If your camping set-up includes a sleeping pad from who knows when, it’s time for an upgrade. The latest pads offer superior comfort and warmth, and many pack down into pint-size bundles for easier transportation and storage. The next time you sleep under the stars, you’ll be glad you traded up.
Check out our top five picks below, and keep scrolling to read helpful buying advice plus full reviews of these and other great sleeping pads.
You have a lot of choices when buying a new sleeping pad, but perhaps the most important is whether you want an air, self-inflating, or foam mat.
AirAt their most basic, these are inflatable shells that provide support from the air you breathe or pump into them. Brands design more advanced models with insulated liners (often made with thermal reflective materials) to provide better protection from the cold ground you might be sleeping on. Air pads are lightweight, pack down smaller than self-inflating and foam options, and generally cost less than self-inflating pads. But they’re also the most delicate kind of sleeping mat. If one springs a leak and you don’t have a patch kit handy, you’ll find yourself sleeping on the ground.
Self-InflatingBest for car camping, self-inflating pads have nozzles designed to suck in air so you won’t tire while blowing them up (but you probably will have to add at least a few puffs for the firmest inflation). These pads have air chambers, as well as open-cell foam for a plusher (and warmer) sleeping experience. The exterior shells are much more durable than those on air pads, but self-inflating pads aren’t immune to leaks. The added foam cores also make self-inflating pads more expensive and bulkier than other types.
FoamFoam pads are mostly designed for backpacking, where weight and durability are the chief concerns. The full-foam construction means you don’t have to worry about leaks or spend time blowing them up, but don’t expect an uber-cushy place to lay your head. Foam mats are thinner than self-inflating and air pads.
Sleeping pads come in many different shapes and sizes to mirror the variety of sleeping bag designs. The standard pad is a rectangular mat that measures 72-by-20-inches to match the dimensions of a regular men’s sleeping bag. This works for most campers, but there are some scenarios where other designs and sizes might be better.
For example, tall people will be most comfortable using long pads, which measure 77 to 78 inches. Short pads can range from 47 to 66 inches. Mats on the lower end of that range are ideal for ultralight backpacking because they’re lighter and smaller than full-size options. Similarly, mummy-shaped mats that taper toward the feet weigh less and take up less space than rectangular pads. This means a mummy pad can be a better choice if you have a one- or two-person tent where floor space is at a premium.
Most people might find the 20-inch width of standard size sleeping pads slightly narrow, but before you upgrade to a wide size (usually 25 inches), be sure that your tent can accommodate the greater surface area. The same is true for long sleeping pads. Not only are larger pads cumbersome to set up in small tents, but when these pads push against the walls of your tent, both pieces of gear experience unnecessary abrading that could shorten their lifespan.
You should also consider how thick of a pad you want. Generally, the thicker the pad, the more comfortable it will be. But thicker pads require more air to reach full inflation, and—especially in the case of self-inflating pads—can have more material that won’t compress down as small. Last but not least, if your sleeping bag has a built-in pad sleeve, find a pad that fits those dimensions.
In November 2018, a working group of ASTM International, a standards development organization, published the first industry-wide testing methodology for assessing the R-value of sleeping pads. This thermal resistance measure isn’t a true temperature rating (like those used for sleeping bags), but higher values correlate to pads that better insulate against the cold ground and can be used comfortably and safely in lower temperatures. Keep in mind that how warm you will feel also depends on the rest of your sleep system, including the clothes you are wearing, and factors such as your metabolism, sleeping posture, and weather conditions.
The new standard was years in the making, says John Shen, senior innovation and standards engineer for Canadian outdoor retailer MEC who serves as the standard’s technical lead. Before it was adopted, the methods used to assess pad warmth varied from brand to brand, which didn’t serve buyers or manufacturers. “For consumers, the standard means the R-values measured accordingly are accurate, comparable, and useful to make informed purchase decisions,” Shen says. “For brands, it helps to make their product claim sound, repeatable, and reproducible. More importantly, it provides a tool to develop innovative sleeping pads.”
