How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad for Camping or Backpacking

The best sleeping pads make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep while camping or backpacking.

Not only do they provide a comfortable surface to sleep on, but they also increase insulation to to keep you warm for the duration of the night.

But not all sleeping pads are created equal. There are a lot of excellent models out there, but there are also some serious duds.

Our guide shows you everything you need to know to select a true winner, no matter your intended use. And for those that just want our top recommendations, we’ve rounded up 9 of our favorite camping pads of 2019 – complete with in-depth reviews.

Here’s what you need to know to choose the best sleeping pad.

Index

  1. Best Sleeping Pad
  2. Types of Pads
  3. Important Features
  4. How to Choose
  5. Care & Storage
  6. Accessories
  7. Alternative Options

9 Best Sleeping Pads for 2019

Narrowing down the options for the best sleeping pads can be difficult.

In addition to the sheer number of models available, many have very similar names despite vastly different levels of quality and performance (case in point: the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Max SV).

We’ve done some of the legwork for you by reviewing dozens of the best camping pads for camping and backpacking. After testing them in a variety of conditions, a few clear winners emerged.

Here are the best sleeping pads for camping and backpacking for 2019.

1. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

Main Use: Backpacking

Weight: 12 Ounces

R-Value: 3.2

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is possibly the best backpacking sleeping pad available today.

Its chief benefits are its small packable size and lightweight construction. At just 12 ounces, this inflatable pad packs down to roughly the size of a one-liter water bottle.

Despite its ultralight design, the NeoAir XLite is very comfortable. It’s 2.5 inches thick when fully inflated for maximum cushioning. Internal baffling and a plush top layer further increase comfort.

This minimalist backpacking pad also has a surprisingly high R-value for its small size and light weight. It has an R-value of 3.2 when fully inflated, enough for three-season camping – or pair it with a closed-cell foam pad for winter camping in mild conditions.

In addition to its high price tag, a notable downside to this sleeping pad is its slim profile. It’s not quite wide enough for most users to sleep on their backs with their arms at their sides without them falling off the sides of the pad. Most likely, you’ll have to rest them on your stomach.

A women’s specific version, the Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite, is also available. 

*Therm-a-Rest has several other great backpacking and camping pads in its NeoAir lineup, including the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm for extra insulation in cold weather. 

What We Like:

  • Extremely Lightweight
  • High R-Value for Weight
  • Packs Down Small
  • Comfortable Construction
  • Durable (30-Denier Ripstop Fabric)

What We Don’t Like:

  • Expensive
  • Too Narrow for Some Users

Best Application:

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is one of the best sleeping pads for backpacking, especially ultralight backpacking.

2. Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated

Main Use: Backpacking

Weight: 27.6 Ounces  

R-Value: 5

The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated is another one of the best backpacking sleeping pads, especially for those that value good insulation.

The warmth rating of this backpacking mat is top notch. It clocks in with an R-value of 5 thanks largely in part to its Thermolite insulation fabric.

It’s among the most comfortable lightweight backpacking models available, thanks to its unique double air chamber design. One air chamber is located on top of the pad and another is on the bottom.

This dual air chamber design helps protect against punctures. It also enables you to fine-tune the firmness/cushioning to match the terrain and your sleeping style. Side sleepers rejoice!

Dozens of air sprung cells (instead of vertical or horizontal baffles) further increase comfort. They ensure that the sleeping surface remains flat and stable at all times – there’s no bottoming out with this pad.

Although it’s not the lightest backpacking sleeping pad available at 1 pound 11.6 ounces, it’s a solid option for backpackers that aren’t determined to shed every ounce of extra weight from their backpacking checklist.

What We Like:

  • Very Comfortable
  • Adjustable Cushioning
  • Supportive (Even for Side Sleepers)
  • Well Insulated
  • Durable (40-Denier Bottom Layer)

What We Don’t Like:

  • Expensive
  • Heavier Than Other Backpacking Pads

Best Application:

The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated is ideal for backpacking but is comfortable enough for car camping. An R-value of 5 makes it a good choice sleeping pad for winter camping.  

3. Exped MegaMat 10

Main Use: Car Camping, Winter Camping

Weight: 60 Ounces (3.75 Pounds)  

R-Value: 9.5

The Exped MegaMat 10 is undoubtedly one of the best camping mattresses on the market.  

This self-inflating mat is comfortable and spacious. It features a load of cushioning with an equal amount of support. At 4 inches thick when fully inflated, it’s one of the thickest camping sleeping pads you’ll find.

