Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2021 (Thru-Hiker Friendly)
It may not be as sexy as a tent, backpack, or sleeping bag, but the humble backpacking sleeping pad is just as critical (and often just as expensive) as the much-touted Big Three. The warmest sleeping bag in the world won’t do you much good if you’re lying on the cold, hard ground without a mattress, after all. Because a crappy night’s sleep is the fastest way to ruin the trip of a lifetime, you should opt for one of the best backpacking sleeping pads for your next hike.
Why should you trust us?
Because we’re so incredibly intelligent, of course! Attractive, too. (Not to mention extremely humble).
But if that isn’t enough to impress you, there’s also the fact that everyone who contributed to this article is an experienced thru-hiker with thousands of on-trail miles under their belt. We’re gear nerds who love putting our equipment to the test on trails long and short, and we’ve tried just about every sleeping pad under the sun in pursuit of a better night’s sleep in the backcountry.
Moreover, we survey hundreds of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers every year to learn about their behaviors, demographics, and—you guessed it—gear preferences. That means our picks for the best backpacking sleeping pads aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the greater thru-hiking community.
You clicked on this article to get our recommendations for the best backpacking sleeping pads, and we’ll get right down to it. Read through to the end for an in-depth look at sleeping pad technology and tips to maximize your mat.
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (Best for Thru-Hikers)
- NEMO Tensor (Quietest)
- Klymit Insulated Static V Lite (Best for Hammocks / Best Budget Inflatable)
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm (Best for Cold Weather)
- NEMO Switchback (Best Budget / Best CCF)
- Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX (Best for Side Sleepers)
- Therm-a-Rest Apex Prolite (Best Self-Inflating)
- Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air (Most Durable)
- Gossamer Gear Thinlight (Best Supplemental)
- Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad FAQs
- Sleeping Pad Quick Tips
The 9 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (Best Pad for Thru-Hikers)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $150—$230
- Weight: 12 oz. (Men’s and Women’s)
- R-value: 4.2 (Men’s) / 5.4 (Women’s)
- Dimensions: 72″ x 20″ x 2.5″ (Reg.) / 66″ x 20″ x 2.5″ (Women’s) / 47″ x 20″ x 2.5″ (Small) / 77″ x 20″ x 2.5″ (Long)
- WingLock valve: Therm-a-Rest has finally updated its air valve. The new Winglock is easier and faster to use with one-way inflation and a larger opening. They also now throw in a pump sack if you want to save your breath.
- Made in the USA: In their words, “the NeoAir XLite is made in market to ensure quality and minimize environmental impact.” Therm-a-Rest is also super responsive when it comes to pad repair or replacement.
What We Loved
The NeoAir XLite is perfect for three-season thru-hiking with an R-value of 4.2 in the men’s version (47”, 72”, or 77”). The 66” women’s version is even warmer at 5.4 while maintaining the same 12-ounce weight, making it perfect for smaller dudes too. The XLite inflates to a root-smothering 2.5-inches thick and packs tiny to roughly the size of a Nalgene. It also comes in various lengths for a perfect fit, and an updated valve and included pump sack make inflating/deflating easier than ever.
The NeoAir XLite utilizes Therm-a-Rests reflective ThermaCapture technology to boost the R-value while minimizing bulk. This works, but it also sounds like you’re lying on a crinkly bag of chips when rolling around. That’s fine for solo sleepers, but light-sleeping partners and shelter-mates beware. The NeoAir line also runs on the narrow side for sleeping pads. Their tapered mummy shape, while cutting weight, can make it difficult for active sleepers to remain perched on the thick cushion. And like other inflatable pads, the risk of a puncture leaving you flat in the night is very real. The material is reasonably durable and easy to repair, but a long thru-hike will put that to the test.
Pros: Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio; easy-to-use one-way valve; comfortable; multiple length options.
Cons: Expensive, on the narrow side; makes a lot of noise.
Read our full review here.
NEMO Tensor (Quietest Sleeping Pad)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $160
- Weight: 14 oz (Reg. Mummy) / 9 oz (Short Mummy) / 18 oz (Reg.)
- R-Value: 3.5
- Dimensions: ” x 20″ x 3″ (Reg.)/ 48″ 20″ x 3″(Short Mummy)/ 72″ x 20″ x 3″ (Reg.)
