking up too much room in your backpack. This model is also covered by a lifetime warranty and features a heavy-duty tear-resistant design. Made out of tough ripstop materials, this lightweight pad features a twenty denier thickness rating that’s usually reserved for tents. This material is flexible and treated with a type of abrasion-resistant plastic coating for improved durability. It features an R value rating of 2.1, which makes it a great three-season pad, but not a model that I would recommend for winter use.
- Packs down to the size of a water bottle
- Lifetime warranty
- TPU coating
- Not recommended for winter use
If you’re looking for a thick, lightweight air pad that you can rely on during your next backpacking adventure, then you’ll love the latest model by Sleepingo. This compact, durable pad features a coating that makes it almost impossible to puncture the material, a huge plus for the backpacker who hikes through dense underbrush in the backcountry. The lightweight design will also be a major selling point for the backpacker whose main focus is a low pack weight.
Gear Doctors Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
This self-inflating pad features an impressive R value rating of 4.3, making it a great choice for all four seasons. However, it weighs in at a little over two pounds, which may be a problem for the serious backpacker. At one and a half inches thick, it’s also not the most comfortable pad on the market. However, it does feature a simple setup and breakdown. Simply twist the leak-proof valve, add a few breaths of air, and the pad is ready to go. The pad is made out of seventy-five denier micro-coated polyester, so it’s durable and both UV and water-resistant. The outer coating is hypoallergenic, so it’s a great choice for backpackers with sensitive skin. The pad is covered by a lifetime warranty, which shows that the manufacturer stands behind their products.
- UV protected
- Easy set up
This self-inflated pad is built tough, but for some backpackers, it will be too thin and too heavy. The overall durability of the pad earned it high marks, as does the protective coating, and high R value. However, if comfort is a priority for you over insulating power, then you’ll need to keep looking.
WELLAX Ultralight Air Sleeping Pad
This self-inflating pad by Wellax is made out of heavy-duty nylon for top of the line durability and features an innovative design that supports the user’s weight using dozens of flexing air cells, which is similar to how a pocket sprung mattress works. The pad weighs in at a little over fourteen ounces, so it’s perfect for the long-distance backpacker. The TPU protective layer increases the pad’s durability, making it difficult for branches and sharp rocks to puncture the material. The material itself is tear and abrasion-resistant, waterproof, and is designed to reflect back radiant heat. The two inflation valves allow you to deflate and inflate the pad quickly, with a few short breaths. It has an R value of 2.1, which makes it perfect for hiking in the spring, summer, and fall, but should not be used for the winter months.
- TPU coating
- Innovative design
- Low R value
This pad is a great three-season model, but it’s not designed for winter use. The unique design works to support the user’s back, while the low weight will make it easier to transport for several miles. This pad is a great buy for the backpacker looking for a pad for use in warmer weather, but it falls short when it comes to insulating power and winter use.
FRETREE Camping Air Sleeping Pad
This pad is a little over two and a half inches thick and is made out of forty denier nylon that’s waterproof and puncture-resistant. The manufacturer offers a twenty-four-month quality assurance. If you’re not satisfied with the quality of the pad or you run into any issues, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. The lightweight design is perfect for those longer backpacking trips, especially if you don’t have much interior room to spare. When folded correctly, this pad is no larger than a bottle of water.
It has a 2.1 R value rating, which makes it a bad choice for winter use, but perfect for backpacking in the summer, spring, or fall months.
- Twenty-four-month guarantee
- Not designed for winter use
This three-season pad will be the perfect choice for backpacking in hotter weather. The puncture-resistant material combined with the pad’s overall durability will ensure this pad lasts season after season. It’s also available at a price that’s affordable, so it’s a great choice for the backpacker on a tight budget.
KLYMIT Static V2 Sleeping Pad
Weighing just a little over sixteen ounces, this is one of the lightest, yet most durable pads on the market. The unique V-chamber design minimizes air movement and prevents heat loss. It also provides back support, for improved comfort. The pad comes with a lifetime warranty, carrying bag, and a patch kit. The pad is two-inches thick and has a very low R value rating of 1.3, making it a poor choice for camping in colder weather. Instead, this pad is best-suited for hot weather use.
