After 5 weeks reviewing dozens of different sleeping pads side by side, our team has sorted and ranked the best picks from all the top manufacturers. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite came out way ahead in terms of comfort, durability, and portability and earned our pick as the best sleeping pad of 2018.
After a long, gruelling day of hiking and outdoor activity, getting a good night’s sleep is necessary. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible in the wild outdoors. Your terrain and environment is constantly changing depending on where you set up camp. A good sleeping pad ensures that you’re sleeping on a soft, comfy surface that’s almost like a portable bed. But it’s not just for comfort. Sleeping pads can also keep you warm by insulating your body, making it not just a nice option for hard surfaces – but necessary for colder conditions.
On the other hand, in warmer conditions, a sleeping pad can allow you to go travel the outdoors without bringing a tent. You can simply lay out your sleeping pad and place your sleeping bag over it, which makes for a nice comfy bed-like surface.
Our review process: We looked at several different ultra lightweight sleeping pads and picked out a handful of the best ones depending on quality, highest customer reviews, use case, and budget. From there, we picked the one that was the clear winner out of the pack.
What we were looking for: We were mainly looking for sleeping pads that offered the most comfortable, highest quality material, while being portable. And, it had to be able to be used year-round in all types of conditions.
What is R-value? You’ll notice that in our descriptions, we’ve added a data point called R-value. This is the measurement of how well the sleeping pad insulates your body from the ground surface. Higher is better for people looking to stay warm. For all-season use, the average R-value you should look for is 3. If you’re going to be using it in warmer temperatures, you can go lower. If you’re going to be using it in colder temperatures, it’s a good idea to go 5 or higher.
Winner: Therm-A-Rest Neo Air XLite
Weight: 12 oz.
Why we love it: It’s ultralight, solidly constructed, and offers comfort for nearly everyone.
Therm-A-Rest has always made great sleeping pads, and the Neo Air XLite is no exception. It’s a great 3-season pad for nearly any sleeper, though side sleepers may find it a little thin for their liking. It offers extra comfort because it has Therm-A-Rest’s famous internal baffling, and it folds down so it doesn’t take up much space in your pack. It comes at a premium price for a light pad, but the extra space in your pack is probably worth that money.
It’s not the quietest or the most durable pad out there. In fact, the bottom is 30D and among the thinnest available. It’s lightweight materials also make it crinkle, though they have recently released a version that is supposed to be softer. That said, it’s not loud enough to bother most people.
Value Pick: REI Flash Insulated Pad
Weight: 15 oz.
Why we love it: It is inexpensive and easy to inflate and deflate.
This is one of the most inexpensive pads on this list and also one of the most functional. It was redesigned last year to be even lighter than before, with new-style baffles. While it’s on the thin side, at 2”, most sleepers will find it plenty comfortable. Those who sleep on their sides may feel the ground underneath them though.
It’s super easy to inflate and deflate this pad. It had dedicated valves for each function and only takes about 10 breaths to fill up with air. Deflation happens in just a few seconds. These don’t come with repair kits included, but REI sells them separately for less than $10. If you don’t want to spend much on a pad, this is a great way to sleep well every night for less.
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm
Weight: 15 oz.
Why we love it: You won’t find a lighter 4-season pad.
A second Therm-A-Rest pad? Yup. The XTherm is just that good. Its insulation is off the charts for a pad this light. Sure, it weighs 3 ounces more than the XLite, and that’s a lot in your backpack. But when you’re sleeping warm no matter what time of year it is, you’ll be glad to carry that bit of extra weight.
The XTherm may work better for side sleepers than the XLite, too. If you’re sick of waking up with your hip on the ground, consider this pad over that one. The XTherm is also more durable than the XLite, because it doesn’t cut any corners to be lighter. It does still crinkle, though. This isn’t a dealbreaker for most buyers, but you might want to see if you can try one out before you buy.
Sea to Summit Comfort Lite Insulated
Weight: 21 oz.
Why we love it: It’s super comfy.
Sea to Summit has made a name for themselves when it comes to backpacking pads because their cell design is the most comfortable one out there. They actually offer six versions of the pad: the Comfort Plus, Comfort Light, and Ultralight, all available in both insulated and non-insulated versions. The Ultralight can be fairly easy to puncture and the Comfort Light seems like a great middle ground when it comes to balancing weight vs. durability and comfort.
This pad is heavier than many of the others on this list, but it is perfect for occasional or weekend backpackers who prefer a bit of added comfort. Its 300 AirSpring cells make it significantly more comfortable than other pads, which often makes the extra ounces worthwhile. It’s great for those side sleepers we’ve mentioned before because it does a better job of keeping them all the way off the cold, hard ground.
Nemo Tensor Insulated
Weight: 15 oz.
R-value: None, but rated down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit
Why we love it: It adds thickness without adding weight.
This is the first one of Nemo’s pads that has ever been light enough for consideration by serious backpackers. It still manages to be extra thick, at least in the world of backpacking pads, which makes it more comfortable for those side sleepers out there. Anyone can benefit from the thickness though, as the extra cushion of air may make the pad slightly warmer, too.
The Tensor is quieter than many of the leading lightweight pads, mostly avoiding that crinkly construction. It’s not exactly silent, but there’s a big difference between it and the XLite. The one downside is that it’s easier to puncture than most pads. You’ll need to treat it with some TLC if you want it last for you.