Thanks to its open-cell foam design, the MegaMat 10 actually feels more like a memory foam mattress than a camping mat. The foam filling is designed to stabilize the air. This air pad simply doesn’t feel “squishy” like many others.

In addition to its superior comfort, this self-inflating mattress is remarkably well insulated. It boasts an R-value of 9.5, thanks in large part to its open-cell polyurethane foam construction combined with horizontal air channels.

Other highlights include a nonslip top surface, low-profile self-inflating valves for quick inflation and deflation, and welded seams for the utmost in durability.

The main disadvantage of the MegaMat 10 is its giant size. It’s not exactly light at 3 pounds 12 ounces. And it only packs down to around 10 inches by 31 inches, making it far too large to use for backpacking.

A two-person model, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10, is also available.

What We Like:

  • Spacious
  • Comfortable
  • Stable Sleep Surface
  • Very Warm
  • Durable

What We Don’t Like:

  • Heavy
  • Large Packed Size

Best Application:

The Exped MegaMat 10 is one of the best camping mattresses for car camping, but it’s far too bulky/heavy for backpacking.

4. Klymit Static V2

Main Use: Backpacking

Weight: 17.5 Ounces

R-Value: 1.3

The Klymit Static V2 is a top-notch backpacking sleeping pad at a budget-friendly price.

Not everyone wants to spend an arm and a leg on a backpacking mat – and that’s exactly who the Static V2 is made for.

It boasts an insane level of comfort for its price. The pad is wider than many backpacking air pads with plenty of room for you to get comfortable at night. It’s 2.5 inches thick when fully inflated, making it a good choice for back, stomach, and side sleepers.

Super tough 75-denier bottom fabric and 30-denier top fabric ensure this sleeping pad will last for a long time.

The main drawback of the Klymit Static V2 is its warm rating. With an R-value of just 1.3, it’s far from the warmest model around.

Although it does the job for most three-season camping uses, including in temperatures down to 32°, it’s not the best option for winter camping (unless paired with a closed-cell foam camping pad).

What We Like:

  • Great Value
  • Comfortable
  • Spacious (About 3 Inches Wider Than Most)
  • Lightweight for Its Price
  • Durable Construction

What We Don’t Like:

  • Low R-Value
  • Manual Inflation

Best Application:

The Klymit Static V2 is hard to beat for budget backpackers and backpacking beginners looking to buy their first pad.

5. Exped DownMat 9

Main Use: Winter Camping

Weight: 35.7 Ounces

R-Value: 8

The Exped DownMat 9 makes its mark as one of the warmest backpacking sleeping pads available.

This warmth comes partially from its thickness (3.5 inches when fully inflated), but also its overall design. It utilizes 8.8 ounces of 700 fill goose down insulation as well as interior baffle chambers to achieve an R-value of 8.

The thickness of this pad also translates to comfort. You have a lot of versatility to inflate and deflate the pad to your personal cushioning preferences.

Durability is another highlight. 75-denier fabric makes this air pad tough enough to use straight on the ground, even on sharp rocks.

It’s worth noting that although the DownMat 9 is a manually-inflating pad, you can’t inflate it with your mouth. Instead, you must use the built-in hand pump. It’s easy but it does take a few minutes.

By far the biggest disadvantage of this Exped backpacking sleeping pad is its weight. At 2 pounds 3.7 ounces, it’s too heavy for most backpackers to lug around on a regular basis.

What We Like:

  • Comfortable
  • Extremely Warm
  • Durable Construction
  • Versatile Cushioning
  • Great in Snow

What We Don’t Like:

  • Weight
  • Large Packed Size

Best Application:

The Exped DownMat 9 is designed for seriously cold winter backpacking (think arctic weather conditions), including use at a winter base camp.

6. NEMO Switchback

Main Use: Ultralight Backpacking, Budget Camping, Thru-Hiking

Weight: 14.5 Ounces

R-Value: n/a

The NEMO Switchback is a budget-friendly choice for those that prefer a closed-cell foam sleeping pad.

In addition to its low price, the main benefit of this camping mat is its durability. Closed-cell foam pads are all but indestructible. Their fail-proof design makes them an excellent choice for long backpacking trips, such as thru-hiking.

As far as comfort goes, even the best foam sleeping pad will fall far short of the best air pads for camping. But at nearly 1 inch thick, the Switchback does provide more cushioning than most other foam models.

