Best Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking of 2024

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. 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 thru-hiking sleeping pads for your next adventure.

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Best Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking

The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT (Best Overall Pad for Thru-Hikers)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT.

  • MSRP: $200 – $240
  • Weight: 13 ounces (Reg.) / 16 (Reg. Wide) / 12 (Short) / 17 (Large)
  • R-value: 4.5
  • Dimensions: 72″ x 20″ x 3″ (Reg.) / 72″ x 25″ x 3″ (Reg. Wide) / 66″ x 20″ x 3″ (Short) / 77″ x 25″ x 3″ (Large)

What We Love

Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir line got a much-anticipated update in 2023. Compared to the previous NeoAir XLite, the new NeoAir XLite NXT is half an inch thicker and is meant to reduce the notorious loud crinkling sound for which the  NeoAir has long been known by about 83 percent. The new pads are somewhat warmer (4.5 R-value compared to 4.2 in the old version) and just half an ounce heavier.

This pad is perfect for three-going-on-four-season thru-hiking with an R-value of 4.5. It inflates to a root-smothering three inches thick and packs to roughly the size of a Nalgene. It also comes in various lengths for a perfect fit. Therm-a-Rest’s one-way valve and included pump sack make inflating/deflating easy.

Noteworthy Features

  • Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio: Therm-a-Rest has long been an industry leader on this front. The XLite NXT’s 4.5 R-value at just 13 ounces blows the competition out of the water.
  • Quieter: The Xlite got a bad rap for being noisy, but the NXT version is supposed to be quieter. New construction with stacked internal baffles means that, according to Therm-a-Rest, this pad is 83 percent quieter than its predecessor.
  • WingLock valve: Therm-a-Rest’s Winglock valve is easy and fast to use with one-way inflation and a large opening. They also now throw in a pump sack if you want to save your breath.
  • 30D Rip HT Nylon: On both the top and the bottom.
  • 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.

Nobody’s Perfect

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. The Winglock valve sticks out from the pad, creating a potential weak point.

With the NXT update, Therm-a-Rest did away with the women’s Xlite, which had a higher R-value (5.4) but weighed the same as the “regular” version because it was smaller. You can still buy a short version of the Xlite NXT, but the R-value is 4.5, same as the regular length.

Some people don’t care for the dramatic taper of the NeoAir mummy pads, but the rectangular version of the XLite NXT solves that problem.


Pros: Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio; easy-to-use one-way valve; comfortable; multiple length options.

Cons: Expensive; on the narrow side; makes noise.

Read our review of the NeoAir XLite NXT here.

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NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated (Runner-Up for Best Pad)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: NEMO Tensor.

  • MSRP: $200 – $230
  • Weight: 14.5 oz (Reg. Mummy) / 15 oz (Reg.) / 19 oz (Reg. Wide) / 21 oz (Long Wide)
  • R-Value: 4.2
  • Dimensions: 72″ x 20″ x 3″ (Reg.) / 72″ x 25″ x 3″ (Reg. Wide) / 76″ x 25″ x 3″ (Long Wide)

What We Love

This pad is 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.

Nemo’s stacked two-part valve lies flush against the pad, reducing the risk of the valve tugging and putting stress on the surrounding fabric. The valve is easy to use and allows for micro-adjustments to the inflation level. Nemo incorporated a thin TPU film inside the updated Tensor that boosted the R-value from 3.5 to 4.2 with a weight increase of just half an ounce, making it better than ever for three-season hikes.

The Tensor is pleasantly quiet to lay on — in the past, it’s beaten Therm-a-Rest handily in the noise department. With the advent of the latter’s new, quieter NXT pads, it remains to be seen how the quietness of the Tensor stacks up. Regardless of the competition, it’s a good choice if you want a peaceful night’s sleep without a lot of squeaking or crinkling.

Noteworthy Features

  • Mummy shape: Shaves weight while still providing plenty of cushion to sleep on for a six-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. The pad also comes with a pump sack.
  • Recycled materials: Made with 20D recycled polyester on top and bottom.

Nobody’s Perfect

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 (it also uses relatively thin 20D fabric). The Tensor is a great pad, but despite closing the gap significantly, the warmth-to-weight ratio can’t compete with Therm-a-Rest.