Big Agnes Q-Core SLX
Weight: 16 oz
R-value: None, but rated at 15 degrees Fahrenheit
Why we love it: It manages to be both super thick and lightweight.
Big Agnes has an extensive line of sleeping pads, and we love many of them. This one is 3.5 inches thick, meaning that anyone can sleep on it comfortably, no matter how they sleep. In fact, it’s even thicker than that along the edges, which means that it helps keep you on the pad while you’re sleeping, instead of letting you roll right off. If you move around a lot at night or often find yourself entirely off your pad, this might be a great choice for you.
The SLX offers a valve system is also super easy to use, which is more than you can say for every pad out there. The biggest downside to this pad is that it feels a bit rigid when fully inflated. Some people say that it feels more like a raft than a sleeping pad.
Big Agnes Insulated AXL
Weight: 10.6 oz
R-value: None, but rated at 15 degrees Fahrenheit
Why we love it: It’s super light and perfect for serious backpackers on summer trips.
Yup, another pad by Big Agnes. This is one of their newest pads and by far their lightest. In fact, it’s one of the lightest pads available. It doesn’t trade in much comfort for weight, though, and is one of the most cushy of the lightweight pads out there. If you backpack often or take long trips, this pad keeps your weight down and your comfort up.
The Insulated AXL is also quieter than many of the other lightweight pads. It barely crinkles, to the point that most people don’t even notice. It’s fairly easy to inflate, too, though deflating it can be harder. The biggest downside is that it’s not insulated. While Big Agnes rates it to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s not much out there to back that up. We suspect you’d get chilly pretty fast, sleeping on this pad in that cold of weather.
Exped SynMat HL
Weight: 12.9 oz.
Why we love it: This pad is extremely warm for how much it weighs.
Most Exped pads are warmer than other pads that weigh the same. Their SynMat HL is no different and it’s light weight makes it perfect for ultralight backpacking. It’s comfortable for most sleepers, though not the most comfortable pad out there.
The downside is that, in order to make the pad so light, it tapers aggressively by the feet. Unless you keep your feet together all night long, you’ll probably find them off the pad at some point. This may or may not be a dealbreaker for you, but we thought you should know The pad does come with a pumpbag, which works really well, doubles as a stuff sack, and means you don’t have to huff and puff to blow this mat up.
Therm-A-Rest Z Lite SOL
Weight: 14 oz.
Why we love it: This pad is extremely durable and inexpensive.
While not an air pad, the Z Lite SOL still manages to be relatively comfortable. Because it’s made of closed cell foam, it can never pop. It’s not cushy, but you also don’t have to worry about blowing a hole in it in the middle of your trip. If you are sick of popping pads or you don’t want to invest a lot of money in one that is likely to burst at some point, this may be the pad for you.
Many old school backpackers swear by this pad and use it not only to sleep on, but to cushion their seats or their packs against their bacs. If you tend to pop your pads or you’re buying for an inexperienced backpacker, this pad is a great place to start.
Which one is right for you?
There are a few different things to consider when deciding which one is right for you. While the Therm-A-Rest Neo Air XLite came out on top as the all-around winner in our review, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is “the best one” for everybody.
Here are a few things that you should consider…
You’ll find a wide range of prices for sleeping pads. It can range anywhere from $10 to over $250. However, especially with sleeping pads, the expression that you get what you pay for is very true. If you want a durable, light-weight sleeping pad that’s comfortable to sleep on, you’ll want to spend a little more money – at least $100.
Your sleeping pad is going to be one of the heaviest items you take on your hike. So choosing a lighter pad can help save a lot of strain off your back, especially important for longer trips. What’s more important to you? Comfort during your sleep or comfort during your hike? From our tests, the best options for backpackers and hikers are in the 12 to 18 oz. range.
We explained what this was in the beginning of the article. Basically, think of the number as how much it will keep your body warm and insulated from the ground. 3 is the average for all-season use. Choose 5+ for colder conditions. Just for point of reference, you can sleep on snow on a sleeping pad with an R-value of 5 or higher.
Sleeping outside is never going to be the same as sleeping at home on a plushy mattress. However, all of the sleeping pads we’ve listed here are among the most comfortable ones on the market.
Air pads or foam pads?
There are two types of sleeping pads you can get: air pads and foam pads. Air pads are what we prefer since they’re more comfortable and lightweight than foam pads. However, foam pads are cheaper and can be used for multiple purposes. For longer lasting use, air pads are recommended since foam pads will compress over time and lose its shape and sturdiness.
If you noticed some of the pictures in our article, some sleeping pads like the REI Flash Insulated Pad are shaped like a mummy. This is to save space and lower the weight, which people who sleep still can take advantage of. The rectangular ones are necessary for people who move around in their sleep a lot – you know… people who’s legs fly everywhere and cause havoc to their blankets in their sleep.
Sleeping pads are one of the coolest inventions for adventurers who spend a lot of their nights outdoors in the wild. It’s portable, lightweight, and makes it much more comfortable than sleeping in a sleeping bag on the bare ground. Each sleeping pad that was included in our list are the best of the best. We did the review checking, company profiling, and experimenting for you. All that’s left is to choose the best sleeping pad that fits your budget and your sleeping needs.