After a long day hiking, climbing or exploring in the wilderness, the one thing that you don’t want to sacrifice is a good night’s sleep.
Having a decent sleeping mat in your backpack can make all the difference in terms of enjoyment, as it’s critical for comfort and warmth.
You’ll find the words mat, pad and mattress used interchangeably when you’re looking online, so don’t be thrown off.
The two main types of sleeping pads are air pads and foam pads, both of which have their benefits and drawbacks.
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- Camping essential
In our lineup we have reviewed a mixture of air and foam options, because everyone is slightly different in terms of preference.
The sleeping mat that is best for you will depend largely on your intended purpose and where you will be camping.
Some key traits that you might want to take into consideration are listed out in our buying guide further below.
For those of who you are ready to dive right in, here are the best sleeping pads on the market right now.
We’ve researched dozens of options and narrowed it down to the following 10:
- Good for: Comfort-seeking campers on a tight budget who don’t need warmth
- Weight: 545 grams
- R-value: 1.5
First up on our list is the Deeplee Mat. Although you may not recognise the manufacturer, this mat seems to rate highly with everyone who has tried it.
For those that are space (and price) conscious, the built-in pillow frees up some room in your backpack for other items and the U-shaped ergonomic design is designed to relieve neck pressure.
If you prefer a separate material pillow then this could be a non-starter.
Something we liked a lot is the honeycomb design that offers superior comfort compared to budget strip ones. The hexagons ensure that the air is dispersed equally if you move during sleep, reducing bounce.
Despite its low price, it is made with premium 40D nylon fabric with a TPU coating, making it waterproof and wear-resistant and ensuring its durability.
Easily inflated with the integrated pump, it takes around three minutes to fill, which could be frustrating if in a hurry but we didn’t see it as an issue. One thing to note is that the somewhat bulbous inflator is quite intrusive, but luckily it is off to one side of the pillow.
Packing down to 25×10 centimetres, it’s perfectly portable on hiking, camping or fishing trips but its low R-value makes it summer appropriate only.
- Good for: Budget backpackers that want a lightweight pad
- Weight: 495 grams
- R-value: 1.3
If you’re looking for a light pad on a budget, it will be hard to beat this one. Klymit’s Static V2 offers competitive features, durability and comfort at a fraction of the competition’s price.
Although it doesn’t have anything particularly groundbreaking to offer, it performs well across all of the major categories, and has been updated with a modern valve system that adds to the overall value and functionality.
Despite being relatively thin and giving you the feeling you’ll be at one with the ground should you roll onto your side during the night, it is actually quite a comfortable choice.
The V2’s smart design features a subtle trough down the middle that prevents you rolling outwards and the V pattern baffles airflow to minimise the bouncy feeling associated with inflatable pads. The same cannot be said for sleeping pads that have one large air chamber.
At under 500 grams, it’s the perfect lightweight option, built with thicker fabrics than its competitors and slightly wider than the standard pad size.
The tradeoff of the light weight and price? The low R-value means that it’s fit for summer use only and the valve design is not as good as some pads, leading to slower deflation.
If you need warmth over weight then Klymit also offer an insulated version with an R-value of 4.4. The Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad is a little more expensive but better suited to multi-season camping.
- Good for: Three-season comfort and durability
- Weight: 480 grams
- R-value: 3.1
Sea to Summit is a reputable outdoors company with a whole host of sleeping mats, bags and other apparel. This is one of our favourite mats in their lineup – as long as you aren’t heading out in winter.
With an R-value of 3.1, this mat will see you through spring, summer and autumn, unlike the previous two. A combination of Exkin Platinum fabric and Thermolite insulation prevent radiant and convective heat loss.
The Comfort Light model is similar to the Ultralight, but with additional insulation (R-value 3.7) and more cushioning in the torso.
The multi-function valve makes for quick and easy inflation/deflation and fine tuning of air pressure and the mat even comes with a pumpsack included.
Despite falling in the ultralight range, we were pleasantly surprised by just how comfortable it is. The design features air sprung cells to mimic the feel of a normal mattress.
40D rip-stop nylon face fabric gets just the right balance of weight and durability and Sea to Summit have a unique TPU lamination process that makes their mats last far longer than many competitors.