Carl Stanfield


Pros: Durable; warm; mummy and rectangular options available (along with multiple lengths and widths); generous 3-inch thickness; less crinkling/squeakage than similar pads; well-made valve; recycled materials

Cons: Gets dirty quickly; not quite as warm as other pads at a similar weight/price point; leaky baffle welds have historically been a problem with this pad; some say the valve cap is stiff and hard to open

Read our review of the NEMO Tensor here.

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Klymit Insulated Static V Lite (Best Hammock Pad / Best Budget Inflatable)

best sleeping pads thru-hiking

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: Klymit Insulated Static V Lite.

  • MSRP: $110
  • Weight: 20 ounces
  • R-Value: 4.4
  • Dimensions: 72″ x 23″ x 2.5″

What We Love

The Static V is one of the best thru-hiking 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). We asked readers to weigh in on the comfort of the V baffles, and the verdict is that the design IS more comfortable than that of most traditional pads.

This pad is also available in standard, wide, ultralight, and non-insulated versions, but we think 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.

Noteworthy Features

  • 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.
  • 30D polyester on top and bottom.

Nobody’s Perfect

Many users dislike the twist-lock valve design, saying it’s hard to use or tends to leak. However, its biggest drawback is that it weighs almost half a pound more than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT for essentially the same R-value.


Pros: Warm; affordable (best value for an inflatable pad); quick and easy inflation; wider than most (hammock-friendly); comfortable overall

Cons: Finicky valve system; fairly heavy

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NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions Ultralight Insulated (Warmest Sleeping Pad)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions Ultralight Insulated.

  • MSRP: $250 – $280
  • Weight: 17 oz (Reg. Mummy) / 18oz (Reg.) / 22 oz (Reg. Wide) / 23 oz (Long Wide)
  • R-Value: 8.5
  • Dimensions: 72″ x 20″ x 3.5″ (Reg. Mummy & Reg.) / 72″ x 25″ x 3.5″ (Reg. Wide) / 76″ x 25″ x 3.5″ (Long Wide)

What We Love

After years atop the heap, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm has been dethroned as the warmest lightweight sleeping pad suitable for thru-hiking. All hail the brand-new NEMO Tensor Extreme Conditions Ultralight Insulated sleeping pad, with a sweltering 8.5 R-value. We’ve been waiting a long time for a true competitor to the XTherm’s 7.3 R-value, and now we have it.

Weighing just 17 ounces, the Tensor Extreme Conditions (EC) has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any pad on the market, while offering the same dimensions as most other inflatable pads. This is made possible by NEMO’s new Apex baffle design that suspends an unprecedented four layers of reflective film, evenly distributed within the 3.5-inch pad thickness. There’s some other impressive jargon to explain the utter genius behind this design, but all we care to know is that the warmth is downright nuclear.

Additionally, NEMO claims that the Tensor EC is the quietest pad in its class, which is music to our ears after many years of sleeping on pads that were essentially comfortable bags of chips in the decibel department. Therm-a-Rest has made major improvements in this regard as well, so it sounds like we might be entering an era of the warmest, most comfortable, and quietest backcountry sleep of all time. Nice.

The other features that make the lighter-weight Tensors some of our favorite inflatable pads are of course still included with the EC. The plushy comfort remains, as does the low-profile valve. If you’re looking for the warmest pad, then it’s nice to know that you don’t need to compromise function, weight, or comfort to get it.

Noteworthy Features

  • Multiple shapes: A mummy option shaves weight while still providing plenty of cushion to sleep on for a six-foot-tall hiker. Opt for the rectangular regular, regular wide, and long wide if you want more room to wiggle.
  • Apex baffle design: The internal baffle shape supports four, free-floating layers of reflective film. This design is crinkle-free and explains the exceptional R-value.
  • Two-part valve system: Makes inflation adjustment convenient. The pad also comes with a pump sack.
  • Durable materials: Made with 20D nylon on top and 40D nylon on the bottom, this pad should be a touch more durable than other ultralight pads.
  • Warm: Four layers of reflective film turn that body heat around and send it right back your way. The 8.5 R-value is the highest we’ve ever seen by a wide margin.