Rather than a flat top surface, the Switchback incorporates a hexagonal nesting pattern with tall nodes to add a layer of plushness. This pattern also helps improve overall insulation and even helps save space when folding the pad up.

One drawback is that this camping mat doesn’t pack down nearly as small as most inflatable models. But it is lightweight and can be carried on the outside of your backpack without fear of damage.

Nemo doesn’t list an R-value for this sleeping pad. However, the pad is rated for use in temperatures down to 20° F, although you’ll be most comfortable using it in temperatures 32° F and higher.

What We Like:

  • Low Price
  • All But Indestructible
  • Warmth Rating Down to 20° to 35° F
  • Comfortable for a Foam Pad
  • Lightweight

What We Don’t Like:

  • Bulky Packed Size
  • Not as Comfortable as an Inflatable Pad

Best Application:

The NEMO Switchback is the best sleeping pad for those that prefer a foam mat over an air pad. It’s also a good option for campers on a tight budget.

7. Sea to Summit Ultralight

Main Use: Ultralight Backpacking

Weight: 17.4 Ounces

R-Value: 0.7

The Sea to Summit Ultralight is one of the best ultralight sleeping pads for backpacking.

Right away, it’s important to note that this pad has minimal insulation. It has an R-value of just 0.7. This means that it’s not suited for cold weather camping. In fact, it’s best for summertime backpacking only.

But the lack of insulation does have its benefits. It means that this is one of the lightest backpacking mats available. It’s a stripped-down, minimalist pad that’s extremely portable.

Despite its lightweight and small packed size, the Sea to Summit Ultralight is still surprisingly comfortable. Not only is it 2 inches thick, but it also utilizes dot welds in favor of vertical or horizontal baffles.

The dot welds along with air sprung cells increase overall comfort by creating a more solid, stable sleep surface that won’t bottom out when you toss and turn. This is an excellent sleeping pad for side sleepers.

40-denier ripstop fabric is used for the outer construction. Although not as burly as some other backpacking models, this pad is durable enough for all backpackers but those that are brutal to their gear.

An insulated model (R-value of 3.3), the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated, is available for those that want a little extra warmth for three-season camping.

What We Like:

  • Comfortable
  • Stable Sleep Surface
  • Lightweight
  • Packs Down Very Small
  • Durable

What We Don’t Like:

  • Not Very Plush
  • Minimal Insulation (Not Warm)

Best Application:

The Sea to Summit Ultralight is perfect for long-distance summer backpacking where weight is a major concern and cold temperatures aren’t expected.

8. REI Co-op Flash Insulated

Main Use: Backpacking

Weight: 15 Ounces

R-Value: 3.7

The REI Co-op Flash Insulated is a versatile backpacking sleeping pad at a reasonable price.

It weighs in at just 15 ounces, making it one of the best ultralight sleeping pads for backpacking.

Despite its lightweight construction, this the Flash Insulated is surprisingly comfortable. It employs multiple inflatable air cells rather than vertical or horizontal baffles to create a more stable sleep surface. It has none of the “bounce” people typically associate with inflatable pads.

As its name implies, the Flash Insulated also performs well in the warmth department. Dual-fiber insulation and a Mylar reflective layer help give this 2-inch thick pad its R-value of 3.7.

Durability is one area where this pad doesn’t exactly excel. Although the 30-denier bottom layer is tough, it’s not on par with the ruggedness of top-of-the-line backpacking sleeping pads.

What We Like:

  • Bargain Price
  • Comfortable
  • Stable Sleep Surface
  • Well-Insulated
  • Lightweight and Packs Down Small

What We Don’t Like:

  • Only 30-Denier Bottom Fabric  
  • Slight Crinkling Sound When Moving

Best Application:

The REI Co-op Flash Insulated is best for three-season backpacking. It’s also a great option for those looking for a bargain.

9. Alps Mountaineering Outback

Main Use: Car Camping, Winter Camping

Weight: 105 Ounces (6 Pounds 9 Ounces)

R-Value: 9

The ALPS Mountaineering Outback is one of the most best camping mattresses on the market.

Like the Exped MegaMat 10, it utilizes a self-inflating design with foam-filled air chambers to mimic the effects of an actual bed. And, boy, does it succeed. The Outback is extremely comfortable. Plus, it’s an inch thicker than the MegaMat 10.

But the comfort doesn’t stop there. The spaciousness of this self-inflating mattress – 80 inches long by 32 inches wide – makes this one of the roomiest sleeping pads you can find. It’s ideal for light sleepers and others that toss and turn during the night.