Starting in 2020, major retailers—including REI, Backcountry, and MEC—will require brands to publish the R-value for all sleeping pads they sell. Shen says the working group is now focused on creating industry-wide guidelines for how R-values can correspond to temperature ratings. For its products, Therm-a-Rest recommends finding a pad with an R-value between 1.8 and 3.3 for three-season comfort or, for wintertime and cold-weather camping, a pad with an R-value higher than 3.3.
Over the course of two weeks this fall, we tested 11 sleeping pads of different types, shapes, and sizes at campgrounds and backyards near our headquarters in eastern Pennsylvania to find out how comfortable they were and if they stayed inflated throughout the night. Back at the Pop Mech Test Zone HQ, we weighed the pads while packed in their included storage sacks and measured how easy it was to inflate each pad. First, we blew each up manually, counting the number of breaths it took to reach full inflation. Then, we repeated the test using various pumps that brands make. Finally, we left the self-inflating models with their values open for 30 minutes and then counted the number of breaths we needed to add for the pads to reach full inflation. We also considered the price, R-value, and packed size of each pad (relative to its inflated size) to determine which pads are best for every camping adventure. Read about our 10 favorites below.
Luxury sleeping pads might seem like an oxymoron to some, but the Comfort Plus delivers an exceedingly cushy place to rest at the end of the day. More than three inches thick at full inflation, this self-inflating pad has a nonslip grip pattern on the bottom to keep it in place throughout the night and is designed with Sea to Summit’s Delta Core technology—polyurethane foam that has triangle-shaped chambers within to reduce bulk and weight while still claiming a respectably warm R-value. We tested the rectangular wide model, but Sea to Summit also offers the Comfort Plus in a slightly cheaper mummy design. The biggest flaw we noticed was the self-inflation valve hardly seem to inflate the pad during our half-hour test.
Therm-a-Rest proves that good things come in small packages with its new NeoAir UberLite. This air pad is minuscule: not much more than a half-pound and about the size of a 16-ounce Nalgene in its stuff sack. At full inflation, however, it meets the standard 72-inch length and offers a comfortable 2.5-inch loft. That’s huge news for backpackers, who previously had to contend with the bulk and relative firmness of foam pads or settle for short air pads if they were serious about saving space and reducing weight in their packs. The 15-denier nylon shell sounds like tissue paper, but it wasn’t noisy during the night. If anything, we worry about the material’s long-term durability. This category killer doesn’t come cheap, but it will make resting your head after stacking up the miles that much more rewarding.
Thickness: 3.9 in. | R-Value: 9.5 | Weight (provided): 7 lb. 5.8 oz. | Breaths to Inflate (single size): 47
Maximum comfort is the calling card of the Exped MegaMat Duo 10. While we tested the one-person model, we feel confident enough recommending this double sleeping pad for regular car campers because of its identical construction. Sleeping on the MegaMat felt like we were on our mattress back home. We slept so soundly, we even rolled off the edge a few times (and when you’re nearly four inches off the ground, it’s a jarring way to wake up). Normally, we’re not patient enough to let self-inflating pads do their job, but for a pad this size, it’s critical, lest you get light-headed. Allowing the single pad to self-inflate for 30 minutes cut the number of breaths needed to reach full inflation from 47 to 14, and the pad does come with a hand pump so you don’t have to waste your breath like we did. Deflating the MegaMat fully requires rolling out the air twice, but all the inflation woes are more than worth the plush bedding if you can justify the cost.
If you’re a weekend warrior looking to maximize your adventure time or a backpacker who subscribes to the fast and light mentality, consider choosing REI’s Flash All-Season Insulated Air. It took half as many breaths to fully inflate the Flash than the next best model. And the more time you save setting up camp, the more time you have to get after it. This pad also packs in a generous amount of dual-fiber insulation and a reflective thermal layer, so you can stay warm even on chilly nights. (If you won’t be cold-weather camping, opt for the cheaper three-season model.) We slept well on this pad, but compared to similar models in our test, it wasn’t quite as cushy.