- Two-inches thick
- V-chamber design
- Includes patch kit
- Very low R value
While the pad can’t help to keep you warm in colder weather, it does feature a more comfortable design than other models in this price range, thanks to the increased thickness and the V-chamber design that provides back support. The included patch kit will come in handy in the event of a puncture, while the carrying bag will allow you to protect the pad and attach it to the outside of your pack, if you’re short on space. This pad will be a great buy for the summer backpacker who prioritizes comfort over insulating power.
ECOTEK Outdoors Insulated Hybern8
This is a four-season pad that has an R value of 4.5. It’s a self-inflating pad that’s two and a half inches thick, so it’s both comfortable and able to retain heat well. The Flex Cell honeycomb design will contour to your body, regardless of the position you sleep in and features a flexible design that focuses heavily on user comfort. This pad can be used for every season, making it one of the most versatile models on my list. It weighs in at twenty-four ounces and packs down small, so you won’t have to worry about it taking up too much space inside your pack. The pad is made out of seventy denier woven polyester material that’s puncture-resistant and waterproof.
- High R value
- Pad contours to the user’s body
This pad is covered by a limited lifetime warranty, which will be a huge plus for any buyer. The unique honeycomb design provides back support, while it contours to the user’s body for improved comfort. The pad itself is very light and can be packed down to a small, compact size, allowing it to fit even in the tightest space. A great buy for use in every season, this model is perfect for both casual and serious backpackers.
Backpacking Sleeping Pad Buyer’s Guide
The sleeping pad’s main purpose is to insulate the user from the cold ground. Their other purpose is to provide comfort, so you’ll sleep better at night. But since there are so many models available to choose from, narrowing down your choices to find a model that will work best for you and your camping needs can require you to spend hours online, comparing different models, in your search for a pad that will keep you comfortable and warm. This buyer’s guide will show you exactly what you need to look for in a pad that will indicate that it’s comfortable and capable of keeping you warm even in freezing temperatures. But before I dive into the top features to search for, let’s learn more about the benefits you’ll enjoy when you bring along a pad on your next backpacking trip.
Benefits of Backpacking Sleeping Pads
- A sleeping pad will provide cushioning from anything on the ground, and the hard ground itself.
- The warmth that one of these pads can provide is by far the most important benefit. Most hikers are unaware that a sleeping pad is vital to keep them warm at night. Regardless of how thick a sleeping bag is, the bottom of the bag will lose its insulating ability because the insulation is crushed between the weight of the hiker. Since the insulation becomes compressed, if the hiker doesn’t use a pad, they’re basically sleeping on the cold ground. Using a pad will prevent this issue. A pad can provide a thick insulating barrier between the hiker and ground. The pad will provide more insulation, the thicker it is.
Other Important Features
Below, you’ll find an extensive list of other features to look for in your new backpacking pad that can have a big impact on how comfortable the pad is, in addition to the pad’s insulating power and overall durability.
Warmth- R Values
For sleeping pads, the warmth they provide is measured by R values. The R value will indicate the pad’s ability to retain heat, resisting heat loss to the ground. A higher R value equals a warmer pad. R values range from under two, to five and a half or higher. Paying close attention to a pad’s R value is one of the easiest ways to determine which pad will provide the best insulation. Remember, the higher the value the better the insulation. A pad with an R value of two will be twice as warm as a pad with an R value of one.
These pads will keep the backpacker warm by creating a layer between the ground and the user’s back. The hiker’s back is warm, while the ground is cold. If a person is lying directly on the ground, the cold from the ground seeps into the warmth of their back, cooling the user down, even if they’re packed inside a sleeping bag. The pad provides a small amount of warmth, but the air in the pad is what does most of the work. This is why the self-inflating pads and the air pads offer more warmth compared to foam pads, which have more air in them. The layer of air will help when it comes to maintaining the temperature around the user’s body, keeping them warm. That being said, the air helps to insulate, yet too much air can be a bad thing. If someone sleeps on a large air mattress, they’ll notice that it can get very cold, because there is too much air.