In addition to its superior comfort and cushioning, the Outback has excellent insulation. An R-value of 9 means that it will keep you very warm at night. It’s even warm enough to use while winter camping right on top of snow.

Of course, the top-notch size, comfort, and insulation mean that this camping air mattress is heavy – far too heavy to use for backpacking. At over 6.5 pounds, it’s really only good for car camping or in a winter base camp.

What We Like:

  • Comfortable
  • Large Surface
  • Stable, Sturdy Support
  • Great Insulation
  • Durable

What We Don’t Like:

  • Very Heavy
  • Hard to Pack Down

Best Application:

The ALPS Mountaineering Outback is one of the best air mattresses for four-season camping, although it’s weight and bulk do limit its portability/versatility.

Sleeping Pad Benefits

A sleeping pad should be near the top of your camping checklist, alongside a quality sleeping bag and quality camping tent.

The main benefit of a sleeping pad is the layer of cushioning it creates between you, your sleeping bag, and the ground.

If you’ve ever camped without a camping mat, then you know just how uncomfortable the bare ground can be!

But the benefits don’t stop there. In addition to maximizing comfort, the best camping sleeping pads also provide warmth via extra insulation.

While this added warmth is almost always welcome, it’s particularly important for those going camping in the winter in very cold weather conditions.

All told, a sleeping pad will greatly improve the quality of your sleep – making your camping or backpacking trip even more enjoyable!

Types of Sleeping Pads

The three main types of sleeping pads are closed-cell foam pads, manually-inflating air pads, and self-inflating air pads.

The type of pad largely dictates its overall performance as well as what type of camping it’s best suited for.

Here are the pros and cons of each main type of sleeping pad.

Closed-Cell Foam Sleeping Pads

Our Top-Rated Closed-Cell Foam Sleeping Pad: NEMO Switchback

A closed-cell foam sleeping mat is the most basic type of sleeping mat for camping.

Made from a thin layer of dense foam, often filled with a multitude of small closed-air pockets, these are a good option for the camper or backpacker on a budget.

Those camping in the winter often use a foam mat underneath an inflatable sleeping pad for additional insulation.

Closed-Cell Foam Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Lightweight
  • Durable (No Risk of Leaks)

Closed-Cell Foam Cons:

  • Less Comfortable
  • Not as Much Insulation
  • Doesn’t Pack Down as Small

Manually-Inflating Sleeping Pads

Our Top-Rated Manually Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

A manually-inflating sleeping pad is the most traditional type of camping air pad.

In fact, these models are widely considered the best sleeping pads for backpacking, thanks to their small packable size, lightweight construction, and overall comfort.

These pads are similar in construction to self-inflating mattresses. They must be manually inflated, usually by using your own breath. Some models come with a built-in hand pump (or you can buy a separate sleeping pad air pump).

Manually-Inflating Pros:

  • Most Comfortable
  • Lightweight and Very Packable
  • Customizable Firmness (by Adding or Releasing Air)

Manually-Inflating Cons:

  • Most Expensive
  • Risk of Leaks and Punctures
  • Can Lose Air at Night

Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads

Our Top-Rated Self Inflatable Sleeping Pad: ALPS Mountaineering Outback

A self-inflating sleeping pad is perhaps the most versatile option currently available.

As the name implies, they inflate by themselves. There’s no need to use your breath or a hand pump to fill the pad with air. Just unfold or unroll and the pad will quickly fill itself up.

In many ways, a self-inflating pad offers a good in-between compared to closed-cell foam and manually-inflating pads in terms of comfort, packed size/weight, and cost.

Self-Inflating Pros:

  • Affordable Models Available
  • Good Insulation
  • Durable Construction (Lower Risk of Leaks)

Self-Inflating Cons:

  • Can Lose Air at Night
  • Heavier than Closed-Cell Foam Pads
  • Bulkier than Manually-Inflating Pads

Most Important Sleeping Pad Features

Now that you know the difference between closed-cell foam, manually-inflating, and self-inflating sleeping pads, it’s time to break down the main features.

Take a few moments to think about which features are most important to you – maybe that’s size/weight, cushioning, or insulation – as this will help you narrow down your options.

Here are the most important sleeping pad features to consider.

Intended Use

Match your sleeping mat to your preferred style of camping.

For example, the best sleeping pad for car camping isn’t limited by size and weight. This enables you to select a larger, more cushioned model without worrying about the extra bulk.

On the other hand, the best sleeping pad for backpacking must be lightweight and packable above all else.