The only issue we found was a slight rubbery sound, particularly noticeable when rolling over, and the bottoming out when sitting/getting up.
If you are only planning to camp out when it’s warm weather, then you might find that the standard Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat is more suitable – weighing in lighter and less tough on the wallet. Just bear in mind that with an R-value of just 0.7, you could be in for a chilly sleep.
- Good for: Ultralight three-season backpacking
- Weight: 410 grams
- R-value: 4.2
Comfortable, versatile and the lightest on our list, Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XLite is an outstanding sleeping mat.
In terms of R-value for weight, this is an impressive piece of kit and you will find it on every 2020 favourites list.
Perfect for anyone who wants to shave weight off their overnight kit without sacrificing comfort or warmth, this is hands down the best option in the Ultralight category.
The XLite is just over 400 grams and once rolled it can be packed smaller than a one-litre Nalgene bottle.
The new valve system is exceptional and we would recommend investing in the latest model to get this new, rugged Winglock valve. Users can now inflate their mat three times faster than a classic valve as well as benefiting from lightning-fast deflation.
Patented Triangular Core Matrix and internal thermal coating consistently delivers warmth in anything but the most cold environments.
The thick horizontal baffles of the XLite succeed in dampening bounce and are more comfortable than long vertical baffles.
Those who do a lot of tossing and turning might want to opt for the large size, to avoid rolling off and ending up with the mat on top of them.
If you’re prone to moving a lot in the night, your tent-mates might grow tired of the crinkling sounds that are the main downside of this mat.
- Good for: Extreme durability without risk of punctures, leaks or deflation
- Weight: 410 grams
- R-value: 2
NEMO’s Switchback Pad is the best closed-cell foam sleeping pad on the market for a number of reasons – including the increased thickness and slightly reduced pack-down size.
The metalised thermal film layer efficiently reflects heat back to your body and the thicker build offers 15% more heat-trapping space for a warmer sleep.
While not as comfortable as inflatable sleeping pads, for anyone that doesn’t mind a firmer night sleep, you will be rewarded with an unpoppable, long-lasting mat.
NEMO have redefined the classic closed-cell foam sleeping pad to deliver more thickness and comfort, a real step on from mats of yester-year.
Another bonus of foam pads is that they can be rolled up and used to sit on during the day.
Suited best to summer use, this pad is as lightweight as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite but can’t be folded down anywhere near as small.
If you’re not going to be carrying your gear far and want something durable that you can sit/sleep on and trip over without fear of damage, the NEMO Switchback is for you.
- Good for: An all-round mat for four-season comfort and warmth
- Weight: 1090 grams
- R-value: 6
Exped has a variety of Synmat pads on offer but the XP 9 made our list for the ultra-comfortable design, high R-value and optimal packability.
However, for weight-conscious hikers the Synmat XP 9 will be problematic, weighing in at over a kilogram. This makes it one of the heaviest contenders on the market but with that extra bulk comes durability and longevity.
SynMats are all made from a durable polyester with a TPU polyether film laminate and its nine centimeter thickness lifts you high off the ground and also allows for greater insulation.
The pad is generously plush, wide and long, and allows users to shift from back to side sleep without contacting the ground.
The welded baffles run length ways (which we don’t love) and are filled with Texpedloft microfibre that expands when the mat is inflated. These microfiber filled air chambers are what provide such good insulation.
Exped claim that this four-season expedition mat can be used in extreme conditions as low as -25°C, though we didn’t dare to test it in those temperatures.
If ultralight equipment isn’t a top priority for you, then the Synmat XP 9 can provide exceptional comfort and warmth on your next adventure.
It also comes with a Schnozzel pump bag that doubles as a dry bag, not a bad package all-in-all when you consider the price.
- Good for: Camping adventures where carrying bulk is not an issue
- Weight: 395 grams
- R-value: 2
Therm-a-Rest’s Z Lite Sol is a compact closed-cell mat that is light and relatively comfortable.
Looking a little bit like something that has been pulled off the side of a spacecraft, the Z Lite Sol features a thermal reflective barrier that sends heat back to your body, increasing warmth by up to 20%.