As I mentioned above, the best way you can gauge whether or not a pad has the type of insulating power you need is by paying attention to its R value. The R value is the industry’s best way to standardize the level of warmth the pad provides. The R value is basically the measure of thermal resistance or the pad’s ability of heat to transfer from hot to cold via the materials used in the design. R values are also assigned to determine a variety of other product’s insulating power, such as the walls in a home.
Unfortunately, because R values aren’t determined by an independent body and each manufacturer has their own testing methods, there’s no correct R value that can be assigned to a pad. However, sleeping pads are assigned R values by big brands anyway. In most cases, these values are pretty spot on.
How Ratings are Assigned
You can often find the R value printed directly on the pad. R values will range from one to ten so a ten R value can provide the max amount of insulation.
There have been no temperatures studied in relation to R values assigned, so most companies will break down the values like this:
1 to 1.5-Does not produce any real insulating properties. Pads with this rating are a good choice for hot weather but can be dangerous to use in freezing temperatures since they can suck the warmth out of you.
2 to 2.5-This type of pad will offer basic insulating power and provides only a small amount of warmth. They will work the best in hotter temperatures sixty-five degrees and above. You’ll often find foam pads with this rating.
3 to 3.5-These pads will offer solid insulation and are warm enough for three-season use with temperatures that range from thirty-five degrees up to sixty degrees. Many models of self-inflating and air pads will have this rating.
4 to 5-These pads are not quite winter-worthy, and instead should be used by backpackers who sleep cold and want a three-season pad.
5 to 10-Pads with a rating of 5 or higher are a great choice for winter use. If you’re a very cold sleeper, then go with the highest rating you can find. In sub-freezing conditions, you should use a pad with a rating of 7 or higher. However, finding a pad with a rating above 6 can be a challenge.
Backpackers may not know that they can add a couple of pads together in order to increase warmth and overall insulating power. This is usually accomplished by taking a foam pad and an air pad and stacking them together.
If you’re having a hard time choosing between a moderately insulated pad and a heavily insulated pad, then combining pads can be the best option. More insulation will mean a heavier pad. However, if you don’t require that level of insulation all the time, then you will be able to get the same type of warmth using a couple of pads and still keep your pack weight low.
To make things more confusing, some pads are sold as uninsulated, while others are sold as insulated. Basically, these two pads are the same, but the insulated version will feature a higher rating and may be made out of more durable fabric.
Make sure you always check the temperature rating or R value listed for each individual pad, so you can make a decision based on the weather scenarios that you’ll be the most likely to encounter. Just because one pad comes with a higher rating doesn’t mean it will be better. Additionally, just because a pad has a value of 1 doesn’t mean it’s not insulated. Not all companies will print their R values on the pad. Some will use generic temperature brackets, such as a pad that’s good for thirty to fifty degrees.
Types of Hiking Sleeping Pads
There are three common types of pads:
A foam pads have an advantage over the other two styles of pads; they don’t leak. These days many hikers will prefer them over the other two options since they’re so light, which helps to get the weight of their packs low. Yet the other two options, while heavier, are said to be more comfortable and can provide better insulation than foam pads. Although foam pads are very light, they are also surprisingly bulky, especially when you take into consideration their lack of insulating power. While these pads still are a popular choice for some hikers, many people prefer using the air sleeping pads. These foam pads are not very comfortable, but if you’re merely looking for an extra layer between you and the hard ground, they can still be a great buy for the backpacker on a tight budget. However, they are not recommended for winter use due to their very low insulating power.