And then there are models that are made for ultralight backpacking, thru-hiking, winter camping, and other highly specific uses.

Keep the intended use of your sleeping mat in mind while sorting through the rest of these key features.

Insulation and R-Value

Sleeping pad R-value is one of the most important individual features to consider.

Used to describe the ability to resist heat flow, R-value directly correlates to how much insulation (and thereby extra warmth) a sleeping pad provides while camping.

A higher R-value equals a warmer and more insulating sleeping pad.

Because the pad is placed between your body and the ground, one of its main jobs is to insulate you from the cold ground to keep you warm at night.

This is a big reason why it’s so important to select a camping mat based on the coldest weather conditions you expect to encounter.

Camping or backpacking in the winter requires a higher R-value sleeping pad than camping or backpacking in the summer.

The majority of pads have an R-value between 1 and 10 (although some seriously bulky camping mattresses have an R-value over 10).

Most campers and backpackers are happy with an R-value of between 2 and 5 for three-season use. An R-value of over 5 is best for winter camping.  

Because women have a lower body mass than men, which makes them more prone to temperature fluctuation, it’s often recommended that women buy a sleeping pad with a slightly higher R-value (an additional +1 R-value is a good bet).

*R-value is additive. Use a closed-cell foam mat underneath your inflatable sleeping pad to combine their insulating properties.

Cushioning and Inflation

Along with insulation and R-value, cushioning and inflation are the most important features of a sleeping pad for backpacking or camping.

Most closed-cell foam pads offer roughly the same level of cushioning, although various thicknesses are available. However, it’s rate to find foam camping mats over 1 inch thick.

Different closed-cell foam designs, such as the hexagonal pattern utilized by the NEMO Switchback, provide different levels of comfort and plushness.

No inflation is required for closed-cell foam sleeping mats.

For inflatable sleeping pads, including both manually-inflaing and self-inflating models, the total air volume has a lot to do with the overall cushioning.

High-volume air pads usually have greater cushioning. Many people consider the models with the most cushioning as the most comfortable.

Yet, like foam mats, the overall comfort of an inflatable sleeping pad is determined by the construction and layout of the air chambers. Some have a single air chamber while others utilize multiple air chambers.

The best sleeping pads for backpacking go so far as to use dozens of small air chambers for maximum cushioning (the Sea to Summit Ultralight is a prime example).

A nice benefit of an inflatable sleeping pad is that you can increase or decrease the amount of air as desired to adjust to the perfect level of comfort.

Sleeping Pad Weight

Weight is a major concern for most backpackers, especially ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers.

Closed-cell foam sleeping mats are a lightweight option. But they don’t pack down very small and are reasonably bulky.

That’s why they’ve largely fallen out of popularity in favor of inflatable backpacking sleeping pads. Not only are the best models extremely lightweight, but they pack down very small as well.

The best inflatable sleeping pads for backpacking weigh less than 1 pound and pack down smaller than a 1-liter water bottle.

Sleeping Pad Size (Length and Width)

Your sleeping pad must be large enough for you to fit on it.

At the very least, it should accommodate the width of your shoulders and hips as well as the length of your body from head to toe.

Most “Standard” or “Regular” sized pads are 72 inches (6 feet) long. Most brands also offer “Long” or “XL” models that are around 78 inches long.

20 inches is the standard width for most pads, including most “Long” models. If you want a wider than normal sleeping pad, make sure to look closely at the manufacturer specifications during your research.

Another option is a “3/4” or “short” pad. These are typically only 48 inches (4 feet) long. A short model supports your entire body except for the legs.

Although 3/4 sleeping pads do save space and weight for backpacking, they’re not a good option when cold weather is expected as your legs/feet will have minimal insulation.

In addition to “Long” and “3/4” options, many brands now offer special “Women’s” sleeping pads specifically designed to accommodate a woman’s smaller frame.

Sleeping Pad Shape 

Backpacking and camping sleeping pads are either rectangle-shaped or mummy-shaped.

Rectangular pads provide a slightly larger sleeping surface. This is particularly beneficial for those that move around a lot during the night.

Mummy pads are tapered. They’re larger near the shoulders/hips and taper near the legs/feet. Most mummy models don’t have much additional “wiggle” room, so they’re best for relatively stationary sleepers.

Another, less common, option is a two-person sleeping pad. Designed to accommodate two sleepers, these camping mattresses are much larger and heavier than traditional pads.

Materials and Construction

The materials and construction methods used on a sleeping pad greatly influence its overall performance.

