Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking

After a grueling day on the trail you deserve a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, improper gear selection can lead to long nights on the trail. Besides some miscellaneous items that help improve comfort, the big ticket items here are your sleeping pad and sleeping bag.

Sleeping Pads

A sleeping bag rated for below-freezing temperatures isn’t much use if you are laying on cold ground. Even at warmer temperatures a sleeping pad helps to keep you warm. As a bonus, it is also more comfortable than the hard ground!

There are 3 main types of sleeping pads:

  • Closed cell foam
  • Air/Inflating
  • Air/Self-inflating

1. Closed cell foam

  • Durable
  • Minimal weight
  • Inexpensive
  • Doubles as support in frameless backpacks
  • Limited comfort
  • Bulky
  • Minimal thermal resistance (R-value)
  • Example: Big Agnes Memory Foam

2. Air/Inflating

  • Minimal weight
  • More comfortable than foam pads
  • Minimal volume
  • Can have high R-values
  • Must take greater care not to puncture or tear
  • Expensive
  • Requires backpacker to inflate
  • Example: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir

3. Air/Self-inflating

  • More durable than inflating pads
  • Self-inflates (to a certain extent)
  • Equivalent comfort compared to inflating pads
  • Middle of the road R-values
  • Middle of the road expense
  • Middle of the road weight
  • Bulkier than inflating pads
  • Example: Therm-A-Rest ProLite

Selecting the Right Sleeping Pad

When selecting a pad, a hiker should consider:

  • Temperatures
  • Terrain
  • Weight
  • Pack capacity
  • Personal preferences

The expected temperatures you are going to encounter plays the biggest role in selecting a sleeping pad. You want to make sure you are going to sleep well on a cold night. This selection is also a balancing act with your sleeping bag. Having a very warm bag may allow you to select a pad having a low R-value. Conversely, a high R-value pad may allow you to select a cooler sleeping bag. I tend to prefer R-values greater than 4 for 4-season use and nothing below 2 for 3-season use. I am a cold sleeper though.

The terrain you are sleeping on can influence your selection. In desert or rocky terrain a closed cell foam pad is the way to go. For other terrain the air pads are a good choice provided you take precautions not to place the pad on sharp objects.

Beyond temperature and terrain the rest of the criteria are more creature comforts. Obviously everyone wants the warmest pad with zero weight that takes up zero volume and is as comfortable as your home mattress. Be realistic here. Decide what attributes are most important for you. Some backpackers for instance select a ¾ length pad to minimize weight. They usually place their feet on top of their backpack.

Test Driving Sleeping Pads

There is not much you can do in a store for these. You just need to get out there and try it! I typically will test drive a new pad on my basement floor or wait for a really cold night and sleep in my yard. This helps me build confidence in the equipment before trying it out 20 miles from the nearest road.

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. We do not represent any outdoor gear company and thus will provide unbiased and hosted reviews. By no means do affiliate links add any cost to you, but the commission from those links helps us keep the site online.
Outdoor Gear Review
Shopping cart