- Mummy shape: Shaves a little weight while still providing plenty of cushion to sleep on for a 6-foot tall hiker.
- “Space blanket” insulation: It really works! I’ve slept directly on snow well below freezing with this pad paired with a 20-degree quilt and slept just fine.
- Two-part valve system: Makes inflation adjustment convenient.
What We Loved
This pad is extremely well suited for thru-hiking. The insulation factor means it can be used functionally even on the coldest nights, yet I never had issues with it being too warm in the summer months. It held up pretty well for most of the PCT where I used it and has only recently received its first pinhole. As mentioned above, even on the slightly taller side of the spectrum, this pad is plenty of bed to get cozy on.
The baffle system across the pad makes it collect dirt like nobody’s business. I think the friction from the micro dirt buildup ultimately led to the little hole in mine. The pad does come with an inflation bag, but otherwise, as with any inflatable pad, the moisture buildup inside this pad from breath inflation could be an issue over time.
Pros: Durable; warm; mummy and rectangular options available (along with multiple lengths and widths); less crinkling/squeakage than similar pads.
Cons: Gets dirty quickly; not as warm as other pads at a similar weight/price point.
Read the full review here.
Klymit Insulated Static V Lite (Best Hammock Pad /Best Budget Inflatable)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $100
- Weight: 19.6 oz
- R-Value: 4.4
- Dimensions: 72″ x 23″ x 2.5″
- V-shaped baffle design: Mimics the muscular structure of your back for maximum comfort.
- Synthetic insulation: Boosts the R-value to a balmy 4.4.
- Twist-lock valve: For faster and easier inflation.
What We Loved
The Static V is one of the best backpacking sleeping pads for active sleepers and larger people because of its generous 23-inch width. That width and the V-shaped baffles, which help to cradle the body, make it a favorite among hammock campers as well (Klymit also makes a hammock -specific pad, but it’s pretty heavy). This pad is also available in standard, wide, ultralight, and non-insulated versions, but we think that the Static V Lite offers the best balance of affordability, weight, and insulation. The pad is relatively quick to inflate, requiring only 10-15 breaths—this is a major selling point for many, as it makes a much-reviled camp chore easier. If you want the comfort of an inflatable without the whopping price tag, the Static V line is your best bet.
Many users dislike the twist-lock valve design, saying it’s hard to use or tends to leak. It’s unclear whether the V-shaped baffles, which are pretty much this pad’s whole schtick, actually improve the pad’s comfort over a more traditional design (Static V users: please weigh in on this in the comments section). Many side sleepers find the baffle design uncomfortable.
Pros: Warm; affordable (best value for an inflatable pad); quick and easy inflation; wider than most (hammock-friendly).
Cons: Finicky valve system; not the lightest pad on this list; uncomfortable for side sleepers.
Therm-a-Rest Neoair XTherm (Best Sleeping Pad for Cold Weather)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $220 – $260
- Weight: 15 oz (Reg.) / 20 oz (Large)
- R-Value: 6.9
- Dimensions: 72″ x 20″ x 2.5″ (Reg.) / 77″ x 20″ x 2.5″
- Winglock Valve: New as of 2020. Allows for one-way inflation, so you’re not constantly battling to keep the air in the pad while you blow it up.
- Radiant Thermacapture layer increases insulation factor by reflecting your heat back at you.
What We Loved
Simply put, the XTherm has the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any pad on the market. The R-value of this pad comes in at a whopping 6.9, it weighs in at a modest 15 ounces (!!), and the full-length dimensions are comparable to most inflatable pads on the market. Not sure what sorcery has made this possible, but there’s no question that the XTherm deserves top marks in the winter camping department.
The NeoAir line has long produced some of the best backpacking sleeping pads on the market, but their low-tech air valves left a lot to be desired. The new WingLock system is amazing and solves all the problems of the old valve.
The stories are true: this pad is crinkly AF. All inflatable sleeping pads feature a certain degree of noisiness, but the mylar component of the NeoAir design takes it to a whole new level. Perhaps the more pressing concern with this pad is the price point: at well over $200 for the regular version, this is the most expensive pad on our list by far.
One last minor note: although this pad’s insulation factor is impressive, it still has its limits. If you’ll be out in teens and single-digit temperatures (and/or expect to set up camp on snow or ice), you’ll still need a supplemental foam pad underneath to ward off the chill.