Nobody’s Perfect

At $250 for the regular version, this is the most expensive pad on our list. It’s also brand-new and so is relatively untested. We haven’t had a chance to see it for ourselves yet, so we’ll need to take NEMO at their word regarding performance and durability. That said, we love the other versions of the Tensor, so we expect to love the Tensor EC as well.

It’s worth noting that the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT is made with more durable fabrics (30D top, 70D bottom) while being marginally lighter. The 7.3 R-value is significantly lower than the Tensor EC’s 8.5, but that’s still pretty dang warm. As with everything, these sleeping pads represent a marginally different compromise between weight, warmth, and durability.


Pros: Insane warmth-to-weight ratio; mummy and rectangular options available (along with multiple lengths and widths); good valve design; 40D bottom fabric; well-built for comfort and durability

Cons: Expensive; heavy unless you really need the warmth; materials not as durable as NeoAir XTherm

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NEMO Switchback (Best Budget Sleeping Pad / Best CCF Pad)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: NEMO Switchback.

  • MSRP: $45 – $55
  • Weight: 14.5 ounces (Reg.) / 10.5 ounces (Short)
  • R-value: 2.0
  • Dimensions (in.): 51″ x 20″ x 0.9″ (Short) /72″ x 20″ x 0.9″ (Reg.)

What We Love

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 lightweight, 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, second lunch breaks, and trailside naps, in addition to sleeping. Last but not least, at $55 for the regular size, it’s cheap enough for a thru-hiker on any budget.

Noteworthy Features

  • Reflective coating: The shiny metallic coating boosts warmth by reflecting body heat back to the sleeper. NEMO recommends pointing the shiny side down.
  • Nesting dimples allow the pad to pack down smaller than the Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol.

Nobody’s Perfect

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.

Owen Eigenbrot


Pros: Inexpensive; comfortable (for a foam pad); low-profile so you can’t slip off; 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.

READ NEXT — Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol vs. Nemo Switchback: The Ultimate Comparison

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Big Agnes Rapide SL  (Best Pad for Side Sleepers)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: Big Agnes Rapide SL.

  • MSRP: $150 – $300
  • Weight: 17 ounces (Short) / 18 ounces (Reg.) / 19 ounces (Long) / 23 ounces (Reg. Wide) / 25 oz (Long Wide) / 37 ounces (Double)
  • R-Value: 4.8
  • Dimensions (in.): 66″ x 20″ x 3.5″ (Short) / 72″ x 20″ x 3.5″ (Reg.) / 78″ x 20″x 3.5″ (Long) / 72″ x 25″ x 3.5″ (Reg. Wide) / 78″ x 25″ x 3.5″ (Long Wide) / 72″ x 40″ x 3.5″ (Double)

What We Love

The 3.5-inch thickness of the Rapide makes it eminently comfortable and not “floppy” like many inflatable pads. You could sleep right on top of some gnarly roots and not even begin to feel them with this plushy pad. The previous version was already one of our favorite pads even before Big Agnes made wholesale improvements. Not only is the latest version warmer, but it’s lighter too. Don’t ask us how that’s possible.

More importantly, the relatively rigid shape makes it an excellent floaty for swimming in alpine lakes.

Although no inflatable pad will ever be truly quiet, I’ve found Big Agnes pads to be among the least squeaky I’ve tried. I also like that the Rapide is available in six different sizes so you can dial the fit, weight, and price according to your needs. Even though the valve design with separate inflate and deflate valves is clunkier than some, it makes setting up camp hassle-free.

Noteworthy Features

  • Higher outside baffles: 4.25″ outer chambers 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.
  • Durable ripstop nylon on top and bottom.

Nobody’s Perfect

The thickness of the Rapide may be a bit excessive for some hikers. In the topography of the shelter floor, Mount Big Agnes Sleeping Pad always towers 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 unless you use the pump sack, it does require a dizzying amount of breath to inflate. The height could also create clearance issues for tall hikers in some tents.


Pros: Plenty of cushion; multiple length and width offerings; rectangular cut and vertical baffles great for side sleepers; rigidity ideal for use as an inflatable raft; relatively quiet.

Cons: Takes forever to inflate; not that warm for the weight and height; possibly TOO thick.

Kelly Floro

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Therm-a-Rest Prolite Apex (Best Self-Inflating Pad)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: Therm-a-Rest Prolite Apex.