These pads were the workhorse several years ago, due to their lightweight design, comfort, insulating power, and durability. Because these pads are such as popular option, you’ll find no shortage of models to choose from on the market. Like with foam pads, the thicker the pad the more comfortable and warmer it is, however, thicker pads can be very heavy, which can make them a poor choice if you hike several miles a day. These pads will self-inflate on their own, partially. They will require two breaths of air from the hiker, to fully inflate. Deflating these pads can also be a hassle. In order to release the air, the air valve should be opened, but the hiker will need to slowly roll the pad carefully to remove the remaining air trapped inside. Since they’re bulkier and heavier than foam pads, hikers tend to pass them up in favor of the lightweight option.
These are the newest style of pads to hit the market. Air pads are not self-inflating, so you’ll need to bring along a hand pump to inflate it. In terms of the weight to warmth ratio, these pads offer the best value. An ultra-light pad will weigh around one to two pounds and allows the hiker to pack it down to an impressively small bundle. Because of their lightweight design and packability, these pads have become the go-to choice for many hikers. But these pads are not just designed with the hiker in mind. They’re also a great choice for traditional camping and car camping. Their ease of deflation/inflation, warmth, thickness, and overall comfort make them a great choice for everyone.
Preventing a hole will be much easier than having to patch one up, so place your pad in a safe place when you’re out hiking. While many backpackers are tempted to attach the pad to the bottom of their pack, it’s not the best idea. One of the first things most people do when they remove their heavy backpack is toss it right on the ground, which can easily tear an air pad.
While you can also try attaching the pad to the top of your pack, it will still be susceptible to tears caused by debris and tree branches.
This is something to take into consideration if you are leaning towards buying an air pad.
Sleeping Pads for Couples
There are also couples backpacking sleeping pads available. These pads have the same length as standard pads, but they feature a design that’s twice as wide. Many pads that are designed for couple use will measure in at forty inches up to fifty inches wide. These pads can be a great option for people who plan on sleeping together on every trip since it can reduce the weight slightly compared to bringing along two separate pads, while also significantly increasing the comfort of sleeping on the ground next to your partner. That being said, most backpackers will not use a pad designed for couples since the packed size is too big.
Choosing a Pad Based On Season
The type of sleeping pad you choose will depend on the type of hiking you do, the season, and the average temperature.
Hiking in the Winter
For hiking and camping in the winter, you’ll want to choose an air pad or a self-inflating pad that has an R value of five or more. The higher the R value, the better. A lightweight pad made out of foam can be used beneath an air pad in order to increase the R value.
Hiking in the Summer
Go for an ultra-light foam pad for hotter weather, or an air pad. The big issue with a foam pad is their low insulation value. The air pad is ultra-portable and lightweight and can be the best option for hot weather use. When you’re backpacking in the summer months, the R value will not matter nearly as much. As you may already know, pads designed for warmer weather are often more affordable compared to four-season pads. Keep this in mind when you’re shopping for a new pad. If you’re not going to be backpacking in temperatures under sixty degrees, then a four-season pad may be overkill.
Choosing a pad that’s the right length will also be important. In terms of length, your shoulders and hips are the biggest pressure points for a pad, so you need to use a pad that will provide extra comfort in those areas. Hikers who are very concerned about pack weight may use a torso-length pad and allow their legs to hang off the pad in order to keep their pack weight lower. A casual hiker will prefer the type of comfort that a full-length pad can offer.
The width of the pad you choose will be based on your sleeping style. If you sleep on your side, then a standard sized width should do. Back sleepers often want a wider pad which will prevent their arms from slipping off the pad. Regular or standard pads measure in at twenty-inches wide. This width is usually enough for most users, but it doesn’t leave much room on the sides. Your arms and elbows may fall over the pad’s sides and there won’t be much space available for restless sleepers.
Many pads are available in large wide or regular wide options. This will increase the width to twenty-five inches. For most users, a pad that’s twenty-five inches wide provides more than enough space for a good night’s rest. For pads that focus on comfort over insulation, the width can go up to thirty inches. These pads tend to be too heavy for backpacking use.