Pros: Insane warmth-to-weight ratio; one-way valve simplifies inflation; well-built for comfort and durability.
Cons: Incessant crinkling noise; expensive.
NEMO Switchback (Best Budget Sleeping Pad / Best CCF Pad)
- MSRP: $49.95
- Weight: 14.5 ounces
- R-value: 2.0
- Dimensions (in.): 72″ x 20″ x 0.9″
- Reflective coating: The shiny metallic coating boosts warmth by reflecting body heat back to the sleeper. NEMO recommends pointing the shiny side down.
What We Loved
The NEMO Switchback took the classic and already popular closed-cell foam (CCF) sleeping pad and made improvements all around. A cleverly designed dimple pattern nests smaller while providing more thickness and comfort, and a reflective film bumps the R-value to 2.0, which is just adequate for three-season use. At 14.5 ounces, the Switchback is certainly ‘ultralight’ and it’s easy to use scissors to shorten it and cut ounces. It is also extremely rugged and ready for the rigors of a long thru-hike. Unlike inflatable sleeping pads, it can never pop, and since it takes just seconds to deploy, the Switchback is a versatile pad that’s useful for snack breaks, lunch breaks, 2nd lunch breaks, and trailside naps, in addition to sleeping. Last but not least, at $49.95, it’s cheap enough for a thru-hiker on any budget.
The big downside to CCF pads like the Switchback is comfort (or lack thereof). Even though NEMO’s version is comfier than the competition, it will cause all but the hardiest sleepers to toss and wiggle in search of a position without pressure points. This pad style works best for those who sleep on bellies or backs, while side sleepers may prefer a thicker inflatable pad. Despite the satisfying accordion-style nesting, the Switchback is bulky and will need to be carried outside of a backpack. Also, the relatively low R-value of 2.0 limits its usefulness when summer begins to fade.
Pros: Inexpensive; comfortable (for a foam pad); durable; quick to set up (no huffing and/or puffing required); can double as a jumbo sit pad.
Cons: Uncomfortable compared to inflatable pads; low R-value; low warmth-to-weight ratio compared to inflatable pads.
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX (Best Sleeping Pad for Side Sleepers)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $130 – $200
- Weight: 17 oz (Petite) / (18 oz (Reg.) / 24 oz (Long Wide)
- R-Value: 3.2
- Dimensions (in.): 66 x 20 x 3.5 (Petite) / 72 x 20 x 2.5 (Reg.) / 72 x 25 x 3.5 (Reg. Wide) / 78 x 25 x 3.5 (Long Wide)
- Higher outside baffles: (4.25″ outer baffles, compared to 3.5″ in center of pad, cradle you so you don’t slide off in the night.
- Available in several lengths and widths: So you don’t overpay (or over-carry) for extra material you don’t need.
- Antimicrobial treatment: Deters creepy crawlies from growing in the pad’s warm, moist interior.
What We Loved
The beefy 3.5-inch thickness of the Q-Core makes it eminently comfortable and not “floppy” like many inflatable pads. You could sleep right on top of some seriously gnarly roots and not even begin to feel them with this bad boy. I’m what you might call an “active sleeper,” meaning that I shift from back to side to stomach throughout the night like a rotisserie chicken, and this pad’s ample width and long vertical baffles easily accommodate even my most acrobatic snoozing positions.
Although no inflatable pad will ever be truly quiet, I found this one to be among the least squeaky I’ve tried. At 66 inches long, the petite size was just right for my 5’4 self and was even more affordable and lightweight than the regular length version. Finally, I loved having separate, dedicated inflate/deflate valves. Even though this design is clunkier than some, it made setting up camp hassle-free.
Durability is this pad’s biggest issue by far: the baffles are a weak point where delamination and leakage can occur. I put about 700 miles on mine before it began to die a slow, undignified death via a proliferation of ever-worsening pinhole leaks too numerous to patch. A quick bit of online research revealed that this is a somewhat common problem with this pad.
My only other complaint is that the thickness of the Q-Core seems… a bit excessive. In the topography of the shelter floor, Mount Ibex on her Big Agnes pad always towered over the foothills of slumbering hikers on either side. The extra height doesn’t seem to translate into a big gain in R-value compared to other pads, but it does require a dizzying amount of breath to inflate.