  • MSRP: $135 – $155
  • Weight: 22 oz (Reg.) / 30 oz (Large) / 28 oz (Reg. Wide)
  • R-Value: 3.8
  • Dimensions (in.): 72″ x 20″ x 2″ (Reg.) / 72″ x 25″ x 2″ (Reg. Wide) / 77″ x 25″ x 2″ (Large)

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 roughly 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.

Noteworthy Features

  • 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.
  • 50D polyester on the top and bottom makes this pad very durable.

Nobody’s Perfect

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.

Katie Kommer


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.

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Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated Air (Women’s | Unisex) (Easiest To Inflate)

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated Air.

  • MSRP: $159 – $179
  • Weight: 17 oz (Reg.) / 21 oz (Large) / 15.8 oz (Women’s Reg)
  • 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.)

What We Love

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 thru-hiking 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, the pad is very easy to inflate. Due to the relatively thin 2-inch thickness, I find that it takes fewer puffs to fill compared to other pads, and the low-profile valve design (similar to that of the Nemo Tensor) is effective, durable, and easy to adjust.

Noteworthy Features

  • Nested valve system for easy inflation and deflation.
  • 30D/40D nylon face fabric with antimicrobial treatment.
  • PillowLock system: Adhesive velcro patches come with every pad that can be used to keep inflatable pillows in place.

Nobody’s Perfect

As stated above, this pad is pretty much middle-of-the-road in terms of 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 when I only meant to open 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 inches wider than most pads; antimicrobial treatment.

Cons: Weight, warmth, and price are nothing to write home about; two-part valve can be tricky.

Kelly Floro

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Gossamer Gear Thinlight (Best Supplemental Sleeping Pad)

best sleeping pads for thru-hiking

Best sleeping pads for thru-hiking: Gossamer Gear Thinlight.

  • MSRP: $22 — $32
  • Weight: 2.7-3.3 ounces
  • R-Value: 0.5
  • Dimensions: 59″ x 19″ x 1/8″ (Rolled version) / 73.5″ x 20″ x 1/8″ (Folded version)

What We Love

One-eight-inch pads are too minimalist to work as standalone sleeping pads, but that’s not the point of this item (unless you’re a hardcore ultralighter). Instead, these pads are meant to protect and 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 foam pads 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.

Note: Mountain Laurel Designs sells a similar pad with more length options, which may be ideal for taller people. Otherwise, the two are functionally similar in most ways. The more you know.

Nobody’s Perfect

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 0.5 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; likes to fold and twist under active sleepers.

—The Editors

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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 and are 10000% reliable, while inflatables are the most popular sleeping pads for thru-hiking (at least 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).

It should be noted that quilt users will be even more reliant on their pads for warmth than sleeping bag users due to the whole no-back thing. So if you’re a quilt user, be sure to pay extra attention to R-value.

Foam or inflatable?

best backpacking sleeping pads

Photo via Owen Eigenbrot.

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 eight.

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?

best backpacking sleeping pads

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 eight in 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 inflatable pads are in this range.
  • An R-value of 5-7 is best for winter use in cold environments.
  • An R-value higher than 7 is darn warm. In the past, we’ve said that such pads are heavy and better suited for car camping than backpacking, but ultralight sleeping pad technology is starting to push the envelope here (see the NEMO Tensor EC and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm NXT).
best backpacking sleeping pads

Your sleeping bag and sleeping pad work together to keep you warm at night. Photo via Carl Stanfield

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Sleeping Pad Quick Tips

Photo via Katie Kommer

  • 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.

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More of the Best Gear of 2024

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 sleeping pad picks aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the greater thru-hiking community.

Check out AT hikers’ favorite sleep systems from the 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2022 surveys. (2023 data coming soon!)

Competence and backpacking proficiency personified.

Alexander “GPS” Brown, Rachel Shoemaker, and Owen Eigenbrot contributed to the most recent update of this list.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.