Even at 20 millimeters thick, it’s far more comfortable than many roll mats out there and although bulky, is very durable and holds shape after continuous use.
With the option to fold it in half for a sitting mat, or more times for an elevated seat above the ground, it is a great camping companion.
The key downside is the size and shape, making it awkward for carrying. We found that its ‘compact design’ was not particularly compact and without mounting it vertically to a large rucksack, you’ll find it also interferes with the fit of a standard-sized rain cover.
That said, if you want something that can be thrown in the back of the car or sat on by the family, the Z Lite Sol is virtually indestructible.
For those who are setting up camp in one place this wouldn’t be a problem, but for anyone moving on every day, an inflatable ultralight is a better option.
- Good for: Comfort like you never thought possible in the great outdoors
- Weight: 725 grams
- R-value: 5
Sea to Summit’s Comfort Plus Insulated is capable of taking you to Everest basecamp or any winter wild camping adventure, without a moment of lost sleep.
The Comfort Plus model is S2S’s most luxurious mat and by far the comfiest we have ever tried. If you’re prepared to carry a little extra weight, you’ll be rewarded with an inflatable pad that is as close to a real bed as you can get.
As well as being able to toss and turn extensively without ever touching the floor, Comfort Plus Insulated will keep you warm throughout all four seasons.
The pad blends a dual layer of offset air-sprung cells, Thermolite insulation and an Exkin Platinum reflective layer.
It is one of the few sleeping pads on the market that offers two air chambers with separate inflation valves.
This means that movement and pressure in one chamber doesn’t cause bounce in the other, and a leak or puncture in one won’t spell the end of your trip as there is always a backup.
Inflating the lower part to maximum pressure keeps you at bay from any roots or rocks poking into your back, whilst the firmness of the upper layer can be fine-tuned to suit your sleeping style.
Splashing out on this product should be considered a long-term investment. It is made with durable Ripstop Nylon and an antibacterial TPU lining in the air cells that prevents mildew from developing.
Yes it’s more expensive than most of those on our top 10 list, but we don’t think you can put a price on a good night’s sleep.
- Good for: A quiet night without any wrinkling and conveniently small
- Weight: 425 grams
- R-value: 3.5
NEMO’s lightest sleeping pad to date, the Tensor Insulate has used premium 20D fabrics to shave grams off and added an improved valve.
The main reason it made our list was that it is quieter than any other air pad we’ve tested.
With an R-value of 3.5, the Tensor is suited to most three-season backpacking trips, but should be used with a warm sleeping bag at the tail-end of autumn.
This insulated sleeping pad gives you a good combination of warmth and comfort. Updated with two layers of suspended Thermal Mirror metalised film, it really is remarkably quiet compared to the competition.
Spaceframe and undulating lateral baffles provide more stability and weight distribution than strips, thereby offering a supportive sleep.
Inflation works relatively well with the included pumpsack (which unfortunately doesn’t double up as a stuffsack or drybag like the Sea to Summit one).
Deflation, however, was outstanding thanks to the zero-profile, multi-functional, micro-adjust valve. Where you usually have to roll and unroll a pad several times to fully expel all the air for packing, this one worked first try.
If you’ve every experimented with different ultralight pads, you’ll be well accustomed to the crinkly potato chip bag sound that so often accompanies them.
The Tensor has finally bucked the trend, making for a quiet night’s sleep and is not slippery like its cheaper counterparts.
If you don’t like the mummy shape, NEMO manufactures the Tensor in other shape and size options, including rectangular and the rare regular/wide model.
The NEMO Tensor also comes in an ultralight model.
- Good for: Everything!
- Weight: 515 grams
- R-value: 7.2
Taking the final spot and first place on the podium is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm – our favourite sleeping pad of the year.
It’s incredibly warm, comfortable, relatively light and it’s long-lasting. Quite literally the only catch is the price tag.
With a lightweight, packable design, supreme warmth doesn’t even have to come at the cost of portability. The NeoAir Xtherm even beats most three-season pads in the weight/packed size department.
The horizontal baffles aren’t too bouncy and the Thermacapture reflective heat technology efficiently reflects heat. Therm-a-Rest’s patented Triangular Core Matrix once again delivers warmth with thermal foam nestled between alternating ridges of air and foam.