The NEMO Tensor doesn’t boast the cheapest price tag in our list, but it does strike a good balance of features for the money. Weighing less than a pound, it was one of the most comfortable air pads we tested and one of the smallest when stored in its stuff sack. The Tensor was reasonably easy to blow up manually, and it comes with Nemo’s Vortex Pump Sack—though you also have to blow air into the Vortex, and removing the pump without opening the deflation valve can be tricky. Currently, Nemo doesn’t use R-values to assess the warmth of its pads, but it will start in 2020. By the new standard, the non-insulated version will measure 1.6, but if you are looking for more protection from the cold, purchase the insulated model that will have a 3.5 R-value.
If you chief concern is cost, we recommend the Big Agnes Air Core Ultra. For less than a Benjamin, you get a very thick sleeping pad that weighs less than two pounds. The 1 R-value means the Air Core is best for warm weather, but Big Agnes makes insulated models, too (and for that matter, many sizes of both the insulated and non-insulated pads). We tested the wide long pad that measures 25-by-78 inches. Manually inflating it was a bit tiresome, but the standard size is surely easier. Or you can use the money you save to invest in the brand’s multi-use Pumphouse Ultra. Of all the inflation pumps we used in testing, this was our favorite because it easily traps a lot of air.
Yes, the Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap inflated on its own more than any other self-inflating pad we tested. But that’s not the only reason we like it. The LuxuryMap is affordable and very comfortable, thanks to the layer of urethane foam that offers targeted support where you need it most. In the design phase, Therm-a-Rest relied on pressure-mapping technology and customized the thick foam core based on those results. Counterintuitively, this meant removing foam around the head, shoulder blades, waist, calves, and heels so these bony and curvy parts of the body can sink deeper into the pad. The polyester exterior is durable yet soft to the touch, and the pad’s high R-value provides warmth in the coldest of conditions. But don’t expect to lug the LuxuryMap into the backcountry. It’s heavy and doesn’t compress down well.
The most comfortable air pad in our test, Big Agnes’s Q-Core SLX lifts you a massive 4.3 inches from the ground and weighs less than 1.5 pounds. Our tester compared it to a slightly-stiff rubber hammock, saying “add a sleeping bag, and it was paradise.” Big Agnes designs that paradise with offset baffles that reduce weight while still offering stability and support. Inside is a proprietary synthetic insulation and a thermal reflective lining. Outside, the Q-Core is built with double rip-stop nylon laminated with TPU for extra durability. As for its faults, the Q-Core is more expensive than some sleeping pads, and due to its loft, is best for shelters that fit three people or more so it won’t rub against the tent walls.
Stodgy foam pads get a comfort-boosting facelift with the Switchback. The closed-cell polyethylene foam has a hexagonal 3D pattern that adds heat-trapping, comfort-inducing loft. Sleeping on the pad feels similar to snoozing on a firm regular mattress, even though it’s less than an inch thick. The Switchback is thicker than any other foam competitor on the market but still light and a reasonable size when packed. For added warmth, NEMO coated the bottom with a thermal reflective film. We did notice the nodes on the pad are already showing some wear, which could impact comfort eventually. But at $50, it isn’t a huge expense to buy a replacement should you need it.
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Measuring 76-by-30 inches, this oversize air pad offers a large canvas (at a lower price) to rest your body after spending the day outdoors. The v-shaped baffles are designed to provide support in key pressure zones. We liked the Static when sleeping on our side, though occasionally our weight fell into one of the deep heat-trapping welds and we had to readjust. Overall, it wasn’t the most comfortable pad we’ve ever slept on, but it gets the job done. We woke up feeling rested and appreciated how quickly the pad deflated. Although the wide size is nice, it’s larger than most campers will need and will take up a good deal of floor space in your tent.
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