For example, the materials directly translate to the comfort, durability, and R-value of the pad.

Here are the most important materials and construction features to keep in mind.

Denier Rating

Like many camping and backpacking products, most sleeping pads include a denier rating as part of the product specifications.

A denier rating is a unit of measurement that describes the thickness of the fibers in the fabric used to construct a product.

In terms of sleeping mats and other outdoor equipment, a higher denier rating typically means that the fabric is thicker and therefore more durable.

Most of the best sleeping pads use fabric in the range of 30-denier to 70-denier. Anything 40-denier or above is generally very tough, although models made with 100-denier fabric are available.

Sleeping pads with a denier rating below 40-denier generally need more care, although it’s rare to find models that use less than 30-denier fabric.

Type of Fabric

Most camping air pads are constructed primarily from polyester or nylon.

As an outer material, both polyester and nylon are rugged and durable. However, you’ll notice that polyester usually has a lower denier rating than nylon.

This is because polyester is naturally thicker and more durable while nylon is naturally thinner and less durable.

Many camping air pads also utilize ripstop fabric in their construction. This is a lightweight, highly durable material that’s used for additional tear resistance.

A more rugged bottom layer is essential for those that commonly sleep on rocky or otherwise sharp terrain while backpacking. Look for a model with a high denier rating to minimize the risk of punctures.

Type of Air Chambers

A single air chamber is the most basic type of air chamber for an inflatable camping pad.

As the name implies, the air is stored in a single air pocket. Although this sometimes makes for quicker inflation, the downside is that a single tear in the sleeping pad can cause the whole thing to malfunction.

Inflatable sleeping pads with multiple air chambers defeat this problem. If one chamber suffers a tear, the pad is not entirely unusable.

Of course, most backpackers pack a sleeping pad repair kit so minor rips and tears aren’t actually that big of a deal.

The very best inflatable backpacking sleeping pads consist of dozens of small air chambers.

Not only do these limit the risk of the pad becoming unusable mid trip, but they also provide an additional level of comfort by ensuring that you won’t “bottom out” if you roll on your side during the night.

Furthermore, multiple small air chambers also minimize the “bouncy” sensation that air mats are often known for by creating a more solid, stable, and supportive sleep surface.

Additional Features

Some inflatable sleeping pads have additional features to further increase comfort.

Side baffles (also known as sleeping pad rails) are large inflatable baffles on either vertical side of the pad. They’re designed to “lock” you into place at night so you don’t roll or slide off the pad.

A pillow baffle utilizes a similar design. These inflatable baffles act as a built-in pillow at the top of the pad.

How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad

The best sleeping pad is the one that best suits your individual needs.

Now that you know how different features influence the performance of a pad, it’s time to think about how these apply to you specifically.

Here are the most important factors to consider to choose the best sleeping pad for camping or backpacking.

Your Intended Use

Select a sleeping pad that best matches your intended use, whether that’s car camping, backpacking, or another outdoor activity.

Here’s a bit more about which type of pad is best for a few of the most popular applications.

Car Camping

Car camping doesn’t come with the weight and size restrictions of backpacking. So, you can select a thicker, larger sleeping pad with few repercussions.

A nice side benefit of this is price. Large camping mattresses are often a good deal less expensive than lightweight backpacking sleeping pads.

Another factor is tent size. Many car campers use large, spacious tents that have enough room for even the largest seeping pads – some are even large enough to fit full-size inflatable air mattresses.

Even though they’re heavy and bulky, air mattresses are a good option for car camping, especially if you prefer to share the same “bed” as your partner or children.

Backpacking

The best backpacking sleeping pads are extremely lightweight (some models weigh less than 1 pound).

Look for a model that’s not only lightweight and packable, but that provides a decent level of cushioning, comfort, and insulation as well.

Closed-cell foam backpacking mats are a lightweight, extremely durable, and low-cost budget option – but they’re far from the most comfortable.

Most backpackers now prefer an inflatable sleeping pad as they pack down the smallest but still offer a substantial amount of comfort and insulation.

Both manually-inflating and self-inflating models work well for backpacking.

*Our how to plan a backpacking trip guide has additional tips on choosing the best backpacking gear.

Minimalist Camping

A lightweight camping pad is essential for minimalist camping.

Whether you’re a fan of ultralight backpacking or just like to keep things simple, a closed-cell foam camping mat is a good option for minimalists.

Foam sleeping pads are among the lightest available (although the best self-inflating sleeping pads now weigh less than 1 pound).