Pros: Plenty of cushion; multiple length and width offerings; rectangular cut and vertical baffles great for side sleepers; relatively quiet.
Cons: Prone to leakage along baffles; takes forever to inflate; not that warm for the weight and height; heavy.
Therm-a-Rest Prolite Apex (Best Self-Inflating Pad)
At a Glance:
- MSRP: $120 – $140
- Weight: 22 oz (Reg.) / 30 oz (Large) / 28 oz (Reg. Wide)
- R-Value: 3.8
- Dimensions (in.): 72 x 20 x 2 (Reg.) / 77 x 25 x 2 (Large) / 72 x 25 x 2 (Reg. Wide)
- Self-inflating: If you give it enough time, it will fill almost entirely.
- Packability: This won’t compete with an ultralight sleeping pad in terms of packability. But, when comparing it to other pads of a similar weight / R-value, the packability here wins.
What We Love
If you know me, you know that a good night’s sleep is a pretty high priority for me. Though it’s a bit on the heavy side, I bring this sleeping pad on every trip. I have never slept on a more comfortable pad, and I never worry about my sleep system when the temperature drops, given its 3.8 R-value. I’ve found that a warm sleeping pad is more important than a sleeping bag for me. I’ve comfortably slept in ~25-degree weather, and plan to take it out as often as possible this winter.
The sturdy construction of this pad makes it extremely resilient, even when sleeping on uneven ground. Inflatable pads tend to be finicky and just another camp chore, but I have my bed set up for the night within three minutes.
This pad does self-inflate, but only if you give it ample time to do its thing. I usually top it off myself, which can be a hassle at higher elevations. It took me a bit of time to get the hang of stuffing it back into its sack, and rolling it up is significantly more work than strapping a Z-lite to my pack. In the future, I would love to see a more packable iteration.
Pros: Very comfortable; good R-value; good price-to-R-Value ratio; convenient (self-inflating).
Cons: Self-inflation process is a bit slow and still requires a few breaths to top off; heavier than many pads on this list.
Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated Air (Most Durable Sleeping Pad)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $140-160
- Weight: 17 oz (Reg.) / 21 oz (Large) / 15.8 oz (Women’s)
- R-Value: 3.1 / 3.5 (Women’s)
- Dimensions (in.): 72 x 21.5 x 2 (Reg.) / 78 x 25 x 2 (Large) / 66″ x 21.5″ x 2″ (Women’s Reg.)
- Nested valve system for easy inflation and deflation.
What We Loved
This pad is middle-of-the-road when it comes to price, weight, and R-value, but there are a few areas where it really shines compared to the competition, earning it a spot among the best backpacking sleeping pads of the year. First, it’s wider than most inflatables (21.5 inches compared to the typical 20 inches). This makes it a comfy choice for broad-shouldered individuals and active sleepers. Second, I’ve found it to be insanely durable. My partner owns a Sea to Summit UltraLight, and it stood up to all manner of abuse and shenanigans on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and beyond. Finally, I find that it takes fewer puffs to inflate compared to other pads.
As stated above, this pad is pretty much middle-of-the-road in terms of important features like weight, warmth, and price. These are primary selling points for most consumers, and the fact that the UltraLight excels in none of them is a little disappointing. Also, while I generally like the pad’s nested valve design, it makes it all too easy to accidentally let all the air out of your pad when you only meant to unstopper the intake valve to add a few more puffs of air.
Pros: Not too thick = quick to inflate; excellent durability; regular size is 1.5″ wider than most pads.
Cons: Weight, warmth, and price are nothing to write home about; two-part valve can be tricky.
Gossamer Gear Thinlight (Best Supplemental Sleeping Pad)
At a Glance
- MSRP: $
- Weight: 4.5 oz (1/8″) / 5.5 oz (1/4″)
- R-Value: 0.5 (1/8″) / 1.0 (1/4″)
- Dimensions: 59″ x 19″ x 1/8″ – 1/4″
What We Loved
Gossamer Gear’s Thinlight pads are too minimalist to work as standalone sleeping pads, but that’s not the point of this item. Instead, these pads are meant to supplement your existing sleep system (R-values are additive, so stacking this pad underneath another one will boost the insulation factor). These pads actually have an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio for closed-cell foam: theoretically, stacking two 1/4-inch Thinlights would achieve the same R-value as a traditional CCF foam pad at significantly less weight. As an added bonus, they can double as backcountry dog beds, yoga mats, and hammock pads.