There are basic rectangular pads that will not taper at the body, but many backpackers will prefer sleeping pads that have the classic mummy shape. There are many design variations on this shape, however, the width of a mummy-style pad will taper at the hips, right down to the feet. This design can save on space and conforms to the shape of most mummy-style sleeping bags.
Because every manufacturer is different, if you’re searching for a pad that’s tapered, then you should try lying on one before your buy. Not every taper style will be exactly the same. Some pads will end up feeling much smaller, while others will end up feeling larger.
Thickness is one of the largest factors when it comes to comfort. Foam mats tend to be pretty thin, only measuring in at an inch thick at the most. So, using one of these foam pads is only a small step up from sleeping on the ground. Air pads and self-inflating pads are available in a wide range of thicknesses, especially when you’re searching for a pad specifically designed for backpacker use.
One-inch: Most types of foam pads are an inch or under an inch thick.
One and a half inches: This thickness level is common for self-inflating pads. This will work if the user prefers a more stable pad and wants to lie closer to the ground. This thickness isn’t ideal for people who sleep on their sides since the user’s hips can dig into the ground.
Two and a half inches: This thickness is the new standard for self-inflating pads and air pads. This thickness will keep you up off the ground and promotes circulation. The pads aren’t thick enough to make the mattress too bouncy. Many air pads will fall into this category.
Three inches: Some air pads will measure in at three inches and can feel very comfortable and plush.
Some pads will come with thick, protective carry bags that will allow you to safely secure your pad to the exterior of your pack. Others will come with bags that are very thin and flimsy and should only be used to store the pad during the off-season and protect it from sunlight, dust, and dirt.
Having a pad that’s highly packable is a big plus, and most air pads can be packed down very small. If you decide to go with a bulkier sleeping pad, then you may need to strap the pad to the outside of your pack. This will not be a big issue for most pad users, however, leaving an air pad on the exterior of the pack can also expose it to environmental dangers, so you’ll need to be extra cautious when hiking through thick underbrush in order to prevent any sharp debris from puncturing the pad.
Pairing Your Sleeping Pad with a Sleeping Bag
Your sleeping pad and your sleeping bag are designed to work together. Sleep systems consist of a few basic components:
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Hiker’s clothing
If you use a pad that doesn’t offer much insulation in colder temperatures, then your sleeping bag will not be able to do its job. It’s important to keep in mind that a bag’s test rating is based on the user wearing long underwear with socks and sleeping on an insulated pad with a high R value. When it comes to the temperature rating on your sleeping bag, use the bag’s lower limit rating if you’re a warm sleeper and the bag’s comfort rating if you consider yourself a cold sleeper.
If you’re camping out in temperatures that are sixty degrees and below, then obviously, you’ll also want to dress for the weather. Remember, wearing the right type of clothes will play a crucial role in the effectiveness of your sleep system. Invest in some long underwear, thermal shirts, and thermal socks. If you’re not sleeping in a tent, then you should also consider wearing a beanie to sleep in. An uncovered head can result in significant heat loss.
By using the right bag, one that works with your sleeping pad and dressing warmly, you’ll enjoy a more comfortable night’s rest, while staying warm when you’re camping out in colder temperatures.
A sleeping pad doesn’t require much care and maintenance. If you’re using a foam style pad, then you don’t need to worry about storage precautions. If you’re using an air pad then you’ll need to follow the instructions I’ve included below.
When you’re on the trail, the pad is your one piece of gear that can fail if you get a hole in it, which is why packing it inside your backpack is a must.
If the pad gets dirty, make sure you wipe up messes right away, especially if it involves sap or insect repellent. Ideally, a pad should be washed once a year. Because insect repellent contains a high concentration of DEET, which can damage synthetic fabrics, you must rinse off your pad immediately if you accidentally get any repellent on it. Pine sap will not do the same type of damage, but it will make your pad a dirt and grime magnet from there are out since it’s very sticky. Pads should be washed once a year to prevent the build up of mold and body oils. These types of contaminants can make their way into your sleeping bag and can cause it to smell.