Some serious lightweight backpackers even cut their sleeping pads down to 3/4 the size for even more weight savings.

Certain manufacturers now sell 3/4 (also known as “short”) models for extra weight savings. The Klymit Static V Recon ¾ Length Sleeping Pad is a well-known example.

Thru-Hiking

Many thru-hikers are also fans of very lightweight sleeping pads.

However, closed-cell foam is often a better bet than air for thru-hikers thanks to its combination of extreme durability and lightweight construction.

When you’re hiking and camping every day for months on end, a camping mat with the lowest risk of ripping, tearing, or otherwise becoming damaged is an absolute must.

Thru-hikers must also make a decision between a 3/4 length vs a full length sleeping pad.

Prioritize Your Needs

Not everyone wants the same things from their camping sleeping pad.

Some campers prefer additional comfort and cushioning while others are more concerned about saving weight. Other campers are most concerned with durability. Still others just want the most affordable sleeping pad for camping.

Rank your needs (especially comfort, durability, insulation, price, and weight) while conducting your research.

Your Sleeping Style

Like when buying a normal mattress for your home, it’s important to consider your sleeping style when choosing a sleeping pad for camping.

The best sleeping pads for side sleepers typically require more cushioning than those for back and stomach sleepers.

The same goes for those that toss and turn a lot at night. An extra thick sleeping pad is beneficial for frequent nighttime movement.

Many camping models now utilize multiple air chambers (sometimes dozens of small chambers) to further limit bottoming out for side sleepers.

Expected Terrain and Weather

Camping on rough terrain, like rocks, requires a thicker and more durable sleeping pad.

Look for models that incorporate a high-denier bottom layer and ripstop fabrics to prevent damages from occurring. Inflatable camping pads help prevent the rocky terrain from making you uncomfortable during the night.

Colder temperatures require a higher R-value sleeping pad. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation.

Many winter campers use an inflatable air pad and a closed-cell foam pad together to increase the overall insulation and warmth. The closed-cell foam pad can also be used as a valuable backup in case the air pad is damaged.

*Our guide to the best cold weather camping gear and our winter camping how-to guide are invaluable for those planning to camp in winter. 

Your Size and Tent Size

Naturally, you should choose a sleeping pad that is large enough to accommodate your entire body (especially your hips and shoulders).

Most sleeping pads are 72 inches (6 feet) long, although large (usually 78 inches long) and short (usually 48 inches long) models are available from some manufacturers.

Make sure that the model you select fits in your tent. Although most foam sleeping mats and backpacking sleeping pads will fit in just about any tent, full-size camping air mattresses are too large for many tents.

Versatility

Many campers and backpackers prefer a versatile sleeping pad.

This is a pad that works just as well for car camping as it does for backpacking. It’s comfortable in warmer weather as well as colder weather.

However, serious backpackers sometimes prefer multiple sleeping pads so they can select the best match for the specifics of the trip at hand.  

Partners, Dogs, and Children

Backpacking with a dog is undeniably fun – but dogs are rough on your camping gear, especially sleeping pads.

The best sleeping pad for camping with dogs is a foam mat. These models don’t use air so they can’t pop or leak. They’re also extremely durable, so other types of damage are rare.

Other campers prefer a two-person sleeping pad to share with their partner or children.

Sleeping Pad Care and Storage

Proper care, maintenance, and storage of your camping mat will greatly increase its lifespan.

Luckily, caring for your sleeping pad is relatively straightforward. In addition to cleaning and storing it correctly, it’s also important that you know how to repair holes and tears.

Here’s what you need to know about caring for your sleeping pad.

On the Trail Care

Compared to most other camping gear, a sleeping pad is a relatively delicate piece of equipment.

In addition to the potential for water damage, camping air pads can somewhat easily rip or tear open. Although a sleeping pad patch kit will help fix minor damages, it’s better to prevent them in the first place.

When using an inflatable sleeping pad while backpacking, we recommend carrying it inside of your backpack to help prevent tears.

Closed-cell foam sleeping mats, on the other hand, are much more robust and can safely be carried on the outside of your backpack.

On the Trail Maintenance

A sleeping pad repair kit will help you quickly repair minor holes and tears to your air pad while on the trail. 

The process of patching a sleeping pad is relatively straightforward. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Locate the leak (listen for whooshing air or apply soapy water)
  • Mark the leak and deflate the pad
  • Clean and thoroughly dry the area around the leak
  • Apply adhesive and the patch (firmly hold down patch for at least a minute)
  • Let sit for 30 minutes, then test

Most manufacturers now provide a repair kit with the pad upon purchase.

