The Best Sleeping Pads for Comfortable Camping
To compare the warmth of sleeping pads, we use R-values, which are FTC-regulated measurements of a material’s thermal resistance, borrowed from the construction industry. For a pad, they typically range from 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent for use in winter temperatures and 1 more suited to hot summer nights.
A pad’s R-value is almost entirely based on the material inside, which are either down, closed-cell foam, self-inflating, open-cell foam, and plain, old air. If the forecast is extra frigid, it’s common to put a closed-cell foam pad under another pad, effectively doubling up the insulation power of the pads.
The other main factor in picking a sleeping pad is comfort. Very rarely will you bed down on a soft layer of pine boughs, and if your camping experiences are anything like mine, you’ll undoubtedly wind up sleeping on a combination of hard rocks and tree roots. By getting you up off of the ground and providing a soft, uniform sleeping surface, you’ll get a much better night of sleep.
The comfort comes from a combination of the material used (inflatable pads can have their softness adjusted by adding or removing air) and thickness of the pad. The sizing of sleeping pads also contributes to their comfort, as some sleeping pads come in as many as four different sizes. Large (also called wide by some companies) pads offer a few extra inches of length and width; women’s pads are typically a few inches shorter and have slightly higher R-values; and small pads are typically sized to run from the head to the knees, meaning you’ll want to stick your feet in an emptied-out backpack for warmth. I’d recommend avoiding small sleeping pads unless you need your gear to be ultralight for extreme objectives.
Here, we outline a few favorites and the camping conditions in which they’re likely to serve you best.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite Mattress
Made for cooler temperatures, this sleep pad is insulated to provide warmth. However, it remains impressively easy to pack and carry, since it weights less than a pound.
To buy: ems.com, $180
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol
Compared to other closed-cell foam pads on the market, this one provides an incredible three-quarter inch thickness, thanks to its dimpled design. It also compacts quite well for a foam pad, as it folds up like an accordion and the dimples nestle together. A coating of reflective material increases the R-value, giving it a little extra burst of warmth. It can also serve double duty as camp chair by unfolding a few sections at a time and propping it up against a handy log or boulder.
To buy: ems.com, $45
Weight: 14 oz.
EMS Route 66
This is a no-frills pad, made with closed cell foam and offering less than half an inch of thickness for your sleeping comfort. If you like a very firm sleeping surface, this pad will work for you, but where the Route 66 pad shines is as a second pad underneath an inflatable pad for use in winter camping.
To buy: ems.com, $19
Weight: 14 oz.
Klymit Static V
This inflatable pad uses its namesake V-shaped baffles to minimize air movement within the pad, providing consistent support for your body throughout. As one of the less expensive inflatable pads, this is a great value purchase if you need more comfort than a closed-cell foam pad. Multiple versions of this pad are available, featuring larger sizes, higher R-values, or lighter weights.
To buy: amazon.com, from $36
Weight: 18.1 oz.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
With a similar construction to the NeoAir Uberlite, the XLite is just a bit heavier, coming in at 12 oz. It's still a lightweight, compact pad that gives you the warmth and comfort you need. It’s a favorite of long-distance hikers, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a full Appalachian Trail shelter without at least one in use.
To buy: ems.com, $170
Weight: 12 oz.
Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping Pad
This sleeping pad features thermal mirror insulation, which is both lightweight and efficient. And at three inches thick, it provides a cozy, cushioned surface for sleeping. Plus it comes in regular and long lengths, as well as a non-insulated version.
To buy: amazon.com, $160
Weight: 18 oz.
Hikenture Double Sleeping Pad
If you're looking for a more spacious sleeping pad, this option from Hikenture is roomy enough for two. It is still compact enough for easy carrying, but it's important to note that at just over three and a half pounds, this sleeping pad is one of the weightier options. On the plus side, an integrated foot pump makes inflation simple.
To buy: amazon.com, from $75
Weight: 58 oz.