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Comments 21

  • pearwood : Feb 2nd

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been wanting to see this sort of comparison minus advertising hype.
    Steve / pearwood

  • Drew Boswell : Feb 3rd

    Mountain Laurel Designs also sells the exact same thin-light pads as Gossamer Gear for slightly less in price and with more length options. I got the 1/8 inch thick, 80 inch long version since I wasn’t sure how I would use it. After some experimentation I’ve cut it in half and carry a 20×40 piece for supplemental warmth or use as a sit pad. Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Mountain Laurel Designs or Gossamer Gear, though I own gear from both companies bought with my own funds.

  • Christopher Marshburn : Feb 4th

    The Thermarest NeoAir X-Lite now also comes in a regular length wide version!

    • Chris Courtemanche : Jan 28th

      The klymit static v is comfortable. The v baffles are supposed to let your sleeping bag expand, keeping you warmer. Lofty goals but the valleys are too deep and the cold comes right through. R value is actually about a 1.0, despite the 4.4 listing. Best to use a Z-lite sol underneath it if winter camping.


  • Discount : Jan 28th

    I used the Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL on my 2021 AT thru hike. I did find it to be very comfortable whether I was sleeping on either my back or sides. I’m a very active sleeper, but I never rolled off the pad. I don’t know if the V pattern and side rails actually helped, but overall it was really great. The only drawback was that it was super noisy.

  • Discount : Jan 28th

    The klymit Insulated V Ultralite Sl was a great pad. It was warm, durable, and comfy. I’m not sure if the pads design added to the comfort, but I did really like it. The only drawback is the loud crinkly noise.

    I used the Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL on my 2021 AT thru hike. I did find it to be very comfortable whether I was sleeping on either my back or sides. I’m a very active sleeper, but I never rolled off the pad. I don’t know if the V pattern and side rails actually helped, but overall it was really great. I used this pad on nights with temps in the low 20’s, and did not experience any issues with cold coming through the pad. I didn’t develop any pinholes in the pad even though it was used mainly on the rough floors of the shelters. When I used it in my tent it absorbed all the bumps from the roots. The only drawback was that it was super noisy.

  • CC : Jan 30th

    I haven’t taken it out for a side-by-side comparison ref. R values – but as a side sleeper with wide hips, the ridges in my regular, non-insulated Klymit Static V make it much more comfortable than my older Thermarest inflatable pad.

  • Tony Stevens : Dec 17th

    I have the S2S Ultralight Insulated, size short. I took it on a late fall hiking trip this year and decided to try a trick that I’ve heard other hikers recommend which is to fold the pad into a rectangle and put it on the back panel inside an ultralight pack to add cushion. Even though all of my other gear was in stuff sacks the pad developed a tiny hole that I didn’t discover until a few hours of sleep. The hole was so small I was unable to find it but it led me to the discovery of a secret advantage of this pad. I was able to easily inflate it with only a few breaths. I could fall back asleep until it deflated a couple of hours later when I would reinflate it and then fall back asleep. I did this a few times during the night. While not ideal, it got me through the night and I woke up relatively well rested with the lesson learned to always keep my air mattress in a stuff sack when not in use.

  • Mark : Dec 27th

    How can you not mention NeoAir® XTherm™ NXT MAX Sleeping Pad? It’s the best pad on the market, and extremely comfortable. The best warmth-to-weight ratio ever for any pad ever made. This list is ridiculous without it.

  • Mark : Dec 27th

    The small weight difference is negligible for sleeping great in any weather. I’m not affiliated with them or anyone, it’s just the best pad in my opinion.

  • HikerHarry : Dec 27th

    Disappointed Exped pads don’t get more love or mention. I’ve used and own(ed) several of the pads mentioned above. The Tensor was one of the least comfortable pads I’ve ever tried. Xlites are decent, but the Exped Ultra pads are more comfortable with better valves.

  • Sparky : Dec 29th

    Why would I spend 200 plus dollars on a sleeping pad that
    1. costs far more than an old fashioned “air mattress”
    2. Weighs far more
    3. Far far more in packing size than an air mattress.

  • Turtle Man : Dec 29th

    No love for Exped? 😕 I’ve used a number of their pads over the years. Only ever had one small leak. And, they’ve made different iterations of R7.5 models (currently, Dura 8R).

  • d20 Marsh : Dec 29th

    Let me be clear. The Thermarest isn’t quieter. It is quiet. Really quiet. I’ve over 5,000 trail miles on Thermarest pads.

    This one is really quiet right out of the box.


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