At Home Cleaning and Storage

Always wipe down your pad after a camping trip, especially if it has insect repellent, pine sap, or any other sticky substance on it.

Aside from a quick wipe down, you don’t really need to worry about thoroughly cleaning your sleeping pad after each camping trip.

That said, an annual deep cleaning is a smart idea. The fact is that most campers use a sleeping bag so their pads are not often exposed to the potentially harmful oils of their bodies.

After cleaning, let the pad air dry while still inflated. Deflate the pad only once it’s completely dry as moisture tucked away inside folds and seams can lead to mold growth.

Because camping air pads are relatively delicate, it’s best not to store them packed down or folded up for a long period of time (a few days is fine).

Instead of stuffing them in a car trunk, closet, or basement, the best way to store a sleeping pad is to leave them semi-inflated (especially with self-inflated models) and completely unrolled. Leave the air valve open.

Foam mats don’t have the same storage requirements as air pads. Although unrolling for storage is a good way to prevent crease lines, you can store a foam camping pad rolled up without much need for worry.

Sleeping Pad Accessories

Here are a few of the best sleeping pad accessories for backpacking and camping.

Sleeping Pad Patch Kit

A patch kit enables you to make small repairs in the field. The best sleeping pads come with an included repair kit upon purchase. If yours doesn’t or you need a replacement, the REI Co-op Sleeping Pad Repair Kit is a good option.

Hand Air Pump

Tired of inflating your inflatable camping pad with your breath? Then try a hand air pump like the REI Co-op Stratus Sleeping Pad Air Pump.

Another option is a dry sack mat pump like the Sea to Summit Air Stream Pump Dry Sack. A relatively new invention, these nifty products double as a dry sack during the day and an easy-to-use air pump when it’s close to bed time.

Sleeping Pad Chair Kit

A sleeping pad chair kit is a well-designed little piece of gear that allows you to easily turn your sleeping pad into a makeshift camping chair. The Therm-a-Rest Trekker Chair Kit is among the best available.

Alternative Options

A sleeping pad isn’t the right choice for everyone.

Luckily, there are quite a few other comfortable and convenient camping sleep systems that will help you get a good night’s sleep.

Here are a few of the best alternative sleep systems for camping.

Air Mattress  

Campers who demand the utmost in comfort and cushioning should consider an air mattress for camping.

Those designed specifically for camping are usually full-sized, but you can find home-use models that are queen-size or even king-size.

The ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed is one of the best air mattresses made for camping. The reinforced construction provides a stable, uniform sleeping surface.

The Coleman Quick Bed is another comfortable, durable camping air mattress with a super soft plush top layer for even more cushioning.

Even a standard home air mattress, like the Intex Comfort Plush Elevated Airbed, can be used outdoors for one of the most comfortable car camping sleep experiences imaginable.

Camping Cot

A camping cot is another comfortable, albeit bulky and heavy, alternative to a sleeping pad or camping mat.

Some people prefer sleeping on a cot to thanks to the increased support and stability.

The elevated height is another benefit of a camp cot. It allows cool air to circulate in hot weather, keeps you up off the ground, and provides a handy place to store your gear.

The REI Co-op Kingdom Cot 3 is a high-tech version of a camping cot that offers a plush, padded top for the utmost in comfort.

For a simpler, more traditional camping cot, the straightforward Kelty Discovery Cot is hard to beat in terms of comfort, support, and ease of use.

*Stay tuned for our upcoming guide to the best camping cots.

Camping Hammock

Hammock camping has experienced a huge upswing in popularity over the past several years.

The best camping hammocks are not only extremely easy-to-use and durable, but they’re surprisingly comfortable to sleep in as well. And that’s not to mention just how lightweight and packable they are (a big plus for backpackers).

Many camping hammocks, such as the top-rated Hennessy Hammock, are compatible with a host of accessories, such as underquilts and rainflies, to make the experience that much more comfortable, even if you’re hammock camping in winter.

*Our beginner’s guide to hammock camping is a great introduction while our camping hammock gear checklist is perfect for those that are ready to pull the trigger!

Final Thoughts

The best sleeping pad for you is the one that best meets your individual needs and preferences.

Although there are dozens of quality options available, we swear by the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite for backpacking, the Exped MegaMat 10 for camping, and the NEMO Switchback for those on a tight budget.

Like always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any any questions at all about backpacking or camping sleeping pads!

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