The 7.2 R-value means the XTherm can insulate campers even in in extreme cold and offers the best warmth-per-gram of any ultralight sleeping pad.
The Winglock valve was new in 2019, with a larger barrel and optional one-way inflation, meaning you’ll have this pad up and down in no time.
If we had to be really picky, it isn’t the most comfortable pad on our list with a slightly narrow bottom half and somewhat slippery fabric, and you won’t escape those crinkling noises in the night.
Coming with a pumpsack, stuff sack, repair kit and limited lifetime warranty, it is an expensive piece of gear but well worth the outlay.
What should you consider when buying a sleeping pad or mat?
Before jumping in and purchasing your sleeping pad, consider the following factors to make sure you’re choosing the right one without overspending or compromising quality unnecessarily.
Air vs Foam
The two main types of sleeping pads are air pads and foam pads.
Both can be light and comfortable (or the opposite) but foam is generally cheaper, quicker to set up and can be used as a seat around camp.
Though they might be a bit more durable, they’re bulkier to pack and can compress over time, needing replacing after extended use.
Air pads are more expensive, but much more comfortable than foam pads. The main downside is that they are prone to puncture in the field, so be sure to pack a repair kit.
Decent air pads have antimicrobial treatments to prevent fungal and bacterial growth inside the mat, caused by moist breath (during inflation).
A sleeping mat is as important as your sleeping bag in keeping you warm.
Look for a high R-value if you’re going to be camping in cold conditions as this represents its effectiveness at resisting heat loss. The higher the R-value, the warmer you’ll be.
Heat is lost through internal convection and good mats combat this by using something like a Triangle Core Matrix that compartmentalises the air and reduces that internal flow.
As a rough guide:
- R1-R2 is for summer use when day and night-time temperatures are warm.
- R2-R4 is fine for three-season use, including conditions where you might get a light morning ground frost.
- R4-R6 is designed for all-season use, including conditions where you might get a heavy ground frost.
- R6+ is for serious campers that will be out in freezing air temperatures day and night with frozen ground.
Though it’s tempting to go straight in for a high R-value, bear in mind that a hot night’s sleep can be as uncomfortable as a cold one.
Weight and thickness
Your sleeping pad will be one of the heaviest items in your backpack, so is an easy place to save weight.
Try and find a balance between warm, comfortable and light and know that you may have to sacrifice one element for another.
Generally the thicker pads are warmer and more comfortable, but not always.
You want one that is thick enough to adjust its firmness without bottoming out, but not so thick it feels like a pool float.
If you sleep on your side or roll around a lot, invest in a thicker option.
If you share your tent with a dog or children that tent to run around a lot, you’ll need to opt for something that is a little more heavyweight and durable.
If you want to sit on it during the day or layer up pads, opt for a foam one.
Fabrics and finishes
Light sleepers should look for a quiet pad, as inflatable mats are prone to crinkly or squeaky noises due to their insulating materials.
The good news is that these noises do tend to die down over time, so if you’re really concerned, give it a bit of wearing in at home.
Sleeping pads are patterned and coated to provide grip so you don’t slide around in the night.
You’ll find everything from honeycombing to horizontal or vertical baffles – each with their own pros and cons in terms of comfort and stability.
Virtually all pads are DWR-coated to provide water-resistance.
Shape and size
Most mats come in short, medium and large sizes but may also come in tapered/mummy or rectangular shapes.
The former saves weight and bulk and makes laying two mats side-by-side easier but you may end up with your feet on the floor.
Take note of the packed size as this will be just as important. Having a highly packable pad is a benefit as it can go inside your pack, rather than strung to the outside.
Some ultralight backpackers choose torso-length pads and let their legs hang off the end to save weight, but we’d recommend opting for full-length pads that are warmer and more comfortable.
Air pads that come with a pumpsack are a real bonus, as it is easier way to inflate them (and won’t leave you lightheaded).
They are essentially stuff sacks with an air nozzle in the bottom.
Hook the nozzle up to your pad’s inflation valve, fill the sack with air and then squeeze. The best pumpsacks double as a stuffsack or drybag.
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Last update on 2020-11-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API