At the end of the day, the Thinlights just aren’t that warm. Even as a supplemental pad, a boost in R-value of just 0.7 or 1 might not be enough to justify the added expense and bulk of carrying this pad. Next time I head out in the snow, I’ll probably still opt for a thicker CCF pad to layer under my inflatable.
Pros: Great warmth to weight ratio, all the versatility of a traditional CCF pad at a fraction of the weight and bulk.
Cons: Not a huge boost in warmth.
Choosing the Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking: FAQs
Is a sleeping pad necessary?
It’s extremely necessary. A sleeping pad will provide insulation and cushioning from the rough ground, and virtually every hiker carries one. Foam pads are ideal for minimalists, while inflatables are the best backpacking sleeping pads for anyone who wants a more luxurious night’s sleep. The only backpackers for whom a sleeping pad is not essential are hammockers, who have the option to use an underquilt for insulation instead. (And even then, many hammockers prefer the flexibility to “go to ground” on a shelter or hostel floor that a pad provides).
Foam or inflatable?
It’s an entirely personal choice, as both have pros and cons. Closed-cell foam (CCF) pads are more versatile and durable than inflatables at a fraction of the cost. They set up instantly and can double as sit pads and yoga mats. On the flip side, inflatable pads are more comfortable and, more importantly, often much warmer. A typical foam pad has an R-value of just two, which is only adequate for summer and shoulder season use for warm sleepers. Inflatable backpacking pads, in contrast, can have R-values of five, six, or even seven. Winter hikers will often layer a foam pad underneath a high-R-value inflatable. The foam pad adds to the system’s warmth while also serving as a backup if the inflatable fails.
Are three-quarter length sleeping pads worth it?
Full-length sleeping pads are typically around 72 inches long. Many pads are also available in 66-inch or even 48-inch lengths, too. These shorter pads are perfect for smaller individuals, but tall people make them work by using the pad for their torso while resting their legs on top of their pack or extra clothing. Because they use significantly less material, short pads tend to cost and weigh a lot less.
What is R-value / what is a good R-value for a sleeping pad?
R-value is a measure of a material’s resistance to heat transfer (i.e., how well it insulates). Mathematically, it’s the temperature difference from one side of an insulating barrier to the other divided by heat flux (the amount of heat flowing through the barrier per unit of area per unit of time). R-values aren’t unique to sleeping pads. They’re also used to describe building insulation and other materials. For instance, the walls of a typical insulated home have an R-value between 13 and 19.
R-values typically range from one to seven in the best backpacking sleeping pads. Until recently, outdoor brands used their own methodologies to measure the R-values of their sleeping pads. In 2020, the industry adopted a standardized methodology called ASTM F3340-18, by which all pads are evaluated so consumers can more easily compare across brands. Remember to choose an appropriately-rated bag or quilt to complement your pad, as the two will work in concert to keep you warm.
- An R-value of 1 or 2 is suitable for summer trips in warm environments.
- An R-value of 2-4 is suitable for spring, summer, and fall trips in warm to cool environments. Most thru-hikers find that the best backpacking sleeping pads for their needs fall in this range.
- An R-value of 5-7 is best for winter use in cold environments.
- An R-value higher than 7 is damned warm, but these pads are heavy and better-suited for car camping than backpacking.
Sleeping Pad Quick Tips
- Paint a few strips of silicone seam sealer on the bottom side of your pad to keep it from slipping and sliding on your tent floor. A few strips on the top will also help keep you from sliding off the pad in your sleep.
- If you’ll be using your breath to inflate a sleeping pad, sit down before you start and take your time—especially at higher elevations—to avoid dizziness.
- If you’re trying to keep your base weight down and/or are on a tight budget, choose a 3/4 length pad and put your backpack under your legs to keep them warm and supported.
- Slip a sleeping bag liner over your pad like a box sheet for luxurious comfort and less squeak. Especially effective for quilt users.
- Locate leaks by submerging the pad in water and following the trail of bubbles to the pinhole. And on a related note…
- Bring the patch kit that came with your inflatable pad when you bought it. It weighs next to nothing, it will prolong the life of your inflatable, and someday it will save you from a crappy night’s sleep on a partially deflated pad.
More of the Best Backpacking Gear of 2021
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