When your trip is over, dry the pad, storing it with the valves open in a room that’s humidity and temperature-controlled.
At home, your pad should be washed then left outside to dry, hung inside out. Inflate your pad to allow it to thoroughly air dry. Do not hang your pad in direct sunlight since UV rays can damage the material.
If you have a foam pad, keep in mind that moisture can accumulate inside. Once your trip is over, allow it to air dry outdoors for forty-eight hours.
Temperature and moisture can be rough on your pad, so avoid storing it in an unheated space such as an attic or garage and do not place it in a damp environment, such as a basement, unless the basement is heated.
The length of a sleeping pad warranty will range from one month to twelve months. A lengthier warranty is usually awarded to more durable self-inflating pads, while foam and air pads have a much shorter warranty. Keep in mind, a warranty will usually only cover manufacturing defects and will not cover tears or punctures.
Sleeping pads are available in a wide variety of prices, ranging from thirty dollars up to two hundred dollars. Typically, models that have a higher R value will be more expensive. The same also applies to models that are thicker, longer, and wider. Four-season pads will be pricier than three-season pads, but they’re definitely a must for the winter backpacker. If you’re on a tight budget and planning a winter backpacking trip, then it’s definitely worth saving up for a higher-priced pad, one that can provide you with the type of insulating power you need to stay safe and comfortable in inclement weather.
Sleeping Pad Tips
- Most pads will be protected by some type of warranty against material and manufacturing defect. However, most pads will not be covered against punctures that are made when the pad is exposed to the elements. While sleeping out under the stars can be very relaxing and refreshing, make sure you use some type of protection under the pad, such as a footprint or ground cloth.
- Bring along a repair kit. No matter how careful you are with your pad, a puncture can still happen. Because of this, it’s important to be prepared. Bring along a patch kit and make sure the kit is specifically designed for sleeping pad repair. While this may not make your pad as good as new, it will allow you to get more use out of your pad during your trip, but the pad will inevitably need to be replaced at the end of the season.
- If you want to save time and your lungs, always bring along a hand pump. There are many options to choose from and some are specifically designed for hikers, which means they will be compact and lightweight, so you won’t have to worry about them taking up too much space inside your pack or adding a lot of weight to it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Good R Value for a Sleeping Pad?
If you’re planning on camping during the winter, then I recommend a pad with an R value of four or higher. For camping during the fall, spring, and summer, then a pad that has a rating of two or higher should be sufficient.
Can a Sleeping Pad Be Too Warm?
A standard mattress offers an R value rating of around twenty-five or higher. Taking this into consideration, no a sleeping pad can’t be too warm. The highest R value rated pad is ten.
What Length Sleeping Pad Should I Use?
If you’re camping during the winter, then you want to go with a longer pad, if possible. A long pad will measure in at seventy-two inches and will insulate your feet and legs. Shorter pads will measure in at forty-eight inches and up and are a better choice for fall or spring use since these pads will not provide any insulation to your feet or legs.
Are Sleeping Pads Necessary?
Yes. If you want to enjoy a good night’s rest and stay warm during the night, then you need to use a sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag. This will be crucial during the fall and winter months when the temperature at night can drop below sixty degrees.
How Do I Keep My Sleeping Pad from Sliding?
When a pad slides around the inside of a sleeping bag, it can have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep. Many backpackers will use seam sealer to prevent this problem. This tape can be applied along key points on the pad, preventing it from sliding when you slip into your bag, and keeping it firmly in place.
The best backpacking sleeping pad will have a higher R value, if you’re camping during the colder months. It should also be comfortable, lightweight, and easy to use. The type of pad you choose will depend on the time of year you’re hiking, where you’re hiking, and whether you’re a cold or warm sleeper. There are many variables that you’ll need to factor in to choose a model that will provide the type of results you’re looking for, and help you choose a pad that works with your sleep system and your budget.