The Best Sleeping Pads for Comfortable Camping
When you’re camping, a good sleeping bag alone doesn’t guarantee a good night’s sleep. During the night, the insulation between your body and the ground will compress and result in you sleeping directly on the cold, hard ground. Sleeping pads solve this problem by providing insulation from the ground temperature and a comfortable and supportive surface to sleep on.
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.
Exped DownMat XP9
An outstanding pick for sub-freezing temperatures, this pad has a lofty 3.5” of 700-fill down insulation, the same kind used in sleeping bags. Because the moisture from your breath would dampen the down and reduce its loft, the pad is inflated using an included pump bag that you fill with air and roll up to transfer the air into the pad.
To buy: from $163; amazon.com
Weight: 1 lb., 15 oz.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Also made for cooler temperatures, the XTherm uses a large number of internal baffles constructed with heat reflective material. The result is layers of warmth within the pad that work to reflect your body heat back to you, while weighing less than a pound.
To buy: $200; ems.com
Weight: 15 oz.
Exped SynMat UL7
This pad has a dedicated one-way inflation valve so you never have to tackle the Sisyphusian task of inflating a pad that is trying to deflate. Split into eight vertical baffles, the two on the outside are slightly raised to help cradle you and keep you from falling off the pad.
To buy: from $93; amazon.com
Weight: 16 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: $45; ems.com
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: $19; ems.com
Weight: 11 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 our least expensive inflatable pad, 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: $46; amazon.com
Weight: 16 oz.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
With a similar construction to the NeoAir XTherm, the XLite shaves off 25 percent of the weight with the use of lighter materials. The result is an incredibly lightweight, compact pad that still 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: $160; ems.com
Weight: 12 oz.
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus
The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus also features an antimicrobial coating inside and bonded synthetic insulation, but pairs it with an ingenious dual layer design. The top and bottom halves of the pad inflate independently, giving you the ability to perfectly dial in your comfort level while smoothing it rocks and sticks below your pad.
To buy: $170; amazon.com
Weight: 1 lb., 5 oz.
Windcatcher AirPad 2
The valve design on this inflatable pad makes inflation a piece of cake. Rather than a small air valve that takes numerous breaths to fill up, the AirPad2 features a wide opening you blow into. This pushes in the air from your breath as well as nearby air in through the valve, resulting in an incredibly quick inflation time. Once it’s filled to your liking, just roll up the valve and clasp it shut. Because the AirPad 2 is an inflatable pad with no insulation, it’s best used during the summer camping season.
To buy: $100; amazon.com
Weight: 1 lb., 14 oz.
REI AirRail 1.5
The REI AirRail 1.5 is a self-inflating, open-cell foam pad. Just roll the pad out and it will inflate itself as the open-cell foam expands. A few breaths top it off and fill up the eponymous AirRails running down the sides of the pad, which will keep you from rolling off while you sleep.
To buy: from $90; rei.com
Weight: 1 lb., 10 oz.
Exped MegaMat 10
The Exped MegaMat 10 offers incredible warmth, thickness, and size. Compared to some of the other sleeping pads we’ve looked at, this pad will feel like a pillow-topped king bed. All that comfort comes at a cost though, to both your wallet and your back. Weighing in at over five pounds, this pad is best suited for car camping.
To buy: from $186; amazon.com
Weight: 5 lbs., 7 oz.
Therm-a-rest MondoKing XXL
As you might be able to infer from its name, this pad is massive, and since it's made with self-inflating open cell foam you don’t have to worry about inflating this beast of a pad. Just a few breaths at the end will top it off, and the result is a pad that is only a few inches thinner than a twin mattress.
To buy: $210; ems.com
Weight: 6 lbs., 12 oz.
This giant pad will get you an incredible six inches off the ground. To help with the task of inflating, it includes an integrated foot pump, so rather than wheeze into a sack of nylon for an hour all you have to do is pump your foot for a few minutes and you’ll be ready to go. It also features clips along the side so two pads can be joined together, creating a queen bed–sized sleeping pad big enough to accommodate you and your favorite bed hog.
To buy: $200; amazon.com
Weight: 2 lbs., 15 oz.
R-Value: N/A, has estimated 40F rating